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.”

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.

Answered Prayers

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The angel said to him: “Do not be afraid Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.”  Luke 1:13
 
Have you prayed for something for so long that you finally gave up?  I confess that I have, but I’m so thankful that God remembers, long after my hope has faded.  We learn from Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story in Luke 1: 5-17 that God indeed hears our prayers and He answers – but not always in the way or the time that we expect. 
 
This godly couple was “upright in the sight of God” (v. 6),  faithful and obedient in every way. Yet God withheld the one thing that they desired – a child.  I am sure that Zechariah, like Isaac may years before “prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren” (Genesis 25:21). Doubtless they both prayed, and their families likely prayed, but to no avail. After many, many prayers over many, many years, it seems they accepted reality and adjusted their expectations to what would never be. I mean, logically, isn’t there a time to give up on wishes and get on with life?  Ah, but God had heard those prayers, and He was about to turn their lives joyfully upside down! 
 
I wonder if, when the angel spoke the words of our key verse, Zechariah thought, “Surely he can’t mean that prayer.”  But that was indeed the prayer that the Lord had set in motion. 
My friend, God hears your prayers.  He hears with the heart of a Father who loves you deeply, and He hears with the power of a God who can move heaven and earth to answer you. Does that mean that every prayer we utter is a “Yes” from God?  No – and that is a hard thing to hear when your heart aches before Him.  For reasons we are not always privy to, God sometimes says “No,” or “Not yet.”  But it is always spoken from that Father-heart that wants only the best for His child.  God does not withhold from us anything that is for our good according to His purpose in our lives, He is more than generous in His good gifts.
 
Is there something (or someone) for which you have prayed for a very long time?  Is there a prayer that you once presented fervently in daily petition to God?  If you do not have a clear word from Him to lay that prayer down, then do not give up.  Don’t assume that God has forgotten about you and that prayer.  Keep your hope and trust in Him alive and remember that He is faithful and loving and always working for your good and His glory.  Who knows when an angel of the Lord will greet you and say, “Your prayer has been heard!”

22 Inches

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent”  (John 17:3).

It’s been a long dry spell in my heart lately.  I’ve sensed a distance between me and God.  Not that He has moved away, but more that my focus is off and my passion has cooled.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not abandoning my faith.  I love the Lord, I am committed to follow Him and live for Him, but something seems – off. Prayer has been a struggle and while I continue with my daily devotions and Scripture reading, I’m not all in like I once was.  I’ve tried to figure it out.  Maybe it’s the turmoil of the past year and the uncertain future we are facing.  Maybe it’s disappointment or disillusionment. Maybe it’s a lot of heartache. Maybe . . . maybe . . . maybe.

One recent morning, as I rolled this over in my mind again, I had the urge to grab a tape measure and measure the distance between my head and my heart.  22 inches.

“What does that mean Lord?”

“That is the difference between what you know in your head and what you know in your heart.”

Last fall I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Biblical and Theological Studies.  It was four years of hard work, study, and pounding out acres of papers, reports and tests.  I loved it! I learned so much about the Bible, God, Jesus, creation, the Church – and yes, even algebra.  I read hundreds of pages every week in my textbooks and read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation with courses dedicated to individual books. I dug into words and context and history and ate up every minute of it.  Mind you I am not a biblical expert – far from it.  I don’t know it all; in fact, I barely scratched the surface.  But I learned a lot.  You would think all that I learned would cause me to draw closer to God, but in truth, the opposite seems to have happened.  You see, I was so busy and so focused on learning all I could know about God and His Word that I failed to know Him.  All that knowledge does me no good if it just sits in my head and never reaches my heart.  It’s like a seed lying dormant on the surface rather than under the ground where it can put down roots and grow strong.

So how do I make all this knowledge jump from my head to my heart?  I don’t think it’s something I can do but only the Holy Spirit.  Still, I do have some responsibility, like blocking out all the distractions (can you say Facebook?) and inviting the Spirit to speak to me as I read His Word.  By sitting still before Him and listening with intention and focus, praying about what I’ve read, then living it out.  Then again, experience is often the best teacher.  Sometimes we don’t know who God really is until we have to.

Through my studies I learned that God is El Roi – the God that sees – but how do I know that He is the God that sees me. He is Yahweh Maphalti – the God who delivers – but I won’t know that in my heart until He has to deliver me.  How will I know Yahweh Chereb – the Lord—the sword – unless He fights for me? Is He Yahweh Sali – the Lord my rock? Do I know El Simchath Gili is God who brings me joy? Is He El Hayyay – the God of my life?

I used to think it was enough to know all I could learn about God, but I’m finding that when it’s all head-knowledge, it doesn’t move my heart – and my heart is what God is after.  My heart is where change happens.   So every morning when I come to meet with God, I will turn my phone off, log out of Facebook and email and soak in His Word.  I will come in a spirit of humility and be still and listen.  I will meditate on the Word and let the truths—and the Truth—take root in my heart.  I will pray about what God says to me and ask Him to help me receive it and believe it.  I will “come near to God and He will come near to me” (James 4:8).

Twenty-two inches isn’t much on tape measure, but it is the difference between knowing about God and knowing God. I’m not satisfied with a head full of knowledge anymore.  I want to know God with all my heart.

I’ll share my journey with you in this blog.  I pray you too will discover the difference 22 inches can make.

El Hayyay, God of my life, please don’t let me waste all I’ve learned about you.  Take all my head knows and make it take root in my heart.

Praying With Faith

“But when He asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6)
 
The old preacher announced from the pulpit – “Come out tonight as we gather to pray for rain to ease this drought.  And bring your umbrella, or don’t bother to come.  We need prayers of faith, not doubt.”
 
What are you praying for today?  Are you believing God will answer – or are your prayers empty petitions?  Oh I’m so guilty of this.  I’m going to be honest here – I have prayed while doubts dug deep ruts through my mind.  “God I ask this of You, but I really don’t expect it.”  Sometimes my doubts were caused by the size of the problem, or the pain of the circumstance.  Sometimes I doubted because it just seemed too much to ask; like I was weighing God’s faithfulness against my failures.  And sometimes my prayers are empty because the enemy has filled my mind with fear.
James calls me “double-minded” and “unstable” (v. 8).   Jesus said it only takes a “mustard-seed” of faith to move the Father’s heart on my behalf (20-21).  Do I believe in God’s goodness – even a mustard seed worth? Has He ever done anything to warrant my doubts?
Beloved, it’s time to put real faith behind our prayers.  I’m praying for some big things from God – for myself, my family and my ministry.  Oh, and I’m gonna grab my umbrella on my way out the door!

Faithful Friends

friends“Some men came, bringing a paralytic, carried by four of them” (Mark 2:3).

I just couldn’t pray.  I couldn’t pray because the pain ran deep and wild like muddy water rushing through a broken dam.  I couldn’t pray because I was an intercessor; I’d never prayed for myself.  I couldn’t pray because I couldn’t find the words to say.  My mind was numb, my heart was shattered.  I was a broken woman, paralyzed by the crushing burden I was bearing.  And I had to keep it all to myself.  I was the one others looked up to, the one with wise answers and a verse for every situation.  If they saw me now, I would lose their friendship and respect.  I became very good at wearing the mask and hiding my feelings.  I fooled everyone.

Well, not quite everyone.  Two friends looked past my disguise and saw the raw, open wounds of my heart.  They could not be duped into believing I was okay.  And because they loved me – the real me – they prayed the prayers I could not.  They prayed over me on the phone.  They prayed over me at my office.  They prayed over me at the altar and after Bible study (which I was still teaching).  They prayed over me at McDonald’s and Wal-Mart and wherever we were.  They carried me to the Father when I couldn’t carry myself.

In Mark’s Gospel, a group of friends are bringing a paralyzed man to Jesus for healing.  Four of them bore his weight as they held the corners of his mat.  They climbed onto the top of the house and tore away the roof to get their friend to the only one who could help him.  Interestingly, Mark says “When Jesus saw their faith. . .” he forgave the man and healed him.  Their faith.  No the paralytic’s faith.  The faith of his friends.  I wonder if, like me in my time of distress, the man had any faith himself at all.

Someone you know needs your prayers.  Someone needs you to pick them up and carry them to Jesus.  They have no strength of their own.  They are paralyzed by life’s struggles and unable to come to Jesus by themselves.  The Lord honored the faith of the man’s friends, just as He heard and honored the prayers of my friends.  Healing came for the paralyzed man and for me; borne on the wings of others’ faithful intercession.  Beloved, let’s look beneath the surface of our friendships.  Let’s seek out the ones who bear the heavy burdens, and let’s bring them to Jesus.  When my faith was almost gone, the faith of my friends carried me.  Who needs your prayers – and your faith – today?

A God Who Remembers

The angel said to him: “Do not be afraid Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.”  Luke 1:13

 twilight-505849_640Have you prayed for something for so long that you finally gave up?  I confess that I have, but I’m so thankful that God remembers, long after my hope has faded.  We learn from the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth that God indeed hears our prayers and answers – but not always in the way or the time that we expect.  Their story is found in Luke 1:5-15 – take a few minutes to read this, I’ll wait right here for you.

This godly couple were said to be “upright in the sight of God” (v. 6), they were faithful and obedient in every way. Why, then, did God withhold the one thing that they desired – a child? Children were one of God’s greatest blessing to a Jewish family. Psalm 127:5 says “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of [children].” Shouldn’t they, who were upright before God, have more blessings than anyone else? We look at this from our human perspective and say “This is not fair,” but God has another perspective, a perfect and purposeful vantage point to this whole situation – one that would fulfill prophecy and bring Him glory.

I am sure that Zechariah, like Isaac may years before “prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren” (Genesis 25:21). Doubtless they both prayed, and their families likely prayed, but to no avail. After many, many prayers over many, many years, it seems they accepted reality and adjusted their expectations to what would never be. They ceased praying for a child, because after all, “they were both well along in years” (Luke 1:7).  I mean, logically, isn’t there a time to give up on wishes and get on with life as it is?

Ah, but God had heard those prayers, and He was about to turn their lives joyfully upside down!  Zechariah was about the have the wildest meeting of his life.

In accordance to the Lord’s command, incense was offered morning and evening and the priestly ranks was so large that a priest could only make this offering once in his lifetime.[1] Lots were cast to determine who would be so privileged, but most priests never got the chance. On this particular day, Zechariah “was chosen by lot”.   But he was not there by “chance.”  Consider what Provers 16:33 says: “The lot is cast in the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”  His presence in the temple was less about the incense and more about what God wanted to do for him. The old priest was there because, in His perfect order of time, God had answered an old, forgotten prayer for a child.

I wonder if, when the angel spoke the words of our key verse, Zechariah thought, “What prayer?”  It had been so long, and they were “well along in years,” “surely,” he might have said to himself, “he can’t mean that prayer.”  But that was indeed the prayer that the Lord had set in motion.  At this one moment in time, on the cusp of the greatest event in history, God was saying “Yes!” to this simple couple’s heartfelt prayer – their lives – and the world would never be the same.

My friend, God hears your prayers.  He hears with the heart of a Father who loves you deeply, and He hears with the power of a God who can move heaven and earth to answer you. Does that mean that every prayer we utter is a “Yes” from God?  No – and that is a hard thing to hear when your heart aches before Him.  For reasons we are not always privy to, God sometimes says “No,” or “Not yet.”  But it is always spoken from that Father-heart that wants only the best for His child.  God does not withhold from us anything that is for our good according to His purpose in our lives, He is more than generous in His good gifts.  But when He must say “No,” He reveals that to us, so we do not have to pine and agonize over that which cannot be.  I know this to be true from very personal experience.

Is there something for which you have prayed for a very long time?  Is there a prayer that you once presented fervently in daily petition to God?  If you do not have a clear word from Him to lay that prayer down, then do not give up.  Don’t assume that God has forgotten about you and that prayer.  Keep your hope and trust in Him alive and remember that He is faithful and loving and always working for your good and His glory.  Who knows when an angel of the Lord will greet you and say, “Your prayer has been heard!”

Holy, faithful, loving Father – You have heard the prayers of your children, and You keep them before you, to answer in Your perfect time, according to Your perfect plan.  In fact, the only thing about your children that You ever forget is our sin.  Help us keep our eyes on You and wait for Your “Yes.” Amen.

[1] Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill, The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2012), 1061-2.

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