Pray Like Jesus

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?  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: “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  This has become my prayer too.  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.  But sometimes we pray, and God says, “No.” which, by the way, is still an answer.  I don’t know why some prayers are fulfilled and some are not.  What I do know beyond any shadow of a 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.  Beloved, I encourage you to make Jesus’ prayer the prayer of your heart – may the Father’s will be done.

Holding onto Hope

I had hoped in a dream that I believed was God’s plan for me – it was exciting and I was filled with anticipation.  But when my life turned in a different direction, I set my backpack full of dreams down and shuffled off on this unwanted new path.

The Bible mentions several people who stood at the same crossroads.  Moses, Elijah, and Naomi come to mind.  Peter and several of the disciples, uncertain of where their lives are going after Jesus’ death, dejectedly went back to fishing (John 21).  And then there are two of Jesus’ followers walking on the dusty road to Emmaus when they encounter a stranger.  They tell him about Jesus (isn’t that a kick), sadly saying, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).  They saw their lives going in a completely different direction than they expected.

Part of the problem is our understanding of the word “hope.”  We say, “I hope it doesn’t rain out the picnic today.”  “I hope he asks me to the prom.”  “I hope you feel better soon.” – but these are spoken like “wishful thinking.”  The Bible portrays hope as “an attitude of confidently looking forward to what is good and beneficial.”  It’s not a hope in circumstances. It’s a hope in God. A hope that we can carry with us no matter what twists and turns life takes.  Better yet, it’s a hope that carries us no matter what.  That’s the kind of hope you and I need.

Remember Peter and those disciples on the road to Emmaus – the ones who had lost hope? Their stories didn’t end there.  At the end of that fishing trip was breakfast with the risen Jesus and restored hope for Peter.  At the end of the Emmaus road was the joyful realization that the stranger in their midst was the resurrected Lord Himself. 

Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last there is life and joy.”  I believe this is an assurance that our God-given dreams don’t get cast aside when life takes an unexpected turn.  Because God expected that turn, even if I didn’t, and somehow the dreams He planted in my heart will make the turn too. And when He brings them to reality, they may not look exactly like I envisioned, but they will be full of life and Joy.  And hope.

Hebrews: Just Jesus

History is littered with men and women quitting before the victory. Do you remember any of their names? Neither do I. We remember the ones who stuck it out and stayed the course.  The whole premise of the book of Hebrews is about not giving up; a message twenty-first-century believers need as much as first-century believers. The author said, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded” (10:35). That begs a question: Do you have confidence in God? I hear your “Yes!” ringing loudly through the air. So let me press you a little farther. Confidence for what? That He will fix your problems, clean up your messes, open all the right doors, straighten out your kid, and bring world peace? There’s nothing wrong with any of those things; I’m praying for some of them myself. But the author had bigger things in mind. Eternal things.

The people reading this message were being challenged by the writer to put their confidence in one thing: the grace of God through Jesus Christ for eternal life. Remember these folks are largely Jews and for centuries their confidence was in obedience to the Mosaic Law. Something tangible. Something they could do. It was a constant mantra from the cradle to the grave. But they were now expected to believe that one man bore the burden for all of their sins and there was nothing they needed to do to ensure their salvation beyond trust.  Put yourself in their sandals – you only get one shot to make the right decision about the hereafter. How difficult would it be to stake your eternal security on this – on Him?  But this is what the writer was encouraging – even pleading with them to do. It’s what I am encouraging – even pleading with you to do.

You and I can believe God for many good things. My hope for my life is in His Word and His Name. You place your kids and your future, your struggles and heartaches, and your needs and desires in His hands and you do well to do so. But the one question that you need to answer Beloved is this: What is your hope for eternal life? If your confidence is in anything or anyone but Jesus, you have no hope and no reward. Only Jesus saves.

Believing is Seeing

One reason I love to write out Scripture is because it slows me down and forces me to notice every verse, every phrase, and every word. When I take it like that things jump out at me that I never noticed before. Take Joshua’s story, for example. In Joshua 6:1 we get the casual mention that: “Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.” Why is that so important? Because in the next verse, “The Lord said: “See I have delivered Jericho into your hands . . .” (v. 2). Yet Joshua stood on the outside of the city, shut out by a wall and heavy gates. He did not at that moment literally have possession of Jericho. What he had was a promise and a very strange battle plan. And faith. God said it was a done deal, even when it wasn’t actually done. But Joshua knew God well enough to believe that what God said was so. Not will be. Was.

I want Joshua-sized faith. I want to believe that whatever God says is as good as done. I want to march around the promises of God confident that they are mine – even while the wall is still standing and the gates are still locked. There are things that God has promised to me – things I’m still waiting to see.  I gotta be honest with you, sometimes my faith wavers. Your’s too? Well, I’m glad I’m not the only one. So how do we get Joshua faith when our hope is shakey? I go back to the Word of God and remember what He said. Here is one of those promises: “O Lord, truly I am your servant . . . the son of your maidservant; You have freed me from my chains” (Psalms 116:16). Not “will one day.” “Have.” I’m trusting God to accomplish what He has proclaimed.

If your God is the God of the Bible then you have Someone that can and will fulfill every promise He makes. When He speaks it, He sees the thing as done. You can too. You can believe Him. You can look at that wall and know it will fall and the promise on the other side is already yours. Beloved, you can take Him at His Word.

Hebrews: Cheerful Courage

As I was studying Hebrews 10:19-25, the next Hebrews passage, one word caught my attention.  “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus . . .” (Heb 10:19). This passage has a lot to say to us, far more than just one word, but when the Holy Spirit draws my focus with a divine highlighter, I’ve learned to pay attention.   The word is “confidence,” and no, the writer isn’t talking about “a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities” (Google’s definition). The word he used in this context means “boldness, freedom in speaking.”  It always brings the story of Esther to mind.

Esther was a Jewish girl living in Susa, a province of Persia. The king of Susa had fallen in love with Esther and taken her to be his queen, but she hid her Jewish identity, as her people were not very popular in the region. In fact, they were so disliked that one of the king’s aides decided all the Jews in Susa should be killed in a mass extermination. The king put his “stamp of approval” on this heinous plan. Esther’s uncle begged with her to go to the king and plead for the lives of her people. But she knew that any person who approached the king in his inner court will be put to death unless the king extends his scepter as a sign of acceptance. Even his wife. Esther swallowed her fear and, dressed in her finest, walked across the palace’s marble floors and into the king’s presence. As God would have it, the king accepted Esther and she was (eventually) able to make her request.

There wasn’t anything in Esther that made her bold and confident, it was the God whose mission she had accepted, which brings me to the other definition for the word confidence: “cheerful courage.” Now I have had to do some very hard things that required a lot of courage and I pressed on into it, but it was “suck-it-up” courage and my knees were knocking. There was nothing cheerful about it. So how can I – as a sinful woman – have cheerful confidence to enter into the very dwelling place of God? Only by the blood of Jesus.

As we sang in worship yesterday, “There to my heart was the blood applied – glory to His name!”

Hebrews: The King’s Kid

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I  have often envisioned myself standing outside the doors of God’s throne room, my heart hammering in my chest, dressed, not in royal robes, but the filth of my sinfulness and my inadequate attempts to cover up with torn, tattered rags of homemade “righteousness.” I come with a heavy burden and a desperate need that is almost always the result of my own sin and foolishness. Do I dare push open that door and approach the holy and pure God of heaven and earth?

According to Hebrews 4:16, that is exactly what I am invited to do, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” When do I most need help? What is your greatest time of need? When we have failed God in our sin. How do we dare approach the throne of the Holy One at all, much less with confidence in our sinful state? Because of our great high priest, Jesus Christ. Remember that the work of the high priest is to intercede for sinful people before a holy God. The high priest approaches God with the blood of the sacrifice to cleanse the people. Jesus both presents the blood and provides it. The priest and the sacrificial lamb. Paul said, “In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12). That confidence is not an arrogant swagger; it is trust in the faithfulness of Christ to accomplish what He promised – to make us acceptable to God. In Jesus – in His blood, and through Jesus – through His atoning work, you and I are able to come to God, not as sinners, but as His beloved children. Timothy Keller said: “The only person that dares wake up the king at 3:00 a.m. for a glass of water is his child. We have that kind of access.”

What do you need today, Beloved? Encouragement? Hope? Provision? Healing? Help? Forgiveness? Peace? Joy? Your broken heart mended?  Lift up your head and step into your Father’s presence. He will not only receive you but He will throw open His arms wide to you. That’s His promise. That’s your confidence. That’s your place as a child of God.

Change Your Perspective

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“From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).

Years ago a choir director told us altos that the best way to hit a high note was not to try to climb up to it – that almost always caused us to flatten the note – but to see ourselves gliding down onto to it from above. He was trying to get us to approach the difficult note from a different – higher – perspective.

Life is hard. But you don’t need me to tell you that. After a year and a half of a pandemic and social and political unrest, many of us are just worn out. And to add to the stress, many of us are carry some heavy personal burdens too. You may be dealing with a scary diagnosis or a financial crisis. You may be trying to work through grief or disappointment or a difficult relationship. Maybe there’s upheaval at your job. Or you’re just carrying more responsibility than your shoulders can bear.

So how do we deal with it all? We have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair, or approach it from a higher perspective. We can choose to see it all as a hard blow or as God’s shaping and strengthening our faith. We have to choose whether we will roll around in hopelessness or stand in confident trust that God has a purpose and a plan in it all.

Believe me – I haven’t always been a shining example of faith in the hard times I’ve encountered. I’ve struggled. I’ve cried. I’ve worried and I’ve questioned God. But I’m learning that I can either drag myself into misery or climb up on the Rock that never fails.

Beloved, I don’t know your struggles – but I know that your perspective affects your faith and your ability to face it all with confidence and hope. And perspective has everything to do with how you see God – as faithful or fallible, as near and caring or as distant and unconcerned. Beloved, know this – God is with you and me in the hard stuff. He is faithful. We can trust Him. He will not fail us. He is our Rock – a high place on which you and I can stand. Climb up here with me and let’s watch Him work wonders.

Do You Trust God?

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God doesn’t always do what I want Him to do. He doesn’t always answer my prayers according to my wishes or follow my well-laid-out plans. There are things I’ve prayed about for years that remain unresolved. Hard situations that didn’t magically get better. People I’ve laid at His feet over and over who get up and wander back into sin and self-destruction. What are we to do when – let’s call it what it really is – we’re disappointed with God?  I know. It seems almost sacrilegious to say it, but if we’re not honest with God we will always be stuck with this gnawing sense that He can’t be trusted. And while we’re being honest – that is the root behind our prayerlessness and our half-hearted study of His Word.

So what do we do when the doubts creep in? To borrow from my sister-in-love, we “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). I’ve told you before that I’m a word-nerd, and the Holy Spirit asked me – “What do those words mean?” Two key things stood out to me. First: “trust” – it means to “have confidence in.” Do you have confidence in God? Do you have confidence in His goodness and His love?

Then – and this was huge to me – three words: “heart,” “understanding,” and “acknowledge.” The “heart” is the seat of our thoughts, emotions, and understanding. “Acknowledge” means to know, recognize, understand. Did you see the word“understand” in both of those definitions? “Understand” at its root – this is key – means “to consider with full attention.” There it is. When we lean on our own understanding – we are giving our emotions our full attention. But when we“trust in the Lord with all our heart” we give Him our full attention.

I don’t know about you, but my emotions will take me all over the place. But God is the one who sets my path straight. Where are you focusing your attention today? Your Father is your solid rock. He will never betray your confidence in Him. Beloved, you really can “Trust in the Lord.”