God Laughs

It’s so easy to forget the way of things. Months ago I began to ask God to “enlarge my territory.” It’s the prayer of Jabez, which many will recognize as the title of a best selling book. I haven’t read the book, but of course I read the Bible quite a bit and there it says...

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 4:10) NIV

This, it seems to me, is an excellent prayer, and the fact that God answered with a "Yes" seems to indicate he thinks so, too. As Jesus said just before giving us his famous Golden Rule, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?”

So “Lord, enlarge my territory” has been on my lips for months, and I have been confident that God would answer. But forgetting the way of things, I made a big mistake.

I’ve mentioned here before that there was a terrible error made in the launch of my latest novel. In the publishing business, the usual path to success lies in building anticipation for a book before it hits the stores, but in this case no advance copies were sent to critics or to bloggers, so for the first time in my career a novel received no print reviews whatsoever. Most of my fellow bloggers didn’t even have a chance to read the novel and review it until it had already been published. When added to the fact that 2009 was perhaps the worst sales year on record for the entire publishing industry, this meant the novel was pretty much dead on arrival. Not the direction you hope your career will take after seven books in print.

It seemed prayer was the only marketing plan that could possibly yield results. Remembering Jabez, I began to ask God for more territory. And here is where I made my big mistake: what I really meant was, “Let me sell more books.”

Over the months as I prayed, I began to ask myself if I was ready. A sad story hit the headlines of a man with the wonderful name of Abraham Shakespeare, whose life was ruined and then lost when he won $31 million dollars. It’s common for lottery winners say the money ruined their life. I began to wonder what would happen to me if God worked a miracle and this latest novel sold a million copies. Could I handle it? Could I withstand the temptation to take the credit? Or would my territory become too large? Would my pride get me lost in all that extra space?

In asking these questions, I remembered why I started writing in the first place. “Write what you know,” as the common wisdom goes, and when you get down to the heart of life, I know nothing that really matters except “Christ, and him crucified.” So I write about the Lord, for the Lord, in the hope that people who don’t know how beautiful he is might be moved a step closer to falling in love with him as I have, and people who do know him as I do might be moved to love him even more. And suddenly one day I realized I had been praying for the wrong “territory”.

I could have asked God to let me spread his love far and wide. I could have asked him to let me share eternal life with people who are lost and dying. I could have asked for those wonderful, amazing things and left the details up to him, but there I was, praying to sell books. Such a petty little prayer!

“Man plans; God laughs” as the old Yiddish saying goes. It’s so easy to forget the way of things, so easy to ask God to bless my plan, instead of asking him to reveal the blessings he has planned.

When I quit praying with book sales in mind and started simply asking the Lord to enlarge my territory any way he wished, some interesting “coincidences” began to happen. A pastor at my church told me the elders want me to start preaching there soon. I was asked to teach a series based on The Gospel according to Moses, thinking maybe ten or fifteen people would come, but when the series was announced, twenty percent of the entire congregation signed up. My latest novel may be D.O.A. (or maybe not...who knows?) but now that I’ve remembered the true way of things, my territory seems to grow a little every day.

How about you? Are you asking God to bless your puny plans, or are you asking for the kind of miracle only God could plan?

Posted byAthol Dickson at 7:41 AM  


Nicole said... February 2, 2010 at 11:16 AM  

Amen! Well done.

Anonymous said... February 2, 2010 at 2:30 PM  

You have spiritually inspired me!

Kay Day said... February 2, 2010 at 3:19 PM  

Great reminder!
In one of Beth Moore's studies she says something about how before we ask God to expand our territory we ought to be sure we are using up all the territory he's already given us. I think about that a lot, too.
No point in asking for more if I'm not doing what he's already given me to do.
I think I need to work on that one first. But maybe it doesn't hurt to ask anyway?

Lori said... February 2, 2010 at 5:53 PM  

This really touches on things God has been teaching me also. Last year I had my first public speaking event for a Women's Tea. It went great. Of course I prayed, "Lord send me more opportunities, let me be a light that shines for you." At the time I thought that was a sincere prayer, when in reality I was saying "Father I love to be in the limelight and get all the attention for you."

Slowly the Lord brought small opportunities, ones that don't have me in the limelight but ones who show HIM. For me it hurt having my pride rejected, but I am finding it sweet to serve him right where he wants me.

I need to serve him faithful even if it is in the limelight or behind the scenes.

Lynn said... February 2, 2010 at 9:16 PM  

The title of your post caught my attention. I posted the same saying as my status yesterday, and before that I had not thought of it for years.

It always amuses me when God seems to be speaking the same message to His people even though they are apparently not connected in the physical world.

Tim George said... February 3, 2010 at 7:15 AM  

Nothing you write is DOA. Like so much else you write, Lost Mission is one of those stories that applies to this generation and all to come. Glad to hear of your opportunities at church.

Adrian Rogers, former pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, was asked if he would ever want to be the President. His reply, "No, because I wouldn't want to take the demotion."

Athol Dickson said... February 3, 2010 at 12:12 PM  

You make a great point. It really is important to "be sure we are using all the territory he's already given us." I'm going to meditate on that a while. Thanks!

Your comments remind me of a discussion I had last night with some friends about "Leading to be Led" in Henri Nouwen's IN THE NAME OF JESUS. Nouwen says, "The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross.... Here we touch the most important quality of Christian leadership in the future. It is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest. I, obviously, am not speaking about a psychologically weak leadership in which Christian leaders are simply the passive victims of the manipulation of their milieu. No, I am speaking of a leadership in which power is constantly abandoned in favor of love. Powerlessness and humility...refer to people who are so deeply in love with Jesus that they are ready to follow him wherever he guides them, always trusting that, with him, they will find life and find it abundantly."

I know exactly what you mean! I wrote this blog yesterday, hours before my pastor decided to lead us in the discussion of Nouwen's book, but the two dovetailed so perfectly I knew it couldn’t be coincidence. It was as if God had tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You’re right to be concerned about this. Let’s work on it a little more.”

As always, thanks for your encouragement. I love Adrian Roger's comment. :)

Eddie Snipes said... February 3, 2010 at 12:43 PM  

Very thought provoking. Thanks for sharing!

Catrina Bradley... said... February 3, 2010 at 6:51 PM  

I think I'm with Lori. Besides, my territory is pretty comfortable. Every time God expands it, he has to mold me a little bit more - and that isn't comfortable. :) Your insight into the motivation behind our prayers was truly inspired. Thanks, Athol. I'm glad I found your blog.

Sherrie Lord said... February 3, 2010 at 9:01 PM  

As usual, you're honest inspires the same in me. Thank you, Athol; your heart is true.

Shaunie Friday @ Up the Sunbeam said... February 5, 2010 at 12:48 AM  

How I would love to be in that study--The Gospel According to Moses is such a favorite of mine!! I know you will be a blessing to those people!

Athol Dickson said... February 5, 2010 at 7:20 AM  

Eddie and Catrina, I'm glad you're here! And Catrina, I totally agree about the "comfortable" thing. It's an ironic truth that we have to be prepared for an uncomfortable shake-up in our lives if we want to be at peace through harmony with God's plans.

Sherrie, I appreciate the sentiment, and how I only wish my heart was true for more than five minutes at a time! :)

Shaunie, do you live south L.A. County or in Orange County, CA by any chance? If so, you can come! In fact, you've given me an idea...I think I'll post an invitation on the blog. Thanks!

patti said... February 17, 2010 at 8:16 AM  

LOVE this post. After a few years in this gritty industry, God reminded me to write for the Audience of One. It cuts through muck of assorted composition.

Keep on keepin' on, Athol!


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