Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Matthew 7:7

In writing my new book, Gideon: God’s Mighty Man of Valor, I became intrigued with how continuously Gideon prayed and how connected he was with God. It wasn’t just how often Gideon prayed, also how he reacted after prayer. He had two behaviors that stood out after prayer. The first was Gideon stayed very alert in seeking how God answered him. The second was his immediate action after he received God’s answer.

In other words, Gideon didn’t just constantly pray. He watched and acted as well. As a result, Gideon built a robust partnership with God. The more he prayed, observed, and acted, the easier it became for him to understand God’s directions. Because of my observation of Gideon’s prayer life, I started to ask others about their prayer life.

The more I asked other people, the more varied the answers became. It was as if each person had their own process. For example, my friend Pastor Lou says his prayer life is staying in continuous conversation with God. Lou’s method is supported with the verse in Colossians 4:2, where it says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”

Later, I asked another pastor, who told me she had a close friend who helped her observe what God told her. Others told me they had a very disciplined process in observation. They looked for three things; was the answer Biblical, was the answer consistent with sound Christian thinking, and was the answer logical.

I also researched what Billy Graham had to say about prayer. He said, “Prayer is more than a wish; it is the voice of faith directed to God.” Faith is a critical message in Billy Graham’s quote. The assuredness God will answer is essential, as it gives us confidence there will be an answer for us to act upon.

Another interesting aspect of prayer was the answers or responses people received from God. All told me the answers with unique. So unique they could only be an answer from God. Sometimes the answers were so startlingly on point; they wondered if it was just a coincidence.

Another critical point was that all the people I talked to told me their prayer life was persistent. And each person’s prayer life had the components of asking, observing, and acting.

In Matthew 7:7, I found a simple explanation from Jesus; “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” In Jesus’ statement, I found the three components. First, Jesus tells us to “Ask.” And not just ask, but ask with faith that the prayer will be answered.

Secondly, Jesus says, “Seek, and you will find.” This statement supports the importance of observing.

Finally, Jesus says, “Knock, and it will be opened to you.” A very active expression of our involvement in our relationship with God. A simple message of not being passive but acting when we hear our answers.

It is easy for most to ask, a little harder to observe, and a matter of faith when we act upon the answer we receive.

The people I know who have a great prayer life always have faith the answer to act upon will come. However, they also individually approach the process differently, uniquely individual by individual.

Even in the Bible, there are 63 verses about prayer. Each one is a little different, but all contain some form of asking, seeking, and acting. For each person, at least one of the 63 verses is used concerning their prayer life—another example of how our individual relationships and journeys with Jesus are very different.

And another example of how Jesus meets us where we are.

…encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. 

1 Thessalonians [2:12] 

Around 50 AD, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to a church in Thessalonica that he had founded just three months earlier. The letter today is called 1st Thessalonians in the New Testament. The letter’s purpose was to instruct those in the church to not give up their Christian values, despite outside temptations and persecution.  

The church was under siege by external influences (and even some from within), attempting to get them to compromise their values. As a new church, there were growing pains. Paul’s letter encouraged the church members to stay their course and not let temptation affect their actions. While the tone of this letter was one of encouragement, it also included reminders to live lives worthy of God.  

Over the last few years, I have become friends with a man who has had some remarkable challenges in his life. After struggling for the first few years of his career, he recently found success. He is now earning significantly more than he had in the past and has been promoted twice in the last three years. He bought a home, and life was good.  

But when he first arrived at his new company, many encouraged him to take a few shortcuts. He was challenged to bend a few rules and was told not to worry about getting caught. He listened quietly, knowing it was the wrong approach, and silently refused to comply.  

This caused some ripples with his co-workers, but he held on to his beliefs. Sure, he missed a few sales because he didn’t mislead potential customers. But the customers he did land became loyal because of his honesty. Slowly, his sales numbers grew, and he was soon bringing in more business than those taking shortcuts. He was asked to help train new salespeople. Those he trained also started to do well. 

One of the senior vice-presidents noticed not only that his sales were great, but that those who had attended his training classes were exceeding their goals as well. He was called into his boss’s office and told he would be promoted—they were putting him in charge of training all the new salespeople.  

After his early years of struggling and trying to find the right job, it seemed my friend had found a perfect fit. The struggle to make ends meet became a distant memory. Simply being honorable and not giving in to temptation has paid off.  

I enjoy talking with my friend. I love hearing his low-key and humble approach to his work. He doesn’t brag about his accomplishments. Instead, he humbly gives credit to God for all he has accomplished. He doesn’t think he is remarkable. Yet he is: despite outside influences, he stays the course of honesty. His lesson to me is that being great at work is achieved simply by adhering to Christian values. This might seem boring, but living this way every day takes personal inner strength.   

This was Paul’s point to the Thessalonians: simply live lives worthy of God. However, some days it takes encouragement and endurance to continue living that kind of life. And Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is designed to remind us even today to stay the course in following Jesus.  

Today, I encourage you to read 1st Thessalonians and become uplifted. It will only take fifteen minutes to read, and the letter serves as a reminder that trials will always exist, but when we live lives worthy of God, we will endure.   

You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 

2nd Corinthians [9:11] 

Through the amazing blessing of Zoom, I was able to talk with a close friend, Tracey, while she was serving the homeless in Atlantic City. Using her phone, she tied into my Zoom meeting to show me the help she and forty others provided to the homeless.  

Connie and I have become deeply attached to the church Tracey attends. It is a tiny church, and on a good Sunday, ten to fifteen people attend. But their story isn’t about attendance; it is about serving and giving.

Each year, Tracey and friends create 20,000 meals for those in need in their community. In addition, at least twice a month, they are asked to provide clothing and toys to the homeless or destitute in the area. Oftentimes they bring a thirty-foot truck filled to the brim with donations.

We might wonder how they find out who needs help. Here’s how. They might get a call from a local town or another church and are asked to help out. Sometimes the towns are close; other times they’re a longer drive. They have also gotten calls from Army base commanders to help temporarily-housed refugees. Even the head of the State Police has sometimes called to ask if they will go to a town struck by the economic impact of COVID.

Tracey and her congregation never know when they will get a call or what they will be asked to do. It just happens. As such, they are constantly given clothing from donors and sorting out the best garments from the rags. They even receive toys and pet food. When their next call for help comes, Tracey and crew take the bounty given to them and help make others’ lives better.

On this particular Saturday morning, Tracey was in Atlantic City. The purpose of my Zoom call was to serve as a digital journalist and to create a video to help her church receive more clothing and money for their work. I asked Tracey the typical five questions: what, where, how, when, and why.

As I asked each question, Tracey got more exuberant and animated. She answered so fast, I sometimes couldn’t ask follow-up questions. Passion was bursting forth from this wonderful, everyday person. I sat, enthralled, not just at what she was saying, but by her energy and enthusiasm.

When I asked Tracey, “Why?” she slowed and became emotional. She said, “I give because I am blessed.” She tried hard to hide them, but I could see that tears of joy were close to the surface. Tracey’s lower lip quivered, and she composed herself, fighting back the tears of joy.

Then she explained with a far more profound statement. She said, “The people who I help always say thank you and are respectful. And they always say, ‘Bless you.’ But I feel more blessed to be able to help.”

The joy Tracey was feeling isn’t uncommon. Tom Locke, the head of a very large mission organization, told me something about this joy years earlier. Tom is a good friend who has spent his whole life giving. When he asked others why they gave, he often witnessed tears of joy. I have thought about this phenomenon many times since Tom mentioned these experiences, and I’ve quizzed many other servant leaders about why these tears of joy happen.

Recently, I read 2nd Corinthians [9:11] and finally connected the dots. The verse says, “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”

The statement, “Your generosity results in thanksgiving to God,” can’t be explained through human logic; rather, it is demonstrated through our faith. God is always compelling us to give—essentially assigning us a responsibility to serve. When we answer this profound request from God, we feel blessed. Then we give thanks to God, whether consciously or subconsciously. We know we have been touched by God and, in turn, experience joy. This joy is unique because it is from God.

In the past, I tried to understand this phenomenon through human logic and had always been unsuccessful though I’d seen it many times and knew it exists. In my counseling business, I always tell people that they will feel better when they give. Some don’t understand this statement at first, but when they take my advice, they, too, are filled with joy. God blesses us when we give. Or, as Tracey put it, “I feel more blessed when I give.”

This concept might sound illogical, but that is the point. It isn’t logical until our faith makes it so. Trust that when we demonstrate generosity, God is involved, and know that when we serve and give to others, it is far better than receiving.

In our moments of service to others, we are blessed with joy.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 

Jeremiah [29:11] 

Over the years in my counseling practice, I have had a number of clients who’ve become stuck at a crossroads where they have to decide the best path to take. Most of the time, they have multiple choices in front of them that appear to be equally beneficial. For instance, it might be two or three job offers, all of which seem very promising. However, as they think about these various opportunities, they get stuck and labor over what is right for themsometimes to the point of anguish. What should be a time of joy and hope turns into a period of despair. Worry sets in and often causes them to overthink things, which freezes them in their tracks.  

My task then becomes to loosen up the decision-making process and move them away from an either/or analysis to finding joy in their circumstances. Joy because they have two or more good choices, which they didn’t have in the past. Maybe one choice appears to be slightly better one moment; then the other choice seems to be better. Regardless, any path they choose is a good path, especially if, as in the example above, they are out of work and need a job. So, instead of looking at the decision-making process as a burden, I try to reframe their viewpoint to see it as a period of joy.  

To help unlock their minds, prayer is always helpful but does not always provide an answer to which is the best option. Perhaps God has given them two or three options to choose from—all being a perfect path to take. Pointing this out helps relieve the burden of which is the best choice. Many times, God will give us multiple options, and it doesn’t mean one is necessarily better. If the choices are honorable and fit in with Christian life, they are all good choices.  

God does have plans for all of us. In Jeremiah [29:11], God’s voice says, For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Reading this verse reveals what God wants to do for us all—to give us a future filled with hope.  

These plans for a future with hope may not begin with just a single path, but many. The only requirement is to have faith that God is listening. When we are given these plans, they are not meant to confuse or create despair. Rather, we should be thankful and think about which choice gives us the most joy.  

When we go to restaurants, we are given a menu. When we go to clothing stores, we are given a choice of styles and colors. If we go to college, we must choose our classes. I fully believe God gives us the freedom to choose in the same way.  

I often see these many options appear for these people after they pray. Maybe not the same day, but they do begin to appear. After being without opportunities and choices, they will receive many choices over the next few weeks.  

As they enter a period of prayer to petition God for a job or a new life circumstance—I silently know that prayers said with faith will be answered, and not necessarily with just one answer.  

God is benevolent. God cares for his people. So why wouldn’t God give us choices? It is human nature to fret and worry and wonder if we are making the right choice. Perhaps some options are better than others, but are all God-given. In that, we should rejoice.  

When God says he plans for all of us to have a future with hope, God makes a sacred promise to help us and not harm us. In turn, we should have faith in God and be joyful in the knowledge that God is very present in our lives!  

So today, say a prayer of petition, and rest assured that you will be saying a prayer of gratitude in the near future.  

If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah11 and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp. 

Judges [7:10]-11 

In the book of Judges, we find the remarkable story about Gideon defeating one hundred and thirty-five thousand barbarians with only three hundred men. Before the battle, Gideon prayed for wisdom to accomplish this mighty task.  In response to Gideon’s prayer, God says,  If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah (11)and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp. 

In response, Gideon awakens Purah and asks him to go with him to the edge of the barbarians’ camp. Laying down on the wet early evening ground, both Purah and Gideon hear a barbarian sentry express fear to his fellow sentry. The barbarian had a dream the previous night that Gideon would lead a great army and destroy their army.  Through hearing these words of fear,  Purah determined they would be successful.  

Purah advised Gideon they would be successful based on what he had heard. Purah sensed a heightened level of fear by the barbarians, which would cause them to flee even at the hint of Gideon attacking their camp. Purah also knew God would not lead Gideon into a trap. 

Even though Gideon only had three hundred men, his plan, given to him by God, was to essentially encircle the camp in the dark of night with each of the three hundred blaring trumpets and vigorously waving torches. Then, from down in the valley, the barbarians would look up and see what appeared to be a great army. The barbarians would then flee out of fear from hearing the noise and seeing the spectacle of lighted torches.  

This was the plan, but would it work? Purah told Gideon from what he heard the plan would work. Sure enough, when Gideon did do as God advised and encircled the camp, the Barbarians became confused and sought safety in a heightened state of fear. Not only that, many of them turned on each other during their attempted escape.  

Gideon won the battle with only three hundred men based on a marvelously audacious plan given to him by God. Now imagine we were Gideon and had heard God’s plan would we have continued. I must admit I would have been very doubtful and in need of encouragement.  

God knew there would be doubt and asked Gideon to seek Purah for advice and give him confidence. By the way, the name Purah means, in Hebrew, one who bears fruit. I love these names in the Bible; it is always amazing to find out how the meaning of the name ties into the story, and here is another excellent example.  

From a historical background, Purah was Gideon’s helper on his father’s farm. The two were very close, and both loved God. When Gideon had a challenging task on the farm, it was Purah he relied upon to help. Likely they spent many long hours together working and discussing life. So when God told Gideon to have Purah help him gain confidence, it really wasn’t all that surprising. A wise and trusted friend is what God knew would move Gideon forward.  

For me, I see this as an essential part of the Gideon story. We all need Purah’s in our lives to help us move forward. In my own life, during the difficult times of my business career, I didn’t have just one Purah; I had many. When Footlocker was chronically close to filing bankruptcy, I had Marc, Z-man, Lauren, Peter, Anne Marie, and Joe B. to help me think through all the complicated steps. Without their advice and counsel, Footlocker would have failed.  

Even today, in my non-business life, I have many marvelous Purah’s; my brother and sister-in-laws, my brother, my sisters, my wife, my mother and father-in-law, my mother, and the memory of my father. All gifts who give sage advice.  

Over the years, I have learned that if I am to accomplish anything, it requires God and the Purah’s in my life. I have also learned God wants me to seek the counsel of these Purah’s during the complex times.  

We all have Purah’s. And to help us, God asks us to talk with them. Not just when we are faced with difficult times, but in all the times of our lives. Many times life can be complicated, and the answer to our prayers can be hard to understand. This is when the Purah’s in our lives help us sort things out. 

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 

Matthew [11:29] 

In my latest book, Jesus Is Everything, is a chapter called Surrendering to Jesus. Recently I was asked by an owner of a successful real estate company who read the bookhow can I surrender to Jesus and stay loyal to my business? Essentially, he was fearful that surrendering himself to Jesus would ruin his business. I actually hear this remark a lot.  

But to me, it is not a case of giving up; rather, it is an addition to running a successful business or having a bright career. Surrendering to Jesus doesn’t mean we should stop running our businesses or give up our jobs. Instead, it means we add the lessons of Jesus to all of our business behaviors and actions. Simple things like not being deceptive to customers. Or when we have a complex problem to not just rely on our human abilities to solve. Instead, pray to Jesus to help with the solution. Surrendering to Jesus helps us become both moral and successful.  

Jesus, right after he appointed all of the twelve apostles, gave a sermon to the masses. At the time of this sermon, the people were being told by the Pharisees Jesus wasn’t in compliance with the ten commandments, and they should not follow him. Ironically, the Pharisees followed their own passions and not those of God. In turn, to keep the local population subdued, they created excessive legalistic rules to follow. In effect, they were made the everyday person burdened by unnecessary rituals.  

In this sermon, Jesus contradicted the Pharisees on many fronts. In a direct reply to the burden of a false lifestyle and overly legalistic rules, Jesus said, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. His statement cut directly against the ways of the Pharisees. What Jesus was offering was a new life, free from the burden of the Pharisees and free from the rat race of serving man.  

This is the surrendering Jesus wants from and for us. Not to bind us, but help us. Jesus wants us to stop pursuing the unquenchable goals of materiality and legalism. Instead, he wants us to chase a far more noble goal, that of living for God. He is also assuring us, we will have a far easier life. Jesus isn’t saying quit our jobs or sell our businesses. Jesus is saying to use his methods and teachings in running our businesses or in pursuing a career.  

I had a friend many years ago who was caught up in an awful business cover-up, which would end up making the national news. When he asked me what he should do, I encouraged him to pray and come clean by saying Today’s dollar is cheaper than tomorrow’s. At first, he resisted my advice by saying he would get fired if he told anyone. Seeing his reluctance, I agreed he would likely get fired, but that was likely anyway because it was only a matter of time before what his company was doing would be revealed. I also knew his action of revelation would start the process of a freed life.  

He revealed everything to his company’s CEO and was fired, as were his superiors, who encouraged him to participate in the illicit scheme. Lawsuits followed, and for a couple of years, life was tough for my friend. He lost his ability to work in a public company and was banned from being an accountant.  

However, later he started his own company in an unrelated field and enjoyed success. In his new position, he stuck to a clean and moral course. But he also expanded his prayer life, and when he needed answers to complex problems, he called on Jesus.  

While he achieved success in his new career, more importantly, he gained peace of mind. No longer did he worry about his actions. He was able to go home with a freed spirit. It also seemed that the day-to-day problems got more straightforward because he became riveted on following Jesus. Finding Jesus’ ways were aligned with a less complicated life. 

His story is the point about surrendering to Jesus. In his surrendering, he gained freedom. He also gained clarity in dealing with complex problems.  

Jesus wants us to live in peace and knows following his ways leads to a better life. No longer will we chase selfish and material gains. Instead, we gain a reputation of honesty and fair play, making us more valuable employees. If we own a business, we will earn a sterling reputation for providing  great customer service.  

Jesus is asking us, when we take his yoke, to focus on morality, kindness, and service. He knows the greater reward lies in how we accomplish and not what we gain. Jesus does not want us to get trapped by obtaining material gains at any cost. Instead, he wants us to obtain a life lived with a noble purpose.  

Jesus’ yoke is far easier, and our surrendering is not an act of giving up. On the contrary, it is an act that leads to freedom.  

The kingdom of heaven is like a person who sowed good seed in his field.But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 

Matthew [13:24]-25 

One of the new phenomena in our society is the rise of non-profits that collect millions of dollars yet give very little back to fulfill their intended mission. Essentially these organizations identify a popular social cause and then raise money. But at the same time provide little help for the worthy cause.   

For example, the Children’s Wish Foundation solicits funds to help seriously ill children receive a gift to answer a wish, not to be confused with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Perhaps the desire is a trip to Disney World, a visit to a national park, or to watch their favorite sports team play. The charity plays on the outstanding reputation of the Make-A-Wish foundation to collect money. Yet distributes very little to the children. Instead, most of the money goes to the founder and hired consultants. The foundation preys on the knowledge that Americans are very willing givers.  

Last year, Americans donated close to half a trillion dollars to what is thought to be worthy causes. Even today, Congress is debating handing out another trillion to what is called Human Infrastructure. Next year a substantial amount of money could be handed out to Not For Profit organizations with little oversight to ensure the money is appropriately used.  

Unfortunately, hucksters know this as well. And over the last decade or so, many organizations have figured out how to take advantage of our generosity. It seems that hustling money from Americans is a growth industry. Unfortunately, these hustlers are the weeds amongst the many who actually try to do good.  

In my daily activities, I see both hustlers and well-intentioned leaders of Non-profits. Examples of good organizations, like A Season for Giving, survive through volunteers doing the work. Or Ida’s closet, which an eighty-year-old woman runs, handed out over thirty tons of clothing last year. One of my favorites is Street Squash, an organization that helps inner-city youth attend college. As a result, 85% of their attendees graduate from a four-year college. Well above the national average.  

But I also see organizations like the national BLM, which raised tens of millions of dollars and provided little funds to their local chapters. The founder recently quit after making millions and getting a movie contract. While the well-intended local chapters of BLM bitterly complained they needed money to help their communities. At the same time, violent deaths for this group rose in some states by thirty percent.  

I, too often, see Non-Profits who prey on the sympathies of Americans and set up their organizations for the sole purpose of collecting a paycheck and send little of the money back into their communities. This is the new American Hustle.  

What would Jesus say about all this? In the famous Parable of the Weeds, Jesus gives us his opinion. He said, First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn—both an ominous warning to those who bilk and a hopeful message to those who do good. Even in Jesus’ time, there were bilker’s and harvesters.  

Herein lies the problem. How do we sort out the weeds from a productive harvest?  Do we stop giving and helping those who valiantly try to make a difference, so we don’t get caught up with the weeds? It seems Jesus is telling us to continue to give to those who do good and leave the rest to Him. But knowing who the weeds are is also essential.  

I have found actually visiting the various Non-Profit helps a lot. Look at what they do and talk with those who do the actual work. For instance, with Ida’s Closet, I met Ida. An older woman with a no-nonsense communication style. Frankly, she would be embarrassed if she knew I was writing about her. In the back room of a small church, she sorts through the clothes that arrive in large plastic bags. Unneeded garments that were donated by someone she likely doesn’t know but heard about her work.  

She sorts the garments by type, size, and gender. Then places them on a rolling rack for volunteers to hand out during their street missions in Atlantic city. She carefully sorts that which is in good shape from those not so good. She is defiant about not having poor-quality products hit the street. She is the harvester Jesus is talking about. She is street smart and knows her mission.  

There are many great Non-Profits out there, run by well-intentioned people. Unfortunately, there are also the weeds of life. We can sort them out by digging a little deeper, and if you can’t, visit them. A quick google search helps. Look for statements about how much of their funds go directly to aid. Generally, above 90% is an excellent measuring criteria. Look at what they accomplish and does it make sense when compared to what they receive.  

The current American Hustle isn’t new. It was there two thousand years ago as well. So let’s all help the good harvesters and leave the weeds to Jesus.