Prayer – Why Bother?

I know prayer is important. The Word of God is redundant regarding the primacy of prayer and commands us to pray without ceasing. I have seen the impossible happen because somebody prayed, believing that God is able. That He is bigger and can do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine.

I understand and believe that prayer unleashes the power of God to act on our behalf. So why don’t I pray more than I do? Why am I not passionate, persistent, faithful and fervent in praying?

Because the Enemy distracts me, diverts my attention, tries to lull me to sleep and get me to accept that prayer isn’t really going to make any difference, so there is no need to bother.

Don’t buy the lie.

Prayer is simple, effective and essential if you want God Almighty to put his power to work for you. There are no magic words you must say to get God’s attention. You don’t have to bow your head or close your eyes, although that is helpful to stay focused (unless you are driving, then please, chin up and eyes on the road). Your prayer doesn’t have to be long and eloquent. God is fully capable of filling in the gaps. You don’t need to be in a special place. You can pray alone or with people, at home or at church, in a restaurant, at the park, on the bus, or in your office. Prayer is a conversation with God in which we do most of the talking and He does most of the listening. He hears and answers in His way and His time, which is always for our good.

I am just beginning to identify the Enemy’s extraordinary efforts to keep me from praying in his attempt to prevent God from intervening in my life and the lives of all those for whom I would pray. Now that I can see my difficulties in praying for what they are – Satan’s stumbling blocks intended to keep me powerless – I am developing a strategy to defeat him.

  1. Don’t delay. Pray NOW, not later. If you can help it, don’t tell someone, “I will pray for you.” Be courageous and pray for them right then and there. You may forget later, or later may never come. You encourage and build the faith of the person for whom you are interceding when you pray immediately for them in their presence. It may feel unnatural at first, but the more you do this, the easier it will get. “Be alert and always keep on praying.” Ephesians 6:18.
  2. Don’t worry – instead, pray. Worry is the opposite of faith. If you are worrying, you are not trusting God and believing He is who He says He is, and He can and will do what He says He will do. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Anyone who comes to him must believe that He exists and rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6. If you find yourself beginning to worry, immediately stop what you are doing and take whatever it is you are wasting time worrying about to the Lord. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7.
  3. Don’t stop praying. “Pray continually.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Like the persistent widow in Luke 18, keep asking the Lord when you don’t see an answer to your prayer. Don’t just throw up one Hail Mary and be done with it if you don’t see God’s immediate response. Keep knocking and trusting that He will work all things for the good of those who love him. “Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7.

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

“What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

That Was Then, This is Now (Part 2)

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
Galatians 2:20

That Was Then
“The flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit…” Galatians 5:17

Darkness represents sin in the Bible for good reason. Darkness and light cannot co-exist. Light dispels darkness and exposes whatever is hidden by the darkness. If we are behaving in a manner we know is wrong and don’t want others to know about, we do it in secret, in the dark, where sin doesn’t look so bad. We like to be alone or with others who are doing the same things. We don’t want to be anywhere near the light where our sin will be uncovered and we would be forced to see it for the evil that it is. And we certainly don’t want to be around people who would not approve of our deeds or who would disclose them.

Josh Wilson describes our condition before we chose to follow Jesus as our Lord and Savior in his song, “That Was Then, This is Now”:

“We used to hide from the light
We made friends with the night
We were headed the wrong way on a one way track
Going nowhere fast
We got used to the dark
We thought this is who we are”

In Galatians and Ephesians, the apostle Paul gives us a long list of reminders that describe our former life in the dark:

Indulged in the flesh
Gratified the desires of the flesh
Did whatever we wanted
Sexually immoral
Engaged in debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft
Filled with hatred, discord, jealousy and rage
Selfishly ambitious
Participated in orgies
Sowed to please the flesh
Followed the ways of this world and Satan
Lived like the Gentiles
Futile thinking
Darkened in understanding
Separated from the life of God
Hardened heart
Lost all sensitivity
Given over to sensuality
Indulged in every kind of impurity
Full of greed
Corrupted by deceitful desires
Tolerated the Devil and gave him a place to stand in our life
Unwholesome talker
Foolish talker
Enjoyed coarse joking

Thanks to the great love, mercy and grace of our God, we don’t have to live like that.

This is Now
“and the Spirit [desires] what is contrary to the flesh.” Galatians 5:17

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12. We were once dead in our sin, but are now alive; once lost and now found. Luke 15:24. If we abide in Christ, he will light our path and direct our steps. Inwardly, we will be renewed day by day. As we refuse to conform to the pattern of this world, we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2.

As Josh Wilson croons:

“That was then, this is now
You’re bought by the blood, saved by the Son the saints all sing about
That was lost, this is found
And it’s time to say goodbye to the old you now”

In the books of Galatians and Ephesians, the apostle Paul gives us this detailed glimpse of what we become after we decide to walk in the light and follow the example of Christ. Not overnight, mind you, but gradually as we live out our faith:

Humble servant
Loves neighbor as self
Walks by the Spirit
Lives by the Spirit
Keeps in step with the Spirit
Exhibits the fruit of the Spirit:
• Love
• Joy
• Peace
• Patience
• Kindness
• Goodness
• Faithfulness
• Gentleness
• Self-control
Sows to please the Spirit
Does good to all people, especially those in the family of God
God’s handiwork
Created in Christ to do good works
God’s Spirit lives in us
Heirs with Israel
A life worthy of the calling of Christ
Bears with one another in love
Unified in the Spirit through the bond of peace
Speaks the truth in love
Created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness
Does not steal
Work so that they can share with those in need
Speaks to build others up
Follows God’s example
Walks in the way of love
Fragrant offering
Sacrifice to God
Thankful always
Avoids the fruitless deeds of darkness
Illuminates and exposes the darkness
Risen from the dead
Makes the most of every opportunity
Understands the Lord’s will
Filled with the Spirit
Speaks through songs
Sings to the Lord
Makes music from our heart to the Lord
Submits to each other
Suited up, armor on, battle ready
Strong in the Lord
Strong in God’s mighty power
Recognizes and defeats the enemy’s schemes
Stands firm
Warrior of the Word
Prays always
Shares the Gospel

Before and after. Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. Make me, mold me, fill me, use me – now and ever after, always, only, for my King.

That Was Then, This is Now (Part 1)

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:22-24

Dana Carvey’s comical portrayal of the quintessential “Church Lady” on Saturday Night Live always made me laugh out loud. Who has not come face to face with those frowning, tightly pursed lips, arched eyebrows, rolling big eyes and that pointed look of disapproval?

Most of my time living a lifestyle worthy of such a glare from the Church Lady came during my teens. It was easy for me back then to lump all Christians in with that T.V. character. Like the Church Lady, who likely had a fifth of vodka in her purse strictly for medicinal purposes, of course, churchgoers were nothing but a bunch of hypocrites who acted one way on Sunday and another way the rest of the week.  It was ridiculous that those people had the gall to tell me how I should live my life. Get the log out of your own eye before you start examining my eyes for a speck of dust.

After I came to the Lord, I grew to understand that not all Christians are like the Church Lady. In fact, while there are Church Ladies in every church, they are few in number. Most people who go to church are just like me and you – sinful. We want to be kind and compassionate but sometimes we are not. We make mistakes, hurt and disappoint people and struggle with sin, but our goal is the same: to follow the example of Christ and do the next right thing. Christians share a common past with those who don’t follow Christ, as we too, were once governed by our flesh and not by the Holy Spirit.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world….All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.” Ephesians 2:1-3.

Cleaning up our acts takes the Holy Spirit a lifetime. Unfortunately, there is no instant sanctification. Fortunately, God doesn’t quit on us. As we continue to study God’s word and apply it to our lives, we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in this process of growing up in our faith. Do we still miss the mark? Daily. Do we occasionally get it right? Yes. Do we fall and get back up again? Absolutely, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“So I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16.

 “And we all…are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18.

Thank God he has never and will never give me the stink-eye like the Church Lady. He may shake his head at my stupidity on occasion and mourn my poor choices, but his lips are curved into a smile of acceptance and his eyes twinkle with incomprehensible love and patient understanding.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5.

 “I pray that you…may have power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Ephesians 3:18

God stands in the window of heaven and waits in anticipation for you and me to turn back home toward him. When we do, God runs toward us, scoops us up in his arms and shouts, “Woohoo! Crank up the tunes and let’s get this party started!”

Here’s a song I am sure is on God’s playlist. Find it on YouTube and put on your dancin’ shoes:

That Was Then, This Is Now

by Josh Wilson

We used to hide from the light
We made friends with the night
We were headed the wrong way on a one way track
Going nowhere fast

We got used to the dark
We thought this is who we are
And we figured that we were just too far gone
But we were wrong

‘Cause love came running like a river
And we got washed in the water
Then He said you’re forgiven
Your sins are gone

That was then, this is now
You’re bought by the blood, saved by the Son the saints all sing about
That was lost, this is found
And it’s time to say goodbye to the old you now

So go ahead, put the past in the past
Box it up like an old photograph
You don’t have to go back
‘Cause that was then and this is now

We’ve been remade by grace
We’ve all got new names
And nothing we do could ever change
What He did that day

When love came running like a river
We got washed in the water
Then He said you’re forgiven
And you belong

That was then, this is now
You’re bought by the blood, saved by the Son the saints all sing about
That was lost, this is found
And it’s time to say goodbye to the old you now

So go ahead, put the past in the past
Box it up like an old photograph
You don’t have to go back
‘Cause that was then

If we turn and confess every unrighteousness
He is faithful and just to forgive
Oh, so turn and confess every wrong and regret
And see what it means to live

That was then, this is now
You’re bought by the blood, saved by the Son the saints all sing about
That was lost, this is found
And it’s time to say goodbye to the old you now

So go ahead, put the past in the past
Box it up like an old photograph
You don’t have to go back
‘Cause that was then and this is now
‘Cause that was then and this is now!

Waiting on the Lord

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” Psalm 37:4

We know that God has promised to give us the desire of our hearts, but the question we really want answered is “When?”

When will God give me someone to love for a lifetime? When will he break through the chains of my addiction? When will God provide that dream job? When will God bless us with a baby of our own? When will he heal me, or my child or my spouse? When, Lord, WHEN?

While time spent waiting on the Lord is not easy, neither is it wasted. When we spend time in God’s waiting room, we can be confident that he is using that time to develop in us Christlike character. We become grace givers only after we have failed miserably and received grace ourselves. We develop self-control only after we have felt the painful consequences of our unrestrained behavior. We learn to depend on God after all the earthly things we depend on – our jobs, money, house, health, marriage, family and friendships – have been stripped away and He alone remains.

As we wait on the Lord, we discover the peace that comes when we surrender, stop striving, and find refuge in the shadow of his wings. It is when we arrive at this place of rest that the desires of our heart begin to mirror those closest to the heart of God. While we wait, according to Psalms, we should:

  1. Delight in the Lord. As long as we keep expecting the temporary trappings of this world to make us happy – other people, relationships, careers, houses, cars, toys, money, vacations, food and drink – we will always be disappointed and never fulfilled. If instead we choose to rejoice or delight in the eternal things of God, our desires will begin to parallel His and we will be content.
  2. Be strong. The Bible tells us repeatedly to be strong and courageous. On our own, we cannot consistently do that. But with the power of the Holy Spirit and Christ alive in us, we can be strong and fearless. When we are weak, then we are strong because we are no longer relying on our inadequate selves, but on the God of the universe.
  3. Take heart. To “take heart” means to be encouraged, have hope, be bold and confident, and cheer up! Whether we choose to take heart or lose heart is our decision. Choose wisely; choose joy!
  4. Be still. God wants us to know that he does not need our help to accomplish his purposes. He only asks for our cooperation. “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14. “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10. When we choose to be still and simply trust him, we get out of God’s way and allow him to work on our behalf.
  5. Be patient. God is patient with us and wants us to be patient while we wait on him, too. “The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9. Patience is not the product of our decision to try harder to be patient, but is instead produced in us by the Holy Spirit as we walk in step with him. “The fruit of the Spirit is…patience.” Galatians 5:22. Only God knows how long our wait will be, but we can trust him to work in us for His good purposes and in his perfect timing. When He gives us the desire of our hearts, we will be stronger, wiser and ready to face with an unshakeable faith whatever life brings.

I Need You

You and I are part of the body of Christ. God has placed us in the body just where he wanted us to be, and each of us is essential for the body to function as God intended it to.  I need you and you need me. Without you, I am not whole and without me, you are not whole. God does not want us to be divided, but to be connected, with equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 1 Corinthians 12.

God designed the body of Christ – His family – to stay connected and thereby protected, from the enemy. If Satan can isolate you, he can influence you.  Church is the last place Satan wants you to go because he knows there you will experience and receive what he has worked so hard to suck right out of you: encouragement, hope, healing, wisdom and joy.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

If you haven’t been to church in awhile, may I encourage you to go? Your church body has been limping along without you and they need you. Whether you have realized it yet or not, you need them, too.

Might you be hurt if you go to church? Yes. I am sorry for that.  Any time we love and open ourselves up to others we risk being hurt. The church is full of broken people because we live in a broken world. In church you will find true believers, some careful and considerate, some like a bull in a china shop, some kind and compassionate, some full of themselves, but most who are just like you, trying to follow the example of Christ. Unfortunately, you will also find pretenders, bench warmers who are not following Jesus, have no intention of following Him, and who are just going through the motions. You will need to discern between the wheat and the tares. Matthew 13:24-30.

But I can tell you that the risk of being hurt by a few is far outweighed by the benefits of regularly meeting with the vast majority of other believers who, like you, want to love God with their whole heart and love their neighbor as themselves. In a Bible believing church, you will come into the presence of God and meet Jesus, the only one who will never hurt you, never leave you, never disappoint you and always love you. You will be built up, strengthened, and encouraged to live out your faith so that others will see Christ in you and know there is a God who loves them. Hope and healing begins when we are broken together.

The Law of Desert Hospitality

The people of Israel understand that in their dry and mostly barren land it is impossible to survive without depending on others, for everyone will at some time find themselves in need of assistance. From this mutual need the law of desert hospitality was born, which requires you to welcome all who come to the door of your tent – friend, enemy and stranger – and offer them and their animals food, water and protection for up to three days with no questions asked and no explanation offered or required.

We experienced this Bedouin hospitality first hand when our group hiked a couple of miles into the hot and dusty northern Negev desert to a traditional Israeli Arab home where the men and boys still tend sheep and goats and the women manage household affairs, including cooking and caring for children. Upon our arrival and despite having little notice that our group of 48 would be coming for a visit, the Bedouin women immediately offered all of us a place to sit and rest in the shade of their tent while they quickly set about preparing and serving us fresh sage tea and flat bread cooked over a wood fire.

I was skeptical about the wisdom of drinking the unidentified dark liquid handed to me which had been prepared by these women without the benefit of indoor plumbing and clean, sanitary water. But after watching our group leader, Brian, drink from his glass and live, I followed the lead of our rabbi and tentatively sipped mine. Never before or since have I ever tasted tea so good and sweet. As we hungrily looked on, the Bedouin women then mixed and baked flat bread right before us over the fire they had prepared. They passed the warm and tasty bread around our group and we each eagerly tore off a piece to eat.

As I held the cup of tea in my dirty, sweaty hands and nibbled my bread, I looked around and began to understand, perhaps for the first time, what genuine hospitality looks like. Hospitality isn’t about a clean house, a beautifully set table, a perfectly cooked, delicious meal or looking presentable. True hospitality is much more basic than that.

Hospitality, at its core, is about helping others to survive in the wilderness of life. It is about caring, compassion, and service above self. Hospitality is about meeting the basic need of another at your own expense without expectation of compensation. It is about being willing to have your schedule and plans interrupted by another and seeing that disruption as a divine appointment. Hospitality is about face to face connection as we bless others and are, by God’s design, blessed in return. Just like in the desert, hospitality is necessary for life here, too.

As we left the Bedouin family that day, Brian reminded us that offering hospitality is central to our faith as followers of Christ. Jesus welcomed each of us when we did not yet know him and were indifferent or even hostile to the message of the cross. He offered us living water to drink and gave himself, the bread of life, for us so that we would not die in the wilderness of this life, but instead could live with him forever. We are called to be like our rabbi, Jesus, and to practice hospitality. Romans 12:13.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

 The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

 Matthew 25:34-40.

This lesson from Israel on hospitality humbled and changed me. I used to panic if someone arrived at my door unannounced because what if – God forbid – my dishes were not done or I had unfolded laundry on the couch or my hair was a mess? If I was in the middle of doing something, I used to be slightly annoyed when someone interrupted my plans by dropping by to chat. Having people over for dinner was stressful, as I worried about whether the meal would turn out right and there would be enough to eat, whether I had enough matching, unchipped plates and whether my house was clean.

After experiencing true hospitality offered by strangers under a tent in the desert of Israel last summer, I returned home and began to extend it to others. I now see those unplanned interludes in my day as opportunities to give and receive the love of Christ. I count it a privilege, not a hassle, to stop what I am doing and make time for the precious souls God brings to the door of my home, or places before me in the grocery store, at a restaurant or on a walk. I offer them whatever I have in the fridge to drink and a place at my kitchen table or on my couch (next to the laundry) to sit and visit. I don’t wait until I have time to clean my house or plan a spectacular meal before I have folks over for dinner because if I did, I would rarely have company. It’s not about the food, it’s about the fellowship. I understand that I have limited time left on this planet to offer hospitality to others in the name of Jesus, and I don’t want to miss the remaining appointments God has scheduled for me.

Thank you, Lord, for continuing to offer me a place at your table. As I open your Word and partake of your hospitality, wisdom, love, forgiveness, peace, comfort and hope, I give thanks to you, the most gracious Host of all.

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The Cost of Standing Firm

Last Thursday, October 1, 2015, was my son’s fourth day as a college freshman. It was also the fourth day of college for several of the men and women who died or were injured on that day in the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Early reports indicated that one or more victims were asked their religion and, if they confessed to being a Christian, were shot in the head.

As I watched the news reports last week, my heart broke for those parents who would never hold their children again. With guilty gratitude I thanked God that my own son was still safe and alive on his college campus.

I’ve often wondered what I would say or do if I were ever faced with having to renounce my faith in order to stay alive on this planet. While intriguing, the idea always seemed highly improbable, even ludicrous. Because I deemed the odds of my having to make this choice to be about the same as the odds of my being struck by lightning, it was easy to tell myself that of course I would never deny Jesus just to save my own skin.

With recent attacks against Christians here in the United States and around the world, this once unimaginable scenario has become a bit more realistic. If such a possibility still seems inconceivable to you, consider that it was only a few short years ago that we considered it equally improbable that Christians in the United States would be mocked, ridiculed, ostracized, discriminated against, politically marginalized, financially penalized, hated, imprisoned and shot for protecting the lives of unborn babies, supporting the Bible’s definition of marriage between one man and one woman and following Jesus Christ.

While targeted physical attacks against Christians in our country still remain isolated events, they are becoming more frequent and can no longer simply be dismissed. While the United States was founded on Biblical principles, that foundation has been crumbling for decades and is now at risk of total collapse.

It is likely that Christians in our country will soon face serious persecution for simply living their lives in accordance with the Word of God. The waves of persecution that have overwhelmed Christians elsewhere in the world at other times in history are not just lapping at American shores, but are swiftly rising high as the tsunami sirens blare, warning believers to be ready to stand firm on the Rock.

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” 2 Timothy 4:3

“For these are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction. They say to the seers, “See no more visions!” and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” Isaiah 30:9-11

In light of this new reality for American Christians, what are we to do? Shrink back? Cower in fear? Play it safe and remain silent? No, no, no! Now more than ever we must stand up and be counted for the cause of Christ. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:

We must remember the gospel on which we have taken our stand and share it with others: that Christ died for our sins according the Scriptures, that he was buried and that he was raised again on the third day. And if Christ has been raised from the dead, so will we! We must live like we believe this or else our belief is in vain and our faith is futile. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:19. “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.’” 1 Corinthians 15:32.

But we know that in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. Death has been swallowed up in victory! For that reason, we must stand firm and always give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because we know that our labor in the Lord is not in vain.

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14.