Prayer

(A Lot of) Lessons I Learned This Past Month (Part 2)

Earlier this week, I wrote PART 1 of this series. The purpose of this is to share how my month-long focus on missionary stories over on the Growing4Life Facebook page changed me. There were lots of lessons to be learned from these courageous men and women and I wanted to not only share what I’ve learned but to encourage you to do your own study of these men and women, as well.

I plan to put a PDF together with a list of the missionaries and the corresponding links and other resources I used during Missionary Month. If you’d like a copy just reply to this email (or if you are seeing this on social media, simply message me your email address.)

The first part of this series focused on some pretty foundational Christian principles. Things most of us already know but perhaps needed to be reminded of. This second part is going to be a little different as these things are applicable for all of us right now–calling for change in specific areas of our lives. At least this is the case for me. You can be your own judge… haha

So here we go. Prepare to have your toes stepped on (maybe)–

7. They had an eternal perspective. These missionaries were, without exception, focused on eternity. They cared little for their own lives as they boldly traversed jungles to reach hostile, savage tribes or subjected themselves and their families to filthy conditions and diseases that had been eradicated years before in their home countries. I thought I was doing a “pretty good job” overall at keeping an eternal perspective, but these missionaries challenged me. Their eternal perspective wasn’t only about keeping fear at bay or feeling peace and joy in their hearts. It was not self-centered. Their eternal perspective was God-centered (This is probably worth a whole post.) They wanted to bring Him glory and tell others about His plan of salvation, no matter the cost. They denied self, they sacrificed, they endured unthinkable conditions. All because they remembered what really matters. Oh, how important that our eternal perspective is God-centered and not self-centered.

8. Prayer matters– a lot! So many of these missionaries spoke about prayer in a living way that is unfamiliar to most of us. This was a vital part of their ministry and they challenged me to think more deeply about this issue of prayer. You see, I think we all say that we know prayer is important but few of us actually live like we believe this. But these missionaries knew prayer was important. And that they needed the prayer support of those across the seas as they endeavored to take the Gospel to foreign people groups who were soundly in the hands of Satan through demon worship and other pagan practices. Oh, to take prayer more seriously!

9. Music matters. Several of these missionaries mentioned the importance of Bible memory and hymns as they faced solitary confinement or other situations where they had no access to scripture. I don’t know what kind of music most of you listen to, but may I encourage you to pay attention to the lyrics? Would those lyrics strengthen and encourage you during a time of need and desperation? The music we listen to matters. A lot. It will either encourage us in our walk with God or it will move us away from Him and from sound doctrine. (Keep in mind that just because a song mentions God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit does NOT mean it is of sound doctrine. In fact, much of Christian contemporary and worship music is NOT doctrinally sound. Pay attention and be aware.) Protect and prepare yourself by listening to music that is God-honoring and faith-strengtheningOh, to listen to great songs of the faith that will be a balm to our souls during troubled times. 

10. Redeem the time. Oh, how much time we waste. I really had to reflect on this. Particularly when I considered the many Bible verses that came to the minds of these great Christians just when they needed them. How well do I know my Bible? How much have I memorized? God can’t use His Word in our lives if we don’t know it. And we can’t know it, unless we intentionally give our efforts to know it. Oh, how important to make Bible Study a priority!

I was also reminded that it is incredibly important to consider what kind of things we are putting into our minds. Not only music as mentioned earlier, but all entertainment. What do we want to remember if we are ever without TV, books, and music? What do we want filling our minds and hearts when we face difficult situations and unthinkable circumstances? Whatever our answer, THIS is what we should be listening to, memorizing, watching. THIS is what we should we spend the majority of our time on. Oh, to be more intentional with how I spend my time.

11. Stop Complaining. Oh, how condemned I felt after reading and listening to these testimonies. They are without necessities, facing the deaths of spouses and children, dealing with the indifference and hatred of those they want to help and they are doing it willingly for the cause of Christ. And then there’s me. Getting a little worked up because the customer service representative of the credit card company I called was so inept. Oh, how much I complain. Over stupid stuff. It’s honestly ridiculous. Oh, to stop being such a complainer!

 

SO WHO IS REALLY A HERO?

I get so very weary with those who are deemed “heroes” in America (not sure how it is in your country). Movie stars and sports figures, few who have done anything of value, are raised on a pedestal while those who are true heroes go completely unsung. A movie star acts and a sports figure plays. Neither of these things are worthy of honor. A true hero sacrifices. They sacrifice their own well-being, their own comfort and convenience, their own lives for a greater cause. And they inspire others to do the same!

Christian heroes do this for the cause of Christ. In my opinion, there are no greater heroes than these men and women who gave their lives for Christ. I can’t even imagine the crowns they will receive in heaven!

Oh, that we, too, may be Christian heroes wherever God has placed us!

 

 

 

The Priority of Prayer (with a printable)

Last fall, I began a Bible Study on Prayer. It has been an excellent study and has reminded me of the importance of prayer. However, no matter how important we say we think prayer is, there is still the little matter of just sitting down and doing it.

I am not sure anything is more of a challenge for me in my Christian life than taking time to pray. I think this is for a number of reasons, but, thankfully, God has not given up on me yet.

A few Sundays ago, we even had a guest speaker who reminded me once again the priority of prayer, which served as a reminder that I cannot give up on strengthening my prayer life, no matter how discouraged I get.

He gave us some tips to help us make prayer a priority in our lives–

1. Make prayer a priority. Okay, that sounds redundant, I know. Of course, you need to make prayer a priority if it is going to be a priority. But think with me about the truth of this statement for just a moment.

He went on to say that we always make time for what is important to us. It’s true, isn’t it? How many of us are not able to find a half hour to pray and yet we somehow we manage to spend an hour or two watching TV or playing a game or reading a novel? We find time to shop for non-essentials or to work on our hobbies. We find time for the things we want to do.

This is rather an indictment to most of us and our desire to pray. Perhaps we don’t really want to pray as much as we say we do. Actions speak so much louder than words.

2. Remove something from your schedule if it’s too full. If we are truly too busy to pray, then we are most certainly too busy. At this point, it is time to evaluate our schedules carefully and remove something. This can be difficult because sometimes it requires us removing something good. I’ve already had to back out of a church ministry because I was too overwhelmed and did not have time to focus on my private prayer and Bible time. Sometimes this is necessary.

If we literally don’t have time to pray (and study our Bibles), then we need to take the steps to change this as soon as possible.

3. Remove noise and distractions. We probably all pray throughout the day–in our cars, while washing dishes, or in bed at night. But, in order to have a dedicated time of prayer, we need to find a quiet place that has no distractions. This means putting the phone and tablet in another room.

I became very convicted of this yet again recently. I am sincerely trying to break myself of the habit of having my phone nearby during my morning quiet time. It is so easy to get distracted. It is one of the main reasons I like using an actual Bible and an old-fashioned prayer journal that I write in with a pen (rather than apps).

Committing to remove these things from our presence during this time can be difficult but, oh, how it yields such a rich quiet time when it’s just me and the Lord, without the distraction of texts or notifications or even simply the temptation to look something up or add something to my calendar.

4. Pray together with others. The Bible talks about the importance of praying together in Matthew 18:19-20–

Again, I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.

This is a great way to get in the habit of praying regularly.

5. Let your feelings in the corner and go to the other corner to pray. The speaker shared how someone he once really respected talked to him about prayer. This mentor had said {and this is my paraphrase}: In order to really become a prayer warrior, he had had to let the “I don’t feel like praying” feeling in one corner while he obediently went to the other corner of the room and prayed.

In other words, we can’t be dominated by our feelings. If we wait to pray until we feel like praying, we will rarely pray. Sometimes our feelings will straggle over to join us from the other corner while we are praying and sometimes they won’t. It doesn’t matter. We just need to do what is right.

I found this a profound and convicting illustration.

I hope these five things have given you food for thought as you seek to make prayer a priority in your life. Will you join me in taking the steps to become a vibrant and strong pray-er? Satan knows that this is a key weapon in the battle against him, not only for us personally but for our families, for the lost, and for…well, everything. May he never be victorious in distracting us into prayerless lives.

________________________________________________________

If you are still a little uncertain about how to really pray seriously, I wanted to share something that I prepared for my Bible Study ladies. It is a little hand-out that gives instructions on how to pray for a half hour. You will find that, if you follow it, it will be hard to keep it to just thirty minutes. It’s easier to pray for that period of time than you may think.

I hope this is a blessing to you as you seek to strengthen your prayer life.

Click here to find a printable that will help you pray for a half hour.

(p.s. The printable is set up in a landscape orientation and in bookmark form, with three copies per page.)

 

 

The Case of the Disappearing Hair Cream

My eyes scanned the store shelves. Oh, no. My heart sank. Could it be they stopped making it? No, that couldn’t possibly be.

Let me back up just a bit. I have very thin, rather lifeless hair. My hair would definitely be one of things at the top of the list were I given the opportunity to change anything about my appearance. But many years ago–perhaps 15 or more–I had stumbled onto a texturizing cream that had worked wonders. I bought it year after year after year. Until that fateful day.

I asked the store clerk. She thought maybe they were just out of stock.

I went back several more times over the course of the next year and realized that it had happened. My hair cream was off the market. At that point, I purchased nine tubes (yes, nine!) off of Amazon and started on my search for a new, comparable product. But, time after time, I’d be disappointed. It would be inordinately sticky. Or too thin. It wouldn’t hold my hair enough. Or it would hold it too much. I was growing less and less sure that I’d ever find a replacement. This went on for a couple of years and my stock was growing dangerously low.

And then one day, just a few weeks ago, I was scrolling through an online store and came across a product that I thought might be worth a try. Why not? I added it to my cart.

After it arrived, it sat there for a few days. This shows you how little expectation I had that it would work. It was almost like I was stalling the disappointment.

One morning, I pulled it out and opened it up. It was a little sticky. I sighed, placed a dab of the white cream on my fingertips, and reached my hand up to my head and…it worked! It worked better than the original! I couldn’t believe it. Finally, I had found a replacement.

I am still so surprised when I use it and it works. It works for hours. It’s better than the original in every way.

So what is my point?

Well, I’d like to tell you another story. Don’t get caught up in the details of the story. Please keep in mind that I am not telling you what your convictions should be. I am telling you my testimony so that you will see that God won’t give conviction without making it possible to experience victory. And that if you are filled with conviction then be sure to follow it through–and if you are smart you will do this much quicker than I did.

If you are a “music” person, this will make more sense to you. I love music. My life would be incomplete without it. I love all kinds of music–well, most kinds, anyway. I had to actually train myself to turn it off sometimes and learn to enjoy quiet.

As a college student, I listened to a variety of music, which included quite a bit of secular rock and pop. As I matured as a believer and became a mom, I began to realize that the lyrics of much of the secular music I was listening to was saying the complete opposite of what the Bible taught. It wasn’t what I wanted to teach my kids or fill my head with. I made the decision to eradicate most of that style from my life. (Which I have never regretted).

While I listened to classical and southern Gospel and jazz music while the kids were growing up, mostly what I listened to was of the Christian Contemporary Music variety (or CCM as it is frequently called). I had nary a hint of conviction about listening to this and was content to have this as part of my life for a very long time.

And then, several years ago now and through various avenues, God started to bring to my attention some concerns with this music. The lyrics were theologically wrong more often than not. The artists themselves were less than impressive when interviewed and often admitted to worldly lifestyles and bad theology. And, the truth of the matter was, if I listened to anything with a heavy rock beat, it would actually negatively affect my mood.

I remember often being angry about something and turning on a heavy rock song. Christian or secular, it didn’t really seem to make much difference. It matched my mood and would feed my anger. I vividly remember the day and exactly where I was when I realized that I needed to make a change. God had filled me with conviction that this music–no matter what the lyrics said–was not His music.

That led to ten or more years of me fighting against this conviction. I was basically addicted to CCM and the rock-style of music and, to be truthful, had no interest whatsoever in giving it up. Besides if I didn’t listen to modern music, what in the world would I listen to? What would even be left? I had already given up rock music and was viewed as really odd because of it. Did the Lord really desire I give up CCM, too? And was I really willing to make myself look even odder? Was I convicted over nothing? And yet the fruit of this music in my life wasn’t the best on many different levels: Teaching me incorrect theology, affecting my mood, and leading me towards the world rather then away from it. I had to admit this. Oh, how I vacillated back and forth for a very long time.

Finally, one day in the not-that-distant past, I said something like this to the Lord: “Lord, if it is Your will that I stop listening to this music, you will have to remove my desire. You will have to help me because I can’t do it on my own.” And I left it at that.

I had no instant answer. I still liked that style of music the next day. And the day after that. But a year or two down the road, a small miracle had taken place. That music had lost its hold on my life. I now was content to fill my ears with hymns and songs that didn’t need a heavy drum beat. I started listening to classical and instrumental much more often. While I still listen occasionally to a theologically correct CCM song or album, I have lost my passion for it. Now, I can take it or leave it.

And here’s the thing: I am a much healthier Christian for it. I even experience less fits of anger. I think rock music does something to our psyches. I can’t prove it. I can just share my experience. I do think it has been proven, actually, but that’s not my point.

My point for today’s post is to let you know that if God gives you conviction, it is for a reason. And the sooner we follow Him, the sooner we will be experiencing the wonderful benefits of yielding to the Spirit, separating ourselves from the world in that area, and growing in our sanctification.

So back to my first story. My new hair cream surprised me by being so much better than my old hair cream. Oh, I could still use the old stuff, but I much prefer the new one. I found something better to replace the old.

So, too, is the issue of music for me now. Oh, I can listen to CCM on occasion but I don’t really enjoy it very much anymore. God really did deliver me from my passion for it. I have no other earthly explanation.

When God calls us to give up something, we don’t spend our lives pining for it. We don’t long for it when we run into it again in the world. He actually takes away our hunger for it. And He gives us new and better desires. It is truly amazing! This is sanctification at work.

While I know this post wasn’t officially about music, I also realize that many of you won’t agree with my conviction about it. In fact, I imagine I will lose some readers over it. People feel very, very strongly about their music. It is one of the reasons I don’t talk about it that much.

However, if any of you reading this have started to have little niggling doubts about this modern day music that is labeled “Christian”, may I encourage you to start praying about it. And then start listening to the lyrics, comparing them to scripture. When the radio is on or you are listening to any song–secular or Christian–pay attention to what message is really filling your brain. Is it a biblical message? Or is it anti-biblical? Pay attention and be diligent in prayer. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom and guidance and then the strength to make a change if you are convicted to make one. He is faithful.

 

What Does the Bible Say About…(Prayer)?

Prayer is one of those subjects that can be a little daunting. We know we should pray. We really do want to pray. But, if we are honest, it is downright hard for many of us to make time for prayer without distractions. Oh, we will pray throughout the day (and what a privilege this is!) but to actually pray for any length of time in any consistent manner can be a real challenge. It is so easy to talk about but not-so-easy to put into practice.

The other thing about prayer is that Satan has attempted to hi-jack it for his purposes, invading and deceiving many in the church with a new type of prayer that is never mentioned or supported in scripture. It is called Contemplative Prayer and you can read more about it here and here if you desire to be aware and knowledgeable about this great danger.

Whenever Satan hi-jacks something good it tends to make us biblical Christians nervous whenever the subject is brought up. And we are always wondering: How do we know if what we are being taught about prayer is actually from the Bible? This is a wise and valid question to ask. We are told to test all things (I Thessalonians 5:21).

This week my Bible Study lesson was on prayer. As I worked to prepare for this lesson, I decided to see if Pastor Dean had any sermons specifically on prayer. I was delighted to find that he had actually, in preaching through Matthew some years back, preached on each section of the Lord’s prayer, which is found in Matthew 6:9-13. He also has four introductory sermons on prayer based on Matthew 6:1-7.

As I was listening  the other day, it dawned on me that some of you may appreciate these biblical (and very helpful!) sermons on prayer, as well, and so I decided to put them all here in this one place.

I feel sure these sermons will not only teach and remind you of just how our Lord Jesus commanded us to pray but that they will also give you a new and fresh vigor for your prayer life.

 

How Not to Pray (Matthew 6:1-7)

Praying Like a Hypocrite (Part 1)

Praying Like a Hypocrite (Part 2)

Praying Like a Heathen

 

Overview (Matthew 6:9-13)

The Pattern of Prayer

 

An In-Depth Look at the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)

The One to Whom We Pray (Part 1)

The One to Whom We Pray (Part 2)

Hallowed be Thy Name

Thy Kingdom Come

Thy Will Be Done

Forgive Us Our Debts

Deliver Us From Evil

The Doxology

 

 

Are You Treating God Like Your Personal Genie?

At the beginning of this year, I asked God to teach me how to pray. I have felt for a long time that this is an area of my life that is sorely lacking. It’s not that I haven’t been praying at all but I was keenly aware that when it came to the topic of prayer, I was just not what I was supposed to be.

God has been answering my prayer and He is teaching me a lot. One of the things He has been teaching me I’d like to share with you here today. We probably all know this already (I did), but sometimes a good reminder is just what is needed to get us back on the right path.

Somehow in 2018 we have landed in a world that is all about self. Self-advancement, Self-centeredness, Self-indulgence, Self-aggrandizement. All of life is all about self for most everyone. We can see this in our workplaces, restaurants, stores, sports fields, and even in our churches. We especially see this in families, where moms and dads are often off busy chasing their dreams while they leave their kids to be raised by strangers. This is probably worth a post itself but I really just needed this paragraph to remind us of how selfish we really have become as a whole in this current age.

And, as believers, while we know we are to be the opposite of all of the above, we can sometimes get caught up in this, as well. Sometimes without thinking. And I believe one of the ways this happens is in our prayer lives.

How often do we treat God like our personal genie? Asking only for the things we need and want personally? Asking (and maybe sometimes even demanding?) for the things that affect us in some way. And yet how often we never find the time to spend time praising and thanking God or to bring the requests of others before His throne.

As I was thinking about this a bit this morning, I thought of my relationship with my kids. If all they ever did was to ask for things from me or to use me and my resources to their advantage, I would not feel very loved. And I think we can say that this would be an indication that they don’t love me. At the very least, we can be sure that they love themselves more than they love me. This doesn’t really lead to a healthy relationship, does it?

James 4:3 describes a skewed prayer life by putting it like this: You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

When we ask out of wrong and selfish motives, we ask amiss. Sometimes we can fall into this pattern without thinking–trying to use our relationship with the Almighty, Omnipotent Creator to our own advantage. We can find ourselves always asking, always taking.

So how do we keep this from happening? What steps can we take to have a healthier prayer life? Here are five things that will help–

1. Spend the first few minutes of our prayer time in praise and adoration.

2. Spend some time thanking God for answered prayer requests. Thank Him for how He has worked in our life and for what He has already provided.

3. Spend time in His Word with a submissive and obedient heart, reading what He has to say to us with a willingness to live it out.

4. Submit our wills to God’s with all requests. Never demand, but ask with a heart that will take “No” for an answer without getting mopey or holding a grudge.

5. Live righteously before God, pleasing Him with our actions and obeying His commands, so that He knows we truly do love Him and we don’t just view Him as our magic genie in the sky.

Prayer is a tough thing, especially now that it has been hijacked. Satan has badly mangled it by bringing contemplative prayer to the scene, turning it into a self-centered (notice that word “self” yet again) time of experience and feelings. But prayer isn’t about what we can get. It’s about God and our relationship with Him. It is an opportunity for us to praise and worship God each and every day. It is an opportunity for us to submit our wills and lives to Him as a living sacrifice. AND it is also an opportunity to bring our requests before Him. Yes, we should do this. He wants us to do this. But let’s be careful that selfish requests aren’t the only thing we are bringing before Him, lest we fall into the trap of treating God like He is our personal genie, waiting to do our bidding.

 

P.S. If you want to know how to pray biblically, Jesus told us Himself in Matthew 6:9-13–

Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.[a]
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,[b]
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,[c]
12 and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.[d]

Notice that He doesn’t tell us to be silent before Him or to wait for Him to speak to us. If this was critical to our personal prayer time, I am quite sure Jesus would have mentioned that here where He is teaching His disciples how to pray. The fact that this type of prayer is never recommended in scripture anywhere should be enough to keep us far away from this type of mystical praying that comes straight from eastern religions and Catholic monasticism and has nothing to with biblical prayer.

 

So What Now?

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You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from Christians across America as we watched the election results on Tuesday night. What we thought was impossible actually became possible as we watched states start to turn red. I am still shaking my head that–

A. Donald Trump is the President Elect of the United States.

and

B. That I actually voted for and am glad that Donald Trump is President.

I feel like I have fallen into some alternate universe or something. What a crazy year. And what an upset. And here we are– with a guy who has few morals– and even less experience– about to run this country.

While I consider this a huge victory and answer to prayer, it certainly isn’t because of who became President but strictly because of who didn’t become President. Hopefully, we will now witness a halt or at least a slowing down of the aggressive liberal and socialistic agenda that has been the passion of our current President.

Before this election, many Christian pastors and bloggers reminded us that our hope is in the Lord. We felt hopeless, we felt powerless. We Christians needed to be reminded of where we should find our hope.

But with what happened this week, we may be tempted to start hoping again in the wrong things. Let us be careful we do not place our hope in a man. On Tuesday night we watched  as reporters almost stuttered in their shock and amazement over what was taking place on that map. Even staunch Republican insiders saw no hope for a win. But, while this is most certainly a wonderful surprise, we need to continue to pray! God is still our only hope. He is still the one who raises up and removes kings. Only He controls the nations. We must be careful not to place our trust in a man or in a government.

Trump is historically liberal in where he stands morally. While he may not be as aggressive in pushing immorality, it is unlikely that he will make sweeping changes to the morality of this nation. This was not a victory for Christian principles in this country.

In my opinion, this wasn’t really a win for Christians as much as it was a win for those who desire a return to sanity. Progressives are deeply mourning what they believe to be a move backwards for this nation. One has to wonder how well they know the histories of civilizations. When a country starts to break down in a way ours has been, complete destruction is never far behind. And so I believe we are simply backing away from the edge of the cliff for a few years. And, in so doing, may we continue to pray. Not only for the direction of this country but also that there would be opportunities to reach the lost. This respite will hopefully give us four years free of the persecution that we saw looming ahead of us. It may give us four more years of free speech. May we redeem this time and use it to proclaim the Gospel!

 

Why Are We Praying What We Are Praying?

prayer

There has been a rousing call to prayer for this country by Christians everywhere. This election, perhaps more than any other in history, has burdened our hearts for the future of this nation. But as I sat in prayer this morning, I was convicted by something.

What if I am praying that God would take America back to its Christian roots for my own benefit? For my own comfort and convenience and safety?

Because, if I am honest, that is what I am most afraid of losing.

But what if–what if–God’s purposes include bringing this nation to its knees? What if His glory can best be served by letting this nation continue to spiral downward? What if His kingdom here in America can expand best by the true church being persecuted? What then?

Do I lose faith because I am no longer comfortable? Do I stop trusting God because I am being persecuted? Do I cry out in despair because my prayers weren’t answered the way I want?

I am in no way suggesting that we stop praying for this nation, but instead that we make sure we are praying with an attitude of “Thy Will Be Done, Lord”. We don’t know His purposes, but only see a small pinpoint of activity on the timeline of history. Let’s pray for this nation! But let’s not grow discouraged if we don’t see the answer we want to see. God is using all that happens for His glory and purposes and we need not fret. Let’s be ready to yield our wills and desires to the King of Kings. Because we know that–

And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.

Daniel 2:21

I guess this really could apply to all that we pray, couldn’t it? How many of our prayers are prayed out of selfish motivation? It is quite sobering to consider. May we always pray that God’s Will be done, first and foremost, and be ready to yield our will to His, no matter what the request. This is short and sweet today but it was on my heart. Let’s keep praying for this nation but with a heart and mind submitted to God’s Will, no matter what lies in store.

Lessons from a Snowstorm

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To say my weekend turned out nothing like I planned would be an understatement. It started off with a phone call on Friday morning that forced me to change my plans for the whole day. As I drove home on Friday night the snow was coming down much earlier than had been forecasted and the weather reports seemed to be raising the amount of snowfall expected. Our landscape company does snow removal, so I knew we were definitely in for an interesting weekend.

As the snow fell on Friday night everyone gathered at our house and we turned on a movie. But it was not a normal relaxed movie night as my husband, son, and son-in-law kept their eyes on the weather and wondered how they were going to handle such a huge storm.

Three days later, it is mostly over. Although as I sit here at my laptop, my guys are still clearing snow in their efforts to get normal life back up and running for folks. Oh, how I respect and admire them for this. I don’t think I could do it. They have been going nonstop since during the night on Friday with just a few hours of sleep. I don’t know about you, but I know that I couldn’t do that. I am so thankful for the men in my life!

My job is to take the inevitable phone calls, which is always an adventure. One of our secretaries made it into the office this morning, so I am finally getting the opportunity to sit down and write on this Monday morning. My thoughts feel a little scattered, so I am going to try to pull them all together.

The weekend was full of interesting stories and tidbits, but instead of relaying everything, I thought I’d just summarize a few lessons that I learned (or was reminded of yet again)–

1. God is faithful. I never fail to be amazed at how God works out all the details when these days come. We have breakdowns and we have problems, but God is there in the midst of it. Without question. I know skeptics call this coincidence. But really–is there such a thing?

2. Most people are still generally nice. At least that is what I experienced yesterday. Because of the huge amounts of snow, we had run into the unusual circumstance of our normal snow equipment not being adequate for all of our jobs. This meant contracting subcontractors with bigger machines. But most people were patient and very kind when they called to ask about their driveway.

3. Some people are not so nice and they are the ones who remind me that I still have such a long way to go in the sanctification process. At one point, one lady called to complain about something. Her complaint was certainly legitimate, but it was made with such anger and accusations that I had a very difficult time holding on to my temper. I did manage to do so, but I got a little sarcastic and felt quite a bit of glee informing her that I was one of the owners when she demanded to speak to one of them. It is people like this that remind me that I still have such a long way to go in loving others–especially the ones that are selfish and unkind.

4. God answers prayer. In the midst of the weekend, we ended up having quite the crisis. Without going into details, I felt so helpless and really had to reign in the worry and fear that was rising quickly inside me, threatening to overtake me. I learned again that when I am faced with circumstances far outside my control, that I am not that spiritually mature, after all. I enlisted a few people to pray and God answered in an amazing way. We feel undeserving but offer our deepest and most humble thanks to Him!

5. A thank you in the midst of something like this is like a balm to the soul. This morning, before I switched the phones back to the office, I answered a call from a local business that we plow for. As most calls are usually negative, I prepared for the complaint that was sure to come. Instead, they had called to thank us for doing such a great job. Wow. What a blessing! Just a simple phone call, so easy to do, and yet so many of us never take the time to do this. I am thankful that this man did so. It means so much to our guys to hear words of praise once in awhile. We are always so quick to complain but most of us rarely offer a thank you. This phone call reminded me of the importance to express my gratitude to others.

6. I won’t die if I can’t leave my house. One of the things I have had to get used to is being the last one plowed out. Even now, my driveway is full of snow and drifts. This used to really get to me and I would grow a little angry. But as I have gotten older, I have realized that it was just my selfish desire not to be stuck here that drove my anger. Now I just try to be patient and not to be an extra burden that my husband has to worry about. When I feel a little claustrophobia rising in me, I just remind myself that I have people who could pick me up if there was an emergency!

 

These are just a few of things I learned this weekend. I am sure I could come up with more, but I need to go get busy and see if I can get my life back to some semblance of order! Hope you have a great day!

 

 

Finding Peace

Peace is hard enough to find in the best of times. But when tragedy strikes, it can feel impossible. Just yesterday I read of the terrible thing that occurred at the Oklahoma State University homecoming parade and the group prayer that followed at the football game. There is something in us that seeks for the peace we know only comes from God when something awful happens. Even atheists and agnostics will send up vague prayers, begging for God’s grace and mercy in the midst of a calamity.

But there is only one way of actually experiencing the peace that God promises us in the Bible. Only one.

As some of you already know, my brother pastors a small church. A few weeks ago terrible tragedy hit their small congregation. Because it is such a close-knit group, the loss of any is felt acutely. But perhaps even more so when one is removed so suddenly and tragically.

It was just a normal morning. A man from their congregation was traveling with his oldest son to a special event. Little did his wife know that it would be the last time she would see him this side of heaven. There was a terrible car accident that ended the life of her husband. Her son, left with a serious brain injury, was not expected to live.

Many, many people prayed and asked God to spare this teenager. In what seemed a miraculous turn of events, her son went from being at death’s door to being released from the hospital only a week later. The doctors and nurses have shared their amazement and disbelief with the family. They had told his mother to prepare for his death when he first arrived at the hospital. It is truly an awesome blessing from God.

And yet, there is still the devastating loss of his father–a godly man who loved the Lord and led his family well. He was not only a wonderful husband and father, but a vibrant Christian testimony in his workplace and community. He was also a dear friend of my brother’s.

How in the world do we find peace in such the midst of such heart-wrenching circumstances?

During the course of the week, my brother, Pastor Dean, wrote some update emails to an ever-growing list of recipients regarding this dear family. One of the emails was so profound–so helpful– in answering this very question, I asked him if I could share it here. My brother loves the Word of God and this is not his family’s first taste of tragedy. His counsel, straight from the Word of God, may not be the popular answer of the day but it is truth–

I am truly astounded at the recovery of {the son} – it is almost miraculous (those of you who know me, know I don’t use that word lightly!).  We abundantly thank the Lord for restoring him to us.  But we also mourn the death of our brother in Christ, Mark.  I know for me, the mornings have been the most difficult, just when I wake up.  It is of great importance that we, like David, encourage ourselves in the Lord our God  (1 Sam. 30:6).  We deal with an event like this either in faith or unbelief.  The difference is not in whether or not we weep, but whether or not we trust the Lord and His eternal and perfect promises.  He is the Rock, immovable and unchanging, and those who find refuge in Him (that is in His written Word and in Christ), will never be moved.  To see examples of how David encouraged himself in the Lord, see Psalm 18 and 27.  We must call upon Him, submit to Him, trust Him, and obey Him on the basis of what He has said to us in His Word.  As believers in Christ we do not weep as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13-17).

But there are some who are reading this e-mail who do not have the peace of God because they do not have the God of peace.  You cannot have the peace of God without being reconciled to Him through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-23).  The reason we do not have peace is because we are sinners, rebels against God and His truth (Ps. 2:1-3).  We disobey His commands and refuse to believe His Word.  The result is death . . . and restlessness – “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” Is. 57:21.  The first problem is that people do not think of themselves as wicked, but the Bible informs us that we all are wicked from birth (Ps. 51:5; 58:3).   Not only do we sin, but we are incapable of doing anything that is good in God’s sight (Romans 3:10-19; 8:8).  There is only one way to be reconciled to God, according to His Word (John 14:6) . . . it is through His Son Jesus Christ, who, as the Son of God, was sent by God to fulfill the Law on our behalf and be our Substitute by dying in our place (read Isaiah 53 – a prophecy about the Messiah written 700 years before Christ died on the Cross).  When we call upon the Lord through Jesus Christ, confessing our sins and repenting from our sins, we are forgiven and reconciled to God (“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” – Rom. 5:1).  Apart from faith in Christ, there is no hope for the sinner:  “When a wicked man dies, his expectation shall perish, and the hope of unjust men perishes” (Prov.11:7).  There is no ritual, there is no form of meditation, there is no pill, there is no action that you can take that will give you eternal peace – a peace that only God gives to His children who are born again through faith in Christ.

For those who do not know Christ, my prayer is that this day, they would call upon the Lord in faith.  For those who know Him, my prayer for you is that of Paul’s for the Ephesian believers in Ephesians 3:14-21:

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,  that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;  that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,  may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;  and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.  Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,  unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

Is There a Wrong Way to Pray?

praying

I saw the movie War Room on Friday night. While I sat watching the big screen in front of me, I found myself contemplating my own prayer life and the great need for growth in that area of my walk with God. While there are a few things in the movie to concern the biblically discerning viewer (I’ve listed them at the end of this post), I think it does remind people of a very important principle of the Christian life that we often forget:

We need to fight on our knees.

Oh, how often we get caught up in our daily lives, barely squeezing in a chapter or two of the Word and a few sentences of prayer each day. It is interesting to reflect on just how much this world would change if we Christians would pray longer, more often, and more sincerely.

But one of the things that worries me is, while I do think it is a good idea for Christians to pray more, I am also very concerned that Christians– moved by this movie to create their own War Room– will pick up unbiblical resources on prayer. And, oh, there are so many of them! This subject of prayer has been hijacked by the enemy and it’s one of the quickest ways for him to gain access to our hearts.

One of the most popular ways to pray right now is called Contemplative Prayer. This prayer focuses on saying the same word or sentence over and over and then being still and “emptying and opening” your mind for God to speak to you. However, prayer is never described in this way in the Bible.

Many people use Psalm 46:10 to promote this type of prayer. And yet, to do so would necessitate taking this verse very much out of context. If we read the whole chapter we will see that the verses before verse 10 are focused on God’s help in our time of storm. It is clear to see that when  we get to this phrase “Be still and know that I am God” that it is referring to resting in the Lord, even in the raging storm, because God is still in control. This is a great example of how damaging it can be to take a verse out of its context.

There is a short, very helpful article over at gotquestions.org on this topic of Contemplative Prayer. I really encourage you to read it, so that you will be able to better discern the information you read or hear about prayer. But let me share a paragraph of that article here–

Contemplative prayer, by design, focuses on having a mystical experience with God. Mysticism, however, is purely subjective, and does not rely upon truth or fact. Yet the Word of God has been given to us for the very purpose of basing our faith, and our lives, on Truth (2 Timothy 3:16-17). What we know about God is based on fact; trusting in experiential knowledge over the biblical record takes a person outside of the standard that is the Bible.

The pattern for prayer that we are to follow was given to us by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ in Matthew 6:6-15. As we read through the Lord’s example of praying, we will notice that He gives us no indication whatsoever that we are to sit still for hours, waiting for God to mystically speak to us, neither before we start speaking to God or after we are done speaking to Him. In fact, there really is no mention of this anywhere in the Bible.

And if we do just a little research, we will find that this practice of emptying and opening our minds for supernatural messages comes straight from false religions and has nothing to do with biblical Christianity.

So, yes, there is a wrong way to pray. And we need to be very careful. As I’ve mentioned so many times before, Christianity today is full of land mines. We need to constantly keep our guards up and be looking for red flags. Not in a “witch hunt” type of way, but in a concerned and prudent way, comparing everything that comes across our path to what the Word of God says.

If you are truly interested in strengthening your prayer life, as I am, then where can we turn for some good biblical resources on this subject of prayer? Unfortunately, we have to go back a few years to find the best resources. If you’ve never read some of these classics, I highly encourage you to do so.

Perhaps you say to yourself, “I just can’t read stuff like that.” Well, then, let me tell you a little story. I was right where you are. I felt the same way. I found them dull and dry and could barely get through any nonfiction book, much less an old, musty one written by a guy who lived fifty or more years before I was born. But, one day, I simply made the decision to push through the book Humility by Andrew Murray. And that book changed my life. Not only with what was written within its pages (which is excellent, by the way!), but by showing me that I could not only read those books but also that they would be a great asset to my growth as a Christian. Yes, it was work to get through the first book like this and sometimes I had to read a paragraph three times before I got it, but, oh, it was so very worth it! And the good news is that it grows easier and easier with each one. You are never too old to train your mind.

So did my little story convince any of you to pick up one of these books on prayer? I hope so! I asked my brother, Pastor Dean, for his favorite books on prayer. Here is the list he gave me–

A Call to Prayer by J.C. Ryle (this one is more of a booklet and a great one to pick up first)

A Privy Key to Heaven by Thomas Brooks

Prayer by John Bunyan

A Method for Prayer by Matthew Henry

If you do prefer to read more recent authors, then I would recommend this book. I found it to be biblically sound and extremely helpful–

Alone with God by John MacArthur

Prayer is a very important topic and we can’t treat it lightly. Contemplative, mystical prayer has become almost the norm. Test all things through the scriptures–no matter how good and “spiritual” it sounds–as you work to build a stronger and deeper prayer life.

 

 

Issues and concerns from the movie War Room for the biblically discerning viewer–

  1.  There is a scene where the main character moves throughout her house shouting at the devil to get out of her home. But I can’t find anywhere in scripture where we are ever encouraged to have a conversation with the devil. I believe that God will take care of that for us. He fights for us and we can rest in His hands. Getting into that shadowy world of speaking to Satan and demons is dangerous and unbiblical business. Here is a great post on this topic if you’d like to study this further.
  2. I think this movie may have the possibility of leading us to the grave danger of treating our heavenly Father like He is our own personal genie, waiting to do our beck and call. While I understand the dilemma presented in this movie for the producers–they had to show the mighty power of God and how He can work and so we needed a happy ending–I would hate for anyone to think that God is going to make life perfect if they just start praying. The truth of the matter is that many women pray for years and years for their husbands to be saved. If you read last Thursday’s post, you will remember that my friend prayed for 32 long years before her husband came to know the Lord. Just because we get on our knees and pray does not mean we will get the answers we want in the time frame we desire. Prayer is not some magical formula that puts all the puzzle pieces of our lives together. Now, can God work? Oh, my goodness! Yes! I have seen Him do marvelous things! But does He always choose to? No. And the fact that this wayward husband turned to the Lord so quickly, while making for a nice happy ending, was pretty unrealistic. If you are a wife who was convicted to pray for her husband by this movie, please, please don’t get discouraged if things don’t end up like this. It might take years. It may even take a lifetime. I remember reading once of George Muller’s prayer list of five unsaved people. In his lifetime he watched three of those people come to know the Lord. But the final two never got saved until after he died. We need to keep praying, even when we don’t get the results we want. And that may be the hardest thing of all.
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