Month: January 2016

On the Bus to Silute

I am at rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will never be shaken.” Psalm 62:1-2 (HCSB)

It was late in the afternoon and the sun was beginning to make it’s journey down toward the horizon as the bus left the outskirts of Vilnius, Lithuania. I was just beginning the 5 hour, 200 mile journey across the breadth of the country to the western city of Silute.

Earlier in the afternoon, I had finished a two day consultation with IMB personnel in Vilnius. The next stop was with a team in Silute who had “re”-planted a church in a building that had originally been used as a church before the Soviet Era. During those years, the state had confiscated the building, used it as a warehouse and later carved it up into small apartments. Now, with the freedom that had come to Lithuania in the late 1990’s the building again housed a small congregation and I was on my way to encourage them in their faithfulness.

My host had taken me to the main transportation terminal, purchased my ticket and prepared to load me on the bus. “See that man?” he asked. “He’s your driver. After about two and one-half hours, the bus will stop. He will get off for a break. You are safe to get off as well. But, when he gets back on the bus, you need to be on the bus, because he’s leaving.” I memorized his appearance and the clothes he was wearing.

My next question was “How will I know I have arrived in Silute?” My host laughed. “It’s the end of the line. He’ll turn the motor off. Oh, and it will be about 11 o’clock tonight if you’re on time, so it will be dark.”

“And, then what happens?” I asked. “Your host in Silute will meet you at the station. You’ll recognize him.”

That conversation played over and over again in my mind as we rolled out of town. I looked around the bus and realized I was, without a doubt, the only American on the bus. Most likely, I was the only English speaker. My wife and children were in Prague and had no real idea where I was at that moment.

I found myself chuckling out loud and almost without thinking began to pray: “God, ain’t nobody on your green earth but You that knows where I am right now… And, I just need to say, I’m OK with that.” And, with that said, I put my head back on the seat and went to sleep.

This is the last of 31 daily devotions on prayer written by our ministry staff team. Tomorrow, a new journey will begin. But, before we go, what has God taught you through prayer? Have you moved beyond the repetitious and routine? Are you persisting even if it seems He’s not answering? Maybe, you’re more aware of needs in your family or circle of friends. Perhaps, He has called you to pray for big things – beyond what you can imagine. For missions. For His Glory! If any of these are true of you, we are greatly encouraged.

Regardless of where you are today, I’d like to leave you with this thought: “You are not alone. You have never been loved any more than you are right now. And nothing will change that.” No matter where you go, no matter who surrounds you, God knows where you are. And you can rest, knowing that He cares deeply for you.

Pray a prayer of praise with the psalmist and affirm, I am at rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will never be shaken. Psalm 62:1-2 (HCSB)

When Our Prayers Are Answered – Part 4

Can NO be an answer to prayer? Of course it can. Every NO answer does not mean “this is the final answer.” Sometimes NO can mean “you need to get your own life right before I can bless you.” Sometimes NO can mean “you need to wait a bit. Not yet.” Sometimes NO can mean “I have a purpose in your discomfort or pain. GROW into Christ-likeness as you wait.”

But then there are the YES answers. God says, “GO!” He gives His blessing and permission for what we asked. We prayed, our hearts right… our timing right… our motivation right… and God HEARD and then, perhaps even miraculously, DID what we had asked in prayer!

There is a caveat however. Sometimes answered prayer comes with a price tag. It opens the door to a new awareness of why we pray. It moves us to a deeper response to God in prayer. We realize He hears… we have a responsibility to ask.

Sometimes we pray for the salvation of a loved one or friend. And God says, “Yes, I want to save that person. Now the door is open… GO and tell them about Me.” Or in response to our prayer to be obedient to God in whatever it takes, He opens a “door of opportunity” for us and says “GO to the nations with the Gospel.” A “yes” answer to prayer doesn’t let us off the hook… sometimes it puts us ON it!

But whatever form God’s response to your prayer takes, I hope you never lose the wonder felt by the people of Israel who said,

“For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call upon Him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7)

We have a God Who invites us into intimacy with Him in prayer: “Let us come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)  What great privilege! What great power! What great potential! Come to Him with everything in prayer.

And trust Him with the answer.


“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:1)

FOR REFLECTION: The old hymn reminds us “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” EVERYTHING. Is that what you are doing today?

When Our Prayers Are Answered – Part 3

Few of us think about “no” as an answer to prayer.  We feel rebuffed, turned down, or rejected when we don’t get what we had hoped as we prayed.  But God is gracious.  Even in His “NO” He is showing us mercy!

Sometimes we hear NO and it means, “NO, YOU are not ready for what you are asking for.”  Sometimes we hear NO and it means, “NO, the timing is not right for this yet.”  And sometimes we hear “NO” and it means, “I am doing something even in the unpleasant circumstances of your life to help you to GROW spiritually.”  “NO,” then, means SLOW…you need to GROW!

Often in the midst of the fiery trial we learn our most important lessons of being shaped and conformed to the image of Christ.  We remember it is the PRIMARY reason God saves us and then leaves us here on earth “that we may be conformed to the image of Christ.”  (Romans 8:26)

But the process of being conformed takes time.  It is not instantaneous; in fact, it takes a lifetime!  We somehow have bought a lie that says God saved us to make us comfortable and happy, when in reality God saved us to make us conformable and holy!

When Paul prayed in 2 Corinthians 12 asking God to take away from him a “thorn in the flesh” that was continually tormenting him and slowing him down, Paul received a gracious NO.  God’s gracious NO was, “Paul, I am not taking this thorn away from you.  It is my plan to allow your experience with it to keep you humble and to make you conform to the image of my Son.”

Sometimes, NO means GROW.  It’s time for us to stop expecting that God is just waiting for our next command to ensure our comfort and begin believing that, even when the thorn is sticking us, God is in control.


“My grace is sufficient for you.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

FOR REFLECTION:  Are there experiences in your life that you assumed were God’s refusing to answer you that you now can see were God’s grace toward you?

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Do you have a friend or maybe more than one friend that you are completely yourself with? Your time together is easy, comfortable and joyful. They know your quirky ways, your faults, your dreams, your desires and your fears but love you anyway. You are excited to think of spending time with this type of friend. You are able to share the real stuff of life and also able to laugh together. You are able to share in joys and successes along with crying through heart breaks and disappointments. You are never self-conscious with one another.

I am blessed to have a couple of these friends in my life. One of them gave me a small book titled, One-Minute Prayers to Start Your Day. In my busy life, I find myself turning to this book often for a quick moment with God. In the front of the book my friend wrote, “I thank God for you and for our friendship, no matter how close or far we are from one another. I hope you find this book filled with encouragement, uplifting and affirming thoughts. May God bless you and draw you closer to Him each and every day.” Each time I use this small book of prayers I am reminded of my friend, our deep friendship and how important this friendship is to me. We have a wonderful friendship that we share here on earth.

Our earthly friendships are necessary and are important. We need them but we need an even deeper, heavenly friendship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We invest time, place priority on and put effort into our earthly friendships. Are we putting that same effort into our relationship (friendship) with Jesus? He desires to have a deep relationship with us. In John 15:13-15 Jesus says “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” We have to invest time, place a high priority on and put effort into our relationship with Jesus. This means we need to spend time talking with Him, listening to Him, learning about Him, and reading His Word. We do all of these things to build earthly relationships but we don’t always put the same effort into our heavenly relationship.

One of the short prayers in the book from my friend reads:

“Lord, I know that in Your presence, You offer a friendship as vulnerable and joyful as this earthly one. I’m ashamed to say that I have forgotten this at times and have entered into Your presence like a scolded child rather than a person intending to experience the pleasures of being known and loved and cherished. You carve out the path of my days through the history of time and experience. Help me step into the joy as well. And may I learn to rush into Your presence with great expectations for contentment and lasting relationship.”

Take the time to build a strong, intimate and comfortable relationship with Jesus. He is concerned with helping us in ways we truly need and loving us unconditionally. That is the reason Jesus is our perfect friend!

Unanswered Prayer – Part 2

One of the places where many choose to walk away from the faith is when they have prayed for answer to a problem, an illness, or other troubling issue and feel that God did not answer.  Some of this is truly a matter of our expectations being unrealistic about what prayer really is about.

Sometimes our prayers are not answered simply because they did not fall into the template of “God’s will.”  “It must not have been the will of God,” we sometimes tell those who come to us wondering why prayer wasn’t answered.

We are taught by our Savior to pray, “Thy will be done.”  This is not a built in “escape clause” for those experiences where prayer didn’t get answered.  “I pray that your husband will be saved if it’s God’s will.”  Well, OF COURSE it’s God’s will!  “He wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”  Yet that doesn’t guarantee an automatic YES to the request of prayer.  This is where we enter in to LABOR in prayer.  There is an intensity about true prayer that goes beyond much of the casual verbiage that passes for prayer in churches today.

Jesus’ struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane was between the desire for God’s will to be done but arriving at the place where He could say that was a battle that drew blood from Him.  It was intense for His flesh, though sinless, to die to the Father’s will.  It put Him on His face, dripping wet, bloodlets of moisture mixed with the dirt floor of the Garden… the “olive press.”

Few of us have ever entered in to that intensity of prayer, certainly not in an effort to make sure we DON’T get what our flesh wants!  A few of us have wept hot tears trying to get what WE want that we think will fulfill us or make us happier or life easier.  But putting our flesh to death in prayer?

But that is precisely what we are doing when we pray “Not my will, but Yours be done.”  We are praying, God let me flesh be crucified.  Let my selfishness, my self-seeking, my self-centeredness be put to death that Your will may truly come alive in me.  That Your will would be done through me.

And when we come to that place, to that Gethsemane, we can know we’ve truly prayed.


“Father, not My will, but Thine be done.”  (Luke 22:42)

FOR REFLECTION:  In what way today can you be sure God’s will is done in your life?

Unanswered Prayer – Part 1

We have all been there in one form or the other.  Everything that’s supposed to be plugged in, turned on, tightened up and tuned in has been done…

But it still doesn’t work.

The computer won’t reboot
The iphone won’t connect to the wireless network
The lamp won’t light
The engine won’t crank
The screen won’t come on

…and on and on the list goes.  It happens.  To everyone.  Everything you think you are supposed to do to make it work; every carefully read detail in the directions (in three languages!) has been read and it still doesn’t work.

But most of us (except for the most anger-challenged among us) will try and try again before we throw an expensive phone, laptop, TV, or video game controller into the nearest body of water.  We’ll go through the directions… one more time (maybe in a different language this time).   And we’ll jiggle and re-tighten or call the tech support person in another country and change the battery or try a new cord.

So what happens when prayer doesn’t work?  When you feel the connection is not tight or, no matter how hard you try or how loudly you pound on Heaven’s door,  it seems no one hears and no one cares.  Is there a “tech support” person you can turn to or another set of instructions we can consult to find the problem?

Clearly there are instructions we can consult for just the moments we are talking about.  In the next blog, we will talk specifically about reasons our prayers don’t get answered.  But for a starting place let’s acknowledge that the primary purpose of our prayer experience with God is not about walking away with the “prize” we are looking for.  It is truly about the time we spend with God, even if something is in our life that is unpleasant, and we want it (or them) GONE, or something is NOT in our life that we believe is necessary if we are going to be happy.

But what if an unanswered petition is not an indication that our prayer life is broken, but that it need to be deepened?  What if God’s intent and purpose in calling us into relationship with Him as expressed in prayer is more about His desire to spend time with us than with granting us “three wishes” as though He were a genie in a bottle?

Sometimes I believe the thing that most needs “fixing” is our expectation of what prayer is really about.  What if “getting something” from God is the lowest level; the entry level of prayer… while being content when your prayer isn’t answered is a mark of maturity?

In other words, maybe a repair isn’t what is needed at all.  Maybe… it’s a relationship.


“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  (James 4:4)

FOR REFLECTION:  How has God used an unmet need or an unanswered prayer to deepen your walk with and dependency upon Him?

Trusting God

Early in my second pregnancy, complications arose. The doctor ordered bed rest and said only time will tell if I was going to miscarry. In anguish I pleaded with God to save this baby. I even began to bargain with God. If You will save this baby, I will… I will pray more, read my Bible more, teach Sunday School. The list of “I will” grew daily during my prayer times.

One week after I was placed on bed rest, I had a miscarriage. I was devastated. Questions flooded my mind. Why had God not answered my prayers to let this baby live? Will I ever be able to have another child? How could a miscarriage be in God’s will for my life? I was angry with God and hurt that He had not saved my baby.

In my grief I sought God constantly in Bible reading and prayer. I was searching for answers from Him. In this period of despair, I began to feel God’s comforting presence wash over me. He led me to Proverbs 3:5-6, “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.” I realized that this side of heaven I may never know all the answers to my questions during that time of sorrow. As John Powell in Seasons of the Heart said so succinctly, “The great and infinite God asks a very limited and finite you and me: ‘Can you—will you—trust me?’”

At 29 I did not know that God’s plan for me would involve serving on church staffs as Preschool Ministries Director. In the last 20 years of serving on church staffs, I have walked with many moms through the waters of miscarriage. Like Paul, I can say, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). While God did not answer my prayers the way I wanted Him to, He did prepare me to comfort others, and He led me to a great principle of the Christian life-trusting Him in each and every circumstance.

PRAYING THROUGH THE RUBBLE

“… there is so much rubble….”  (Nehemiah 4:10)

All of us have moments of discouragement in life.  It comes in different packaging, but discouragement is visiting us when:

  1. We are weary with praying.
  2. We are afraid.
  3. We are tired physically.
  4. We are lonely.

 

Discouragement is an emotional virus, like a cold.  Sometimes a cold will pass after few days. Sometimes a cold becomes pneumonia or something that is critical and life-threatening. Sometimes we can face and fight discouragement alone.  Often it helps to have others walk with us.  And like a cold, discouragement can become contagious.  It spreads.

Usually discouragement hits our prayer life first.  We can walk into a challenging time or experience with enthusiasm but then we become distracted by the rubble.  We get our eyes on the garbage and lose sight of the end result of what we are to be about.   (See Nehemiah 4:10-11)

Another way we can know we are coming down with discouragement is by listening to ourselves talk.  Have you become critical, judgmental or negative in what you say or think about others?  Maybe you are suffering from a bout of discouragement.
The good news is discouragement, while painful, does not have to be terminal.  We can fight back.  There is a cure.  And interestingly, it centers on our prayer life.  Three thoughts:

  1. Get your eyes off the rubble and back on to the Lord.  We can become so discouraged by the work piling up and assignments coming due that we just want to give up.  We’re looking at the wrong thing!  Prayer helps us re-center our lives on the ONE who is most important.
  2. Rest in prayer.  That doesn’t necessarily mean sleep, but if your prayers calm you enough to allow you to sleep, maybe that is the most spiritual thing you can do! Perhaps you need to begin “prayer walking”(for spiritual and physical health!)
  3. Wait on the Lord.  “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is fixed on you” the Bible says. Sometimes we think it’s all up to us.  We need to realize that it’s all up to God.  Don’t get ahead of Him.  Make sure you aren’t outpacing where God wants you to be!

FOR REFLECTION 

Heavenly Father I know that, for whatever reason I have gotten my eyes off of You and allowed discouragement to slip in. I confess I am tired and weary.  Help me realize that sometimes You make me lie down in green pastures in order to get my attention. Help me spend some time by those still waters that will restore my soul. I thank You today that I can be confident of this, that You who began a good work in my life will bring it to completion in the day of Christ.  I now commit to taking my eyes off the rubble and putting them and keeping them on the Savior.

In His great name I pray.
Amen

INTERCEDING FOR OTHERS

Even as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are actively involved in the intimate details of our prayer life, helping us to pray, so we are to pray for each other.

Somehow that simple act of praying for another person knits our hearts to the Father’s and re-enacts and somehow continues the intercessory work of the Son on our behalf. We are called to pray for each other.

But even as we pray for each other, and we are to do so, we do not always know how to pray. When a loved one is very ill, do we pray they will live… or die and go to be with Jesus whole and complete?

When a crisis confronts a brother or sister, a friend or spouse or family member, and they don’t tell us to pray or ask us to pray for them are we still to pray? Of course. Sometimes we pray and tell them we have prayed for them. Sometimes we never tell them.

We are to pray for one another that “we might be healed.” (James 5:14) We are to pray for our spouse as “our covenant partner” and as “heirs together.” (1 Peter 3:5) We are to pray for our leaders, including political ones (1 Timothy 2:1-2) and those in the church. (Ephesians 6:19-20) We are certainly to pray for our children, and specifically that they are properly clothed. Pray the full armor of God around them as you send them out. (Ephesians 6:10-17)

We are to pray for opportunity to speak the Gospel boldly where ever we are (Colossians 4:3). We are to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send forth laborers into His field (Matthew 9:38).

And in addition, we are to pray for the city in which we live (Jeremiah 29:7) and we are to pray for Israel and for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6-7).

But there is one more responsibility we have in prayer. We are to pray for those who spitefully use us. We are to pray for those who persecute us. (Matthew 5:44) This kind of praying tears down strongholds of anger and bitterness that the enemy can use to get access to our heart.

So, you see, the work of intercession is never completed. It is an ongoing and persistent task. The subject matter changes often, but the call to pray is ever the same… and always necessary.


“Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

FOR REFLECTION: As you think through the list of those you pray for, who might be on your list that has no one praying for them… but you?

INTERCEDING IN PRAYER

We don’t always know how to pray as we should. While the Holy Spirit prompts us (reminds us) to pray, He also walks with us as we do so. Sometimes we get “stuck” at the point of not knowing how to form the right words to pray. And yet, at the deepest level, there are those times when the Holy Spirit prays not only with us but FOR us with “groans that cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8:26-27)

There are those moments when live caves in and the depth of crisis is so great that words fail us… we cannot find a way to verbally express either our pain or our need. But even then we are not alone.

At the same time the Son of God is our High Priest who is always interceding for us. “We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness.” (Hebrews 4:14) It is amazing to realize that God the Son who prayed so tenderly and wonderfully before His passion and death for us, continues that ministry of interceding. He is “ever interceding” for us before God’s throne of grace. We don’t have to ever wonder if someone is praying. He always is. (Read John 17)

But we realize, third, that the Father is prompting us to pray. We would not even think to pray were it not for the sovereign work of God within us, reminding us that we need to come to Him and “ask, seek, and knock.” (Luke 11:10) He commands prayer but also gives us the grace to be persistent as we pray.

In other words, our Triune God is actively at work in the prayer life of His saints. He does not leave us to figure it out on our own. It’s too important that we get this right! So, like a loving father teaching a child to walk, our Father prompts us… energizes us… cheers us on… strengthens us inwardly with His power… and stands with us.


“If God is for us, Who can be against us?” (Romans 8:39)

FOR REFLECTION: Today try to offer God a wordless prayer. Close your eyes and imagine what Jesus might be praying for you right now.

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