Train Up a Child

Deuteronomy 6:5-9 NIV

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.
Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home
and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

“What about your kids?” I often hear this upon mentioning to people my desire to donate a kidney. It’s an interesting question. One motivator for those who ask this question tends to be 1 Timothy 5:8 (NIV): “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” I greatly value this verse. Growing up in relative disadvantage, my childhood was fraught with insecurity and uncertainty. I have always vowed to honor Paul’s command here, to protect my children from those feelings to the very best of my ability. In fact, the desire to hold tightly to this guidance is the main reason for having delayed my donation for these past 8+ years. But now that my kids are 8 and 7, and relatively independent—but more importantly, followers of Jesus! – I believe that they are in good hands, regardless of my short- and long-term outcomes as a result of donation.

Besides this, though, as I look at the totality of Scripture, I believe that the commands given throughout with respect to childrearing point to support of this decision, rather than opposition. For instance, Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV) states, “Train up a child in the way they should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” What is this way in which they should go? The way of Christ, of course….of Christ, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8 NIV). For this reason, Paul urges believers, “….in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3b-4)

I can think of no better way to raise children in the way they should go than by showing them God’s love in action, His compassion in action. As Psalm 127:3-4 (NIV) says,

“Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.”

Sara Groves wrote an amazing song, entitled, When the Saints. It enumerates some of the great saints from the Bible times and also from more “recent” history. There are so many, but in this context, I’m especially reminded of her reference to Jim Elliot, a missionary who was killed by members of the Huaorani tribe in Ecuador. Of him, she sings, “I see the young missionary and the angry spear, I see his family returning with no trace of fear.” And indeed, they did. His daughter, Valerie, was 10 months old when he died, and less than three years later, she and her mother, Elisabeth Elliot returned to live among the Huaorani for another five years. Valerie Elliot Shepard continues to live out the legacy that her father and mother began so long ago—like an arrow in the hands of a warrior!

What a privilege to instill such a legacy into future generations. It is my hope and prayer that my kids will be able to say the same of me, that I trained them up, through my example, in the way they should go.

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At the Mercy

Mark 2:3-5

“Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the many was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”

John 5:2-7

“Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.’”

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Have you ever felt helpless? As in, completely at the mercy of another person or people to do for you that which you needed, but couldn’t possibly do on your own. Especially these days, I think we place a high premium on self-reliance. So when we do find ourselves in a place of utter dependence, we don’t just find it humbling, we find it humiliating. We would rather suffer on our own than have to ask for help.

But as I read the Bible, helping those in need is a huge part of why we’re here—or at least of what we’re called to do. Consider in Mark 2, when the paralytic was saved and healed not by his OWN faith, but because of the faith of his friends, who went to heroic measures to bring their friend to Jesus. In John 5, we see a contrasting story, where a man had sat paralyzed for 38 years, for want of such friends to carry him into the pool of Bethesda when the waters were stirred up for healing.

I read an interesting passage in Leviticus recently—yes, there ARE interesting passages in Leviticus! And this passage was describing how someone was to be declared clean after being afflicted with a skin disease.

Leviticus 14:3-4

“The priest is to go outside the camp to examine him, and if the skin disease of the afflicted person is healed, the priest shall order that two live clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and hyssop be brought for the one to be cleansed. Then the priest shall command that one of the birds to be slaughtered over fresh water in a clay pot…”

Long story short, people were typically to bring their own sacrifices to the priests in Leviticus. But in the case of someone who’d been essentially quarantined outside of the camp, the priest needed to go to that person, determine that they’d been healed, and command that another bring that person’s sacrifice FOR them. They couldn’t do it themselves. Just as the paralytic friend who was brought to Jesus, and the paralytic man He approached, those afflicted in Moses’ time were at the mercy of others in their search for healing and restoration.

These seem like microcosms of another story, wherein those helpless to save themselves are rescued by the only one who could save them…

2 Corinthians 5:14

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

I’m drawn to the implication of Christ’s sacrifice—that “those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” In other words, I should live to help the helpless. I believe that, for myself, this looks like living kidney donation. At any given moment, over 100,000 people in this country alone sit waiting by their own pool of Bethesda, waiting for someone to usher in their healing. They wait, at the mercy of the system, the deceased organ supply, or another person to act on their behalf.

Can you imagine how immensely valuable you would feel if you were in those shoes, and you learned that there was someone, a total stranger, who wanted to give you that gift of life? I can.

153

John 21: 6-11

“He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’
When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish….
153, but even with so many the net was not torn.”

The story of Jesus’ breakfast with the disciples is one of my favorites—so many little gems in the passage. But yesterday, when I listened to Tara-Leigh Cobble comment on the story, I found another one. Of course, I’ve heard plenty of teaching on the 153 fish the disciples caught. It provides detail where no one else would bother—it doesn’t seem to matter, it doesn’t serve any common symbolic purpose (it isn’t 40 or 7, for instance). It *seems* random, until it doesn’t. You see, this may not be simply an effort to show that the story really happened, or that God cares about even the most minute details—though these interpretations also serve us well. No, it turns out that, according to some scholars, the 153 fish may represent the totality of fish types available at the time.

And if we recall, these guys are supposed to be fishing for men. But without Jesus to accompany them, they’ve gone back to what they knew before. It sounds to me like Jesus is trying to tell them, “You’re not done yet…you need to take the Gospel to ALL the earth, ALL people groups. I’ve got work for you to do.” Then Jesus doubled down by calling Peter in particular to more, when He asked Peter three times, “Do you [agape] love me?” Peter, in a moment of insecurity, tells Jesus that, no, he doesn’t love Jesus with the sacrificial love that is agape. That had become evident on the night of Jesus’ arrest. Instead, he espouses the brotherly [phileo] love he feels for Jesus, a love he could commit to. “Isn’t that enough?” is the implied question in his voice. But Jesus says, “No, it’s not. I have more in store for you” (again, I’m paraphrasing). Yes, more—more for the one who swore he would never deny Christ, only to do it three times before sunup. More for the hot-headed guy who chopped a soldier’s ear off in haste and anger. More for the guy who took his eyes off of Jesus on the water, and trembled in fear at the storm Jesus calmed.

I think there’s a message here for all of us. God has more for us, more for you—despite your failures, betrayals, insecurities…God’s not done using you. Don’t let Satan use your past to disqualify you from the calling God has placed on your life. Live into it. Go out and catch your 153 fish.

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Love in Action

Romans 12:1-12 

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—
this is your true and proper worship…. Do not think of yourself more highly
than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment,
in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you….
In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.
If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;
if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage,
then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Love must be sincere….
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves….
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.”
 

There is a saying in the Mennonite church that asks, “If I have two coats, and my brother has none, and I do not give him one, am I not stealing from my brother?” This is a sobering challenge, and not just in terms of material goods. I first came across this saying as Mennonites I’ve met have “justified” their choice to donate a kidney, in particular. The fact of the matter is that, at any given moment, there are over 100,000 people awaiting life-saving kidney transplants. Deceased donor kidneys cannot meet this need. And so, there are some of us who feel called to donate—be it to someone we know, or to a stranger. I say “us” because, although I presently have two intact kidneys, I hope to donate one in March.

I’ve prayed over this decision for about eight years, I’ve sought wisdom and counsel literally from across the globe. While the vast majority support me wholeheartedly, a few remain who can’t understand why I would do this. As such, I’ve decided to answer that question, in a blog series I like to call, “The Gift of Life.” It will take a series of entries because I have SO. MANY. REASONS. They would never fit into a single entry. In fact, I struggled deciding where to start, before ultimately jumping in here—with faith in action. Certainly there are many more passages of Scripture, besides those presented here, which could attest to God’s desires regarding HOW we might love one another in action. Indeed, more will likely surface over these next couple of months. But just the two I’ll share today are chock full of guidance.

For instance, Romans 12:1 “urges” us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God? Why? As an act of true and proper worship in response to His great mercy—shown to us through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (Romans 5:8), and renewed unto us every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Verse 3 goes on to caution each of us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. And sometimes, I think it is this pride, this high opinion of ourselves, which prevents us from sacrificing on behalf of another. We arbitrarily assign value to not only our own lives, but to those of our family, our friends, our [fill in the blank]…. Are not all men (and women) created equal and endowed by our Creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? And yet many people will say, “Well, of course I would donate a kidney to my spouse, or my kids, or a close friend.” What does this say about our belief that all lives carry equal value?

Please don’t hear me say that if you do not choose the route of living kidney donation that you are somehow a bad person or a bad Christian. In fact, verses 5-8 suggest that we each have different gifts and callings on our lives. For some, that may be prophecy, for some faith, for some service, for some teaching, for some encouragement, for some generosity, for some leadership, for some mercy…. This list is surely not exhaustive, and we could likely add to it: …for some adoption, for some foster care, for some grief counseling, for some discernment, for some kidney donation, and on and on. Your gift may be something else, but the Scripture is clear that we should USE those gifts for the betterment of the body of Christ and the world around us, to “share with the Lord’s people who are in need” (v. 13). This is what it looks like to honor one another above ourselves (v. 10). And James echoes this sentiment in his letter…

James 2:14-17

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith
but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,”
but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

So then, why kidney donation? Because it is an opportunity to live out the love of God in a world that needs Him—to put my love into action.

Until next time….

Expecting

I’ve been in church all my life, and have been a Christian for almost that long, but a few months ago, I began reading through the entire Bible for the very first time. One theme I’ve noticed so far is that the Bible is FULL of waiting.

  • Abraham waited 25 years for God to fulfill His promise of a son (Genesis 15-21).
  • Noah waited some 60-70 years for God to bring the promised flood (Genesis 6-7).
  • Joseph waited 22 years for his dreams to come true (Genesis 37-45).
  • Israel waited 430 years for God to deliver them from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12:40).
  • Caleb waited 45 years to be given the land God had promised him as an inheritance for his faithfulness (Joshua 14:6-15).

….and so many more.

As we enter the season of Advent, we also find ourselves in a season of waiting, expecting, anticipating…but all with an air of uncertainty. What does God have in store for us? When? How will we know? I suspect many face these same questions this Advent season. I keep going back to a recent Scripture reading that says,

Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.”
– Joshua 21:45

And again,

“Now I [Joshua] am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed.
Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.” – Joshua 23:14

What are those promises? Well, among others (and in no particular order):

  • “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11
  • “He who began a good work in you will continue to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
    – Philippians 1:6
  • “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
    – Philippians 4:19
  • “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4
  • “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28
  • “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-8
  • “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
    in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6
  • “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

So I pray these promises over all of us, this month and on into the new year. May we each rest in the knowledge that our God is a God who KEEPS his promises. Every. Last. One.

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God Is Gracious

Exodus 34:6-7

“The LORD, the LORD God, is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving devotion and faithfulness, maintaining loving devotion to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression,and sin. Yet He will by no means excuse the guilty; He will visit the iniquity of the fathers on their children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”

There once lived a man named Zane  —  which means “God is gracious.” But Zane must have been from about the third or fourth generation to be visited by the iniquity of the fathers. His list of offenses was great, such that he served prison time and ultimately disappeared from the public record.

Yet somewhere amidst his escapades, Zane fathered a child — a little girl — who he hadn’t the means to care for. Through the miracle of adoption, that little girl found a family, fell in love with Jesus, and met my dad. They got married and welcomed my sisters and me into the world. They introduced us all to Jesus, and now I have a son and daughter of my own who both know and love Jesus. I pray that we are just the beginning of a thousand generations to witness God’s forgiveness and loving devotion (Exodus 34:6-7). God IS gracious.

Fast forward 60-some years to today, when another baby — a boy — was born to a woman who was unable to care for him. Again, thanks to the miracle of adoption, he has been welcomed into a God-fearing, Jesus-loving family. Through loss and disappointment, they’ve waited and believed in God’s faithfulness. And He has delivered.

Most certainly, this little boy will be introduced to the Jesus who loves him and longs to save him. In an act of symbolic irony, his new parents have named him: Zane. God is gracious, indeed.

May we trust Him to prove gracious to us, no matter our circumstances. We can be assured that He is busy working all of these things together, for His glory and our good (Romans 8:28).

Let it be so, Lord!

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Hard Pressed

2 Corinthians 4: 8-9

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 
persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

I’ll never forget when I first learned how to use color crayons. I was in junior high—7th grade, I believe. I know what you’re thinking, that this should be a kindergarten-level skill. And you would be correct, if I were referring to the neat and tidy, gentle, inside-the-lines kind of coloring that we tend to value so much. But in 7th grade art class, I learned how crayons were “meant” to be used. Our teacher knew that she would have an uphill battle trying to change the beliefs and behaviors that had been ingrained in us for some 12 years by that point. But she also knew from experience that there was good to come from all of this re-learning.

She taught us that we needed to press HARD on the crayons. What?! Wasn’t that wasting them? I mean, they would wear out so much faster. That is, if they didn’t break in half from the weight of the pressure. And why?! My coloring up until that point had already earned me high praise throughout my childhood. But I trusted my teacher, and I learned a technique that yielded absolutely beautiful results—vibrant, bold, attention-grabbing.

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I know that Paul wasn’t referring to crayons in his letter to the Corinthians. His analogy above relates more to an active-duty soldier, presumably in battle. Nevertheless, I believe this present analogy holds. The point is that what seems harsh and painful now may yield some great benefit later. Paul continues,

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away,
yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that is far beyond comparison.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4: 16-18

Will we do this also? When we face challenges, hardships, and heartache. When we experience loss, grief, and sadness. Will we trust that our God will not allow us to be crushed or destroyed, that He will not forsake us, even during the most difficult or painful of times? I hope so—for the reward is great.

Dear Lord,

Please comfort those who are mourning, strengthen those who are weak, and work all things together in an intricate and vibrant work of art that declares, “His glory, my good.”

Amen.

 

Privilege

Matthew 20: 9-12

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’”

On this, the eve of my grandmother’s funeral, as many who knew her pray that she accepted God’s gift of salvation in her last days and moments here, it is not lost on me that there may be others who bear a certain resentment toward “deathbed conversions.” Like the workers hired first, we feel we have “borne the burden of the work…” Or, like the bitter other brother of the prodigal son, we might refuse to welcome him home because, ‘Look, all these years I have served you and never disobeyed a commandment of yours. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returns from squandering your wealth with prostitutes, you kill the fattened calf for him!’” (Luke 15: 29-30). So we look to the thief on the cross with resentment and indignance, rather than with compassion and generosity.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize one reason for this. We are too busy seeing the sacrifices we’ve made for the Kingdom to recognize the many blessings that are ours in Christ. Think about it—the workers hired first thing in the morning and the responsible brother had one of the greatest privileges: security. They didn’t have to wonder if they would find work that day, or have food to eat, or a place to sleep. They were free from fear and uncertainty. Sure, they had to put in an honest day’s work, but even that is a privilege, is it not? Having faced unemployment and underemployment in my life, I can say that it is quite stressful, even if it’s just for a short time. And during that time, I worked as a day laborer, showing up at the temp agency as early as possible each morning, to try to beat the others to the line, so that I would have the best possible chance of being hired. I remember once when a one-day job turned into a week-long position, and I remember how relieved I was to know that I had work lined up for the rest of the week.

We have so many blessings as followers of Christ and as people who trust and rely on the One we know to be a good God. I couldn’t possibly list them all here, but as examples, consider the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7), grace that is sufficient for every challenge and trial we face (2 Corinthians 12:9), mercies that are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23)…and on and on. Indeed, as the prodigal’s father stated, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15: 31). Following Him, and doing the work of the Kingdom, is not a burden, but a privilege. So when I think of the alternate reality in which I would have to fend for myself—rely on my own strength to save me, my own ability to provide for myself, and all the other burdens that accompany a life lived far from Him, I’m left with compassion and generosity for those who live that way. And the parable of the generous landowner tells us that God’s generosity knows no bounds—their blessing doesn’t diminish mine. Micah 7:18 tells us that God “delights to show mercy.” So let us go and do likewise (Luke 10:37).

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Tough Questions from Kids #1: Followers of Jesus

Matthew 4:18-20

“Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee. He saw two brothers. They were Simon (his other name was Peter) and Andrew, his brother. They were putting a net into the sea for they were fishermen.  Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me. I will make you fish for men!’
At once they left their nets and followed Him.”

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One night recently, Tijge asked me, “How do you know if you’re a follower of Jesus?” Of course, after 3+ decades of being one, I know the answer. But I realized that I wasn’t quite sure how to answer it, as posed by a seven-year old. The reason is because, whatever our answer is, it places us somewhere along a precariously balanced continuum. On one end, we can find ourselves conveying a god who is consumed with judgment, to the exclusion of grace. “We know we are followers of Jesus if we obey His commands”—this seems simple, but perhaps too simple. Might it not leave a child (or anyone for that matter) always wondering, with each sin or failure, if they are really a follower of Jesus at all? On the other end of the spectrum, we might inadvertently portray a god whose grace altogether eclipses his sense of righteous judgment. “Say a prayer, accept Jesus as your savior, and that’s it!”—again, this may be too simple. Even Paul warned of the danger that can come when we manage to convince ourselves that we should sin all the more, so that God might have greater occasion to display His grace. In truth, the answer is somewhere between neither and both.

As I tried to think of how I might articulate this truth, I thought about how so many followers of God, and later Jesus, made a decision to follow—but then spent the rest of their lives learning how to do just that. A few examples from the Old Testament that come to mind are Gideon, David, and Jonah. In the Scriptures, we join the story of each at a place where they have pledged allegiance to the God of Israel. And yet, their lives are marked by ups and downs, failures and successes, sins and redemption.

The same can be said of many of our New Testament heroes, but one who holds a special place for me is Peter. Maybe that’s because he was headstrong and stubborn, as I tend to be—who knows? What I do know is this. Jesus called Peter to follow Him, and Peter immediately dropped what he was doing, and followed. But, if anyone was ever “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” (thank you, Winston Churchill), it was Peter. I mean, watch what he does throughout the New Testament.

  • He freaks out in the storm, walks on the water, doubts Jesus, starts to sink, cries out to Jesus for rescue…and then, much later (in Acts 12:6-7), he sleeps soundly in the face of impending death.
  • He’s too proud to let Jesus wash his feet, too tired to pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane—then cuts off a soldier’s ear, vows his allegiance, denies Christ three times, doubts his own ability to love Jesus sacrificially…then, much later (in 1 Peter 4:8), he tells fellow believers, “Above all, love each other deeply…” (aka, sacrificially!)
  • He starts out with brotherly (phileo) love for Jesus, and it gradually becomes an unconditional, sacrificial (agape) love. He starts out by accepting Christ as Savior, then accepting Him as Lord, and then becoming more and more like Him each day, ultimately giving his life for the sake of the Gospel.

It can all be summed up this way—Peter CHOSE to follow Jesus first, then learned HOW along the way. We will each do the same thing. We’ll walk on water, start to sink, call for help, grow in faith, walk on water for longer the next time…with the hope that eventually, we will sleep soundly in the face of death, knowing that an eternity with Jesus awaits us on the other side.

So how do you know if you’re a follower of Jesus? Well, it starts with a decision. But that decision ushers us into a lifelong journey of growing closer and closer to Jesus, ‘til He returns or calls us home.

Selah.

In THIS Day

John 11: 21-27

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give You whatever You ask Him.”

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her.

Martha replied, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she answered, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

Prayer is a funny thing—and it tends to confuse a lot of people. There’s this obvious dichotomy between praying for what we think we want, while knowing that God’s will is perfect, and that His vision is infinite. So I’ve found that I often pray like Martha—with a future focus. Now, sometimes I think Martha gets a bad rap, because of her OCD and all, and because of her tendency to try to boss Jesus around. But think about it. After Lazarus dies, Martha has no trouble at all believing that he will be resurrected with the saints at the last day. At this point, there’s no precedent for that. Jesus hasn’t even died yet, let alone risen from the dead—and yet she believes. She’s like Noah, believing for rain! But she doesn’t ask Jesus outright for what she really wants—her brother back. Somehow that’s too audacious to even want, much less ask for. But Jesus clearly wants her to ask, and He wants to give her what she desires most—in more ways than one.

I confess that I often find myself in her shoes—praying that God would redeem my circumstances in the end, that He would somehow reconcile my unfulfilled desires, and that He would ultimately use it all for His glory…someday. I guess that’s why my thought life often leads me to an imaginary distant future wherein He brings it all to pass. And because I know that His infinite wisdom and perfect will are so much greater than mine, I hesitate to tell Him what I really want now. But it’s in bearing my heart to Him that He gives me more of the Holy Spirit, which is after all Whom I truly desire.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with my dad a couple of years ago. I had already developed a deep desire to donate a kidney to someone in need, but I had recently begun to question whether I would be medically able to do it. I told my dad that, If I couldn’t do it, I would intensely grieve the lost opportunity. “Really?” He asked. “But you would know that it wasn’t God’s will.”

“I know,” I said. “And I believe that, I really do. But I would still be sad.” Telling him that let him know my heart, to draw closer to me, to counsel and comfort me. If I can share that honestly with my earthly and imperfect father, then why in the world shouldn’t I be able to honestly share my heart—however finite and imperfect it may be—with my perfect and all-powerful Heavenly Father?

Of course we can, and we should. Jesus Himself gives us this permission when He prays in the garden that the cup might somehow pass from Him. We can pray likewise if we pray with God’s promises in mind. One promise brings me particular comfort when I pray for what I think I want. It comes from Luke 11: 5-8.

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose one of you goes to his friend at midnight and says,
‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine has come to me on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.’

And the one inside answers, ‘Do not bother me. My door is already shut and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’

I tell you, even though he will not get up to provide for him because of his friendship, yet because of the man’s persistence, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

I don’t think I ever noticed before how this story ends—He will surely give you what you “need.” I think I’ve always thought of this passage as somehow saying that by my persistence, like that of a nagging child, I could wear down God’s resistance, causing Him to give me what I am asking for—even if He knows that it will bring with it a wasting disease (Psalm 106:13-15). But no—this passage promises that no matter what I pray for, no matter what I want, God will give me what I NEED.

Selah.

Thank you, God! Thank you that you can be trusted with every desire—trusted to do what is good, what is right. Thank you for the freedom to ask, not just for resurrection and redemption at the last day, but for resurrection, redemption, and abundance—in THIS day!

Amen.

P.S. Thanks to @jpokluda for the reminder, the challenge, and the permission to pray big!

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