Right, Not Wrong.

But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. – 1 Corinthians 13:7-9 ESV

Paul was the consummate pastor. He had a pastor's heart and cared deeply for the people under his care, whether they were part of church he helped start or members of a fellowship he had never had the pleasure of meeting. And as a result of his pastor's heart, Paul prayed pastoral prayers. At one point, Paul had urged the elders of the church in Ephesus, “So guard yourselves and God's people. Feed and shepherd God's flock--his church, purchased with his own blood--over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders” (Acts 20:28 NLT). He wanted the elders to share his heart for the people of God. In Paul's mind, the members of the local fellowship were far more important than he was. They took precedence over his own well-being, safety and reputation. Paul wasn't in it for the glory or the gain. He didn't do what he did for recognition or reward. He was a servant of God, serving the people of God – selflessly and sacrificially. And the great desire of his heart was that they do might do what was right. He wanted them to live godly lives in Christ Jesus. He wanted them to understand the full scope and benefit of the gospel message. It was that message that was the heart and soul of his ministry, and he would never have done anything to harm or alter that message in any way. Paul was willing to suffer persecution, misunderstanding, rejection, physical abuse, verbal threats, false accusations and assaults on his character – all in order that the people of God might live godly lives. If he had to appear weak in order for those whom he discipled to become strong, so be it. Paul knew that his calling by Christ was to a life of service and humility. So he put himself last and the people he served, first.

And as usual, Paul turned to God for help. He prayed. He prayed regularly and fervently. He prayed expectantly and hopefully. He asked His loving Father to provide the strength, wisdom, and guidance needed so that the flock might live according to His will. It is God's desire that we do right, not wrong. When we pray for spiritual growth and godliness in the lives of others we can pray with assurance, because we are praying within God's will. “God's will is for you to be holy” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NLT). God's greatest desire for His children is their continual transformation into the likeness of His Son. And so that is what Paul prayed for. That is what he longed for and expected God to bring about, because he knew that “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT). Ultimately, Paul's prayer was for the perfection. He was longing for the day when they would be fully completed in Christ. He knew that God was in the process of perfecting them, sanctifying them, step by step, from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV). Christ-likeness is the objective. Godliness is the goal. And in the meantime, it should be our prayer that each believer live their lives, empowered by God's Spirit, and doing that which is pleasing to God – that which is right, not wrong. Only God can give us new hearts. Only God can transform our behavior. But we can pray to that end – regularly, expectantly, passionately and thankfully.

Turning Dreams Into Reality.

Proverbs 13

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” – Proverbs 13:12 NLT

"I want to lose 20 pounds."

"I wish I could go back to school and get my degree."

"I hope I make varsity this year."

"I am going to get out of debt this year."

"I am determined to spend more time with my family this year, and less at work."

There are all kinds of dreams out there, and we all have them. We dream of success. We dream of getting married or, if we are married, of having a better one. We dream of our kids becoming successful at sports or growing up and having a family of their own. We dream of a day when we will be financially free and emotionally happy. We dream of getting into better shape or accomplishing a long-sought-after goal. We all dream. But many of us never see those dreams come to fruition. And as the verse above states, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." The frustration of an unfulfilled dream can result in depression and discouragement. It can leave us frustrated and wallowing in self-pity, wondering why everyone else seems to have it so well and so easy.

But there is a second verse in Proverbs 13 that is a companion to this one. It says, "It is pleasant to see dreams come true, but fools refuse to turn from evil to attain them" (Proverbs 13:19 NLT). Wow! That one hurts. It seems that there is a certain degree of responsibility when it comes to seeing our hopes and dreams become reality. We have to make certain decisions and alter our lifestyles if we want our dreams to ever happen. And a big reason they never do is because we refuse to turn from evil. That word "evil" is a hard one for us to get our hearts around. It sounds so, well, evil. It sounds like we must be doing something really wicked and ungodly. But in the Hebrew, the word carries a range of meanings. It can simply mean "bad" or "wrong." So when it says that fools refuse to turn from evil, it can also mean that they refuse to turn from doing what is bad. So if your dream is to lose 20 pounds, it never happens because you refuse to cut down on your eating and neglect doing any kind of exercise. That's bad. It's wrong. You see, a fool dreams of losing weight, but won't stop doing the bad things that are contributing to the problem. If you dream of having a better marriage, but refuse to stop doing the bad things that are harming your marriage, your dream will never come true. The Proverbs are full of admonitions about diligence and hard work. Dreams rarely come true with both. I can dream about running a marathon, but if I refuse to go out and train, strapping on my running shoes and putting in the miles each day, my dream will never become a reality. It will be hope deferred, and it will lead to a sick heart.

But when we do what is necessary to see our dreams fulfilled, it is like a tree of life. It enthuses and encourages us. It invigorates and revitalizes us. Setting a goal and achieving it is a powerful motivator. But only a fool would believe that dreams are possible without hard work and a determination to stop doing those "bad" things that are counterproductive and potentially destructive. God has wired us to pursue transformation. He has placed His Spirit within us and given us His Word to direct us. He inwardly and outwardly motivates us to pursue transformation into the likeness of His Son. But there are going to be things we must give up and turn away from if we want to see change take place. If our goal is godliness, we must turn from evil, from doing what is bad or wrong for that goal to come about. The Spirit of God gives us the capacity and capability to say no to those things that are detrimental to our transformation. If you want to lose weight, you can't keep a box on donuts in the pantry. If you want to become godly, you can't surround yourself with ungodly influences. That would be counterproductive and lead to defeat. What dream has God placed on your heart? What are you willing to give up to see it become a reality?

Father, we all dream, but so few of us ever see our dreams come true. All because we refuse to give up those things that are holding us back. We hang on to the wrong things, then wonder why our dreams go unfulfilled. Open our eyes and show us the part we need to play. Thank You for giving us Your Spirit to motivate and empower us. But never let us forget that we have a responsibility to do our part. Amen.