Praying for the Long Haul

Yesterday was a rough day in a lot of ways – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I went to bed exhausted, in pain, and defeated. I woke up much the same. But as I sit here this morning, I realize God was reaching out to me all day long with love and grace. A long lunch-time phone conversation with my best friend. A call and prayer from another dear friend. A hug from another. The hands of my co-workers holding mine as my boss prays for my family. A big grin and an excited squeal when I pick up Joy from her babysitter. A good report after a roller-coaster of worry. My favorite meal from my sweet hubby. My precious angel asleep in my arms at the close of the day.

And it all came to mind because of a sticky note on my bulletin board. The note is a verse I jotted down over a year ago when a family member had driven me to my knees in frustration and desperation. I am still on my knees over them. This morning I had just about given up hope. Prayer seemed futile. To tell you the truth, it seemed like the more I prayed the worse the situation became. Like adding fuel to a raging fire.

I was writing a completely different devotional this morning when I stretched my back a bit, lifted my head, and my eyes fell on that bright pink square of paper with a slightly adapted verse: “The fervent prayer of a righteous ‘Mom’ is powerful and effective” James 5:16. A year ago I added the word “grandmother” to the note. It was a reminder to not give up on prayer. It was a reminder to not give up on my loved ones. It was a reminder to not give up on God. The stakes are much too high to throw in the prayer shawl. And God is much to faithful to give up hope.

Beloved, I don’t know whom you are praying for or how long you’ve been on your knees, but I want to encourage you to stay the course. Don’t quit. The stakes are much too high and God is much too faithful for you to give up.

Are You Happy?

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“I know the Bible says this desire is wrong, but why do I have to give it up? Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” Yes. And no.

Happy in God’s vocabulary isn’t the same as our 21st-century, “it’s all about me” understanding. In the Bible, the word “happy” is interchangeable with the word “blessed.” Happiness is a blessing from God. It is not something you can attain from circumstances, pleasures, or emotions. Or sinful desires.

In the last half-century, the church has flung the doors wide open and said, “You don’t have to give up anything – just come sing a few songs and sip some coffee and God will make you happy.” That is nothing less than an outright rejection of God and His Word. He will reject the one who rejects Him for sin. A more conservative answer is, “You don’t have to give up your sinful desire, just don’t act on it.” In other words, to be happy with God, you must be miserable. It is an attempt to live in the tension between God and your sinful desires. Two things will happen: you will withhold the most important part of yourself – your heart – from God, and you will eventually give up the pretense.

Here’s the deal, God isn’t after your cooperation, He’s after the desire of your heart. I Chronicles 28:9 says, “The Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought.” He knows when your outward obedience masks a heart that still yearns for sin. Friend, the reason you and I fall back into sin over and over again is that we hold on to those fleshly, sinful, evil urges and don’t make Him the complete desire of our heart That’s what the Bible calls “cherishing sin (Psalm 66:18). It’s also called a divided heart. And you can’t survive with less than a whole heart – physically or spiritually.

Beloved, you may think the sin you desire so much will make you happy, but that’s a lie. When God is your heart’s greatest desire sin cannot compare. It just can’t measure up. When your heart delights in Him He will bless you. That’s true happiness.

Hopeless

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Hagar and Ishmael had been banished to the desert with just a skin of water and no direction. When the water ran out so did Hagar’s hope. She couldn’t bear to watch her son die, so she set him under a bush and walked away. As her tears fell, God sent an angel to comfort her and give her hope. And water. The Scripture says “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water” (Genesis 21:19). A well. In a desert. Just at the moment she needed it. Right where she stopped in her hopelessness.

There are volumes here we can learn from this account, and a good preacher could get a month’s worth of 3-point sermons out of this story. But here is my take-away: God brings hope into hopeless situations. He gives water in the desert, peace in the storm, direction in the wilderness, and light in the darkness. He is watching with tender care to meet you wherever your struggles take you. Whether you are in the desert or on a stormy sea – if your life is a train wreck or you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, God knows right where you are Beloved. He knows exactly what you need. He will meet you in the middle of your hopeless situation. Just when you think all is lost, God says you are found.

Hiding God’s Word

 

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Quick! What Scriptures have you memorized? Fire ‘em off!
If you’re like most good church folks you can quote John 3:16 at least. And if you’re like me, you may have a fair amount of Scriptures sorta memorized. I don’t always know them word-for-word and often don’t know their address, but I’ve gathered some favorites and stored them up in my heart. I have verses to remind me of God’s love and patience and kindness and grace. I have verses to challenge me and encourage me. There are a few verses in there to remind me who I am and Whose I am. I have verses that etched themselves on my heart in difficult times.
But the Bible gives us the most important reason for memorizing Scripture: “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). It’s great to know lots of Scriptures for lots of different reasons, but if you’re not using it to resist the devil and keep you from sin, you’re fighting a battle you probably won’t win. The Word of God is the power of God to stand firm against the enemy and to turn away from sin. You need to put Scripture on the walls of your heart like a teenage girl pastes posters of her idols. (Donny Osmond, anybody?)
Here’s a few that I have papering my heart:
“I will set before my eyes no vile thing” (Psalm 101:3).
“He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23)
“I have resolved that my mouth will not sin” (Psalm 17:3)
“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies” (Psalm 34:13).
This whole section from Ephesians 4:
“Put off falsehood and speak truthfully” (25).
“In your anger, do not sin; do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (26).
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth (29). (Are you detecting a theme in my life?)

Paul and the writer of Hebrews called the Word of God a “sword:” “Take up . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword . . .” (Hebrews 4:12). If all you have stored up in your heart is John 3:16 – which is a great verse – you’ve got a mighty short sword.
Beloved, I encourage you – no, I implore you – get into God’s Word and let God’s Word get into you. Learn to fight temptation and sin with all the power of God in your hands and in your heart.

Home Sweet Home

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One of my favorite hymns is “Mansion Over the Hilltop.” Written in 1949 by Ira F. Stanphill, the song is a great, bouncy tune and it is right in my range. I love it because it speaks of a permanent home, of being settled forever. As a military brat, we moved every few years and I longed for roots. My parents bought a house and we finally settled down in my high school years. Then I got married and moved again – in fact, we moved a lot, usually when the rent got several months behind. After the divorce, I moved again – back home. Married again. Moved again. And again. And again. We’ve not owned a home in fifteen years. I still don’t have roots. So a mansion – or even “A Cabin in Gloryland” (Curtis L. Stewart) sure sounds like heaven to me.

Maybe that’s also why John 14:2-3 has such a sweet spot in my heart: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” A place of my own. A place I’ll never have to move from. A place to call home. While I long for roots, I am content knowing I have a “forever home” waiting for me.

You were created for heaven, for eternal life, for God. Sin took all that away. But Jesus came to give it all back. He took on all your sins and died to bring you forgiveness. Three days later He rose to give you eternal life. He’s done all the hard work. All you have to do Beloved, is believe and call on Him as your Savior and Lord (Romans 10: 9-10). He will make you ready for heaven as He makes your place in heaven ready for you.

I’ll bet He’ll even paint your room in your favorite colors.

Self-made Misery

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Have you ever really repented of your sins? Or are you just sorry about the mess you’re in because of them? Right now you’re probably thinking, “And good morning to you too, Susie Sunshine!” I know – you much prefer the nice, gentle devotionals, but I speak as He speaks to me through His Word, and sometimes it’s not always pretty. This came into my heart this morning as I read in Hosea. You may recall, Hosea was a prophet of the Lord with a beautiful story of redeeming love. But the love story is just two chapters out of fourteen where the prophet is declaring God’s anger toward and coming judgment over the nation of Israel. He is calling them to repentance so that He might restore them. But they refuse. Even though they are in misery from God’s punishment, they will not turn away from their sin and turn back to the Lord. Listen to Hosea 7:14 – “They do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail upon their beds.” They were crying about their miserable situation, but they would not cry out to God in repentance. Jump back just a bit to 5:15 where the Lord said, “I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery, they will earnestly seek me.”

Here’s a hard truth Friend, sometimes we create our own miserable situations. We sin, we wander away from God and like sheep grazing with our heads in the grass, we are unaware of the danger we’re in. All the while God is calling us to turn back to Him. When we find ourselves tangled in the briars of sin or weighted down from falling into the creek, we wail and whine, but we don’t confess and repent.

John said, “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just as will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Beloved, in the kindest, most loving way I know to say it – maybe it’s time to stop whining and start repenting.

 

Fours Steps to Guard Your Heart

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life”(Prov. 4:23). That sounds really profound. But is it practical? How do you “guard your heart?” Read a little further (vs. 24-27) and you will see that you must guard your mouth, guard your eyes, guard your steps, and guard your direction.

Guard your mouth:Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips” What we say affects more than the hearer.  Our words also feed our hearts.  It’s a cyclical affect – what comes out of my mouth comes from my heart and goes back into my heart again.   David said it this way, “He wore cursing as his garment; it entered his body like water, into his bones like oil” (Psalm 109:18).

Guard your eyes: “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you” – watch what you’re looking at, listening to, and absorbing into your heart.   And I don’t just mean avoid looking at inappropriate stuff like pornography – I’m also talking about looking at things that just dull our spirits. Are those memes and goofy videos helping you grow more Christlike?

Guard your steps: “Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.”  The world is full of curbs and potholes and ditches that can easily trip us up and Satan is always planting landmines in our path.  We need to pay careful attention to where we set our feet – make sure the way is firm and free of danger.

Guard your direction: “Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil” – keep going in the right direction.  How do we know for sure what is the right way?  God has given us His Word and His Spirit.   By storing up God’s Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), meditating on the Scriptures (Psalm 19:14), continually, intentionally seeking God with all our heart (Jeremiah 29:13), keeping in step with the Spirit (Romans 8:5), and staying in community with fellow believers (Hebrews 10:25), we can stay on the good way.

Guard your heart well, Beloved, and you will guard your life.

A Real Love Story

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Hosea is a beautiful love story. God instructed His prophet Hosea to marry Gomer, a prostitute, as an example to the people of Israel of how He took them out of their former life of wickedness and made them His own. As expected, she was unfaithful to Hosea, again a living example of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. The Lord declares that He will punish Israel, banishing her to the desert and revealing her wickedness. But He also promised to restore Israel. In the desert where He sent her, He will “speak tenderly to her” (2:14). In the same place where she knew only trouble, God promised that “she will sing as in the days of her youth” (2:15) He will restore their relationship and send her enemies away.

Here’s what I find so wonderful. God said that He would “betroth” or commit Himself to her forever in “righteousness and justice, in love and compassion, [and] in faithfulness” (2:19-20). Then He says “You will acknowledge the Lord” (2:20). At first, I thought that acknowledging the Lord was her part in the restoration. That she would have to acquiesce to Him. But the word used means “to know” and pictures a husband and wife in their most intimate moment. So the truth is – “acknowledging the Lord” it isn’t a demand God is making, it is a promise He is proclaiming. After the season of discipline, God will pour out His righteousness and justice and love and compassion and faithfulness, and He will lavish her with love. And she will know her beloved in the most intimate, unifying, and satisfying way. She will know Him because He loves her.

That is true for you Beloved. God calls you into a deeper knowledge of Him, not so you can fill your head with facts, but so that you can know – in the very deepest part of your heart – that He loves you. No matter your past, no matter your sin, no matter how far you’ve run or how long – God wants you to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He loves you. Listen carefully and you will hear His tender voice in your ear. “I love you, Child, you are mine forever.”

The God who Restores

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I saw something very cool this morning as I was reading in Revelation. “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (2:7). Do you recall the last time we saw the tree of life? It was way back in Genesis, chapter 3 to be exact. After the fall of Adam and Eve, God banished them from the Garden of Eden and said “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever” (3:22). Because they knew evil (notice the passage said they knew good and evil, but not good from evil) it would be a cruel thing to allow them to live forever with that burden.

Yet the Revelation verse shows that man is restored to all the good things God created for him to enjoy. The bounty of His blessing, the delight of His presence, and the promise of eternal life.

God restores. It is His nature to restore things that are broken. And not only in heaven but also here and now. I have seen broken marriages restored. Broken dreams reignited. Broke relationships knitted back together. Broken minds healed. Broken lives renewed. And broken hearts made whole. He is Elyshib – the God who restores. And He is working to restore you.

Is God Disappointed in Me?

 

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“I don’t want to mess up and disappoint God,” my friend said. “I guess I should say I don’t want to disappoint Him again. I’ve done it so many times already.”

“You can’t disappoint God,” I replied. She looked at me with her head slightly tilted to one side.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Think about it – if you were to disappoint me that would mean you behaved in a way I didn’t expect. You can’t do anything God didn’t expect. He has perfect knowledge of your life and everything you are going to do. You can’t disappoint Him.”

One of the most comforting things God has revealed to me is that I can never take Him by surprise. I can’t catch Him off-guard. I can’t make Him wring His hands in heaven, lamenting a choice I’ve made that has derailed all His plans for my life. As I’ve seen on social media: “God has already factored my stupidity into my destiny.”

David said it a little nicer: “O Lord, you have searched me and You know me” (Psalm 139:1). He said God knows when you sit, when you lie down, and when you rise, He knows your every thought (Yikes!), and every word before you speak it. He knows where you are at all times (remember Jonah?). He is ‘familiar with all [your] ways” (v. 3b). He knows you because He created you. Before your mother ever suspected she was pregnant, God not only knew you existed, He knew everything about you (vs. 13-16). Your childhood skinned knees, your first day of school, your teenage rebellion, when you would fall in love, the address of the house you live in right now. He knew about the sins too – the alcohol, the drugs, the abortion, the affair, the divorce. And get this: He loved you.

I am the queen of mistakes. I have enough regrets to sink a battleship. I have confessed and repented and received God’s forgiveness. And I have peace that God has never worried about what I’m going to do next. Not only does He know, but He has already figured out how He can make work with it in His good plan for my life.

I’ll let David sum this up for us: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (v. 16). Take this to heart Beloved, God will never be disappointed in you.