Chapter 1: the quest for fulfillment

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Ishmael Paranoia

Among the lessons to be learnt through Abraham becoming a father is not that we should do nothing and leave it all to God. Had this been Abraham’s attitude, the miracle would never have happened. The key lay not in doing nothing, but in doing the right thing – trying yet again to fill a barren womb.

We can be so paranoid about conceiving an Ishmael, that we fail to produce an Isaac. To stop trying for a child through Sarah would have been just as devoid of faith as using her maid.

Faith is leaving the security of inactivity and deliberately exposing ourselves to the painful possibility of defeat. It is Jonathan and his armor-bearer going out to meet the enemy; not his comrades hiding in holes hoping for a miracle.a It’s Peter saying, ‘If that’s you, Lord, bid me come . . . ,’ and then stepping out of the boat.b It’s that same fisherman saying, ‘Lord, we’ve toiled all night and caught nothing. Nevertheless, at your word . . .’c It is Paul, once again facing a hostile crowd. It is you, trying one more time.

Faith is fundamental to all Christian service.d Like a seedling, it should constantly grow.e It is easier on ourselves if we start exercising faith now, in minor things, than to expect to pluck out of the air mountain-moving faith when it is critically needed in ministry.

A delay either quickens your faith to rise to the challenge, or it’s a dead wait.

How to Boost Faith

I can easily believe the atom-holding, earth-spinning, galaxy-sustaining, life-giving Source of everything wonderful can do whatever he likes. Even the devil believes it. My difficulty is believing that his special love for me makes him long to use that power on my behalf.

Few of us doubt that God can do amazing things. The weak link in our faith is believing that he would do such things for ordinary, inconsequential you and me. We suspect that in the Almighty’s eyes we are not sufficiently special to warrant such attention. Oh yes, ‘God loves everyone,’ but we have a hunch that by the time that love reaches us it has spread pretty thin. I’m just one of millions. Why would God want to focus his omnipotence on me?

If we could grasp the enormity of God’s love for us, our faith would sky-rocket. Pray for a revelation.f

Awareness of how much we are loved is forever slipping from our consciousness. Partially in sight for a few days, it begins to fade again. The following suggestions might help.

When we let God down – even if we really foul things up – picture the proudest father the world has seen. The baby screams, dribbles and soils itself, yet Dad still glows with pride. God is like that.

When you feel like a tiny blob in the seething mass of humanity, see the shepherd of a hundred sheep frantically searching for one. If he can be personally concerned for one, the omnipotent Shepherd of our souls can love all humanity and still be devoted to you. In the beautiful words of Isaiah, ‘As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.’g

When you feel you can do nothing right, picture a child, paintbrush in hand, gleaming with excitement. Enveloping her hand is the gentle hand of the world’s greatest artist. ‘And what shall we put in this corner?’ asks the man, as his skill and the girl’s imagination merge into one. See the artist’s smile and the child’s delight as together they create stunning beauty. Under God’s guiding hand, your possibilities are mind-boggling.

No matter how you feel, you are the focus of God’s attention; doted on as though you are the only friend God has. If ever a man wanted to shower his bride with love, or his son with gifts, God longs to lavish you with his extravagance. Expect great things from God. Anything less is an insult to your almighty Savior. With your Lord impossibilities are playthings.

Let faith mushroom by seizing the fact that the Omnipotent Lord is powerful enough to use you – over-riding your every inadequacy – and loving enough to want to. And believe that though he may lovingly delay your mission, his timing is perfect. Everything God touches is destined for glory. Even now, you are God’s ‘filthy rags to heavenly riches’ success story.

The Kingdom needs prayer warriors, not prayer worriers. No matter how much you cry, beg, and wish, you have not moved from superstition to authentic Christian prayer until you can thank God for the answer, knowing it is yours before you hold it in your hand. Faith is not thinking that God can; it is knowing that he will.a

You will see it when you believe it.


Paul’s patience was at breaking point. Day after day, wherever they went, the demonized slave-girl kept shrieking that Paul and Silas were God’s servants. Then, in a moment of desperation, he did it. He expelled the demon. And his greatest fears froze to excruciating reality.b

They were arrested, tortured and thrown in prison. Incarcerated like common criminals? No such luck. It was the maximum security block for them. Everything pointed to a painfully long stay.

Put ourselves in Paul’s stocks and our thoughts might be something like: ‘What an ant-brain! I walked right into Satan’s trap! Things were going so well – converts were being baptized, Lydia had opened her house to us – and like a twit I blew it! Now I’ve been flogged. Poor Silas is in agony. Both of us are in the slammer, no longer free to preach the Gospel. All because of me! If only I’d kept my cool . . .’

I’d have been as miserable as an elephant with sinusitis.

Yet instead of berating himself or being bullied by pain, the apostle sang praises. Almost instantly, tragedy yielded potent ministry. Not only was the Lord blessed and fellow prisoners touched, the jailer and all his family were converted. Praise turned misery into ministry.

Praise snaps locks. If a door to ministry slams, praise can burst open another.

If you think praise is hot air, you are right. It’s the hot air that makes faith balloon, lifting us to new heights in God, while warming the Father’s heart.

Praise is life-changing. I could extol it for pages, but singing its praises is often easier than singing praises. It takes enormous energy for a space vessel to blast off from earth on its way to another world. As it continues to leave earth’s gravitational pull, however, progress gets easier and easier until it is actually pulled along by the heavenly body it is headed for. With praise, too, it is the first part of the journey that is so demanding. The wonders of the rest of the voyage, however, makes the sometimes-huge initial effort so worthwhile.

The less we feel like praising, the more we need its power. I suspect Paul used a couple of tricks to break through despair into victorious praise.

Paul and Silas had so mingled worship with life’s humdrum that when things soured, their lips were still warm with his praises. There was no groping for a half-forgotten praise vocabulary; no brain-racking to find something praiseworthy in God. Praise was not a pill in their emergency kit; it was their way of life.

If one of their helps was habit, the second was song. When praise is a struggle, melody and beautiful words can bear us forward.

A third help was fellowship. They joined their praises. Where possible, do the same.

My next suggestion, like the others, is far from original. Multitudes have found that it works. Don’t try to start at the top; just find a few reasons to be grateful. Things could be worse. Thank God they’re not. Thank him that things have not always been as dire as they now seem. Lean heavily on tiny blessings. As they multiply in your head, they will provide a rich array of praise material.

You can even turn negative tendencies into an asset. We all need reminders to praise throughout the day. If your mind regularly clogs with negative thoughts, train yourself to use each recurrence of doubt or fear or gloom as a reminder to praise God. Each negative thought is packed with potential praise material. If, for instance, you are hounded by the thought that you are getting older, let it nudge you to thank God for the years he has given you. Praise him that your times are in his hands. Take comfort that at least someone is older than you – God – and revel in the knowledge that he will never fall for modern society’s infatuation with youth. Every time you feel old, rejoice that Jacob was in his nineties when he had his all-night wrestling match with an angel.a Exalt the One who empowered eighty-five-year-old Caleb to conquer the enemies’ mountain strongholds,b gave Job his greatest blessings in his latter years,c and bypassed millions to show the Christ child to elderly Anna.d

CcYet if being filled with the joy of the Lord were as easy as flicking a switch, there are still times when we would prefer to sulk. Forgetting that it is faith, not tears, that most moves our Lord, we secretly hope that if we are sufficiently miserable, he will have pity on us. That’s like trying to scale a mountain by digging a hole. Praise achieves things self-pity or self-recrimination could never do.

‘I will give you all my praise,’ I sang in a congregational song. Suddenly I realized I had lied. Every time I grumble I am praising the devil. Every complaint is an insult to God.

For balance, however, listen to Psalm 13. This dirge opens with, ‘How long will you forget me, Lord? Forever?’ With similar moans in the next few verses, the ancient blues singer continues his sob story. Then, just when we know where he is heading, he suddenly slams his song into reverse and declares, ‘I will sing unto the Lord, for he has dealt bountifully with me.’ The tail end of that little psalm looks as out of place as a fan of peacock feathers on the end of a pig. Yet no matter how odd it seems, psalm after psalm confirms that we can mingle praise with our pain. These inspired prayers prove that our Lord wants us to vent on him our grief and frustration. He wants honesty, not denial, and still he wants our praise.

Try hard enough and in every circumstance we can find reason to complain and reason to rejoice. To praise is to feast on the goodness of God. To complain is to languish in the squalor of self.

It’s your choice to rejoice

Or to blame and complain.

To sing a refrain

Or refrain to sing

Is to gain new ground,

Or go round and round.

Raise your praise

Or weep in defeat;

Make the gain

Or remain the same.

Curse and be worse;

Praise and be raised.

It’s you who choose

To win or lose.

To praise is to party. It is cutting the cords to earthly burdens and heading for heaven’s joys. It infuriates the devil because it not only plucks us out of the misery he had meticulously planned, it lets us sneak into the victory celebration ahead of time. To praise is to cheat the devil, laugh in his face and step into God’s time machine.

Praise magnifies God. The alternative magnifies the problem. The last thing we need is a ‘small’ God and large problems! What will we choose to exalt: the mighty, eternal God, or the puny, temporary problem? Praise pricks bloated problems by empowering us to glimpse the enormity of God.

Build muscle on your faith by constantly praising God, delighting in his answer ahead of time. It takes the wait off your mind.

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