Wait A Little Longer

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I stood there tapping my toes impatiently.  “Come on!” I muttered under my breath as I watched the timer tick down. 5 . . . 4. . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1.  Then the shrill “beep, beep, beep.”  About time!  My breakfast pastry was finally done!  I popped open the microwave door and juggled the hot food.  Then it dawned on me.  I just told a microwave to hurry up.  I couldn’t wait a minute and forty-five second wait for my breakfast.

In our hurry-up society, we hate waiting.  Doctors’ offices, the DMV, a child who’s late coming home – they all make us a little crazy as precious minutes –or – hours tick away.  Perhaps you know the anxiety of waiting days for test results, or for a phone call after a job interview.  Or maybe your waiting has stretched beyond minutes and days to months and even years.  And you’re not waiting on a doctor or a kid or a phone call.  You’re waiting on God.  You’ve been praying.  And praying. And God delays.  You haven’t gotten a closed door.  But you also haven’t gotten an answer yet.

You’re in good company.  Revelation tells of some folks who are also waiting on God.  They are “the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’” (Revelation 6:9-10).  They are waiting for God to do what they know He alone is able to do – but isn’t.  Sound familiar?  “God, You can do this, You can fix this, You can stop this.  But You aren’t.”

The Scripture says that “each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer . . .” (v. 11).  When God tells us to wait it is because He intends to act.  Are you waiting for God?  Have you been praying for a long time with no end in sight?  Oh, please, don’t despair.  Our Father doesn’t tell us to wait in vain.  And He doesn’t tell us to wait unless there’s something worth waiting for.  Beloved, will you “wait a little longer?”

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Thy Will Be Done

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Recently a friend asked me about prayer specifically about why some prayers are answered and others are not.  And how should we pray? And what about God’s omniscience and sovereignty?  And what does that mean for our prayers when a loved one has cancer or is seriously injured, or a young person is facing a frightening diagnosis?   I know he is not the only one asking these questions.  I have asked them.  And so have you.  I told my friend that I don’t have the best answers, but I have the Bible and that’s where we’ll find them.

Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  James counseled, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2).  And our Lord told us to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  He assured us: “For everyone who asks received; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). We have God’s approval to “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” (Hebrews 4:16).  And nothing is off-limits – we are encouraged to pray about everything.

So what happens when we pray and the situation goes the other way?  My confidence in God and in prayer was severely shaken when my Mom was diagnosed with cancer.  I grabbed hold of Matthew 21:22: “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”  No one ever prayed harder than I prayed that God would heal my Mom, and no one ever believed stronger than I believed that He would do it.  My mom died.  What happened to “you will receive whatever you ask?”  Was my whole-hearted-faith still not enough?  Or did Jesus not mean what He said?  The fact is, prayers don’t always get answered the way we hope.  What do we do with that?

We go to the garden with Jesus.  Just before his betrayal and death, Jesus prayed with deep earnestness for this cup of suffering to pass from Him.  He knew His Father had the power to take it away.  He said, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for You.”  Everything – curing cancer, healing broken bodies, taking away suffering.  But he came to the one prayer that God will always answer: “Yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36). “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  “May Your will be done” (Matthew 26:42).  My friend shared that more and more, this has become his prayer too.  I also have learned the value and peace that comes with this prayer.  Because it is not a prayer of resignation – it is a prayer of trust and of confidence that God’s will, whether it agrees with my desire or not, is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Sometimes we pray and God miraculously answers – this past year has been living proof for me.  But sometimes we pray, and God says, “No.” which, by the way, is still an answer.  My Mom’s grave is proof of that reality.  I don’t know why.  What I do know beyond any shadow of doubt is that I will continue to bring every petition to God, I will ask, and seek, and knock, and then I will put it all in His hands and surrender it to His will.  And I will trust that He is good.  For my friend and for all of us who pray the prayer of Jesus in the garden – may the Father’s will be done.

Don’t Let the World Change Your Song

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“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:3).

For many years I sang in church choirs.  I am not a great singer, but I always tried to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” (Psalm 98:4).  I am an alto – I sing on the low female range.  I remember one church choir I was in, I was seated with a soprano to my left, a tenor directly behind me on my left and a bass directly behind me on my right.  Everyone was going in different vocal directions and I had the hardest time staying on my alto notes. Because the soprano was a strong singer, I was constantly being pulled in her direction.  I spoke to our choir director, and he told me he didn’t want to move me, but he did give me some good advice.  He told me to concentrate more on my note – and to lean just a little towards the alto to my right.  He said that he could hear me singing the correct notes, but at the same time, he could tell that I was listening to all the other singers around me and losing confidence in myself.  I will always remember what he told me, “You’re on the right notes, but you have to stay focused and not back off.”

I think about that often when the world is loud and I’m struggling to stay on the right way.  Many different voices are saying many different things, and they are apt to draw me away from what I know is true.  The culture wants me to embrace things that God’s Word has clearly forbidden.  The scholar wants me to trade truth for worldly philosophies that have no regard for God.  The unsaved world wants me to stop singing God’s praises altogether.  My choir director’s advice rings loud and clear: stay focused. Concentrate on what you know is right and true; lean in to godly wisdom and don’t back off.  This world is becoming more evil and more vocal every day. If we are not intentionally listening to God, you and I will be pulled away from what is right and true.  I love this word from Paul to his protégé Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of” (2 Timothy 3:14).  Stay the course.  Focus on the truth.  Let God’s Word drown out the voices of the world. The way of righteousness has not changed just because the music around you has. Beloved, don’t let the world change your song.

Pray and Never Give Up

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“We didn’t have enough money for our rent last month.  I prayed to God for help, and the next day, this unexpected check showed up in my mail – just enough to cover the rent!”

“Amen!  God is so good!  Who else can testify?”

“God healed my sister from cancer – her scans showed several spots in her lung, but when the doctors went in to remove her lung – there was nothing there!”

“Glory to God!”

I sat there in my chair, trying my best to rejoice with these testimonies of God’s action in the lives of these precious women.  But I didn’t have a victory story.  I had a long, drawn-out prayer that God seemed to be ignoring.  I had been lifting this before Him for several years and it seemed that heaven had shut the door on me.  My friend sought me out after the gathering – she knew of my long-standing prayer and she knew that, while I was happy for these ladies, my heart was heavy for my own situation.  She tried her best to encourage me while I washed serving spoons in the kitchen.

“Don’t give up your prayers,” she said with a hug.  “God will be faithful to you too.”  Then she told me “When you get home spend some time reading 1 Kings 18 – I think it will encourage you.  I’m praying with you and for you.”

I gathered my purse, Bible and the used kitchen linens and headed out the door.  At home I made a cup of coffee and headed to my porch swing with my Bible.  Pushing my feet against the wooden porch floor, I set the swing in motion and flipped to the story of Elijah, the Old Testament prophet of God.  In this chapter of his story, the land had been under a long drought, and because of the drought a severe famine had taken many lives. Elijah pointed his finger directly at the problem – the wickedness of King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel and of the nation of Israel that followed them into the worship of Baal.  Elijah proposed a challenge: the God of Heaven and Earth against Baal.  The priests of Baal prayed and danced and cut themselves all day to entice their pagan god to set fire to the sacrifice on the altar.  No response.  No fire.  No god.  Elijah prepared the same sacrifice, and even drenched it with water, making it an even greater challenge.  With one prayer “the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench” (v. 38).  Instant answer to prayer!  That’s the God we like to see!

After this victory, Elijah declared to Ahab that the same God that burned up the sacrifice would bring the rain the land so desperately needed.  He went to the top of Mount Carmel with his servant and began to pray.  “‘Go and look toward the sea,’ he told his servant.  And he went up and looked. ‘There is nothing there,’ he said” (v. 43).  Not a single cloud in the sky. Elijah had no evidence that his prayer was going to be answered – except for God’s word. The Lord had told Elijah “‘I will send rain on the land’” (v. 1).  Elijah sent his servant back to scan the skies. Seven times.

God said it would happen. So look again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And the seventh time the servant saw a tiny cloud “as small as a man’s hand, rising from the sea” (v. 44).

Unlike his prayer at the altar, this prayer was not answered instantly.  Elijah had to persist and trust the word of the Lord.  There are two things we can take away from this story:

  1. Watch and pray until the Lord answers. When Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7), the phrases were given in the present, active form: ask, and keep on asking; seek, and keep on seeking; knock, and keep on knocking.  Be persistent in prayer, knowing that your God is faithful.
  2. Don’t overlook the small answer – it may be the first sign of a great blessing coming your way. Elijah recognized the hand of God in the cloud the size of a man’s hand.  He knew that this was the first sign of God’s promise being fulfilled.  That tiny cloud signaled the beginning of the end of the drought as “the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, [and] a heavy rain came” (v. 45).

The truth is, many years later, I still have not received the answer to my long-held prayer.  But I’m still praying.  My best friend prayed for her son to come to Jesus for more than 30 years.  And God saved him just a couple of years ago.  She never gave up on her son because she never gave up on God.  Beloved, I don’t know what you’ve been praying for nor how long you’ve been praying, or if you’re even still praying.  But I know that God is faithful – in the short-term and in the long-term.  He has never failed.  He’s not about to fail you.

“He who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:8).  Jesus said “always pray and never give up” (Luke 18:1).  Friend, you can take Him at His word.

God, I have a Question

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Doubt is a dangerous thing for the Christian.  Doubt causes us to distance ourselves from God.  Distance leads to disobedience and soon we loose our desire to witness for Christ.  God wants us to believe without wavering. But we are finite humans and sometimes it is hard to believe, especially when all things seem to point the other way. If anyone should have believed without wavering, it was Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. Even in the womb, he recognized the Lord, leaping at the sound of Mary’s voice (Luke 1: 41-45). John’s whole life was for one mission, “to prepare the way for the Lord” (Luke 3:4). He knew Jesus was the Messiah and he declared Him as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” This was confirmed to John at the Lord’s baptism – “I saw the Sprit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” He added emphatically, “I have seen, and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29-34). Yet John asked a big question, “Are the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20). What changed? John was in a prison cell after speaking out against the Roman king and his adulterous marriage. John’s circumstances were certainly not what he had expected. He had faithfully proclaimed the coming of God’s Kingdom. He had rebuked the religious elite and the irreligious royals. And rather than blessings, his efforts brought down the wrath of Herod’s wife. He did what God asked of Him and the results were harsh. Can you blame the poor fellow? Haven’t you and I questioned God for less?
With all that he knew, John – weary and discouraged – began to doubt. But Jesus didn’t chastise John. He knew the man’s heart and that those doubts arose from the overwhelming blow he had been dealt. Jesus pointed John back to the evidence. “What do you see, John?” “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22). Look beyond your circumstances John. You preached the coming of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 3:1). You spoke of my power (Mark 1: 7). Your own words are being fulfilled in Me. Then He added, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Luke 7:23).
Questions are not the absence of faith. I have had many, many questions for God, and like John, my questions made me search for answers. And those answers strengthened my faith. God always answers honest questions. Don’t be afraid when questions creep in – take them to Jesus. He will not chasten you. He will give you answers that will ground and strengthen your faith. Ask your questions Beloved, Jesus not only has the answers, He is the answer.

Have You Drifted Away from Jesus?

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I have several cousins on my Dad’s side – folks I haven’t seen since my childhood.  We used to get together and play from sun-up to sun-down when we made the trip home with our parents.  We never fought or argued, we were having too much fun.  We ran through the fields or played dolls in grandma’s back bedroom.  We sat on her front porch swing and made up silly songs.  We ate all our meals together, sitting at grandma’s Formica table.  We often piled up in one bed together at night just so we could start the day together again.  Then we all grew up and I stopped making the trips back home. I haven’t seen those cousins in more than thirty years.  I remember some of their names, but we could share a seat on a bus today and I doubt that I would recognize them – or they me.  They will always be my cousins, but the fun times we had together as kids can’t sustain a relationship now after so many years apart.

I fear that many folks have the same kind of relationship with Jesus that I have now with my cousins. Every Sunday found you at church – God’s house – with your parents.  You played with your church friends and shared cookies and Kool-Aid and wiggled in your chair watching the flannel-board Bible story.  You sang “Jesus loves me” and meant every word.  But you grew up, and Jesus became less important and now you remember the name, but not the person.  And it shows – in your language, your habits, and your choices.  You and Jesus hung out together a lot when you were a kid, but that can’t sustain a relationship now.

Jesus said we must remain connected to Him – “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  Branches that separate from the vine wither away and die.  So do people.  Beloved, Jesus longs to welcome you home.  He wants to share more than cookies and fruit punch, He wants to share His life with you.  He wants a real relationship with you that will enrich your life today and endure for all eternity.  He’s right where you last saw Him.  Won’t you come back to Jesus?

Messiah over my Messy Life

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Confession: I am not the best housekeeper. It’s not that our home is filthy, but mostly cluttered; it’s not exactly fit for the cover of Southern Living. Perhaps I should just entertain folks on my back porch to keep them from seeing the inside. Heaven help me if they need to use the bathroom! As much as I want to hide my messy home from others, I also want to hide my messy life from Jesus. I don’t want Him to come past the porch and see the clutter, the dust, and the dirt. Can you relate?
Here’s the problem with that – the Bible says that unless we open the door to Jesus and allow Him entry into our lives – yes our messy, un-Jesus-looking lives – we don’t really have a relationship that will sustain us. He said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:21). Tea and cookies on the porch won’t feed our hungry souls. Jesus desires a full, deep and abiding relationship with you and me.
But what will He think when He steps over the threshold and enters our tattered, cluttered, dirt-encrusted lives? How can we ever explain to Him the mud and the muck that has crept into our hearts? I cringe just thinking about all the junk and trash He will have to walk over. But here’s what I know about my Jesus – wherever He is allowed to enter, He brings His transforming power with Him. Somehow, when His feet step over the welcome mat of our heart, His robes sweep away the dirt and dust. He brings with Him the cleansing we so desperately need. By His blood we are washed, and, to our astonishment, our hearts become pure and fit for His presence.
Beloved, Jesus will not glare at the mess in your life and order you to clean yourself up before He will come in. He comes to make you clean, to make you whole; to transform you heart, your life and your world into a place of order and beauty. Do you hear Him knocking? Won’t you open your life to Jesus?

(P.S. – NO – this is NOT a picture of my kitchen!)

Just Believe

 

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“Don’t be afraid; just believe” (Mark 5:36).

Jesus spoke these words to Jairus, a synagogue ruler and more importantly, a father.  His 12-year-old daughter was desperately ill, and he had sought out Jesus to come and heal her.  This was great faith, especially for one entrenched in the Jewish hierarchy.  On their way, Jesus was delayed by an old woman who had suffered for many years.  Jesus stopped to heal her, and during the interruption, Jairus’ daughter died.  Can you imagine the swirl of emotions and thoughts this father was experiencing?  Grief, despair, heartache, disappointment, fear, and let’s be honest, probably some anger at Jesus and the old woman for wasting his daughters’ last living moments.  One emotion we know he wasn’t feeling was hope.  One thought he wasn’t having was belief.  But that is exactly what Jesus said to him: “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”  It was much the same words he spoke to Martha at the tomb of her brother, Lazarus: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40).

Did you notice what Jesus didn’t say?  He didn’t say, “Believe that your loved one will be raised from the dead.”  “Believe that I’m going to do a miracle for you.” He said explicitly to Martha, and implicitly to Jairus – “Believe in Me.”  He told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believe in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).  “Martha, believe in Me.”  “Jairus, believe in Me.” Don’t believe in an outcome.  Believe in Me. It took faith to call for Jesus to heal a dying little girl and a dying brother.  But Jesus asked for greater faith, because He was going to accomplish a greater miracle that simple healing.

Beloved, what has “died” in your life?  What did you pray for and hope for day after day after day until there was no reason to hope anymore?  Are you sure about that?  Can you believe still?  Not in an outcome, but in Jesus – the I AM. If it only takes faith the size of a grain of mustard seed to move a mountain[1], then surely you and I can muster enough faith to believe in Jesus who has proved Himself over and over and over again.  Remember, we are not believing Jesus for anything we need, we are believing Jesus is everything we need.

“Don’t be afraid, just believe.”

Lord, hope in You is hope that never dies.  You are everything I could ever hope for.  Please help me keep my heart focused on You alone.

[1] Matthew 17:20

All Things for Good

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“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

It is one of the most quoted verses to encourage others in difficulty. You’ve probably heard some variations of it:

“God works all things to good.”

“God makes all things good.”

“It’s all good.”

I know that might seem helpful in hard times – but if we’re going to quote the Bible, we need to quote it correctly.  For at least two reasons: because it is God’s holy, living Word and because it has a far greater and more encouraging word than we are offering.  Well, three reasons: when we misquote it, we misunderstand it and we misapply it.

When Paul says that “God works for the good” he isn’t saying God’s going to make all bad things good.  He is saying God is working for the good, even in the bad things. He may not change the bad thing to a good thing, but He will ultimately bring something good from it.  Just a side note: that almost always takes time. Sometimes a long time.  And sometimes when the good comes, so much time has passed that we don’t make the connection – and we don’t see that God was faithful all along. That why the Bible says “remember” so frequently.

Back to our verse.  Don’t miss the qualifier: “God works for . . . those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  God works on behalf of His beloved.  Does that seem unfair?  Hold that thought for just a minute – I’m coming back to it.  It’s important to know that when Paul wrote this letter, he did not divide it into chapters and verses, so when we isolate this one verse, we lose his point.  Let’s read a little farther: “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (v. 29).  Now I’m not about to get into predestination – that’s way too deep for Facebook, but I will draw your attention to three words in these two verses: purpose, conformed, and likeness.  God works all things for one good purpose: that His beloved child would be conformed to the likeness of His Son. That explains the qualifier – God cannot fulfill His purpose in someone that does not love Him.  Surrender is the mark of love – and God can only work in those who have Surrendered to His Son. That’s what it means to be a child of God.

Do you see the greater picture and how it applies to your life?  God is working in and through those bad things to bring about His one good purpose for you as His child – that you might look just like Jesus.  Like a master sculptor, He looks at His Son and applies the hard blows of the chisel to shape and mold you into the image before Him. God is not just working to make all your bad things into good things, He is working to make a you into a beautiful reflection of perfection.  That’s the bigger purpose He has for you Beloved.  Now that’s an encouraging word!