Prayer

Weddings and Wine

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John 2:1-11 recounts the events at the wedding in Cana, where Jesus performed His first of many miracles—turning the water into wine. What I have always loved about this story is the near insignificance of this miracle. If you think about it, in the grand scheme of things, running out of wine at a wedding is not all that “important.” But I imagine that it was of great importance to the bride and groom. And how special and significant they must have felt to be on the receiving end of Jesus’s first miracle.

I don’t think it’s any accident that God chose John to share this account. He was, after all, the “disciple that Jesus loved.” And while the Gospel of John is most known for highlighting Jesus’s deity, I also see a distinct focus on how relational Christ was and still is. We can approach Him with our concerns, no matter how big or small they may be. Our prayer requests may seem silly or petty to us, but they aren’t to God. He keeps track of every hair on our heads, every thought on our minds, and every desire in our hearts.

Therefore, let us boldly approach the throne. He hears, He cares, and He answers. Praise God.

Through Eyes of Compassion: Leah

The story of Jacob’s family represents the epitome of dysfunction. You almost have to read it for yourself (Genesis 29:31 – 30:24), but the gist of it is that Jacob’s wives—Leah and Rachel—along with the servants of each woman, are for years engaged in a fertility contest of sorts. They try to one up each other by any means possible or necessary. Why?

Well it all goes back to the fact that Leah was Jacob’s first wife, but not his first choice. And while Leah was fertile, she was not loved by her husband. She spent years trying to earn his favor and his love by bearing him one son after another—six sons in all. We might, at first glance, be tempted to judge Leah for attempting to manipulate Jacob into loving her. We might condemn her for foolishly attempting to secure Jacob’s affections through childbearing. But recently, God gave me fresh eyes to see this woman.

Interestingly, Leah means tired, or weary. What a fitting name for someone who has tried so hard and so long to be enough for her husband—to be good enough, beautiful enough, fruitful enough. Leah would never earn Jacob’s love. But truly, one must consider whether love that is “earned” is really love at all. Isn’t that what makes God’s love so profound, after all—that we could never earn it ourselves?

So now, when I see Leah, I see her heart—a heart that, very simply, is ever longing for love. Sadly, she kept looking for it in the wrong place. And I wondered, if I had been Leah’s friend, how would I have prayed for her? Seeing her in this new light, I think I would have prayed something like this:

Lord God,

Only you know the depth of your love for Leah.
Only you know how priceless she is to you—
so priceless that you would sacrifice your beloved son to ransom and redeem her soul.
She’s been looking for love in all the wrong places,
looking for significance outside of your will,
and trying so hard to be enough apart from you.
Help her to see that you are enough for her…and that, in you, she is enough.
No matter what the world tells her, she is loved by you.
Bring her peace and contentment in the knowledge of this
profound and inexplicable love.

In Christ’s name and for His sake,

Amen.

 If you recognize Leah in someone you know, feel free to pray these words over her (or him, as the case may be). If you recognize her in yourself, please accept them as my prayer for you. And be blessed.

Redeemed unto Reconciliation

That we as Christians have been given the ministry of reconciliation isn’t exactly news. After all, Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 5:18 that God “reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” He also said that, as far as it depends on us, we are to “be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). But, if you’re anything like me, this is one of those things that falls squarely into the ‘easier said than done’ category. So I welcomed the recent sermon series that our pastor preached on this subject. While I learned a lot from the entire four-week series, I can also say that there were several “tweetable” tidbits (c/o @bradyherbert) that really spoke to me. I hope they will speak to all of you as well.

  1. When we look for God’s goodness in someone, it’s impossible to make them our enemy. And I would add that when we look for the good that God might be working both in and through that person, we are better able to move toward reconciliation. This concept reminds me of a strategy you’ve probably heard about before. When we pray for others (and more specifically, our enemies), we are drawn to them and God gives us a greater level of compassion for them. Of course, that means that we pray for God’s blessings in their lives. We pray that He would comfort, guide, and—yes—convict. But we don’t pray that they would ‘get what’s coming to them.’ We don’t pray that God would ‘smite’ them. We pray for God’s best for them. And in the process, we are changed.
  2. I can forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in me. This logic requires that we identify and acknowledge what I like to call our ‘Mother of All Sins’ (M.O.A.S). If you can’t admit that you’ve ever done anything inexcusable, if you can’t understand why Jesus had to die for your sins, this will be VERY hard—if not impossible—to do. Now, I know what some of you are saying: “No, that’s not right—all sin is the same to God.” And you’re right. But all sin is NOT the same to US. If you steal a pen from work, there is no way you’re going to feel a sense of grief over your sin. If you were to kill someone—and I’m not suggesting that you should—you would feel a much greater sense of remorse. So we, as finite humans, tend to rank sins from least to most egregious. Then we set a threshold beyond which sins are ‘worth’ Christ’s sacrifice. And each of us needs to identify and OWN whatever sin or sins we feel are worth that punishment. This can be especially hard if you’ve grown up in the church. Many ‘lifelong’ believers lament that they “don’t have a testimony” because they never joined a gang or got into drugs or what have you. But you MUST find your testimony. I believe that the best way to do this is to pray, humbly asking God to reveal to you your areas of weakness and sin, so that you can repent.
  3. If someone refuses to repent, “treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18: 17). Our pastor, Brady, rightly pointed out how many of us use this verse as a license to wash our hands of another and throw them out of the church. I have to confess, that’s how I’ve always read that verse. But if you think about it, that’s not at all how Jesus treated pagans and tax collectors. He pursued them, he loved them, he sought reconciliation with them, and—lest we forget—he DIED for them. I find that I often judge nonbelievers less harshly than I do other Christians. I mean, Christians should know better, right? But if a believer is caught in sin, or is unwilling to reconcile, then we must conclude that something is keeping them from embracing the salvation that they claim. Thinking of it that way, I feel led to respond with compassion and sympathy, and to pray that they would be reconciled first with God, and then with the Church. And one more thing: we can never give up. I’ve heard of believing parents with children who have gone astray. They pray constantly for many years and they NEVER give up on their kids’ souls. That is the essence of the parables of the prodigal son, the lost sheep, and the missing coin. And our love and compassion should be as relentless as God’s.
  4. We must awaken the desire for reconciliation. The final message in this series offered a lot of practical tips to help us move from a place of knowing that we should reconcile, or believing that we can reconcile, to a place where we can honestly say that we want to reconcile. Here are some of the biggies:
  • We need to develop empathy and compassion for those with whom we seek to reconcile.
  • We need to avoid the temptation to morally ‘separate ourselves’ from the other person—essentially viewing them as inferior to ourselves. Instead, we need to find a common ground from which we can reach out in love, grace, and mercy.
  • We need to remember that we are all created in the image of God and are worth of being treated with human dignity. And finally,
  • We need to remember that we ourselves are finite beings and that God may be working an angle that we can’t see—or possibly even imagine.

So, when we think about all of these pieces in the puzzle of reconciliation, I hope that we are each prompted to take a step or two in that direction. And in that way, one small step after another, we will hopefully end up a lot closer to the peace that we are called to pursue.

Before

Jeremiah 1:5a
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you…”

 Adoption Awareness Month is too quickly drawing to a close—at least for me. There’s so much more that I want to write and share with you. But many of those sentiments will have to wait until November of next year. But on this Thanksgiving Day of 2014, I want to take a few moments to pen my sentiments to Trey (as I affectionately refer to any future child we may be blessed with). But I hope you’ll keep reading, because I think that the words will apply to all of us…

Dear Trey,

As I write these words, you aren’t even a twinkle in your birth mother’s eye. But you’ve been a twinkle in mine for quite some time, and for that long you’ve held a place in my heart. Even better, though, is the place that you’ve held in God’s heart and in His plan since the beginning of time. Jeremiah 1:5 begins, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” God also promises, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

I don’t know you yet, but there are some things I do know:

You were planned.
You are loved.
You are precious.
You are priceless.
You are celebrated.
You have a purpose.

And in case you should ever wonder just how much you matter to your Heavenly Father, Psalm 139:13-18 sums it up:

 13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.

What stands out to me in all of this is the word before. And since God is already in the process of forming you, I am already in the process of praying for you. And, as is fitting for this Thanksgiving Day, I thank God in advance for who you will be and for all that He has planned for you. Never forget that you are dearly loved!

What God Has Purposed

I heard awhile back that our calling is where our talents and our burdens collide. But I think callings can still be shrouded in mystery and uncertainty. Certainly, God provides guidance through His Word, His Spirit, and His people. But, as I’ve said over and over, we—as mere mortals and finite beings—do not and cannot know the precise will of God. We move in what we hope is the right direction. We remind ourselves that “it’s easier to steer a moving ship.” We trust and pray that God will “order our steps” (Psalm 37:23; Proverbs 16:9)–that He will open and shut doors of opportunity, and schedule divine appointments—all in pursuit of an ever-elusive calling.

So, I have hopes and dreams that may or may not come to pass. One big one is the desire God has given me to adopt a child. I sense the great need among children to be deeply loved, and I feel that God has given me a “talent” for motherly love. I think our family would be a great place for an adopted child to find the love they need from us and from the Heavenly Father. I pray we would have the opportunity to provide that for one special, God-ordained child. But there are many logistics that need to fall into place in order for this dream to be fulfilled. The truth is, I don’t know if adoption is even in God’s will for us. He hasn’t given me that promise. But I find peace and comfort in what HAS been promised: that what GOD has purposed will come to pass (Isaiah 14), and that all things will work together for good (Romans 8:28) and for His glory (John 9:1-3). And that is more than enough!

Kids and Thanks

1 Thessalonians 5:18
“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Kids are funny. If you’ve been following my posts for very long, you already know that. But at the same time as they make you laugh, kids also make you think. It’s crazy to reflect on the profound nature of some of the things that kids say and do, even unwittingly.

The way they pray is a great example. We have some friends whose kids pray with an overarching theme of thanksgiving. “Thank you for Mommy and Daddy,” sure—but it doesn’t stop there. They continue with things like, “Thank you for allergies,” and so on. They don’t understand the difference between a praise and a petition. And it kind of makes sense, when you think about the way we teach them to pray.

Up until recently, Tijge had only learned enough about prayer to burst out, “God is great!” and to close with a “Yea!” and a round of applause. Lately, though, he’s started to pray, “God is great, God is good, thank you for our food, Amen.” Then just yesterday, I overheard him while playing in the tub, “God is great, God is good, thank you for bath time, Amen.”

I remember reciting that same prayer at mealtimes whenever we used to visit my grandmother as a kid. But somewhere along the line, I stopped doing it. I guess it was because I outgrew the need for such a “simple” prayer. But looking back at it now, and hearing Tijge say those words, I’ve realized that this seemingly simple prayer is actually quite profound. What I mean is, if we opened every prayer with the acknowledgement that God is great and God is good, could we then follow those words with a statement of gratitude, knowing that a good and great and loving God will ultimately do and allow only what is best for us?

Doesn’t the Bible say to give thanks in ALL circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18)? And to trust that God is in control of those circumstances? Might it change our outlook and our perspective if we, too, expressed gratitude in the midst of trials and challenges, as well as joys? Might that cause us to look beyond ourselves and our present circumstances, to see what God is doing on a larger scale? I think so.

So, we might think that our kids are really confused, when in fact they are wise beyond their years. Maybe, just maybe, they have it all figured out. Maybe we ought to let them teach us a thing or two about prayer.

God is great, God is good, let us thank Him. Period.

The Eleventh Hour (Attention–Spoiler Alert!)

I guess you could say I’m a sucker for the “bad guy turned good” plot line. We recently finished watching the BBC Robin Hood series, and somehow by the end of it, I was feeling a sense of grief as Robin’s antagonist (Guy of Gisborne) breathed his last. In spite of an insatiable thirst for money and power, and a willingness to do ANYTHING to get them, he underwent a major turnaround during the last couple of episodes—a change of heart, a change of character, a change of attitude, and a change of behavior. His last words (to Robin, in fact) were, “I’ve lived in shame, but because of you, I’ll die proud.”

That line reminds me of someone else who might have said the same thing. When Jesus was being crucified, he was joined by two thieves. One of those, recognizing that he deserved his lot, nonetheless reached out to Jesus, saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42). While a change of heart and allegiance are remarkable in themselves, the most encouraging thing about this story is Jesus’s response in verse 43: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise.”

What this passage means to me is that, no matter how long you spend praying for a loved one, telling them about Jesus, encouraging them to change—and all seemingly in vain—there is still hope. As long as they have breath, there is still hope. So keep on praying, keep on sharing, keep on encouraging. The eleventh hour may come, and in a divinely inspired moment of clarity, everything that you’ve done and said may sink in, and you, too, may meet again in Paradise.