Don’t You Just Love a Good Symphony?


10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God” [Psalm 46:10a]

The view from my back deck 0615 this morning

A funny thing has happened to me over the last few days.

Well, not all that funny if you know me well.  You see, I’ve been craving silence.

Sometimes it seems as though I need silence like other people need air.  It feeds me and fills me with a kind of strength and peace that is simply unattainable any other way.  In the silence I hear God.

Don’t get me wrong, God doesn’t speak to me audibly like some other worldly and disembodied voice from upon high.  He doesn’t make bold pronouncements like “build an ark” or “let my people go”.  I’ve often lamented that I wish he would speak to me that way, the way he spoke to Moses through the burning bush or how he woke a young Samuel from a deep sleep.  But then again that would likely be terrifying so I guess I’ll pass.

No, God speaks to me in those thoughts that come in the quiet moments of the day.  He brings to mind people to pray for and reach out to, he plants the seeds of action and progress for my life, ministry and business but more often than not he just says:  “hey there – I’m here with you, I’m on your side, I’ve got this, relax I love you.”

Some days I tend to be a bit of a striver.  I run hard after things, like an athlete going for gold.  I remember the first time I read 1 Corinthians 9:24, I said; “Yup that’s me, I want to be that guy.”

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. [1 Corinthians 9:24, 25]

I work hard, sometimes too hard.

In my business we use a personality matrix to help us understand ourselves better so that we can direct our efforts toward the kind of prospects that respond best to our personal styles.  I’m sure you’ve seen similar things in whatever business you spend your time in.  They’ve been a staple of popular management psychology for at least the last 30 years.  The one we use the most breaks people down into 4 categories; analytical, driver, amiable and expressive.

Through a series of question and response tests you can place yourself on a quadrant diagram in one of the four areas and presto, this is who you are and how you work best.  Problem is that every time I do one of these tests, if I take my time and am honest with myself I land so close to the middle of the diagram that they tell me I must not have been honest.  Apparently nobody can be so balanced in their responses as to be nearly equal in all four traits.  Except me that is, but I digress.

On days when I tend to be a striver, (I prefer the term to driver because to my mind it better depicts a goal that you are reaching for, I’m pretty sure you can be a driver and still lack direction.) I sometimes run off ahead of God.  And when I get ahead of God things start to fall apart, deals fall through, relationships get strained and I start to crave silence so I can stop for a minute and listen to God.

That’s how I’ve been feeling lately so I tried for some quite time yesterday.  Saturdays are usually a good day to unplug from the world and sit in silence for a while but there were too many things to do, too many errands to run and too many people to visit.  I started to feel myself getting angry so I calmed myself down by resolving to get up early this morning and sit in the silence.

I began with some deep breathing exercises and an “Our Father.”  And then it happened.  The birds started it.  Not just one or two but a veritable symphony!

I was annoyed, how’s a guy supposed to hear God with all this damn chirping?  But that wasn’t all; a car with a bad muffler started up in the distance, then my neighbor’s air conditioner kicked in, a dog started barking and an airplane took off.  Did I mention I live just a few kilometers from the airport?

But just as I was about to get really upset and give up in frustration I heard it.  God whispering to me through the noise; “Don’t you just love a good symphony?”

I took another deep breath and started over; “Our Father, who art in heaven… listen to the symphony of praise your creation has brought this fine morning!

Hallowed be thy name….”

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

 

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The Prayer of Jabez


Buried away in the white pages of your Bible is a perhaps one of the most powerful prayers and testimonies ever recorded. It is an obscure prayer, by an obscure figure which had such a profound impact on the man who prayed it and the people who knew him that in the middle of a long genealogy of the Israelite patriarchs the author saw fit to break in and give a quick testimony and reminder of just who this man was.

bookandcandle1 & 2 Chronicles contain some of the least read passages in the entire Bible. That’s why I call them the white pages. Most people, even those who study the Bible diligently will gloss over large sections of Chronicles because, quite honestly, nothing seems to be happening. So the pages remain white and pristine, there are no dog ears, no scribbled notes in the margins and nothing is highlighted.   The first 9 chapters of 1 Chronicles consist of list after list of the various families that made up the nation of Israel.

B-O-R-I-N-G!

So it is any wonder why, tucked away in the middle of chapter 4, while the author is listing the sons of Judah, this powerful prayer is so easy to miss? By the time you get to chapter 4 most people have given up and are just skimming the pages waiting for something to happen.

The story and testimony of Jabez is just two verses and then the author is right back to the list of men “begetting” away.

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.”  Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. [1 Chronicles 4:9-10]

That’s it! That’s all we know about Jabez. None of his brothers, forefathers or descendants get more than a mention in the long list of the sons of Judah. Why Jabez? What made the author or Chronicles decide to stop and say in essence, “there is something you need to know about this guy Jabez. He was more honorable than his brothers because he prayed this prayer and God liked it so much He granted everything Jabez asked for, and more.”

This side of heaven we will never know the answer. But in looking at the powerful prayer that Jabez made we can get a glimpse of why God might have looked so favourably upon him and why the author of Chronicles made sure we knew about it.

First off, Jabez had an unfortunate name. In Hebrew it means literally “pain”. He gave his mother great pain in childbirth and rather than try to forget that and take joy in the birth of a son she decided to remember that pain every time she called his name. In Hebrew culture names mean something and are considered a part of both your destiny and your legacy so all throughout his life Jabez was a representative of pain. It would have made for a difficult kind of life. People would have treated him according to the connotations of his name. So when Jabez cried out to God it would likely have come from a place of pain and frustration. “Oh God, Bless me, increase my influence, be with me, keep me from harm and away from pain!”

I’ve prayed Jabez prayers before. Usually when my bank account is empty and my faith is stretched but his prayer seems different than mine. While my prayers sound to my own ears like I’m begging God for something I don’t deserve, his prayer is bold yet humble, it is expectant and trusting, submissive and demanding. And most importantly – God loved it! God loved this prayer so much that he granted Jabez everything he asked for, and more.

In studying this prayer I have found that there are four points here that are worth pondering and implementing into your own prayer life if you want to blessed like Jabez.

  • Oh God Bless me. First off Jabez asked God for His blessing. That’s huge. God wants to bless his people, show them favor and give them what they ask for. Jesus tells us to ask and it will be granted, seek and we will find, knock and the door will be open to us. [Matthew 7:7] But it’s important to ask. God won’t necessarily withhold the things we need but the greater blessings must be asked for in part so that we don’t forget where they came from. By asking we are giving the glory back to God. God likes to be asked.
  • Enlarge my territory, or in other translations and more modern language, increase my influence. In the older translations the blessing that Jabez is asking for can be seen solely in monetary terms but really the territory or influence that is being asked for here is not only financial, although financial resources are often required. It can be anything that moves The Kingdom of heaven forward, by remaining humble and submissive in our stance when we make a prayer like this God can move in our lives and the lives around us in many different ways.
  • Let your hand be with me. Don’t run ahead of God. He will often give you a vision as a challenge for you to grow into and then wait for the right time to make it come to pass. When we pray for blessing and increased influence we often receive grand plans and visions that we can’t possibly implement on our own, we need God to stay with us and work through us in order to make them come true. It can be frustrating to receive these visions from God without the resources to implement them. I get that just don’t forget to pray for His hand in all you do.
  • And keep me from harm. We are at war. When you start doing great things for God Satan won’t like it and he will try to oppose you. When you ask God to bless you, increase your influence and help you out in the process, be prepared to have to fight for it too. God will never leave you or forsake you but Satan will do everything he can to make you lose hope and abandon your mission.   The last point of the Jabez prayer is crucial, as your influence grows you will need God’s protection more and more so don’t forget to ask for it and expect God to grant it.

 

And there you have it. Jabez asked for God’s blessing and increased influence, submitted to God’s direction and sought His protection. God liked his prayer so much that he granted everything he asked for and more. So much so that the author of Chronicles took time out of a long list of obscure men and gave us this testimony of a life that God favored. Maybe there is something to this prayer.

Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain!

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“Can We Pray for My Dog?”


injured dog

I’m not good with kids.

At least I don’t feel like I am. I tend to be one of those adults that are constantly thinking about big things.  I always have an idea for a big new project or I’m thinking about big consequences and digging deep for big meaning. I like my conversations to be powerful, heavy and deep. Little things bother me. Little things are insignificant. Little things are a waste of time.

That’s why last night at Home Church God gave me an opportunity to do something completely out of character. And I loved every second of it!

Our regular crowd consists of between 10 to 15 adults and about 8 to 10 children. The children range from babies up to about 9 years old. At the beginning of the evening the children go down to the basement to play games and watch movies while the adults stay upstairs and talk about the important stuff.

I love my Home Church. We discuss all the things I thrive on, we dig deep into scripture and learn a lot of great stuff together without the distraction of childish concerns. Last night however I learned more about the value of simple faith from a 9 year old girl than I have learned in nearly seven years as an elder in my church.

As our meeting was wrapping up the children came thundering up the stairs and interrupted our prayer time. Rather than try and stifle their enthusiasm I simply skipped the closing prayer and told everyone we’d pray for one another on our own time throughout the week, if anyone had anything specific we could be in touch directly via text or on our Facebook page. That was it there was no point in trying to bring it back down and pray with all those kids running around.

But this one little girl, who couldn’t be more than 8 or 9 years old, sat down next me and said “Aren’t we going to pray?”

My immediate thought was, “No you’re being too noisy, go play with your brother” but there was something in the way she asked that pulled me up short. I knew there was something on her mind so I said “Well, you and I can pray, just the two of us, what would you like to talk to God about?”

Surrounded by all the noise and chaos of the rest of the kids she proceeded to tell me a story, as only a 9 year old girl can, about how her dog got a scratch on her nose and a cut on her paw while she was away for the weekend and she didn’t know how it happened. I’ll be honest, a dog that sounded like it maybe had a run in with a neighbourhood cat is not something a guy like me considers very significant but to this little girl it was her whole world. It was significant enough that she sought out an adult who she hardly knows and asked for help talking to God about it. So I did the only thing I could do, amid the din I leaned in, bowed my head and asked God to heal her dog.

Six months from know I’m not going to remember what our adult Home Church discussion was about, the details are already starting to fade but I am going to remember the simple faith of that little girl. And perhaps more importantly I hope she’s going to remember that it’s okay to ask an adult to pray with her for the things she finds significant. That’s what Home Church community, no family, is all about.

Our key scripture passage last night was Ephesians 2: 8-10

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

We talked a lot about what it means to do good works, to pass on our faith and to extend grace. Maybe because I’m a slow learner and maybe because I need to work on my relationships with children, God gave me an immediate object lesson that I won’t soon forget.

We would all do well to pray for the injured dogs of the world and anything else children find significant.

 

Tapping into The Mastermind


The concept of Masterminding is drawn from the 1930s classic “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill.  The idea is that when you bring people together from a diverse set of backgrounds to talk about their common interests and challenges they learn from one another and each come away with valuable insights that they can apply to their own situations.  The resulting ideas are greater than the sum of their parts, a kind of two plus two equals five, if you will.

The typical mastermind group consists of 4-6 people, all working at about the same level (CEOs with CEOs, middle managers with middle managers, salespeople with other salespeople etc.), but in a diverse set of industries.  That way they have to work at finding commonality in their businesses.  When they meet, each member of the group is given the opportunity to express a concern or challenge they are facing and then the rest of the group brainstorms solutions.  Some of the greatest business minds of all time have been members of mastermind groups.  It has been argued that the assembly line system developed by Henry Ford may never have made it out of the Ford Motor Company had it not been for the fact that Ford met on a regular basis with Andrew Carnegie and Harvey Firestone.

Some, including Hill and many of his modern day disciples like Jack Canfield and Rhonda Byrne, made famous by her bestselling book “The Secret”, say that masterminding and the fact that the resulting ideas are greater than the sum of their parts is somehow evidence of God.   To back up that claim they site passages like this one;

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. [Matthew 18:20]

Jack Canfield quotes this passage in “The Success Principles” when discussing masterminding.  But when I read that my spidey senses when crazy, something just didn’t seem right about it so I looked it up.

As a practising Christ-Follower I am pretty sceptical when I see scripture quoted in a decidedly secular book.   While the overall concept of masterminding is fairly powerful and there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with it, I even take part through a bi-weekly breakfast meeting with a group of small business owners,  I knew immediately that Canfield was quoting Jesus out of context and bending the word of God to fit his agenda.

This sentence comes at the end of a passage in which Jesus is giving instruction on how to deal with sin in the church.    He begins by saying this;

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. [Matthew 18:15-16]

You see, “where two are three are gathered” is not about getting together and talk about our personal agendas, it’s about addressing sin and furthering the Kingdom.  That’s not to say that God doesn’t bless us when we follow his commands but this passage just isn’t about that.

When I was first introduced to the law of attraction my immediate reaction was that it sounded a lot like good old fashioned prayer, with one exception, with prayer the goal is not to always get your own way.  When you pray you can ask for what you want or what you think you need but in the end it’s God who decides.  Regardless of what you want, you get what’s best.  That’s why Jesus taught use to ask “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” [Matthew 6:10].

So while masterminding isn’t a sin Jesus wants us to remember that discerning the will of God is really what masterminding should be all about.  It’s not about trying to influence God’s will in anyway and no amout of “group think” is going to change that.