Monday, September 30, 2013

The farthest fall ..................... Parables 025

Last week I heard a news announcer frequently use the phrases “before the fall” and “after the fall.” He was referring to the roller coaster accident in Edmonton. Those terms probably sound very ordinary to most people, however, to my ear, they have distinct significance.

The tragedy of which the news announcer spoke ended three lives, broke the hearts of family and friends, and changed the plans and hopes of many people. But there is another fall, a spiritual one, that has had far-reaching implications, touching all of our lives.

When the Creator placed the first people in a perfect environment, they enjoyed perfect fellowship with Him and with each other. (We may have trouble with that concept because it is almost impossible to imagine a perfect environment, or a perfect relationship with each other or with God, but rather than give the story up as a fable, observe it for its significance in relation to the condition of our world today.) The story is familiar . . .

God told Adam and Eve that they could eat from whatever tree they wanted to but they could not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, or they would die. Eve listened to a lie about God’s intent concerning that command, began to doubt His word and thought that He was just trying to prevent her from being like Himself.

So she ate the forbidden fruit, and gave some of it to Adam. When they ate it, they found that the knowledge it gave them was not what they expected. They became educated in evil, not by greater insight or powers of observation, but because they were now partakers of it -- experiencing evil by disobeying God. This is called “the fall.” God’s creation fell out of harmony with Him, with each other, and with their environment.

Every person from that time on has suffered the effects of the fall. Separated from God and with the inclination to disobey Him, people tend to choose the things that look good, give pleasure, and gratify the ego, the very things that Eve thought the forbidden fruit would do for her. Not only that, their disobedience brought a curse . . .  women would experience difficulty in the task of being wives and mothers, and men would find the earth resisting their efforts to make a living. Is it not so? And is not the separation from God obvious in the behavior of the human race? We label some of it for what it is, and some we seek to change or punish, but much we cling to as our “freedom of choice” or our “rights.”

Because of our fallen condition, we have ruined the world we live in. Then, too easily we look at the mess and self-righteously blame it on everyone else, pleading ignorance that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

But don’t forget; there were two trees in the garden with names. One brought death and destruction. No wonder God said not to eat it. But happily, the fruit of the other one, the Tree of Life, was not forbidden.

We can’t go back to Eden, at least not in this life, but restored relationships are available to those who will seek God with all their hearts. That search will bring the seeker to discover that the Tree of Life is somehow shaped like a cross, and the One who died there has the power to pick us up from where we have fallen. In Christ, our disobedience is replaced by His righteousness. In Him, we can again approach God. In Him, we can find what we need in broken relationships. Jesus Christ came to reverse the curse.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Standards ......................... Parables 024

In the past few weeks we have been made aware of standards. Some meat packing plants have failed standards. A roller coaster didn’t perform as it should have. Some students are writing standardized exams. Certain wage earners are demanding that their standard of living is maintained.

Standards are the gauges by which performance or quality is measured. We speak of high standards, a standard of excellence, lowered standards, and even double-standards. Comparison to a standard is such a commonplace activity that we do it daily, even hourly, without even being conscious of it.

Spiritually, there are standards too. Some people call the Ten Commandments the standard for morals and behavior. Others use the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Some would say the Beatitudes are the standards and still others would hold up the two great commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

The most lofty standard was given by Jesus Christ when He said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:24).

When we set our own standards, we can usually reach them. In some cases, if the standard is too high, those attempting to reach it are able to have it lowered, making it possible to hit the mark. I remember a school teacher telling me that the standard for city police in that state (in the U.S.) had been lowered so that they could include the required number of minorities - in order to fulfill another standard that had been set.

However, no person meets the standards of God. No one is perfect, no one loves God or others or themselves completely. Not one person is consistent in treating others as well as they want themselves treated, and all of us have broken the commandments, in thought if not in actual deed. We have missed the mark, fallen short of the target. We do not meet the standard. Scripture uses a short, three-letter word for that. It is called “sin.”

I talked about sin once to a group of children in Junior Church. One lovely little 4-year-old rolled her eyes and declared, “But I haven’t murdered anyone.” No, she had not. But she had written her own definition of sin, and changed the standard so that she could measure up to it. Have you ever done that? I have. Even doing that is sin too.

God, who never changes, established a standard that He will not change. But He is not heartless and indifferent to our failure. Instead, he offers to change us. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you . . .  and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them.”

Our part? Just ask Him.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Reading Labels ................................. Parables 023

Every now and then I pick up a new product in the grocery store to read the contents listed on the label. I want to know what is in it before I buy it.

Labels are interesting. They can describe the contents of a box of cereal or classify people, organizations and schools of thought. However, convenient as titles and labels are, if descriptions are inaccurate or definitions vague, a label can cause serious misunderstandings.

It is no secret that the Christian church has been the object of labeling. Some congregations label themselves, such as Lutheran, Baptist, and Presbyterian, intending to identify their doctrinal distinctives. Other broader classifications include fundamental, liberal, orthodox, and so on.

Often, observers outside the church add some labels based on their personal experience. Besides that, philosophies that are not Christian borrow the terms used by the church, making label-reading increasingly confusing.

The New Testament Greek word for church is “ekklesia” referring to an assembly of people who are “called out,” called from a life of sin to the redemption offered freely by the Lord Jesus Christ. Scripture does put a few other names on those “called out” people such as “saints” and “brethren” but the Biblical identification of the church is rather straightforward with location being the primary distinction. In other words, each one who is “called out” is part of Christ’s church, no matter which place they meet, or what they call themselves.

To further define these “called out” ones, the Scriptures state that a person either has the Spirit of Christ, or does not have the Spirit of Christ. If not, then that person is not Christ’s, and therefore not a Christian (Romans 8:9).

Even though the Biblical definition seems to be simple, many people have a confused idea of what Christians are and what the church is. The confusion is revealed by the labels that are used. At the root of the problem is the tendency to define Christians as those who assemble in a building called a church. While This can be true, that definition is not entirely accurate. A building can be a church, but the church is not necessarily a building. A Christian can be found in a church building, but not everyone who regularly attends church necessarily has Christ in their heart.

The buildings labeled churches should be meeting places of Christians and the people labeled Christians should be called that because their label accurately describes their contents . . .  Christ!

If that were so, perhaps there would be a greater interest in the product.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Deeply Rooted ......................... Parables 022

A young woman told me that she had discovered that the best way to water her lawn was to leave the sprinkler in one place for about three hours. We briefly discussed that the roots will develop where the water is: light watering develops surface root systems. However, surface roots quickly wither. More water enables the roots to go deeper, helping the plant survive heat and water shortages.

It occurred to me that people are like that too. We need to have deep roots and an abundant supply if we are going to be able to survive prolonged trials, or perform in a godly manner when our normal resources are limited.

The New Testament talks about being rooted. The last part of Ephesians 3 contains Paul’s prayer for his readers. He prays, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith . . .  that you, being rooted and established in (His) love, may have (His) power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love (of His) that surpasses knowledge -- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

The love of Christ is extraordinary. It is unconditional: we do not have to be loveable to receive it. It is everlasting: nothing we do or don’t do will cause Him to cease loving us. It is sacrificial: while we were still sinners, he died for us. 

It is enduring: He endures the hatred and rejection of those he died for. It is a “doing” love more than a “feeling” love. And it is an available love, one that we can grasp the extent of, if we have Christ in our hearts.

I have discovered that my love withers rather quickly. It is not at all extraordinary. It extends easily to the loveable, but it tends to dry up if I don’t see any merit or attractiveness. And it doesn’t want to express itself if sacrifice is involved, being more likely to come and go instead of enduring. I’ve also discovered that when my love is given in response to the way others treat me, it is because I am feeding on something that builds my ego . . .  shallow roots indeed. 
Unfortunately, a good long dose of ego builders will not produce a deeper root system.

Instead, the Bible says that, “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son . . . ” Genuine love is from God, and because He loves us as He does, He offers us His Son so we can love one another in the same way. Being rooted in that kind of love requires going to the cross where the love of God was expressed, admitting our lovelessness, and receiving that One who died for us.

Then, as love is required, there is no need for ego trips and other shallow-rooted motivation. We can extend our roots into His love and meet the needs of others, regardless of their condition or response.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Gone Forever ...................... Parables 021

Have you ever done something that was completely irreversible, creating a situation where you had to begin all over again? Most everyone can relate to that, and today, I certainly can. I just put my storage disk into the disk drive to call up the article I was writing on my computer for this week’s Record. Before I started, I wanted to scratch one file from the disk, but I punched an “n” instead of an “s.” Instead of removing the one file, it removed all of them: an article in its final stages for a magazine, meeting notes, a few other short articles, and some other records. 

Vanished. Completely! Some of these had already been put into printed form so they are available, but others, including the two most important to me, were not in any other form. Nor were they on a duplicate disk, as the instruction manual recommends. 

So I say and looked at a blank screen and said, “Now what, God? I messed it up.”

Many years ago, I said almost the same words to God. Only it was my whole life that had been “punched out on the wrong keys.” I had, in so many ways, messed it up. When I looked to Him with “Now what?”, He lovingly allowed me to discover that he was not only willing that I recover and start over, He would equip me and provide all that was needed to do so.

In order to get His help, I first needed to clear away the barrier between myself and Him, my sin. I learned that the only way that could be done was to accept Jesus Christ as my substitute. I discovered that there was no way that I could make myself acceptable to God. The Word of God does not give that option. God made the provision for sin by sending his Son to die in my place, taking my punishment for sin on Himself.

When I did see my need and accepted God’s provision, I soon found out that Jesus had more to give me than forgiveness, marvelous as forgiveness is. He gave Himself! And in that gift, I was given His wisdom, His righteousness, His love, and everything else that is true of Him. In fact, when God looks at me, I have been so united with Christ, that all God sees is Christ. (Humanly, I don’t see myself in such a glorious fashion, nor does anyone else, but God does, and that is what counts for eternity!)

Relating back to my erased disk, the Bible says this: “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). Furthermore, He says, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” He has not, does not, and will not, ever, hold me accountable for my sin. It has been erased, removed from the records of God, irretrievably!

And then, wonder of wonders, because of the reality of Christ in my life, it became possible to begin anew, with His help in making choices and even to correct some of the previous errors. That isn’t instant perfection. My life is like the average typist’s; I still punch some wrong keys now and then, but the mistakes do not go on record to condemn me. The disk of my life was wiped clean because Christ died for me, and that life is now being reprogrammed because Christ lives in me.

I regret making today’s error and losing the files from a disk, but it is only mildly annoying. He changes lost lives. Compared to that, a lost disk is nothing.

Monday, September 16, 2013

God uses storms ...................... Parables 020

It has been said that “if you don’t like the weather in Alberta, just wait a minute.” That latest storm to the south of us no doubt was a change that most who experienced it would rather have done without. Are you like that, when life, like the weather, brings unexpected storms?

There are at least three terrible storms mentioned in the New Testament. One is described in Mark 4. Most of the disciples were seasoned fishermen, but this storm was so severe that they were certain they would perish. Where is Jesus? He was fast asleep, head on a pillow, in the stern of the boat. The terrified disciples woke Him up and He said to the sea, “Peace, be still.” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.

The second storm is described in John 6. Here the disciples were alone in the boat, trying to make headway against the wind and the waves but without success. Then Jesus came to them, walking on the weather. This time they didn’t seem to be afraid of the storm, but seeing a man walking on the water scared them out of their wits. When they realized it was Jesus, Peter wanted to do the same, and soon discovered that his ability to walk on a stormy sea was directly proportional to his faith. When both Peter and Jesus entered the boat, the storm ceased and they were at their destination. (See Matthew 14 and Mark 6.)

The third storm is in Acts 27. Paul was on his way to Rome as a prisoner for preaching the gospel. The Lord spoke to him that all on the ship would be saved but the ship would be lost. Paul told the men, they ate to give them some needed energy, and then lightened the cargo. When the ship broke up, they did have to struggle for their lives, but God kept His word to Paul, and all made it safely to shore.

It is not too difficult to parallel these storms with the activity of God in the life of a Christian and with what He expects of us during tremendous trials. In the first storm, the men were helpless and afraid, and Jesus did everything, swiftly stopping the trial. But He also rebuked them for their “little faith.”

In the second storm, Peter was invited to walk through it with Jesus. He tried it, and as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, he did fine. But one look at the size and power of the storm, and he sank. Again, Jesus removed the trial by calming the sea, but He rebuked Peter concerning the size of his faith.

The third storm raged full course, battering the ship to pieces. All was lost . . .  except human lives, except the peace in Paul’s heart. God had told him that there was more work He wanted him to do in Rome, and Paul believed God. He declared, “Men, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it will be exactly as He told me.” He clung to that promise just as securely as those who could not swim clung to the wreckage of the ship. And God saved him - through the trial, not from it. The sea was not calmed, Paul was!

So often when we who put our faith in Christ panic in a difficulty, our Lord comes and adjust our circumstances to our faith level. As we learn to meet trials with our eyes on Him and not on the trial, we begin to find security, even in the trial, because we realize that He is in it with us. Ultimately, we learn to fasten ourselves to His Word and ride out the storm, even if we suffer losses, because we have discovered that he is faithful and that the storms of life will not thwart His purposes. Instead, He uses those trials to refine our faith.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Ambassadors for our country .......................... Parables 019

The election is over. Certain candidates are reverting to “plan B” while others are looking forward to four years of representing the people in their constituency.

A person who has been elected to the position of Member of Legislature has a high calling. They must give account to the people who they represent, and they must be deeply concerned for those people, making every effort to govern and legislate with a priority investment in the interests and concerns of the people. Any breach of this not only raises public outcries against any offender, it also determines the outcome of the next election.

Those who understand something of the Biblical doctrine of election know that God, in sovereign wisdom, has elected certain people too. While He does not use ballots nor make His selections on the basis of any campaigning, He does have a body of believers given the task of representing His interests here on earth. He calls them “ambassadors.”

The dictionary defines an ambassador as “an accredited diplomatic agent of the highest rank, appointed as the representative of one government to another.” God’s realm of government is called His Kingdom, the King is the Lord Jesus Christ. The ambassadors are those people whose sins have been forgiven and who have been reconciled to God. They are seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2) and now belong to the family of God. Their citizenship is in heaven. 

But even though that heavenly citizenship is an established fact, God leaves His citizens in their former homeland for a time. These are His agents, appointed as “ambassadors for Christ” with the high calling of bringing the message of reconciliation to those who do not know Him. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God was making His appeal through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf: be ye reconciled to God.”

During election, when most of us were making evaluations of the performance of those who sought to represent us, I was wondering what God thinks of the performance of His ambassadors? Have we looked to His interests, and sought to represent His Kingdom while living here as foreigners? Have we been faithful to give a clear understanding to others the reason for which we are here, or have we been too caught up with concerns of our own to fulfill the position of representation for which we have been given? And do we even bear the marks of one with a heavenly citizenship . . .  so that we are recognized as ambassadors in the first place? We would not tolerate any such infractions in our political representatives, would we?

I didn’t become a citizen of the kingdom because of my record prior to office, nor can I keep it based on anything I do while in office. The love and mercy of God in the death and resurrection of His Son secures not only that heavenly citizenship, but secures my post for all of my life here. There will be no reelection based on any track record. Yet when I go home, I want to stand before my King and hear Him say, “Well done, you have served me well, you have been a faithful ambassador.”

(Note: These parables were written in "real time" but are reproduced here in order, not according to the events that were happening when they were written, like elections, holidays, disasters and so on.)

Monday, September 9, 2013

The only cure for guilt ........................... Parables 018

What would you think of a doctor who gave you a few aspirins for a broken leg? What would you think of the staff in an emergency ward if you were in agony with a face full of glass and they offered you a 292 and a drink of water? You probably wouldn’t be too impressed at their efforts to treat your pain.

The dictionary defines pain as: “The unpleasant sensation of feeling resulting from or accompanying some injury, over-strain, or obstruction of the physical powers.” Obviously, pain has a purpose. It is there to inform us that something is wrong. The person who constantly treats pain with painkillers rather than seeking the source of the pain, is certain to face far more serious consequences than some “unpleasant sensations or feelings.” In fact, their life could be at stake.

Our emotions also contain a warning signal. This signal is designed to inform us when something is wrong with our spiritual condition. It is the unpleasant sensation or feeling that we call “guilt” and it acts much the same as pain. It accompanies some offense committed, or obstruction that we have placed between ourselves and God, to prevent His power from being active in our lives. And, as with pain, we have invented some “guilt-killers,” things that we use to try to cover the issue instead of getting to the root of the problem. I don’t know what other people do, but here are some of my “home-cure remedies” for guilt, none of which do any good, and in fact compound the problem and confuse the patient:

1) Blaming others and therefore denying responsibility for my own faults.

2) Rationalization, which is really redefining the “illness” so that I am not really guilty at all, and therefore need no treatment.

3) Excuses: “I couldn’t help it” “I didn’t know any better” “You made me do that!” and this gem, “That’s just the way I am!” Sometimes excuses are valid, but most of the time they are offered as a panacea for guilt.

4) Promising that I will never do it again, a sort of fantasy whereby I begin to think that because I have such good intentions, I have solved the entire problem.

5) Talking to myself about the various aspects of the problem so much that I have covered all the angles, am sick of the subject, have dulled my sense of guilt, and therefore have not had to admit it or do anything constructive about it.

6) Balance it out by focusing on my goodness, which is like saying, “Oh, I know my left arm is broken, but my right one is still okay.”

7) An extreme self-condemnation, exaggerating my responsibility for the mess that the entire world is in, to the point where I simply do not do anything specific about the garbage that is really mine.

8) And when all else fails, self-pity, even though it is a bitter spoonful of medicine to take, transfers the pain of guilt to a more satisfying pain of being a “poor innocent victim of circumstances!”

I am thankful to my Lord that even should I decide to take this entire batch of supposed painkillers for my guilt, He eventually brings me back to the place where I started, and to this verse which offers the only remedy that is effective: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Just as a healthy body enjoys the well-being of being pain-free, those who know God’s forgiveness and cleansing from sin can enjoy freedom from guilt. His remedy is to get to the root of the problem and when we receive the forgiveness that He offers, the symptom is taken care of along with the disease.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Hungry? .......................... Parables 017

Have you ever heard the expression, “I don’t want anyone cramming religion down my throat”? I am sure we all have, and many of us have said it ourselves. In fact, I doubt if anyone wants anything crammed down their throat, especially something for which the stomach is not a suitable destination.

Where does religion belong? Some say it belongs with children and old ladies. Others say it belongs with those who cannot cope with the stresses of life without it. Some say religion belongs in the churches, and like well-behaved children, should be seen and not heard.

Frankly, I don’t often use the term religion. It has come to have a rather man-centered meaning and describes, at least in my own mind, the efforts of man to reach up to God and somehow gain His approval or favor. Biblically, that is not possible. Romans 3 says that no man seeks God and that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The next chapters of the book of Romans go on to describe in great detail the difference between a religion of human achievement and Christianity. Christianity is God having mercy on sinful men and reaching down to them, in fact, coming down to them, not only to pay their penalty for sin but to offer them the free gift of eternal life.

Everyone knows what a gift is. It is something that cannot be earned or deserved, or crammed down anyone’s throat. It is something that must be received, willingly and gladly, without effort to pay for it. Otherwise it does not come under the ownership of the one to whom it is offered.

Think of a young robin in the nest, hungry for that food that will keep him alive. His mouth is open wide, his throat totally exposed, not only willing to have something crammed down it, but his life literally depends on that happening. He will perish without it.

Jesus said, “For God so lived the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Try telling a baby robin, “You need to get your act together . . .  you must do these 239 rules and get out of that place that you are in and do something about your life.” The poor little thing will die, mouth open, and likely with a sore throat. He needs the right food, but he also needs to have it given to him in love and with concern for his well-being. Certainly a hasty or less than gentle feeding will also mean a pain in the neck.

Then, should he decide to spit it out, or decide that he really is not hungry, or just does not want to acknowledge that he is in need of some nourishment, the resulting condition of his throat and his life is something for which he alone is responsible.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Will there always be war? ................... Parables 016

“WAR: a conflict between two parties or nations.” That is the simple dictionary definition for what seems to be a constant threat or a bloody reality in at least one location in the world at any given time. 

Most of the time the issues seems to be tremendously complex, whether the war is over a toy dump truck, which TV channel to watch, or a piece of land. Each of the parties involved usually has a long explanation to justify their right to have or take whatever it is they want, or to prevent the other party to take from them. If we could simplify the thinking behind most conflict, perhaps we would hear, “This is mine and I won’t let you take it” or “I like what you have and I am going to take it from you.”

It is relatively easy to sit in front of the evening news and say, “Why don’t they just stop fighting? It’s not worth it.” But the next time the other league team laughs as they walk away with “your” trophy, or someone cuts you off on the highway, or pushes their way into the line-up in front of you, or short-changes you, or takes a swipe at your dignity, let the welling-up of emotion be a reminder -- here is the stuff from which wars are made. They start within the heart of just one person.

The Bible says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:1-3).

Some people declare that the way to end war is to “knock all the fight out of the other guy.” Others say that “it takes two to fight, and if one will refuse, the other one has no one to fight.” Others are certain that treaties and agreements will do it. Not according to God’s Word. James points right to the heart of conflict in saying that the motivation behind war is in the sinful desires of the heart.

While we tend to defend the ones that have been defending themselves, or the ones that have been threatened, or whose property has been taken, or whose peace has been disrupted, God first takes a look at the heart. when one man asked Christ to make his brother divide the inheritance with him, Jesus said, “Who made me a judge or a divider over you? Beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses” (Luke 12:13-15).

God’s solution for conflict is to literally go right to the heart of the problem, and change it by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit in what is called a new birth, giving people a new heart with new motives, new trust in the Lord’s provision, and new contentment with what He provides. He says, “And you shall be clean from all your filthiness and your idols... a new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you... and I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes...” (Ezekiel 36:25,26).

Whether on the freeways, or in the jungles, sandbox or Sahara, war will never cease unless hearts are changed.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Praying to be heard ...................... Parables 015

Last week I discovered that some correspondence that I had mailed “Special Delivery” was lost somewhere between here and Minneapolis. I’m told that this happens “all the time” but it was the first time in my experience. I was able to send duplicate copies, this time by courier, but now feel some anxiety about the reliability of delivery services in general and the postal service in particular. In fact, no matter what methods we use to communicate, all have some flaws or at least possibilities whereby our messages can be lost, or misinterpreted, or never received. Even prayer.

Prayer is simply communication with God, but like letters that somehow find themselves in the dead-letter office, prayers can sometimes just “bounce off the ceiling.” I did a quick Bible study to see what reasons are behind the kind of praying that never quite makes it, and these are samples of what I came up with:

1) Not praying in accordance with God’s will. 1 John 5:14. “ . . . if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” God is sovereign, and our prayers therefore do not “pull His strings.” So we need to find out what He wants, and how He plans to accomplish it, and align ourselves with it, especially as we pray.

2) Asking with selfish motives. James 4:3 says that we don’t receive what we ask for because we just want to satisfy sinful desires. These prayers are excellent “ceiling-bouncers.”

3) And speaking of sinful desires, if we know we have some, and prefer to hang on to them rather than confess and forsake them, then the Lord will not hear our prayers. Psalm 66:18. Our communication to Him must come from a clean heart.

4) Wrong relationship toward our spouse: 1 Peter says that if a husband does not honor his wife and understand her special needs, or if a wife does not align herself in harmony with the God-given leadership position of her husband, they experience frustration in their prayer life.

5) Sending it through the wrong courier system: Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one can come to the Father but by me.” God is not obligated to hear the requests of anyone who comes to Him on the basis of their own merits, their religious performances, or any other reason. His heart, however, is always open to the cries of those who know His Son and pray in His name. Jesus Christ died on the cross so that access could be opened to the Father. Anyone who places their faith in Him, as Savior and Lord, can come “boldly to the throne of grace for help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Losing something in the mail can be serious, but far more vital to us and to God is that the avenue of communication that He has made available for us not be rendered useless because we fail to follow His guidelines. No prayer need bounce off the ceiling. God has made provision for us to be heard, and His love extends an invitation to communicate with Him.