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.

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Are You Disappointed With Me God?

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“I am so disappointed in you.” She could have hit me, grounded me and taken away my car, and it wouldn’t have cut me as deeply as knowing I had disappointed my Mom. Her words stuck with me for many, many years and colored my life and my relationships. I have always feared disappointing others – teachers, bosses, friends, family, strangers. And most especially God. Oh, I know I am saved and have eternal life – that is rock-solid. But I have carried this sense of being a disappointment to God for as long as I can remember. Until this morning, and something the Lord impressed on my heart.
Paul wrote often about being “in Christ,” meaning to trust in Him for salvation and eternal life. And I have. That also means that Christ is “in me” (John 17:23). I in Christ and Christ in me. By that, God considers me as one with His Son and all that the Son has is mine (Corinthians 3:21), including His righteousness before God (Romans 3:22). Now come stand with me at the water’s edge and hear the Father’s words as Jesus emerges from the Jordan River: “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This, too, is mine in Christ. This rocked my world this morning: God is never disappointed in His Son. And because I am in Christ and Christ is in me, God is never disappointed in me. Friend, the same is true for you – if you are in Christ, He is never disappointed in you.
“But,” you argue, “Jesus was perfect and sinless, and I am not.” It doesn’t matter. You and Christ are one in God’s eyes. “But I am disappointed in myself.” That doesn’t change the truth. You are in Christ and Christ is in you. God is not – will never be – disappointed in you.
When you grab hold of that, it will change everything. It will become your mantra when the enemy tries to dump shame on you. “There is no condemnation for me, because I am in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1). You will “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” (Hebrews 4:16) because you know He gladly welcomes you into His presence.
Beloved, when God looks at you, He doesn’t see the foolish, sinful person you think you are. He sees His Son in you. And He says – “This one is mine, the one I love, with whom I am well pleased.” Not disappointed. Ever. Christ in you and you in Christ. It’s a beautiful combination.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

You are winner. Smiling man looking in mirror and pointing on himself with help of his index fingers.

“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill'” (John 6:26).

Yesterday we sang one of my favorite old hymns, “It is Well With My Soul,” and it moved me profoundly. The story behind this precious hymn is part of the reason why it touches my heart every time I sing it. Horatio Spafford, following the devastating loss of first his son, then his business, sent his wife and four daughters ahead by ship to Europe. On the way the ship sank and his daughters all perished. As he sailed to meet his grieving wife, Spafford wrote these words as the ship passed over the watery grave of his beloved children:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

I compared it to modern Western Christian music and found today’s offerings wanting. I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in Christian media – music, books, articles, and messages – over the past few years.  It’s all becoming less about who God is and more about who I am in Him, and it places God in a secondary role.  The result is, rather than worshiping God, we are worshiping who we are because of God.  And rather than presenting God as one who is worthy of worship in His own right, we claim His worth is seen in our worth.  In the current “Christian” culture, the theme is, “No matter what happens, it’s all about who I am in Christ.”  And honestly, that’s what sells today.  But Spafford, with a broken heart said, “When sorrows like sea billows roll . . . It is well with my soul.” His sole focus was the eternal state of his soul, not his identity.  Reading the full song, he found all he needed in the rock-solid assurance of his salvation, in the sweet forgiveness of his sins, and the glorious promise of Christ’s return. Despite his hardships and grief, all that mattered was that it was well between himself and God.

Modern Christianity in the West has become self-absorbed and consumed with what God has done/can do for me, just like the crowd in John 6:26.  They were part of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-13) and they wanted more.  Not more of Jesus, but more of what He could do for them.   In verse 27 Jesus told them essentially, don’t focus on what you want or need, but focus on “eternal life.”  Focus on Me.  Again, they came back with, “what will you do for us?” (v. 30).  He responded, not by telling them He would give them more bread, but by telling them: “I am the Bread of Life” (v. 35).  We are no different when we fail to see past what He can do for us to see who He is.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fuddy-duddy who wants to spoil the celebration.  It is right to praise God’s faithfulness and goodness to us, but I find our acclamations seem to always turn the spotlight on ourselves and God becomes second to our “worth and identity.” The best-selling Christian books and “Bible” studies are written with a definite self-focus – all about finding “my worth, my value, my identity.”  We’ve begun to use God like a divine mirror, looking to Him to gaze on our own reflection when we should be so blinded by His brilliance and beauty that we can’t see ourselves at all.

I fell in love with Lauren Daigle’s song “You Say,” but I began to look closely at the lyrics and realized it’s completely “me-centered.” Over and over she says, “I believe what you say . . . about me.”  Look at the second verse:

The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me
Cause in You I find my worth, in You I find my identity

That honestly disturbs me – but it follows the trend of the day – the only thing that matter is who I am, not who God is.  (And I still love Lauren Daigle.)  Friend, we need a refresher course in humility and in the greatness of our God.  We need to realize that what matters is not what God thinks of me nor is it my worth and identity – it is God – only God, and His worth and identity. We need to hold Him up for the world to worship and adore, not to be the reflection of our own faces.

Beloved, who is God to you?  Is He the one who is worthy of worship and adoration?  Or is He the one who makes you worthy?  Is your life a reflection of Him, or is He a reflection of your identity?  Who does the world see when they look at you? May we seek to be nothing more than mirrors that reflect His beauty and His worthiness.

 

Check out this video of the Issacs singing, “It Is Well With My Soul”

The Day Between Death and Life

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“It was preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.  The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how His body was laid in it.  Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”  Luke 23:54-56

It was the darkest day of their lives – the day after Jesus had been crucified on the cross.   They’d heard the hammers pound the nails into His hands and feet.  They listened to Him cry out to His Father in anguish and surrender.  They saw His body slump as He give up His Spirit.  They watched the soldiers pierce His side and witnessed blood and water drain from His battered body.  They held their breath as Joseph and Nicodemus took His lifeless body down from the cross.  They followed in a sad processional to the garden where their Lord was entombed.

In our modern understanding of these days, we hold solemn vigils on Good Friday, remembering the death of Jesus, and we come together for joyful celebrations on Easter Sunday to celebrate His resurrection.  But Saturday is the day for egg hunts, travel, shopping, and preparing our Easter Sunday finery.

More and more the Holy Spirit is teaching me to sit in the moment with the Bible characters.  To put myself in their sandals and their experience and not rush on to the end of a familiar story.  He is teaching me to take a holy pause.

What must this day have been like for these devoted women?  Were they numb with grief?  Or was it the kind of sorrow that aches deep in the bones?   This day – the day after darkness filled the noon-day sky and the curtain was torn in two – must have left them empty inside – confused, in anguish, and filled with disbelief.  How could this be?  Their Jesus was dead.

Looking back from this side of the Cross, we want to take their faces in our hands and tell them, “Just hold on! Don’t grieve. Everything is going to change tomorrow!”  As Paul Harvey says, we know “the rest of the story.” We know death cannot keep its grip on Jesus. We know they will soon find the tomb empty.  We know this is only the day between death and life.  But they didn’t.  In their world, death was final.  It was all over.

They didn’t know they were only waiting. . .

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.

Holy Week


“When the days were coming to a close for Him to be taken up, He determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51 HCSB).

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week – which marks the days leading up to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.  Some denominations don’t make as big a deal over the traditional Holy Week events as others.  For 18 years, I was the Admin Assistant at a United Methodist church and Holy Week meant extra work for me. Bulletins had to be prepared for all the services: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Sunrise Service and Easter Worship. For two of those years I also doubled as the custodian and Holy Week meant extra hours scrubbing and polishing to make the facilities shine. By the time Easter Sunday rolled around, I was exhausted.
Since leaving that position, I’ve been able to approach Holy Week with more reflection and worship – and rest. But it makes me think of the Lord throughout that week, how His mind, body and spirit must have been strained to the breaking point, even before the nails tore through His hands and feet. There was no rest for Jesus. There was no shopping trip to buy new shoes and a spring outfit. No day off for Good Friday. No Easter basket piled high with chocolate bunnies. Jesus’ experiences the days between the triumphal entry and the empty tomb were grueling, and they are what make the week truly Holy.
I want to encourage – maybe even challenge you to spend this coming week studying Holy Week in all four of the Gospels – stopping short of the resurrection passages until Easter Sunday. Take note of all that Jesus did and endured in the span of 7 days – and try to envision the physical, emotional and spiritual toil it took on Him. Those passages are: Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 19:28-chapter 23; and John 12-19.

Then come to the resurrection.

 

Martha, Martha or How to be a Joyful Servant


 

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42)

Where are all my Marthas?  Raise your hands.  You can’t, you’re in the kitchen up to your elbows in flour.    Let me say that I don’t think being a Martha is a bad thing – I am also a Martha, to a certain extent.  I mean somebody’s gotta make sure people are fed, right?  There is a lot packed into this account, and we can draw many applications from it.  I just want to offer one observation today.
I want to look at two words in this story.  First is “distracted” from verse 40: “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”  The word distracted comes from a root word combination meaning to worry and to draw (as in drawing a sword).  Hold that thought.
The other word we want to examine is “upset” in verse 41.  This word doubles back to “distracted,” but has a very interesting root: meaning an uproar, riot, commotion, disturbance.  Recognize that feeling of being frustrated with a smile on your face?  You’re doing the good things and all the while your spirit is in an uproar and there is a riot going on in your head.  You are screaming at the top of your lungs on the inside, all the while portraying a calm servant disposition on the outside.  I see you nodding your head.
For Martha, this commotion in her heart and head caused her to “draw a sword” against her sister – and if we’re being honest, against Jesus too.  Check it out: “She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!” She went on the defensive and the Lord called her out on it.
I believe there are two things in particular we can take away from this:
1. Don’t fret about the work that needs to be done – just come for a bit and sit with Jesus.  Yes, people need to be fed, so let ’em make sandwiches.  Don’t let serving the Lord become a burden or a cause for resentment.
2. If you do chose to serve, don’t get resentful toward those who chose otherwise.  Humble servants are happy servants.  If you’re serving for a pat on the back, go sit down.  If you’re serving out of love and the joy of blessing others – you can stay in the kitchen, but stand near the doorway so you can still listen.

There is work to be done in the Kingdom, but we want to glorify Jesus in it.  Resentment leads to internal warfare and  stomping our feet and eventually drawing swords.  Let’s be humble and gracious in all we do.

 

Leviticus: More than Just a Bunch of Rules

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Most of us start our Bible reading adventure on January 1 with great promise – until we get to the book of Leviticus. The rules and laws and regulations make no sense to us and frankly, offend our modern sensibilities. Here’s what you need to keep in mind about Leviticus: Through all these rules, God was showing both His absolute holiness and man’s absolute sinfulness. In addition, as New Testament believers, we must read Leviticus with Jesus always in the forefront of our mind, for He fulfills every jot and tittle of the Law that Moses delivered.

For example: consider Leviticus 1:1-2 – The Lord is giving instruction to Moses to give to the people: “When any of you brings an offering to the LORD, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.” The first thing I see is the word “when.” Not “if” you bring an offering, but “when” you bring an offering. An offering is expected of God’s people. I’m not just talking about a check in an envelope to throw in the plate. I’m talking about our whole selves. Everything we have and everything we are. And the next part of verse 2 brings that home: “an animal from either the herd or the flock.” Herds and flocks were the Israelite’s livelihood, his means of support and the dinner on his table. The offeror was not to bring any animal he could chase down in the wild. It had to be an animal in which he had invested personally, financially, and often emotionally. An offering that would mean a loss to the giver.
And this is where we see Jesus. God offered up on our behalf a personal offering, an offering that was valuable to Him. An offering that would be a intimate loss to Him. His Son. This offering magnifies the holiness of God, for it required the highest sacrifice – not on our part, but on His. You and I have nothing of that great value, so God provided the offering on our behalf. Jesus.
The book of Leviticus is rich with symbolism that points us to Jesus and to the cross. We must read this book with an eye to the greater Fulfillment of the Law. Don’t miss Him as you force yourself to wade through this difficult book. He is on every page.

Not a Fan of Jesus

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“Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’” (Matthew 16:16).

My husband was watching a program on television, a famous singer was belting out their latest hit song and the crowd was almost louder than the amplified music.  They were applauding and shouting and whistling their adoration.  I walked through the room just as the camera zoomed in on one girl with a t-shirt that had the singer’s face above the words “I’m your #1 fan.”  The singer saw her too and took an elaborate bow and blew kisses aimed directly at her.  She was ecstatic and the people near-by looked at her like she was royalty.

Popularity is a fickle thing.  One day you’re everyone’s favorite celebrity, the next day you’re old news.  Last year you were on the cover of People magazine, this year your name is buried on the back page of the local newspaper. Celebrities live and die by their fan count.

Jesus had fans.  The gospels tell us of people who flocked to Him, who hung on His every word, who wanted a front-row seat to watch Him perform miracles.  They lined the streets when He came through town and jostled one another to walk nearest to Him.  But I am not a fan of Jesus.

I am a follower of Jesus.  It’s true that I want to be near Jesus, but not for some thrill. I want to be in His presence because His presence is peace.  His presence is hope.  His presence is wisdom and power.  Like Mary of Bethany, I want to be near Him to soak up His words and take in every inflection of His voice.

I am a servant of Jesus.  Paul identifies himself and Timothy in his opening statement in Philippians: “Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:1).  I love how Mary responds to the angel: “Behold, [I am] the handmaiden of the Lord” (Luke 1:38).  The purpose of my life is to do the will of Jesus.  To serve Him by serving others.

I am a disciple of Jesus.  By His example, He can teach me how to walk in righteousness.  He can teach me about the Kingdom of God and how to go to heaven.  And He alone can teach me who God is because He is God.

I am a friend of Jesus.  Fans are not often friends.  Fans are there for the show.  Friends sit around after the show is over and talk about real life.  I love to talk to Jesus about what’s happening in my everyday life.  I love to listen to Him talk through His Word about heaven. My friendship with Jesus is as real as my friendship with my best friend.

I am a witness of Jesus.   I want to tell others what He has done for me.  He has saved me, redeemed my life, and given me a place with Him in heaven.  He took all my sin and all my shame and the punishment that I deserved and gave me freedom and eternal life.  He died so that I would live.  I want to tell the world about my Jesus.

Most of all, I am a worshipper of Jesus.  I’ve seen old pictures of fans of Elvis Presley and the Beatles and their “worship” of their favorite stars.  Their adoration is misplaced.  There is only one who is worthy of worship – He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  The Bible says that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).  One day Jesus will return to earth and every person that ever was will bow before Him and declare that He is Lord.  No one will be exempt because it will be an uncontrolled response to seeing Him in His splendor.  Those who refused to acknowledge Him in this life will, by the sheer force of His glory, give Him the exaltation they withheld.  I want to worship Him now.  I want to give Him the praise and honor that He is due today so that when that glorious day comes, I am well-practiced and my response is as natural to me as breathing.

Jesus is worthy of so much more than fawning fans.  He is worthy of our focus, our time, our efforts, our service, our friendship, our witness and our worship.  He is worthy of our love.  He is worthy of our lives.  To be a fan of Jesus falls far short what He deserves.  And it falls far short of what He desires for you.  Don’t just be a fan.  Be all-in.

Unfinished Projects

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“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” Philippians 1:6.

I enjoy many craft projects of various kinds – cross-stitch, sewing, crochet, beadwork . . .  The one thing they all have in common is that I have many that are in various stages of incompletion.  I’m good at starting things, but not so good at finishing them.  I even have a book I’ve started writing that begs to be finished.  The biggest reason I fail to finish things is 1) I am easily distracted and 2) I’m afraid the finished product will be a failure.

That is why I love Philippians 1:6. God doesn’t have any unfinished projects.

From our first introduction, we see that God is one who finishes what He starts, and He finishes it well.  The creation account in Genesis 1 shows God commanding an action, and that action being brought to completion with the pronouncement: “God saw that it was good.”  Then He got personally and intimately involved in creating man – He literally got His hands dirty with this one.  But humanity – that’s you and me – is not a one-and-done project like plants and stars.  Sure, the creation of our physical bodies was done at once, but the purpose of our existence is a long-term work and God is in it with us for the long haul.

Paul says that God “began a good work.”  What was that good work?  Salvation.  The restoration of our relationship with Him.  And with it the transformation of our lives, that is sanctification – working to make us more like Jesus, “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29).  God’s purpose is to make sinful creatures into holy sons and daughters.  It is a life-long work that will only be completed when we are united with Christ.  But here’s the important point to remember:  it will be completed.  It will be accomplished.  God’s good work in you and me will be finished.

Paul also says that He “will carry it on to completion.”  That’s very good news to me because it reminds me that salvation and sanctification are His to accomplish as Paul further says, “It is God who works in you” that good work of salvation (Philippians 2:13).  Yes, we have a responsibility to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (v. 12).   We must do our part in studying His Word, in praying, in fellowship with the Body and in obedience to His commands and His promptings.  But the onus for the finished product is on God as He works in us through His Holy Spirit.

I hope that is as encouraging to you as it is to me.  Salvation and the transformation of my life is not up to me and my ability to get the job done.  I have a box full of unfinished projects to prove that I can’t pull this off by myself. And neither can you.  But God has a cross and an empty tomb to prove that He can.  He has the power and the vision to accomplish this good work.  And He will prove Himself faithful.  Paul said that it is God Himself that will sanctify us “through and through.”  It is He who will keep us, “spirit, soul and body blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Beloved, You and I are not “unfinished projects.”  We are divinely designed and destined by God to accomplish His “good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2) – to be like His Son. “The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it” (2 Thessalonians 1:23-24).