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.

What’s Bogging You Down? Part 1


What’s bogging you down friend? What’s slowing your forward progress in your faith?  What keeps you from being all you want to be, all you were created to be? I believe the Scriptures reveals many things that impede our progress – things that are all very much under our control.  We would be wise to pay careful attention to them.

The writer of Hebrews addresses three of these in this verse: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1).  We’re going to look at two of these in this post and unpack more in subsequent posts.

Did you notice that the writer separates “things that hinder” from “sin?” Not everything that bogs us down is sinful. The Greek meaning of the word “hinders” is a weight or burden.  Because the writer uses the image of a race, we can imagine the thoughts of a runner; his goal is to be fast, and so he eliminates everything that might slow him down.  Modern runners search for the lightest shoes and for running garments made from lightweight fabrics.  Everything is evaluated for its weight and how that might affect his time.  A runner would never take his backpack to the track with him.  Yet too many of us are trying to run this race of faith with weights and burdens tied to our backs.  We are still carrying guilt from sins that God has forgiven.  We are carrying pain from old hurts and wounds that God is more than willing to heal.  We are carrying the expectations of others – or ourselves – as so much excess baggage.   As we run this race,everything in our lives should be evaluated for how it can hinder our spiritual progress.  Any weight that is not essential for the race should be eliminated.  Don’t be hindered by excess weight.

The other point that the writer makes is “sin that so easily entangles.”  Continuing with the runner’s example, I Kings 18 has the perfect visual for us.  When God sent rain to end the drought in Israel, King Ahab took off in his chariot to try to beat the storm, leaving Elijah behind.  But “The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel” (1 Kings 18:46).  Elijah, on foot, outran King Ahab in his chariot pulled by a horse (or horses). You can imagine how Elijah’s long flowing robes would have wrapped around his legs as he ran, causing him to slow down and likely stumble.  So, he took the skirt of his robe and tucked it into his belt to free his legs from becoming entangled.  That is the perfect picture of sin.  It wraps itself around us and makes it impossible to “run the race marked out for us.”  Here’s something powerful I discovered when I researched this passage.  The Greek rendering of the whole phrase “which so easily entangles” is a combination of three things. It means “to skillfully surround,” and “to prevent or retard.” Okay, that fits perfectly with the image we have in our minds.  And of course we know that Satan is the one “skillfully surrounding” us with sin.  But I was very surprised to find it also includes the meaning of “well or much admired.”  Do you see it?  What entangles us so easily is the sin that we cherish.  It’s the sin that we secretly love.  It’s the one we won’t let go of, the one we keep returning to again and again.  It has become entangled around us until it seems a part of us, to the point that cutting it off will seem like cutting off a limb. But it absolutely must go – and it is up to us to do the cutting.  Yes, it will be painful because it will involve something that has become dear and intimate to us.  It may even mean severing a relationship that is built on sin.  The writer of Hebrews says, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood (Hebrews 12:4). That is exactly what you and I must do—fight against that sin, even if it feels like it will kill us. But that’s not what we do, is it? The truth is, we don’t really struggle with our sin. Oh, we may give a wimpy word of protest, but we still give in to it. We don’t look for “the way out” that God provides, because we don’t want to escape it (1 Corinthians 10:13). Beloved, it is time to be brutally honest with yourself about your pet sin. It is not your friend. You need to kill it before it kills you.

Weights and sins are very much within our control.  You and I need to shed every weight and burden and entrust them to the Father who loves us.  We need to cut off and kill the sin that has wrapped itself around us and surrender it to the God who calls us to run the race.   The victory tape awaits you – the prize is in the Lord’s hands – eternal life in an eternal place with your eternal Savior.

Run Beloved.  Don’t let anything slow you down.

 

The post, What’s Bogging You Down? first appeared at https://dbethandrews.wordpress.com/

 

Christians and Depression

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“Elijah was a man just like us” (James 5:17).

I’ve been studying Elijah lately for one reason: I wanted to understand why, after all God has done for me in recent months, I could tumble into depression. Elijah was a prophet of God – a very outspoken prophet – and most of his outspokenness was directed at King Ahab and His queen, Jezebel who were evil personified.  Elijah predicted a season of drought because of the evil and idolatry in Israel. During that drought, God miraculously provided for the prophet – he never lacked for his daily needs.  Elijah defeated and put to death the 450 prophets of Baal, Jezebel’s god, and showed the Israelites the power of Jehovah. Because of him the people’s hearts were turned back to the Lord. What a victory! Yet when Jezebel got wind of it all, she threatened Elijah. And the prophet ran. Depressed and overwhelmed he begged God to take his life.  Despite all that God had done for him and through him, Elijah wound up in the pit – or cave as it were – of despair.

I can identify with old Elijah.  God has been so good to us through a very difficult year of health problems, unemployment, family strain, and financial hardship.  So why this downward spiral into depression?  It isn’t the first time I’ve battled this – I am prone to the grip of depression, and it often comes on the heels of blessings and fruitfulness.  I suspect, based on conversations and comments, that I’m not the only one.

I see some similarities between Elijah and me.  The old prophet was physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted.  The long-standing conflict with Ahab, three years of drought in the land, coupled with the intensity of the showdown with prophets of Baal drained Elijah.  Likewise, we struggled for over a year with my husband’s work-related injury, surgery, rehab and battles with worker’s comp and his company.  I had made a disastrous job change and was miserable. We were caught up in a great deal of relational tension with a family member.   Then the heat intensified.  My husband could not go back to work, so now we faced settlements, disability, and the loss of his income.  When my employer found out I was looking for another job, they hired my replacement before I had a job to go to.  Faced with double unemployment and a minimal settlement, we realized all we could do was move back home near family.  Two days before we loaded the truck I was hit with a severe leg infection and excruciating pain. That meant medical bills with no insurance and no income and nearly a month of being flat of my back.  God had graciously led us to a great house to rent, but before we could move in, the house flooded from an open tap and we juggled furniture around while the floors were replaced and I tried to recuperate with the daily noise of saws and hammers.  There was the added anxiety of being separated from our adult son for the first time in his life as he decided not to move with us.  As soon as I was back on my feet I began searching for a job with disappointing results. 

But God had been good to Elijah by miraculously providing for His prophet, and He did the same for us.  Despite all our struggles, God poured out blessings on us and provided generously and unexpectedly.  And He eventually opened the door to a wonderful job for me at a small Christian college nearby.  You would think, with all this, I would be on the highest of highs.  But I soon found myself crashing physically, emotionally and spiritually. Like Elijah, the long drawn out struggles and intensity of the recent months had drained me.  Elijah fled to the desert, a fitting place for a dry and weary soul.  There he begged God to let him die, “I have had enough, Lord” (1 Kings 19:4).  And the overwhelmed and exhausted prophet lay down and slept the sleep of the depressed.  While I haven’t physically run anywhere, I have retreated into an emotional desert of discouragement and weariness.  That is why, you may have noticed, I have been silent on my blog and social media the past month or so.  I just haven’t had the energy or the heart.

So how did Elijah come out of the darkness of despair?  The same way I will.  Through God’s tender care and hearing the voice of the Lord.  As Elijah slept in the desert, God sent an angel with food and strengthened him so that he had just enough energy to get to the mountains where he hid in a cave.  But it was there, in a dark and lonely cave, that the God of mercy and grace spoke to him in a gentle whisper.  I am seeking the help of a physician to deal with the physiological aspects of depression, and I am digging into the Word to glean the whispers of God for my soul and spirit.

Why am I sharing this less-than-encouraging message with you?  Because I don’t want you to think I am some super-Christian through the words I write.  I am just as prone to the struggles and hardships of life as anyone.  The have the same discouraging effect on me as they do on you.  In all honesty, I write to encourage myself as much as to encourage you.  And I am just as prone to failure in my walk as anyone – but that’s a post for another day.  I’m also sharing this because someone else is struggling with depression – someone who loves Jesus and is doing their best to be a good, faithful Christian.  You’re questioning your faith because of this season of darkness.  You may even be questioning God’s love for you.  And the enemy is using that to his advantage.  I hear the accusations too: “If you were really a Christian you wouldn’t be depressed.  God is so disappointed in you.  Why don’t you quit pretending to be something you’re not?”  I hear the reminders that Christians are supposed to be full of joy, joy, joy!  So why aren’t you?  There may be many reasons; everyone’s situation is unique.  And there is no shame in reaching out for help.  Doctors, counselors and others have the God-given wisdom and expertise to treat depression.  Please get the help you need. Today.  I am writing this so that you, my weary and hurting friend, will know that there is no shame in depression – even for Christians.  The Bible shows that we are in very good company in this cave – Moses, Elijah, David, Jeremiah, and Paul all expressed similar emotions and seasons.  Many of the great men and women throughout Christian history struggled with depression.

I am also writing this to let you know that God really does love you – even in the pit or desert or cave of depression.  He is not angry or disappointed in you.  He has not written you off.  In fact, He has drawn near to you, like a loving parent does when their child is hurting.  He speaks gentle whispers of love and encouragement, and He tenderly wipes away the tears on your face.  Let Him love you.  Let Him minister grace to you.  Beloved, there is hope for you and for me in the face of depression.  I’m going to get better and so will you.  God is too good to leave His child in pain. He will turn the darkness into light.  We have His Word on it.

Be Careful Little Ears What You Hear

5867554“This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.  Listen to Him!” Matthew 17:5

Facebook.  Instagram.  Twitter. Blogs. Articles.  Books.  Everyone has an opinion, and we all want to be heard.  Whether it’s politics, childrearing, fashion or religion, the world – and that includes you and me – is quick to share their thoughts on any given subject.  Some are more, shall we say prolific, than others (think Kardashian) and some only speak when it’s something they are passionate about.  Or maybe, we’re so busy doing all the talking we can’t hear what others have to say.  I’m a writer, so I’m as guilty as the next person.  The question is, in this sea of public opinion, whose opinion are we listening too?  Kim K’s?  The media’s?  The candidates’? Or our own?

Jesus took three disciples with Him to the mountain top to witness the extraordinary – His glory coupled with the appearance of Moses, who represented the Law, and Elijah, who represented the prophets.  Peter was so overcome with excitement that he started babbling his opinion – “Let’s make three booths, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Matthew 17:4).  I have no doubt that James and John were nodding their heads in eager agreement.  They had the wisest of wise men and the very Son of God before them and the three disciples couldn’t hold their tongues long enough to hear what they had to say.  God had to shake them up – and shut them up.

When I was much younger and more naïve spiritually, I attended a weekly Bible study.  I cringe when I recall asking the teacher, “Do I really have to read the Bible? Can’t I just read books about the Bible? It’s too hard to understand.”  She was wise and patient in her answer: “Never take anyone else’s opinion for what God has to say but God Himself.”  That has stuck with me for thirty years and now, as a Bible teacher, I tell my classes the same thing.   Only God’s opinion matters.  What others have to say, no matter how profound they seem, whether it’s Billy Graham, Beth Moore, or Dorcas Beth Andrews – you take it to the Holy Word of Holy God and verify it against the Scriptures that were inspired by the Spirit of God.  That’s what the Berean church did and the Bible calls them people of “noble character, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

Want to know what really matters in the cacophony of voices? You’ll find it between the pages of Genesis and Revelation.  God’s Word matters above every other voice.  Find out what He has to say to you.

I Have Had Enough

“Moses asked the Lord, ‘Why have You brought this trouble on Your servant? What have I done to displease You?’” Numbers 11:10

Have you ever felt like God is picking on you? Do you ever wonder if He has singled you out for suffering and heartache? I know I have, and through conversations with others, I am not the only one. Life in this world is hard. We’re in good company though, because even the great heroes of the Bible had those same thoughts and feelings, like Moses in our key passage.

Moses had the difficult task of leading some two million people out of Egyptian captivity, across seas and deserts and into the Promised Land. Two million frightened, tired, hungry, complaining people. There had been tremendous drama as he repeatedly confronted the stubborn Pharaoh, his own skeptical people, mighty armies that chased them, the lack of food and water, jealously among the group, disobedience and constant wandering in the desert. Moses was exhausted, overwhelmed and ready to give up. He bluntly told God, “If this is how You are going to treat me, put me to death right now” (Numbers 11:15). You can hear the same tone in the voice of the prophet Elijah “I have had enough Lord, take my life” (1 Kings 19:4). What had brought these great men of God to such a desperate state? Here’s a few things from their stories I believe parallel our lives in these seasons.

They were both physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted and overwhelmed. We’ve mentioned the burdens that had left Moses drained and depleted. Elijah was running for his life from the wicked queen Jezebel and He thought that he alone was carrying the name of the Lord. He complained to God “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected Your covenant, broken down Your altars, and put Your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1 Kings 19:10). I know this one all too well. As a wife and mother, I carry the burdens and weights of those I love often to the overwhelming point of exhaustion. I load myself down, believing I am responsible for everything that concerns them. I am learning the hard way (is there any other way we learn?) that I am not equipped to carry them, they really don’t want me to carry them, and it leaves me drained and them frustrated. When the weight of responsibility becomes too much, we feel burdened, alone and ready to give up.

They both had taken their eyes off of the Lord. Moses could only see the angry, complaining, disobedient people that confronted him and the impossible task of feeding them all. He told God “Where can I get meat for all these people?” (Numbers 11:13). He had forgotten the power and the promises of God and how He had provided, defended and protected them thus far. God’s answer to Moses – “Is the Lord’s arm too short?” (Numb. 11:23). “Is anything too hard for the Lord” Gen. 18:14)? Though Elijah had heard God speak to and through him many times, all he heard now was the vindictive words of Jezebel swearing he would be dead by the next day. He was listening to his fears and forgot the words of His faithful God. The Lord spoke to him again, drowning out the queen’s threats with His own “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). So often it is where our eyes are fixed and the words we choose to hear that bring us into these seasons of despair.

How do we go from the point of giving up to pressing on? God provides the answers. He instructed Moses to appoint seventy of Israel’s elders to help carry the load and relieve him of much of his burden. God reminded Elijah that he wasn’t the only one on the Lord’s side – “I have reserved seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal” (1 Kings 19:16). Now you and I may not have seven thousand or even seventy people who will step in and help, but are we asking those we do have around us? Can someone step in and shoulder some of the responsibility? I know when I have swallowed my pride and asked for help, I’ve never been turned down. God does not expect us to bear our burdens alone, he gives us fellow Christians to come along side of us. He gives us His Word, full of promises and hope and peace. He gives us His presence through the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus called “the Comforter” (John 14:16 KJV). He promises to take our burdens – “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7). When we are weighed down by burdens and worries, God invites us to lay them down at His feet.

Finally, we must keep our eyes on the Lord and our ears tuned to His voice. I’m talking to myself here because in the middle of the spiritual battle I am in right now, it is all too easy to let the circumstances and the voice of the enemy drag me into despair and hopelessness. Satan loves to tell us that God has abandoned us, that we will not survive our heartache, and that the turmoil we see now is all that will ever be. This is where I can either stand on my faith in God or let the enemy drive me to the point of desperation. I must keep asking myself “What does God say?” and go to His Word for truth and hope. I must remember Joseph’s words to his evil, scheming brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” (Gen. 50:20). I must remind myself that Satan does not have the final say – God determines the outcome. And I must fix my eyes on Jesus least I drown in my sorrows like Peter when he looked away from the Lord and out at the raging sea. With my eyes fixed on Jesus I see solutions not problems, I see provision not want, I see strength not weakness, I see healing not pain, I see hope not despair, joy not sorrow, truth not lies, love not hate, peace not turmoil, life not death. With my eyes fixed on Jesus, I see – not an end, but eternity.

Holy, loving Father, the winds howl and the waves threaten to drag me under. Exhausted and overwhelmed, I turn my eyes to You, my hope and my comfort.  Speak peace into my weary soul, remind me that I am not alone and You are working on my behalf. Meet me in this place of darkness and lead me back into Your light. Amen.