God Urges Us To Be Careful For Nothing

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As I leaned into Jason’s sweet embrace, he commented, “I can feel the muscles in the back of your neck twitching. That’s nothing but stress.”

He wasn’t being cruel or argumentative. He was making a point. I need to learn to relax. The terrible thing was I didn’t even realize I was stressed at the moment. Sure, there’s been a lot on my plate lately, but I thought I was handling it all pretty well with the Lord’s help. But when Jason pointed out my stressed-out muscles, I realized I wasn’t doing as well as I thought I was. While I was functioning and completing my tasks, my thoughts were still full of anxiety. At that point, I did what I usually do when I realize I’m stressed out—I started stressing about my stress!

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
— Philippians 4:6

The word “careful” in this verse means “anxious.” So, God is telling us, “Be anxious for nothing. Don’t fret about anything. Don’t stress. Don’t worry.” Does anyone else find this extremely difficult?  

I often read that verse and say, “But Lord, you don’t understand. I have so much to do, and time is running out. I don’t feel as well as I could, and that’s slowing me down even more. Oh, and I thought I had enough money in the bank to pay that bill, but it turns out I didn’t, and now the bank account is overdrawn. And. . .”

Sound familiar? There’s just a couple of problems with my well-meaning (and heartfelt) excuses. First off, God does understand. We made that clear yesterday. Nothing is hidden from Him, including the source(s) of our anxiety. He gets it, probably even better than we do. But also, if we’ll look at our key verse one more time, we’ll see it doesn’t matter what our circumstances are. Be careful for NOTHING. Or let’s turn it around and say, “Don’t be anxious about anything!” Don’t be anxious about your to-do list. Don’t fret about your health. Don’t worry about money. Don’t stress about anything.

That’s a tall order! In my warped thinking, if I don’t stress over it, it won’t get done. But the truth is, stressing has never helped anyone. Anxiety only robs us of sleep, our health, and eventually our sanity. No, worry isn’t the answer. So, what is? When life feels overwhelming, and we can’t figure out if we’re coming or going, how can we remain calm and peaceful? Fortunately, God tells us in the same verse and the verses that follow.

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.
— Philippians 4:6-9

Scofield calls this "the secret of the peace of God." According to the above passage, here's how we can stop stressing and live peacefully no matter our circumstances:

1. Don't worry

2. Take it to God in prayer

3. Be thankful

4. Think positive

5. Consistently do what we’ve learned

Instead of being anxious, we need to take the situation to God and leave it there. We can then be thankful for such a loving, caring Father who bears our burdens, and we can trust that He will work all things for our good and His glory. After that, we do what we know to do and stop stressing about what we don’t know. And we repeat that process over and over again.

I won’t tell you it will be easy, especially at first. But it is possible. And the more we practice this plan for peace, the easier it will become. Imagine if this five-step formula was our first response to a crisis instead of our last. How much happier and calmer would we be? Let’s find out!

You Can't Ask Too Much of God

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Do you ever wonder if you’ve asked too much of God? For too many things? For too big a miracle? For too much too often? I know I do. Though I try to incorporate praise, worship, and supplication for others into my daily prayer time, I never seem to run out of requests for myself and my household. Prayers for guidance, strength, finances, and more. Requests that things would work out in this situation or that. Pleading for deliverance from a current trial or for God to give me the grace to wait on His timing.

With my many requests tumbling from my lips, I often stop and think, Have I gone too far? At what point will God throw up His hands and say, “Enough, Dana! You’ve asked for too much!”? But during those times, I think of Gideon. I’m sure you’re familiar with his story, but in case you’ve never noticed, I want to share with you how Gideon tested the limits of God’s grace and sufficiency.

And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me. Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before thee. And he said, I will tarry until thou come again.
— Judges 6:17-18

When the Lord first called Gideon into service, Gideon couldn’t believe his ears. God came to him as he was hiding from the enemy, and now God wanted him to lead his people into freedom from the Midianites. At first, Gideon offered excuses for why he wasn’t the best candidate for the job, but when God didn’t buy the excuses, Gideon tried another tactic. Shew me a sign. Gideon reasoned if God were serious, it wouldn’t be too much to prove it. So, Gideon ran off and prepared a meal which he presented to the Lord. The Lord promptly burned up the offering and then disappeared, leaving Gideon to declare, “Alas, O Lord God, for because I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face.”

At that point, God gave Gideon a task to perform. He was to destroy the altar of Baal and the grove set up by his father. It was risky, but Gideon did it. Still, his doubting days weren’t over. The next thing we know, Gideon was facing the prospect of delivering Israel from the enemy, and his faith wavered. So, he asked for more proof that God was serious.

And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said.
— Judges 6:36-37

Once again, God catered to Gideon’s request. In the morning, the fleece was wet, and the surrounding ground was dry, just as Gideon had specified. But Gideon still wasn’t convinced (which I totally get!). So, he dared to ask for one more thing.

And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.
— Judges 6:39

I can hear the fear and trembling in Gideon’s voice as he begged, “Lord, please don’t be angry with me. I know you’ve given me two signs, but if you could prove Yourself to me one more time, then I’ll know I can trust You, and I can go forward.” Oh, how I love this about Gideon! He was respectful but honest. Though he desired to trust God fully, he had to admit he wasn’t quite there yet. And God, in His great mercy, gave Gideon another sign—the dry fleece.

If the story ended there, we would have enough evidence to assure us we can’t ask too much of God. Even when He’s done enough, He loves us enough to give us more to help us grow in our knowledge and faith in Him. But there’s more to the story, and it’s my favorite part.

Fast forward to Judges 7. God had taken Gideon’s army and whittled it down to a mere 300 men. Knowing they were facing an army of 135,000 well-trained soldiers, Gideon was likely terrified and once again doubting the will of God here. How could it be possible for such a small band of men to defeat a mighty army? And who was he to lead them? He was a farmer, not a soldier. Yes, I have no doubt the fear and anxiety rolled over him, but Gideon dared not ask for another favor from God. After all, the last time he did, he said it would be the last time. No, he wouldn’t ask God to prove Himself again. So, he did the next best thing. He spied out the enemy.

And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the east lay along in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the sea side for multitude.
— Judges 7:12

Wonderful! The Midianites had joined forces with the Amalekites and all the children of the east, and they stretched out across the valley like sand on the seashore. Not exactly the boost of confidence Gideon needed, was it? But God was watching out for Gideon and was about to give the timid leader something he didn’t even ask for—assurance.

And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along. And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host. And it was so, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream, and the interpretation thereof, that he worshipped, and returned into the host of Israel, and said, Arise; for the Lord hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian.
— Judges 7:13-15

I love that! God knew Gideon was afraid. He knew the poor fellow was beginning to have doubts but was too scared to ask for another favor. So, God gave him what he needed without Gideon even having to ask. Why? Because that’s just the way God is. He loves to give to His children. Exceeding, abundantly above all we could ask or think. (Ephesians 3:20)

So, does God tire of hearing our requests? No, I don’t think so. Now, I will say He probably grows weary if we only come to Him when we want or need something, but otherwise, I think He loves to hear from us. It gives Him a chance to prove His love and care for us. It also offers him an opportunity to show His willingness to go beyond what we could ask or think by giving us what we need when we need it whether we’ve asked for it or not.

Can you ask too much of God? Nope! When we come to Him with genuine love and a sincere desire, He can’t help but shower us with blessings. It’s just His nature. It’s Who He is!

Questions, Questions - Part Three

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Okay, today we’ll end our game of Questions Only but first, let’s look at our key passage one more time.

And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
— Mark 4:35-41

In yesterday’s devotion, we discussed the two questions of Jesus: “Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?” Tough questions, no doubt. And as I mentioned, the disciples had no answer. They couldn’t understand their lack of faith. They couldn’t explain their fear. But neither could they understand or explain what just took place in their fishing boat, which prompted the next question: “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

What gets me is, at this moment, these men were more scared of Jesus than they had been of the storm. We thought they were afraid before, but the Bible clearly states that after Jesus calmed the sea, the disciples “feared exceedingly.” In a way, I guess I can’t blame them. Jesus had just proven Himself more powerful than the storm. He had just shown that He controlled the wind and waves. Three small words were all it took to calm the seas, but it would take much more—it would seem—to ease the disciples’ hearts.

I want to berate the disciples. Not so much for their fear of the storm but for their fear of the One who stopped the storm. I mean, seriously, can’t they see Jesus is on their side? But, as much as I want to give them grief, I can’t because I’m guilty of doing the same. How many times has Jesus delivered me from a storm, and instead of offering gratitude or praise, I respond with more fear? Afraid of the new situation in which He’s placed me. Afraid He might not come through for me again. Afraid of failure. Afraid of being afraid.

I have to give the disciples credit—they asked a great question. Who is this man? He was obviously not like anyone else they had ever come in contact with. What kind of man could control the wind and waves? The book of Matthew tells us they marveled at him. I like that better than fearing Him though, in a sense, it still involves fear. Just a different kind.  

The fear of the Lord is a good thing. The Bible tells us it’s the beginning of wisdom, and let me tell you, the disciples would be wise by the time Jesus ascends to Heaven. When we talk about fearing the Lord, it’s not about being afraid of Him in the sense of fearing monsters under the bed. It’s about marveling at who He is and what He can do. It’s a matter of respect, of awe. And our Lord certainly deserves that.

Not once in the Scriptures do we see Jesus berating someone for having the fear of the Lord, but many times we see Him correcting those who were just plain afraid. I have to wonder if it’s even possible to possess a fear of the Lord and a fear of other things at the same time. After all, if we’re fearing the Lord, that means we recognize His all-knowing, all-powerful nature. Can we honestly do that and still be afraid of the “what ifs” in life? According to these verses, I’d have to say “no.”

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? - Psalm 27:1

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation. - Isaiah 12:2

The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? - Psalm 118:6

So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. - Hebrews 13:6

 In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me. - Psalm 56:4

Yes, it seems the fear of the Lord and the lack of fear, in general, go hand in hand. So when we choose fear (fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of dying, fear of foreclosure, etc.), we deny the fear of the Lord. We’re choosing the wrong master, serving the wrong thing. We’re putting more trust in our own fear than we are in the all-powerful, all-knowing God. And here I wanted to give the disciples a hard time!

The good news is, the disciples finally got it. It took a while, and they messed up a lot, but they finally understood, and when they did, it changed them forever. You know what that tells me? There’s hope for us too. If we keep our eyes on Jesus instead of the storms in our lives, soon we’ll learn to live in the fear of the Lord. And once we do, we can face any storm, any giant, any situation and boldly proclaim, “I’m not afraid of you!” Or, if you’re from the South, “Ain’t skeerd!”