Treasure Hunting

I’m hunting for treasure! In fact, we all are. We are all on a hunt for the treasures this life has to offer.

The reign of God is like a buried treasure which a man found in a field. He hid it again, and rejoicing at his find went and sold all he had and bought that field. (Matthew 13:44)

In this parable the man who found this treasure made a decisive and life changing decision. He sold everything! He gave up everything in order to buy field that contained the treasure. I often wonder why I’m not willing to “sell” everything–to give up all–in order to obtain the Kingdom of God.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I have not yet found it. I’m still hunting. I can’t have found it! If I had, I would be willing to give up everything for it, but alas, I’m not. Sure, I find “gold coins” from time to time. I have found bits and pieces of the treasure of the Kingdom of God, but not the full treasure. I’m still clinging to my stuff, to my earthly life. I think many of us are in the same situation. We want to find the treasure and we’re searching for it, but most of us haven’t found it yet. If we had our lives would be radically different than they are now–at least mine would be.

We must ask ourselves: Why haven’t I found the full treasure of the Kingdom? Is it that I’m not looking in the right places? Is it that I’m not searching hard enough? I think that for many of us–especially for myself–that the answer to both questions is YES! I’m not looking in the right places. I still cling to the comforts of this world. I’m still distracted and busy with the things of our world. I am seeking the treasures of this world and not those of the Kingdom.

I also believe that many of us are not searching hard enough. I know that I certainly do not spend as much time searching for the Kingdom of God as I should. The Kingdom of God is in the depths of our hearts and souls. The only way to explore those depths is through prayer. Jim Beckman in his book “God Help Me” said that prayer needs to be as important in our lives as breathing! We should not be able to function if we don’t pray. It is through searching the depths of our soul and finding God there that we are truly able to find His Kingdom.

I hope and pray that we all are able to find the full treasure of the Kingdom of God. I hope we keep searching and that we are able to keeping finding the “gold coins” that help keep us motivated to continue our search. I commit to not look for the Kingdom in the things of this world and to spend more time looking for it in the right places. Someday I may find the treasure. I hope you do, too. It will change our lives!

Published in: on June 23, 2009 at 4:35 pm  Comments (3)  

Genuine Faith, Part III

Trust. That is something that can be very hard to do. Do I trust the auto shop to repair my car correctly AND give me a fair price? Do I trust my children to carry through on the responsibilities I have given them? Do I trust the leaders of the country to uphold our freedoms and liberties as granted to us in the constitution? There are many, many aspects of our lives that require us to trust. Do you trust? I know oftentimes I fall short in that area of my life. I have a tendency to get wrapped up in my fears and expect the worst from everything. Trust is a virtue that we all need to grow in our lives.

Trust begins and ends in a relationship with Christ. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus compels us to trust: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt 16:24). The operative phrase here is “follow me.” Jesus doesn’t tell us where we are going. He doesn’t map out our journey for us. All He says is “follow me.” Not knowing where we’re going or what we’re doing on this adventure requires trust. It requires us to completely let go of EVERYTHING!!!

Nearly two years ago I lost my job. I was working as a financial advisor for a major national firm when the rug was pulled out from underneath me. I went home that evening devastated and fearful. I was (and still am) the sole source of income for my family. I had a wife and 4 children that trusted me to provide for them. I feared for my future. That night I got down on my knees and prayed. I prayed that God would provide me with a new source of income…and quickly!! More importantly, I prayed that I would be able to trust God in my life. And for the first time in my life I was truly able to let it all go. I put my trust in the Lord like I have never done before.

Eventually God provided me with a job, although not on my timeline. It took nearly 7 months and we exhausted all of our savings. One more month of unemployment and we would have to decide which bills got paid and which ones wouldn’t. The whole experience was a lesson in trust. We need follow God without knowing where He is taking us. God brought me to youth ministry, something I never thought I would do, but something which I absolutely love. God knows better than me. He knows better than you! We need to let Him take control of our lives. We need to trust Him.

Genuine faith is an important part of our adventure to salvation. We all need to deny ourselves. We need to be willing to endure suffering and sacrifice with the heart of Christ. We need to trust the Lord with everything in our lives. Most importantly, we need to pray. We need to pray through it all. Pray constantly. I’m not there yet, but someday I hope to have genuine faith. How about you?

Published in: on June 16, 2009 at 7:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

"God Help Me"–A Book Review

Anyone who has been following my blog for a while knows that I am an avid reader. As a matter of fact, I’m in the middle of three different books right now. I believe that good spiritual reading can bring you closer to Christ, so I always try to have a spiritual book with me. When I found out that an acquaintance of mine wrote a book I picked it up. Jim Beckman, whether he realizes it or not, has played a pretty significant role in my spiritual development. I first met Jim last summer at a conference at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. I was there to get my youth ministry certification, and Jim was the coordinator of the program. Jim recently published a book titled God Help Me: How to Grow in Prayer. Of course when I saw it as an available review book for I had to get it to review.

I have mentioned in a couple of my recent blogs the importance of prayer. Prayer and Sacrifice discusses the need to sacrifice ourselves in prayer and force ourselves to do it even in the midst of feeling spiritually desolate. Beckman addresses this issue that we all face in our prayer and encourages his readers to be consistent in prayer despite how we feel. I make specific reference to Beckman’s book in Honesty and Consistency, which are two main themes of prayer in his work.

This is a fantastic book and one that I will re-read over and over again. Beckman really challenges his readers to deeper prayer and gives some practical tools to do so. This book is recommended to anyone who wants to grow deeper in prayer.

Published in: on June 15, 2009 at 9:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Genuine Faith, Part II

Oh, how I hate suffering! Even the slightest discomfort brings me to the edge. Yet I need to learn to endure it better. We all do. Let’s face it. We all suffer. There is no way to avoid it. We have two choices when it comes to suffering. We can allow ourselves to be miserable, thus prolonging our suffering and making it worse. Or, we can allow Christ to work through our suffering.

It is the latter that I believe brings us into genuine faith. Saint Paul tells us:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement. (1 Corinthians 1:3-7)

So often I get angry and resentful in my suffering. I also have a tendency to become withdrawn and discouraged. I become so wrapped up in myself that I don’t see how it is affecting myself, my family, my relationship with God. As I stated in Part I, genuine faith requires a complete self denial. It requires a complete self denial when it comes to our prayer, and it also requires a complete self denial when it comes to suffering. If we can allow Christ to work through our suffering, if we can just let go of ourselves, then we will receive His encouragement. This will then allow us to encourage others in their suffering. Allowing Christ to work through our suffering will remove the selfish tendencies that we have. Allowing Christ to work through our suffering will bring us closer to genuine faith. For “if we are afflicted it is for your encouragement and salvation.”

Published in: on June 9, 2009 at 11:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Genuine Faith

Do you have genuine faith? That is something I have been asking myself lately. I pray. Sometimes I even feel a connection to God in prayer. I go to Church. I even put money in the basket. However, I must ask myself–we must all ask ourselves–is our faith genuine? George Barna of the Barna Group says:

Americans are willing to expend some energy in religious activities such as attending church and reading the Bible, and they’re willing to throw some money in the offering basket. Because of such activities, they convince themselves that they’re people of genuine faith. But when it comes to truly establishing their priorities and making a tangible commitment to knowing and loving God, and allowing Him to change their character and lifestyle, most people stop short. We want to be “spiritual” and we want to have God’s favor, but we’re not sure we want Him taking control of our lives and messing with the image and outcomes we’ve worked so hard to produce.

Am I truly willing to give God control? And what does that mean? What does it mean to have genuine faith? I believe the answer to that is in the Scriptures. Jesus states, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt 16:24). Complete denial of self, suffering, and trust is all that is required. Easy, right? I only wish it were as easy as writing it down on paper.

Having genuine faith requires a complete and total change in the way we are living our lives. There are three things that are absolutely critical in the process of making this change: self denial, sacrifice, and trust. I will discuss self denial in this blog and address the others in subsequent blogs.

The first thing we need to do is to deny ourselves. My last two blog posts were about prayer. I believe that prayer is the key to the denial of self. We constantly try to control everything in our lives. It is just a part of our human nature. We even tend to do this in our prayer. My boss (and pastor of one of the churches I serve) recently said in one of his homilies that prayer is not meant to be a negotiation with God. It is meant to be a surrendering of your will to His. Jim Beckman in his book God, Help Me reiterated this for me when he said, “anytime we find ourselves telling God what to do, we’re in trouble.” In order to deny ourselves we must change the way we pray. We cannot try to control the direction of our prayer. This is very difficult for me to do because I’m in the habit of telling God what to do when I pray. I want to be in control of my life. Prayer, according to Beckman is “marked by God’s revelation and healing, not by fixing and figuring out.” This “fixing and figuring out” is self centered. It is “telling God what to do”. It is trying to negotiate with Him.

In my marriage, as in all marriages, there is a relationship. Whenever my wife is struggling with something I have a tendency to try to figure out what’s wrong and then fix it. I think that all men have this tendency. This, however, has never worked with my wife. She keeps trying to tell me that she wants me to acknowledge what she is going through. She also wants me to relate to her, and respond in love. That response is a natural response that comes through the conversation and the relationship.

Through prayer, we are to enter into a conversation–a relationship–with God. Just as in spousal relationships, we are not to try to figure it out and fix it. We must be present to God and honest with Him from the depths of our soul. When we do this, God will acknowledge, relate, and reveal Himself to us and heal us. Be honest with God. Tell him what you are feeling–at the deepest level of your being. And then be quiet. Don’t try to fix anything, but allow God to reveal Himself to you. God will respond to our struggles in love if can just shut up and allow Him to. This type of prayer will enable us to let go of ourselves. It will allow God to work through us. When we are able to accomplish this on a consistent basis, we will be able to deny ourselves and take an important step towards having genuine faith.

(Note: The concept of the dynamics of “acknowledge, relate, and respond” also come from Beckman’s book. They are not my thoughts, I’m not that smart. I want to give credit where credit is due.)

Published in: on June 5, 2009 at 11:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Honesty and Consistency

An acquaintance once said to me that there are only two things a person can actually contribute to good prayer: consistency and honesty. I recently re-introduced myself to this concept in his book “God Help Me–How to Grow in Prayer.” It is often very difficult to feel as though our prayer is bearing any fruit in our lives. As I indicated in my last post we have a tendency to just give up when prayer becomes difficult or doesn’t appear to bear any fruit. This is why the concept of consistency and honesty are so important.

It is extremely important to remain consistent in your prayer life, especially when it is dry. I have had a very difficult time in my life with remaining consistent in my prayer. In those times that I have remained consistent, I have felt closer to Christ and in a deeper relationship with Him. No relationship will be a good one without some consistency in it. The same holds true in your relationship with Christ.

Likewise, no relationship will be a good one without honesty. You need to be honest with God in your prayers. This one is a bit more difficult for me to figure out, because to be truly honest I need to be able to reach the depths of my inner being and truly see myself on an intimate level. This has been very difficult for me to do. Just ask my wife. She knows me better than I do. You may ask why it’s important to be honest with God. He does know everything about us, why do we need to tell it to Him? It’s not for Him, but for us. God wants us to know ourselves as he knows us and being truly honest with yourself in your relationship with Him will help us to see ourselves as God sees us.

God truly desires to be in a relationship with us. Likewise, we should truly desire to be in a relationship with Him. This relationship can only occur if we have some honesty and consistency in our prayer life. It is through these things, the only things we can control, that we will come to know God and ourselves better.

Published in: on June 1, 2009 at 10:23 pm  Comments (4)