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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Like Armpits, We All Have Them, and They All Stink

A lot of believers looks at Jesus as their personal savior, but see God as someone that wants to punish you for every little mistake that you do.  They live in fear of God, not respect of God.  Then there are those who see God as a provider.  “If I need something, I pray to God.”  These people frequently only turn to God when they need Him to provide something.  We need to look at God like a father.  Someone we can have a personal relationship with.  Someone we can turn to at all times.  Someone who is interested in the smallest areas of my life.  A God who wants to be involved in everything I do, and a God that wants me to include Him in everything I do. – Peter Kasirivu

Last week, I looked at why we should pray, but I failed to tackle an important issue regarding prayer:  Why don’t we pray?  Let’s face it, most of our prayer lives are awful.  Why is that?  We know that we’re supposed to pray...we know the benefits of praying...we even enjoy praying (sometimes).  Then why don’t we do it more often?

Possible reasons why we don’t pray:
-         We don’t want anything.  In short, we’re “comfortable.”
-         We think God won’t respond (or that prayer doesn’t work).  We believe we’re too small and God isn’t interested.
-         We think God will respond, and we won’t like His answer.
-         It’s hard to stay focused.
-         We feel guilty because we aren’t living up to His expectations.
-         We’re “too busy.”
-         We think we can handle everything.  “If I just work harder...”
-         We don’t know how.
-         We don’t see the point.  “If God is all-knowing, why do I need to pray?  He already knows everything that I would pray about.”
-         We don’t understand prayer.  Prayer is kind of a supernatural action.  We are communicating with an entity we can’t see or (physically) hear.  That idea doesn’t fit into our understanding of the universe.
-         We don’t want to “bother” God.  We feel that He has more to worry about than our puny issues.


“I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.” – Isaiah 7:12

There have been times where I wanted to pray, but stopped myself because I felt my issue was petty.  We all have.  Part of that is ingrained in us.  We look at the world around us and think, I have nothing to complain about.  My problems are so small compared to theirs.  Maybe that’s true.  Perhaps in our world, your problems are small compared to what others go through.  However, no problem is too small for God.  He wants you to come to Him with your issues, regardless of size.  He wants to show you that He can handle every issue.  He wants you to trust that He will.  Mainly...He just wants you to come to Him.

Another fear we have is that God isn’t listening.  There are so many people on this planet, how can God possibly hear my tiny prayer amongst all the others?  Simple answer:  Because He’s God.

Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord will hear when I call to him. – Psalm 4:3
Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer. – Psalm 66:20

Maybe you think that God isn’t listening to your prayer because you aren’t receiving an answer.  We’ve all been frustrated by what we perceived as “unanswered” prayer, but rest assured, God answers every one we send His way.

God hears and answers all prayer.  Sometimes He says yes.  Sometimes He says no.  Sometimes He says later.  It’s like being a parent.  You would be a terrible parent if all you said was yes, yes, yes.  Sometimes a good parent has to say no.  Sometimes a good parent has to say later.  We persist in prayer because the answer might be later. – Mark Driscoll

I think we need to look at ourselves when we claim that God isn’t listening or that He’s not answering our prayer.  Did God fail to answer, or did you just not like His answer?  Failure to receive what you asked for is not a lack of an answer.  I love another quote from Driscoll:  “We can’t make Jesus give us an answer that we want.  He is the commander-in-chief.  I can give Him a request, but I cannot give Him an order.”  If you pray and receive what you asked for—thank and praise Him.  If you pray and are told no—thank and praise Him for listening, and trust that He knows what He’s doing.  If you pray and are told later—thank and praise Him for listening, and persist in prayer.  Keep asking.  He wants you to keep asking.

Sometimes, we stop praying because we don’t want God to answer.  As a child, I loved overnights with friends.  However, if I wanted to stay overnight at a friend’s house on Friday, I was often expected to complete my Saturday chores before I left for my friend’s.  I’ll be honest…there were times when a friend asked if I wanted to stay the night, and I lied and told them my parents said no.  The truth was, I didn’t want to ask my parents because I didn’t want to do my chores that day.  Not doing chores occasionally trumped fun with friends.

From time to time, we fail to pray because of that.  Richard Foster writes:  “None of us will keep up a life of prayer unless we are prepared to change.”  Many times, we just want God to fix it for us.  What’s beautiful is that sometimes…He will.  However, sometimes He wants us to get our hands dirty as well.  He tells us that He’ll give us what we’re asking for, but in order for that to happen…we have to make a change.  Sadly, we’re not prepared or not willing to do that…so instead, we just don’t pray at all.  Which leads to guilt.

The main issue in our prayerlessness is we have a problem believing and grasping that God likes us, enjoys us and delights in us.  If you have ever betrayed someone, if you have ever lied to someone and they know, if you have ever fallen short of someone’s expectation of you, what’s our response?  Avoidance. – Matt Chandler

Guilt crushes our faith.  It keeps us from prayer, it keeps us from church, it keeps us from God.  We read things from prayer warriors like E.M. Bounds, who writes, “We cannot talk to God strongly when we have not lived for God strongly,” and think, This is why my prayer life sucks...because I’m not a Godly man.  We sin and believe that we’ve let God down.  Perhaps that’s why He’s not listening?  Because He’s disappointed in me?  Better to just not pray.  I’m clearly not worthy of His attention.

Jonathan Cone wrote a great piece on this a few years ago for Relevant Magazine.  I strongly suggest you give it a read, especially if guilt is hurting your prayer life (click here for the article).  Meanwhile, let me sum up Cone’s piece with a quote from Joel Virgo:  “Resist discouragement—It’s from the devil.  Your Father loves you.”

ADD is my biggest prayer downfall.  I begin to pray and my mind wanders all over the place.  I’ll start a prayer in the morning in regards to my day...which will get me thinking about what needs to be done that day...which will get me thinking about what unit I’m teaching...which will get me thinking about what’s working in that unit and what isn’t...which will get me thinking about what worked in the past and what can be done for better success in the future......the next thing I know, I’m thinking about dinner that night, what sporting event I want to watch...or my personal favorite: brainstorming for this blog.  That’s right, my prayer life is frequently disrupted by me thinking about what to write for that week’s post...regarding God.  So, I’m disciplined in communicating about Him...just not with Him.

How do we combat this?  Ironically—with prayer.  Francis Chan says that while he has always been easily distracted in prayer, he could always re-focus.  “I’d fall on my knees...I’d speak out loud...anything so that it made sense.”  This is what we must do.  When our prayer-ADD kicks in, we must learn to recognize it, and re-focus.  Turn your distraction over to God.  Ask Him to clear your mind of all the other garbage in your life so you can isolate on Him.  Re-focus, and start again.  Keep repeating this process until you finish your prayer.  It takes patience, but you’ll find that it gets easier with time.  Your prayer life will begin to become more distraction-free.

I have an entire post planned dealing with those that feel they don’t know how to pray, so I won’t write much here.  Let me just use this analogy:  There’s a saying in basketball:  “When you’re hot...shoot.  When you’re cold...shoot more.”  The basic premise, of course, is that by shooting more, you’ll force yourself out of your funk.  Also, if you’re missing a lot of shots, you need to shoot more because you need the practice.  The same could be said of prayer.  Prayer is nothing more than talking to/with God.  If you struggle in prayer...pray more.  Just talk to God.  The more you do this, the easier it will become, and the less you’ll worry about “how” to pray.

While we use all of these reasons to explain why our prayer life isn’t better, my personal favorite is that we don’t have time.  We’re so busy that prayer often slips our minds.  This is pathetic.  As D.A. Carson puts it, “If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy.  Cut something out.”  There is nothing going on in your life that is more important than time with God.  Nothing.  In fact, the busier you are, the more you should turn to God.  Martin Luther once said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”

I’m not suggesting that you spend the first three hours of your day in prayer, but focus on the message:  I have so much to do.  If our lives are that busy, we need some help, and that help comes from God.  Ask Him to take some of that burden so your plate isn’t as full.  So you aren’t as stressed.  So you have more time.  Prayer is time with God, and you should tithe your time like you do your money.  Colossians 4:2 tells us that we are to “devote” ourselves to prayer.  Not when we need something.  Not when there’s a crisis.  Not when we feel like it.  Devotion is continuous and constant.

We will make time for things that are important.  When I was a teacher, some kids would explain their lack of homework with “I forgot.”  I would then ask why they hadn’t forgotten their clothes.  The idea behind their explanation was that homework was that unimportant.  The idea that we are too busy to pray is insanity.  What could you possibly be doing that is more important? – Joel Virgo

What could you possibly be doing that is more important?  Work?  TV?  Video games?  Texting?  Facebooking?  Going to clubs?  Bars?  Sporting events?  Concerts?  Napping?  Is there anything on this planet more important than time with the Father?

You will find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. – Jeremiah 29:13
When was the last time you sought God with all—key word: ALL—your heart?  Try it.  Pray for five minutes.  Just five.  Turn off the TV.  Turn off the computer.  Turn off the cell phone.  Turn off the iPod.  For five minutes, don’t think about the outside world around you.  Just talk to God.  Give those five minutes to Him.  Trust me, you’ll be different after just five minutes.  You’ll feel different. – Francis Chan

I’m going to throw a challenge out there.  Pick a day this week—any day—but for one day, if you feel the need to text someone, make a quick prayer to God instead.  However long it would have taken you to text that person, spend that long in prayer.  Instead of logging on to Facebook...pray.  However long you would have been on Facebook, spend that long in prayer.  Do this for one day.  Next week...try doing this for two consecutive days.  The next week...three days.  Keep increasing this until you go an entire week without texting or Facebooking.  At the worst, you’ll begin to learn how much of your “valuable” time you spend on such meaningless areas.  At the best, you’ll begin to develop a stronger prayer life.

AW Tozer wrote that “Every man is as close to God as he wants to be.”  The underlining truth behind this post lies within that sentence.  We are as close to God as we want to be.  At some point, we all have used every one of these reasons to explain our poor praying habits.  That has to stop.  The bottom line is—We simply don’t care enough.  If we did, these excuses wouldn’t exist…because, in the end, that’s all they are.

It drives me crazy when people say, “I wish I were closer to God.”  No you don’t.  If you did, you would be.  It’s not like God is up there going, “I know you want to be closer to me, but I’m not going to let you.”  God gave His son to us so we could have intimacy with Him.  So if you’re not close to Him, guess whose fault it is?  It’s not a lack of desire on God’s part, it’s a lack of desire on your part.  We live in a culture and a church age where excuses are so popular.  Everyone has an excuse for why they sin, why they’re not close to God, why they’re not this, this, and this.  And the truth is?  It’s all you. – Francis Chan

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

James 5:13-16

The biggest danger for any generation is prayerlessness. – Joel Virgo

I have been struggling with this post for months.  My main issue has been the amount of information from which I have to draw.  I have eighty-seven pages of notes that deal strictly with why we should pray.  Quite simply: I've been overwhelmed.  In my attempts to write, I have tried to be clever.  I have tried to be cute.  I have tried to be challenging.  I have tried splitting it into two or three posts.  Nothing has worked.  Five minutes ago, I was ready to walk away and write something different this week...but God wouldn't let me.  He wants me to face this.  He wants me to write this.  Now.  In so doing, He made it clear how I needed to write it: Matter-of-factly.  This week's post may come across sounding more like lecture notes than my typical "voice," but it is how God wants it delivered.

Thy will be done.

Why should we pray?

We Are Commanded To Do So
The Bible tells us to pray and we should do what God says.  If we are not “devoted to prayer,” we are disobedient to the scriptures.  That is foolish and dangerous. – John Piper

We are constantly instructed to pray throughout the Bible (Colossians 4:2 and 1 Thessalonians 5:17 for starters).  It’s not a suggestion.  It’s a command.  We are to pray.  God wants to hear from us.  He wants to communicate with us.  When we avoid this part of our Christian walk, it hurts Him.  By not praying, we turn our backs to the Father.  Some may disagree with this statement, but I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to say that a failure to live a life with constant, consistent prayer is a sin.  If we are commanded to pray, and we go against that command, we are sinning.  As Charles Spurgeon said, “A prayerless soul is a Christless soul.”

It is God's will that we pray to him. Sometimes we struggle to know the will of God for our lives. But there are some things that you do not have to struggle to know. One of them is that God's will is that you pray to him. – John Piper


It’s An Honor
We pray because it is simply a staggeringly awesome privilege. – John Piper

The presidential election was last week.  Imagine if you had President Obama on speed dial, and he not only picked up every time you called (regardless of what he was in the middle of doing), but he stayed on the line and listened to every word you had to say (regardless of how long you spoke).

No one has that kind of access to the president, yet we all have that access to God.  Really let that sink in for a moment.  The One who created everything answers your call on the first ring every single time.  You have a direct line to the most powerful being…why wouldn’t you utilize that?


It Develops a Relationship
God desires a real relationship.  He is a friend.  He is someone who is interested in my life. – Peter Kasirivu

As we grow older, we drift apart from many of our friends.  Why?  Whether it’s different interests or a change in location, the longer we go without talking to that person, the weaker our relationship.  We don’t suddenly hate this person...we just fail to communicate consistently and it wears at the relationship.

Piper says that “without personal communion with God in prayer, we will not really know Him, but only know about Him.”  Communication is the foundation of every relationship.  What kind of friendships would you have if you never spoke?  What kind of marriage?  The more you put into a relationship, the more you receive from it.  Prayer draws us closer to God.  If we want a true relationship with Him, we must open up the channels of communication.  Prayer is that channel.  God wants you to tell Him about every mundane moment of your day.  He wants to hear about your joys and frustrations.  He wants to be a part of that.  Let Him.

The goal of prayer is the ear of God, a goal that can only be reached by patient and continued and continuous waiting upon Him, pouring out our heart to Him and permitting Him to speak to us. Only by so doing can we expect to know Him. – E.M. Bounds


Jesus Prayed
‘Nuff said.


It Is Essential To Our Salvation
To build muscles, people lift weights. To grow trust, Christians pray. Nothing else builds trust quite like facing all of your ongoing problems and unsolved struggles by getting down on your knees and not trying to fix them the way you would your gutters or broken refrigerators. – A.J. Swoboda

I really just want to sum up this section by quoting E.M. Bounds: “We can do nothing without prayer.”  Or Dr. Timothy Keller: “Prayer submits to God.”  We are such a stubborn creature.  We believe we can handle everything ourselves.  Asking for help shows weakness.  The thing is, we are weak.  God is not.  Bounds is absolutely right—we can do nothing without prayer.  We would be lost without Him.  Satan would attack us over and over again, wrecking havoc on our lives, because he would know that we’d just let him.  That we’d try to take him on by ourselves...and we.  Would.  Lose.

Keller is also right—prayer submits to God.  Prayer is saying to God, “I am nothing.  I am small and weak, and I can’t do this without you.”  Prayer isn’t telling God to fix it, it’s just admitting to Him (and yourself) that you can’t fix it alone.  Have you ever tried to take on a project (at school or at home) by yourself?  Isn’t that project so much easier—an oftentimes more fun to do—with someone else?  Remember: God wants that relationship with you.  He wants to take on life’s projects with you.

I came across a John Piper sermon recently where he talked about prayer being the crucial element of our eternal life.  He compared it to breathing.  At one point, Piper said that believing “a life without prayer would result in an eternal life with Christ was like believing that you could spend as much time underwater as you could above it.”  He’s 100 percent correct.  If you don’t pray, you don’t have a relationship with God.  If you don’t have a relationship with God, you don’t know Him.  If you don’t know Him, you don’t spend eternity with Him.

Here’s what’s awesome: God can turn your mistake into a miracle.  If God can make the sun stand still for a moment (Joshua 10:7-15), He can change your life in a moment.  What seems impossible to me is nothing to God.  He who created the sun can stop it. – Steven Furtick


Prayer Calms Us and Clears Our Minds
Prayer is the freedom to share our anxieties with God.  More and more people go to psychologists every year to help with stress and pressure.  But if we would learn to pray, it would save a lot of money...and it would lead to less crises in our lives.  Anxiety comes when you think you are in charge of your life.  Anxiety comes when life doesn’t go the way you think it should.  We carry so many burdens that we shouldn’t carry.  Share them with God.  He cares for you—He wants to take some of the burden for you.  You can’t do everything.  This is unnecessary anxiety and stress.  Turn to God. – Peter Kasirivu

Have you ever prayed in a time of crisis or stress?  A time when you were absolutely panicking about something?  It calms you.  It relaxes you.  You’re sending up a flare to God, who responds with, “I’ve got this.”  As discussed in the previous section, you can’t do everything.  In fact, you can do nothing.  God can do everything.  Turn to Him in your times of panic.  Release that stress to Him.  Watch it melt off your back.

Praying also helps you sleep.  Normally, it takes me forever to fall asleep.  My brain is just so active with things I need to do at school, things I want to write about, emails, phone calls, bills, chores...you name it.  However, if I start to pray, I’m out in seconds.  Literally.  I’ll barely reach four sentences before I fall asleep.  Why is this?  Prayer brings peace (Psalm 3:5).  From the notes in my Bible regarding Psalm 3:5: “If you are lying awake at night worrying about circumstances you can’t change, pour out your heart to God, and thank Him that He is in control.  Then sleep will come.”

The Holy Spirit wants to give us wisdom, guidance, and direction in everything that we do.  The Spirit becomes our guide, leading us in the way that we should go.  The Spirit will lead you into the place that you should be.  Don’t be afraid to ask the Lord to show you what the best decision is.  He will speak if we ask for his help. – Winfield Bevins


Give Thanks/Praise
The reason for praying is so that God will be thanked when the blessings come.  And God loves to be thanked.  He loves to be acknowledged and praised as the giver of all good gifts. – John Piper

Two quick examples: We know that it is polite to thank someone when they do something for you.  I had my hands full earlier today, and a fellow teacher opened a door for me so I didn’t have to fumble for my keys.  Thank you.  A student dropped her pencil on the ground, and the person next to her picked it up and gave it to her.  She said thank you.  Steph and I say thank you to each other for everything from cooking dinner to taking an empty plate back into the kitchen.  We do all of these things without thinking, yet we fail to take time in our lives every day to thank God for all He does for us, even though we’ve already established that we can do nothing without Him.

You’re at an intersection.  The light says WALK.  As you begin crossing the street, a semi, whose driver hasn’t noticed his red light, comes bearing down on you.  At the last second, you are shoved out of the way.  Your life is saved.  Your hero, however, is not so lucky.  In the end, some stranger gave up his life in an effort to save yours.  You go on to live another 50, 60, 70+ years.  If you had the chance to thank that stranger, wouldn’t you do so every day?  Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself so that you could live for eternity…and you can’t find time in the day to say thanks?  A prayer doesn’t have to be long and majestic.  Spend a few seconds every day just to tell Him thank you.  If you actually think about all He has done for you, you would never stop praising Him.


Forgiveness
It’s a very different thing to admit the reality of sin in ourselves…We are all sinners in need of a Savior, and his name is Jesus.  If you will not admit you are dirty, you cannot be washed clean. – Tim Smith

Let’s just get this out of the way right now: We all sin.  Every day.  Without fail.  When we do something we’re not supposed to do…we sin.  When we don’t do something we’re supposed to do…we sin.  It does not matter if it is a large sin or a small sin, it’s still wrong.  You commit sins without even realizing you’re doing it…and yes, that’s still a sin.  Ignorance is not an excuse.  Justifying your sin is not acceptable either.  You’re just giving a lame excuse for why you did something wrong.  Simply put: We all sin.  Every day.  Without fail.

Sin dirties us.  It muddies our soul.  What’s awesome, though, is that because of Jesus Christ, these sins can be washed away.  We can be made clean again.  All we have to do is admit to God that we’ve done them—admit that we sin every day without fail—and we’re forgiven.

Now the question becomes: How often do you take advantage of this amazing gift?  You sin every day.  Do you pray for forgiveness every day?  Once a week (perhaps at church)?  Less?  If sin is dirt and God is the shower that washes us clean, are you saying that you don’t shower every day?  That sometimes you only shower once a week?  Less?  Please don’t be the smelly kid in class.  Bathe yourself in God’s forgiveness every day.


Ask and Receive (Answers)
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and the one who knocks, the door will be open…How much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” – Matthew 7:7-8, 11b (Jesus talking)

Jesus tells us to come to the Father when we are in need.  He tells us to ask.  However, people often misinterpret this to mean that regardless of what you ask for, you will receive it.  John Wesley says that “God does nothing except in response to believing prayer.”  So the message is: If you believe hard enough, God will grant all of your wishes.  Right?

God is not a genie, and it’s insulting to treat Him as one.  If what you seek is good with the Lord, you will receive it.  If you pray for Him, He will be there.  If you pray to better know and understand Him, it will happen.  Mark Driscoll says, “The Bible is the truth.  Who wrote the Bible?  God the Holy Spirit.  So if you want to know the truth, it starts in prayer.”  Trust in God, and He will answer.

Surely the point of this lavish array of promises is to say to us: Be encouraged to come.  Pray to him.  It is not in vain that you pray.  God is not toying with you.  He answers.  He gives good things when you pray.  Be encouraged. – John Piper


God Will Change You Through Prayer
The point of doing spiritual things at all (like prayer, or reading the Bible, or singing in worship, etc.), is not so we can say we did them or to make ourselves feel like better Christians; the point of devotion is to open our deepest selves to the God who saves, to the God who engages the human heart, to the One who draws near to us when we draw near to Him.  Devotional time is to be more about God than it is about us and what we do. - Ed Gungor

This is the hard one for most of us to accept of fully understand.  Prayer isn't about us.  Shocking, isn't it?  It's not about us, it's about Him.  Prayer forces us to turn to God and open up to God and share with God.  We submit to Him.  We become humble is prayer, and it is in those moments when God responds.  Pipe says that "God's customary way to move your will is through your mind."  God often responds by giving us the knowledge and the power to deal with life'd issues.

Driscoll says, "Prayer is not about making God do something.  Prayer is about you and I aligning our will with God's, and being able to trust Him enough to say, 'Your will be done.'  You may get cancer.  You may lose your job.  You may struggle.  You may suffer.  You may be abandoned.  You may be betrayed.  And when you're in the middle of it, it's okay to say, 'God, please fix it.'  But you always need to end with, 'Your will be done.'  Meaning: 'God, I will receive whatever it is that you will for my life.'  It's a good thing to pray, 'Your will be done.  God, I love you.  I trust you.  If you want something, I accept that.'"

In January, I prayed for the health of my sister-in-law Christen.  When she passed anyway, I asked Him why.  God does nothing except in response to believing prayer, right?  Was His answer telling me I didn’t believe?  What about the hundreds and thousands of believers who were also praying?  Was God telling them that they didn’t truly believe?  Why was this done?  I felt that God responded by telling me to wait.  Wait…watch…and trust.

What I’ve witnessed since has been remarkable.  God used Christen’s passing to bring me back to Him.  And countless others.  I have seen the Spirit move in my life and the lives around me more in 2012 than in any other moment of my life.  It crushes me that it had to happen this way, but God knows what He’s doing, and I (we) must trust Him.  I prayed for God to perform a miracle, and He did.  On my life.  On the lives around me.  Praise God.

Why do we pray?  Driscoll says that the point of prayer is “that our will would become aligned with God so that we would be participants in what God is doing.”  Prayer isn’t about you.  It’s about God.  And God wants that relationship with you so that you and He can work together in your life.  So that you can work together in bringing others to Him.  A prayer to God asking why He had to take Christen resulted in my own renewed faith, which in turn brought me to this blog and working with Wyldlife.  I am now a participant in God’s plan.  Prayer changed me.  It will change you.  Start this glorious relationship with God now and continue it daily.


I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.  When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted.  I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint.  "Selah.”  You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.  I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night.  My heart mused and my spirit inquired: "Will the Lord reject forever?  Will he never show his favor again?  Has his unfailing love vanished forever?  Has his promise failed for all time?  Has God forgotten to be merciful?  Has he in anger withheld his compassion?"  "Selah.”  Then I thought, "To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High."  I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.  I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.
Psalm 77:1-12

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A New Term

2005
I think it's not a bad question to ask yourselves:

"What will be my place in history?"

In other eras, across distant lands, this is a question that could be answered with relative ease and certainty. As a servant of Rome, you knew you would spend your life forced to build somebody else's Empire. As a peasant in 11th Century China, you knew that no matter how hard you worked, the local warlord might take everything you had - and that famine might come knocking on your door any day. As a subject of King George, you knew that your freedom to worship and speak and build your own life would be ultimately limited by the throne.

And then, America happened.

A place where destiny was not a destination, but a journey to be shared and shaped and remade by people who had the gall, the temerity to believe that, against all odds, they could form "a more perfect union" on this new frontier. Brick by brick, rail by rail, calloused hand by calloused hand, people kept dreaming, and building, and working, and marching, and petitioning their government, until they made America a land where the question of our place in history is not answered for us, but by us.

Have we failed at times? Absolutely. Will you occasionally fail when you embark on your own American journey? Surely. But the test is not perfection.

The true test of the American ideal is whether we are able to recognize our failings and then rise together to meet the challenges of our time. Whether we allow ourselves to be shaped by events and history, or whether we act to shape them. Whether chance of birth or circumstance decides life's big winners and losers, or whether we build a community where, at the very least, everyone has a chance to work hard, get ahead, and reach their dreams.

None of this will come easy. Every one of us will have to work more, read more, train more, think more. Our kids will have to turn off the TV sets and put away the video games and start hitting the books.

It won't be easy, but it can be done. It can be our future. We have the talent and the resources and the brainpower. We need a national commitment.

We need you.

Now, no one can force you to meet these challenges. If you want, it will be pretty easy for you to leave here today and not give another thought to the challenges (we) face. There is no community service requirement in the real world; no one's forcing you to care.

You need to take up the challenges that we face as a nation and make them your own, not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, although you do have that obligation. Not because you have a debt to all of those who helped you get to where you are, although you do have that debt. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, although you do have that obligation. You need to take on the challenge because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential. And if we're willing to share the risks and the rewards this new century offers, it will be a victory for each of you, and for every American.


2008
The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.

I promise you, we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can't solve every problem.

But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people.

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As a teacher, I am constantly coming across students who simply refuse to do work.  Basically…if I don’t hold the pencil for them and write the answers for them, it doesn’t get done.  I turn to the parents for help at home, but some parents believe that if it is a school-related issue, it is my job to fix.  These are some of the battles I face…and then deal with people slamming my job performance based on the failures of these students and their parents.

During his entire career in politics, President Obama has stated that this country can be fixed…if we all get our hands dirty and pitch in (excerpts from two different speeches above—the bold font is my stress).  That there’s only so much he can do, that congress can do, alone.  Yet what have we done these last four years?  Sit back and wait for him to fix our problems.  Now we sit here and complain on our computers about how President Obama hasn’t fixed anything.  Most of us aren’t even capable of expressing our own reasons for why we’re angry at him.  We put up posters on Facebook that others have made.  We use political cartoons that others have written.

Has President Obama done the best job these last four years?  No.  Could someone else do his job better?  Maybe.  But during these last four years, what have YOU done to make your life better?  Have you logged off Facebook, climbed off your couch, and actually worked towards a better life?  If doors have been closed, have you built new ones?  Or have you just sat down, grown fatter, and waited for someone else to fix it for you?  The American Dream isn’t something handed to you…you have to fight for it.  The most successful people on the planet work, work, work, work, work.  Does that sound like your life?  If not…can you really blame the government for your problems?  Do you think if you remain on your couch, that it will matter who the president is?

Regardless of who wins this election, change is needed, and that change is in us.  I am sick of the handout generation we’ve become.  If your life isn’t better than it was four years ago, do something about it.  Stop blaming everyone else.  Stop expecting some mythical president to do it for you.  Of course the decisions made by the government affect your life, but not nearly as much as you do.  At some point in time, you must take the control and responsibility of your own life.  Please make that time now.