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.

Is the United States in the Bible?

Amos. If the United States was anywhere in the Bible it is here. God  called out the arrogance and sin of the people of Israel – calling the wealthy women who oppress the poor “cows” (Amos 4:1)  He declared that “the time will surely come” when the godless nation will receive their just consequences – judgement (4:2).
In chapter  3, He said he would send “an enemy [who] will overrun the land, pull down your strongholds and plunder your fortresses” “destroy the altars and tear down” the homes of the wealthy (3:11-15). Then he described the disasters and hardships He brought on them for their sin: lack of basic necessities, lack of rain when the crops needed to grow, pestilence that destroyed what little survived the drought, plagues, and the stench of death from the multitudes of rotting corpses. Despite all that He declared: “Yet you have not returned to me” (4:6,8,10,11) Does any of that sound familiar?
Then He said the most frightening words of all, “Prepare to meet your God.” But first He offered an olive branch and a second chance with a call to repentance: “Seek me and live” (5:4,6). He called to Israel “Seek good, not evil, that you may life. Hate evil, love good; then the Lord Almighty will have mercy” (5:14, 15).
Oh, Christian pray that it’s not too late for the United States. Pray that the disasters that the country is facing – COVID 19, political and social unrest, hate and anger, destruction of public, religious, and private property, and all rest – will cause us to repent and to “seek God and live.”  Otherwise, as I glance ahead in Amos, the worst is yet to come.
Hold fast to what is good Beloved. Hold fast to holiness and righteousness. Hold fast to God. He is your only hope.
But what a hope He is!

Pray for America

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I want to be like Jesus. I want to think like Him and speak like Him (including and especially social media). I want to respond like Him. I want to be wise like Him. Most of all, I want to love like Him. Because I want the world to know Him. This morning I prayed, “Lord if you were on earth today, how would you respond to the angry mobs and rebellious crowds and violent protests?”
I finished reading Jonah this morning. Jonah was sent to Nineveh to proclaim the Lord’s coming judgment. He didn’t want to go so he ran (or sailed) away. God would not let him go and he eventually obeyed and brought the message. And the nation of Nineveh repented. Stop. Don’t rush over that. Read it again and feel the glory of it. The most wicked nation on earth repented and turned to God. Wouldn’t you be elated? Not Jonah. He was angry. He didn’t want Israel’s enemy to receive God’s mercy. But God did. “Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left . . . Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:11). God had compassion on the people of Nineveh. Yes, the wicked, disobedient people.
There’s a verse tucked away in Acts that I think perfectly identifies those who are turning our nation upside down. Paul had been preaching the Gospel in Ephesus and the people were turning to Christ – and turning away from idols. Which hurt the purses of those who made and sold idols. A riot started and rocked the city for several hours. Luke said of the rioters: “The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there” (Acts 19:32). I believe that is true for the majority of the protesters today. They don’t know what they’re protesting about. They just get swept up in the action and believe the line they’re given.
How would Jesus respond? Like His Father – with compassion.
I want to offer a challenge to you. Every time you hear or read a news story about the riots and violence in America  – before you tweet or post or rage – pray. Pray for the protesters see the light and turn to God. Friends only God can save this nation, but you and I must pray. Let’s stop ranting about whose life matters the most. Just pray. Let’s stop yelling back in anger. Just pray. Let’s turn away from our own anger (yes and prejudices). Just pray. Pray for the Gospel to go out and save. Pray for the people who “cannot tell their left hand from their right.” God, have mercy on our country. Send forth Your Word and Your Spirit and save Americans and America.

A Tangled Heart

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God will” (Romans 8:26-27)
There have been times in my life when I was overwhelmed with a deeply painful issue. My heart was broken and when I tried to pray my mind was awhirl with thoughts going this way and that. It was like a hundred different voices all speaking at once in my head. I couldn’t shut them up long enough to get a word in edgewise. I expect you are nodding your head in understanding.
But God was so gracious to me. This verse promises that the Holy Spirit was praying for me when I couldn’t pray for myself. The Greek word for “groans” finds it root in the word stenos – which means “to narrow.” The image is of the Holy Spirit sorting through the jumble of thoughts and feelings to pull out the thin, narrow strand of truth from our heart, from which He weaves a tapestry of prayer before the Father. All I needed to do was pour it all out and let the Spirit, who knows both my heart and God’s will, sift out the prayer I couldn’t express.
Beloved, you don’t have to filter your heart when you come to God in prayer. You don’t have to have your thoughts and feelings organized – you don’t even have to know what you should pray for. That is why Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit. Let Him do the sorting and sifting – He’ll find the thread of your heart’s prayer and carry it to Your Father.

Giving God Praise and Thanks

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I knelt before God this morning and said: “Holy Father, I give you praise and thanks this day. I praise you for who you are, and I thank you for all you have done.” Immediately God stopped me and said, “You say the same words every morning. Why?” And His question gave me pause. “I praise you for who you are, Lord because I need to remember who you are. I thank you for what you’ve done because I need to remember all that you have done for me.”

I need to remember that He is the Creator – that He spoke and the universe obeyed. I need to remember that He is Sovereign. I need to remember that He is righteous and mighty and perfect. I need to remember that He is the God of the impossible – that He parts raging seas and brings down strong walls and makes blind men see. I need to remember that He brings life out of death and that His word is powerful. And I need to never ever forget that He is holy love.

I need to remember that when my cabinets were bare, He sent food to my door. I need to remember that when my car broke down, He sent funds to pay for a new transmission. I need to remember that when I looked for months for a job with no success, He opened the door to the best job I’ve ever had. I need to remember that when I was very sick, He healed me. When I was lost, He found me. When I was lonely, He adopted me. When I was in the pit of despair, He brought me out. And I need to never ever forget that He sent His Son to die for my sins and give me life.

I sensed a smile from my Father. “Just checking to see if you were paying attention child. Please continue on.”

Why?

Reading in Acts 16 this morning where Paul and Silas are in prison for preaching the Gospel. There are a lot of why’s in this story. At the beginning of Acts 16, Paul wants to go to Asia, but God wouldn’t let them. Why? They were stripped, beaten, severely flogged, thrown in prison, and fastened in the stocks (vv. 22-24). Why? Despite it all, in the middle of the night, our boys “were praying and singing hymns to God. Why? But wait, it gets better. A violent earthquake shook the prison and “all the prison doors flew open and everyone’s chain came loose. But they all stayed. Everyone. Why?

Why did all this happen? So the jailer would see and believe in the power of God and so that he and his family would hear the gospel and be saved. I suspect a few prisoners also believed that night.

I take tremendous hope in this story because it tells me if God would go to such lengths to bring the man and his family to salvation, He will move mountains to save my loved one too. I have no doubt that when these new believers came up out of the baptismal waters, Paul and Silas realized all their suffering was worth it. God had directed every single thing to save this family.

Beloved, I know that you are suffering. I know that you are asking “Why?” I know it’s hard and painful. Believe me, I know, because I am there too. But I’m going to pray and praise God in the suffering because I believe He will use it to show His power. And He will break the chains that bind my loved one and throw open the prison door and set them free. It’s going to be worth it all one day. Suffering in God’s hands always – always – brings Joy. Just ask Paul and Silas. And Jesus.

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.

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.

When You Struggle with Prayer

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Are you satisfied with your prayer life? Here’s my confession: For the past several years, I have struggled with prayer. I know it is powerful and vital in the life of the believer, but for some reason, I haven’t been as disciplined in it as I once was. Somewhere, somehow, prayer became less of a daily priority and more of a fire extinguisher.  But over the past year, and through the influence of my prayer-warrior sister-in-love, God has pricked my heart to return to prayer and daily sweet communion with Him. May I share a something that has helped me greatly?
Pray God’s Word back to Him. One reason I drifted from prayer is because I just didn’t know what to pray over certain situations or people. The issues were overwhelming and long-standing and I honestly didn’t know what to say.  Jesus said that if we pray according to God’s will, He will hear us and grant us our prayer. What better way to pray His will than to pray His Words? I searched the scriptures for prayers and promises that I can pray over these issues and over my loved ones and it has make me bolder, more confident, and more faithful in prayer. For example: I know it is God’s will that my loved one “be rooted and established in love . . . and be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19) and “be filled with spiritual wisdom and understanding, pleasing the Lord in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, with great endurance, patience, joy and thankfulness” (Colossians 1:9-14). I used to think that prayer meant I had to give God a detailed list of all the problems, and my heart just became heaver and heavier as I went.  But now I hone in on what I know He wants for my loved one and trust that, when these things are fulfilled in his life, the problems will also be resolved. That’s powerful praying my friends.  To borrow from Charles Spurgeon, that is “simply asking for what He has already faithfully promised.” I hope this encourages you to grow deeper and more faithful in the discipline of prayer. 
I’ll meet you at the altar Beloved.

Is That What the Bible Really Says?

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One of my responsibilities is to help my sister-in-love create a bulletin board in the church. The Lord gives her the image and I craft it. She is in charge of inspiration and I am the perspiration. This month, we naturally did an “Easter” theme – based on the song, “Love Grew Where the Blood Fell” and on Luke 22:44: “And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” My husband crafted a wooden cross and we mounted it to the board. Because we wanted to emphasize the Lord’s prayer of surrender in Gethsemane, we talked about adding the “rock” upon which Jesus prayed. But something stopped me. I went to the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all speak of the anguished prayer in the garden, but there is no mention of a rock; rather, the Scriptures say “He knelt down and prayed” (Luke 22:41) and “He fell with His face to the ground and prayed” (Matthew 26:39). No rock. But, the prayer on the rock is entrenched in our memory of the story. So where did the rock come from? From the 1886 painting, “Christ in Gethsemane” by Heinrich Hoffman. This classic work of art has become part of the story, just as the “Three wise men” have become part of the Christmas story. But read Matthew’s account again – there were three gifts, but no mention of the number of wise men. John Henry’s 1857 song, “We Three Kings” cements the idea in our minds.
I share this to warn you and me – don’t let side stories and paintings and songs and culture add to or take away from the Word of God. Sure, there’s no harm in having a rock in Gethsemane or three kings in the Christmas story (who, by the way, did not come to the manger, but to the holy family’s house about 2 years after Jesus’ birth). But there are other false teachings that slip in just as easily and can do great harm to your faith and mine. Even if it is something you are sure of, go to the Scriptures and verify it. Our own thoughts and recollections can be colored by something as simple as a children’s nativity play. Friend, we need to be like the Bereans – who listened to Paul’s teachings and “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts17:11). I’ve been a Bible teacher for 20+ years, and my sister-in-love has studied the Bible even longer and we both had a rock in Gethsemane. We were both surprised to discover that there ain’t no rock. Beloved, don’t take anyone else’s word for what God said but God Himself. Even mine. Go get your Bible right now and check it out.