Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Prayer Changes Things


Lately the power of prayer has been a constant reminder. I have been reminded that God sees me....He hears me...He bends down to listen...He cares. I've been brought up short as I'm reminded that my prayers are not a to-do list for God, but rather a heart surrendering to His will as I humbly reveal the deepest parts of me to the Only One Who can really do anything about it. When I've prayed and not seen immediate results I've been reminded that patience is a virtue - a character trait not ingrained, but learned. Finally, when I have seen the joy of prayers affirmed and answered only to be sent back to square two a couple days later I've been reminded that life is a journey and just because I pray and He answers doesn't mean it's all going to be A-Okay from then on. 

What it does mean is that He still sees me. He stills hears me. He still bends down to listen, and, no matter what, He still cares. 

About every little detail. 

Every. 

Little. 

Detail. 

HE CARES

This excerpt from a devotional on prayer by Jack Graham speaks directly to what I have been experiencing and thinking recently. 

"When you and I arrive at heaven's gate someday, no doubt we will be shocked by our lack of faithfulness as it relates to prayer. We will see firsthand the vast storehouse of blessing God had reserved for us, if only we had asked for His intervention in our lives. "You do not have because you do not ask." James 4:2 reads. What a fitting reminder to pray while we still have life left to live! Indeed, nothing good, nothing great, nothing lasting, nothing holy can ever happen apart from prayer.

That is why prayer should never be a sideline habit for believers. Prayer should not just be a ritual performed at the beginning of a family meal. We are to pray, persistently and passionately in dependence and in obedience. And let me be clear, if you are not praying, there is no way you can ever grow as a Christian. Without prayer, there is no way you will ever truly know God intimately. Prayer flows out of a life connected to Christ. And prayer also connects our life to Christ."

taken from "Lord, Hear Our Cry: A 30-Day Prayer Challenge" by Dr. Jack Graham
(you can also do this plan on the youversion.com Bible )

Those last couple of sentences in the second paragraph were like arrows between the eyes for me. "without prayer, there is no way you will ever truly know God intimately. Prayer flows out of a life connected to Christ. And prayer also connects our life to Christ." To know God intimately requires getting together with Him and connecting not just at the head level, but on a heart level. 

For example...I listen to a few different Bible teachers as I prepare for my day. I may listen to Dr. Charles Swindoll one day, and Andy Stanley the next...or I might listen to a podcast from my own church or our previous church's teaching. Although the last two pastors I do know personally, I cannot say I know them intimately. Because I have listened to Dr. Swindoll for so many years and read so many of his books I can say I sometimes feel as if I know him. My own pastors I can even say I know pretty well.....but intimately? Uh. No. 

However, I can say I know my husband and children intimately. I can also say I have intimate friends. The difference between them and the people I mentioned in the previous paragraph? Easy answer....time spent together getting real with each other. 

It is not a one way relationship. I do not read God's word and think I know Him intimately. I do not only pray and think I know Him intimately. One without the other leaves one of us out in the cold. 

Reading God's Word gives us an intimate knowledge of Who He is - we get to know Who He is throughout His interactions with others. We don't, however, fully grasp the magnitude of who He is if we only know Him intellectually. 

There is a current movement to seek the Holy Spirit and to consistently let Him guide through prayer and fervent times of seeking His voice. Not a bad thing....unless the voices in our heads that we think are the Holy Spirit are actually not of God at all. The voice we hear goes against what the Word of God says, but because we aren't reading the Bible we aren't aware of it....and we are led astray under the guise of "following the Spirit's leading." 

Praying alone gives us, at times, an emotional heart-level understanding of Who He is, but not knowing the truth of Who He is as we read in His Word leaves us wanting intellectually. 

Then there's our side. If we spend time reading His Word - studying, digging in, getting to know Him - we know His character. If we spend time praying for others in accordance with His Word we trust what we know of Him. Sounds pretty well-rounded, huh? Pretty full? We know, love and trust Him, so we're good? 

Not quite. 

WE know HIM...and HE knows US....but do we *intimately* trust Him with our most intimate selves? Our deepest hurts? Our most fervent desires? Our greatest doubts? Our rage and frustration over the injustices in our lives and the world around us? 

Nope. 

If we aren't willing to spend time getting real with God our Christian life, as Dr. Graham stated, is stunted. We don't grow in Him. We don't thrive. We don't grasp the power available to us through Him. 

Today I am in that place of frustration over the answers to my prayers being ping-ponged back and forth between "Passing Go" and "Going directly to Jail" (we'll use Monopoly as a tangible example of what the prayers - answered - seeing - positive - results - while - in - the - next - moment - human - nature - takes - over - and - pulls - it - back - again feels like). I hate it. I want to do some major brain surgery on a certain young person in my life who keeps being offered grace, celebrates and jumps in, freaks out and jumps back out again where he can be comfortable. 

I am reminded life is a journey. Reminded that, just because one day seems like my prayers are answered and life is going to be beautiful all the time from here on out, I still live in a broken world where the only hope I have is knowing the One Who created all things and in Whom all things hold together. 

So today I pray again....for the very same thing I've been praying for over the last few months. I cling again...to the hope found only in Jesus Christ. I trust again...in the fact that God the Father knows exactly what His plan is and I don't. I remind myself (again)....patience is a character trait that is learned, not given. Then I scream and kick my feet because I want patience in the situation......NOW! ......and I start all over again knowing that everyday really does bring a brighter hope, a bit more trust, a lot more patience. 

Because after all.....


Friday, April 3, 2015

What About that Other Guy?

I'm reading this morning in Mark, chapter 15, of the Holy Bible. Mark is retelling the story of Jesus of Nazareth before Pontius Pilate, and the Pharisees, Chief Priests, Sanhedrin and other religious leaders are wanting Pilate to just kill.him.already! But Pilate is listening to this guy standing before him. He's asking questions of Him and wondering why He won't defend Himself. I can't help but think there must have been a peace that oozed from Jesus throughout His life. How can you be GOD sent to earth as MAN and not know tremendous peace (the kind that defies definition)?

So, imagine with me if you will....Palace court - lots of people because a) the Pharisees are delivering Jesus to Pilate,  and they want to see what's going to happen, but even moreso because b) this is the day that Pilate will release a prisoner from all charges. Really, it's a day of grace. Huh. How appropriate that the very One who offers grace to all would suffer the least amount of grace on this day......Selah (pause, let that sink in...)

The crowd is filled with people from all walks of life.


You have the Pharisees and religious leaders (those RELIGIOUS people we still grow frustrated with in their piety and self-righteous wisdom of what is "supposed" to be done according to the law.) These are men proud of their standing and the praises they receive simply because they are men of Scriptural Knowledge. (that should be said in your head with reverb and feedback to make it more dramatic) They pride themselves not on their humility before God, but on the wisdom people think they have and their superiority to all others.

Then you have those who are followers of those leaders. This guy who calls himself Jesus is actually starting to succeed at changing the world around them. The minions are starting to see the injustice and lack of equality stemming from the teachings of the Pharisees. The scriptures are held only by those who are "worthy" and this....Carpenter....is saying they're open to everyone?! I can almost hear them saying, "We follow you, oh Pharisee! You have the knowledge this simple man can certainly not ever attain! He's one of us! He sucks just like we do! He needs you...you don't need HIM!" So they follow and do whatever those sightless leaders say.

In another area you've got the family and friends (and fellow insurrectionists) of Barabbas, a prisoner, wondering if he will be set free. They're talking amongst themselves wondering if their family member has been behaving well enough to warrant Pilate's favor and release. They may or may not know this Jesus, but what they're all about is whether they'll be able to walk home with their felonous family intact. They're watching the crowd and seeing what's going on with this other guy, but they have one goal in mind.

Then you have Jesus's followers. Those who know and believe He truly is the Son of God come to earth as man. They believed in their hearts that He IS The Messiah Isaiah and the other prophets of old spoke of. Imagine being there...knowing Jesus and His beautiful, compassionate, loving of all people but refusing to tolerate sin heart...and wondering how it would ever be possible that Pontius Pilate would send Him to prison, let alone sentence Him to death!

And standing behind Pilate is the prisoner the people had requested the freedom of, Barabbas. Before him stands this simple carpenter with a peace about Him that makes no sense in the realm of what's going on and what He's being accused of. It is not one of defeat, but one of purpse and understanding. An acknowledgement in His Spirit that He is exactly where He needs to be to fulfill the plan of His Father. I believe Jesus had a tremendous sense of humor and laughed a lot in His 33 years, but I cannot fathom that He was joyful in this moment. Resolved is a word that comes to mind - in human terms it makes me think of a parent who resolves to do whatever needs to be done to save their child from a life of poor choices and ultimate ruin. There is a quiet strength that cannot be budged.

Pilate. It almost makes me laugh to think of what he must have been thinking. First of all..."WHO is this guy whose hands are obviously those of a common worker with callouses and blisters calling himself the KING??!!" Then, as he encounters Him more personally "defend yourself, MAN! I can see You're a true man of this God you speak of, and they're just jealous, but give me a reason to go against them!" He asks Jesus if He really is the King of the Jews and Jesus's response? "It is as you say." Pilate could not possibly have been expecting that answer! Maybe an "OF COURSE I AM YOU FOOL!" or maybe a "HOW CAN YOU NOT SEE IT?? DUH!"  But a humble and forthright, "It is as you say?" So then it's almost as if he tries again..."Do you not see all the charges against you? Why don't you answer?" (again "defend yourself, man!!! come ON!")

But Jesus.

But Jesus stood without defiance, without malice, without chagrine. Jesus stood firm in WHO. HE. IS.

...and Pilate was amazed.

Amazed. To stand in awe of. To lack comprehension of the magnitude of. To see and know this is bigger than one could imagine.

Oh, but don't forget that prisoner! Barabbas was his name. A murderer and insurrectionist. (I had to look this word up. I have a general understanding of someone standing up against government, but wanted to get the full story for the sake of understanding exactly who this guy was.) HE was an anarchist. He wanted no governmental authority ruling his life. He was a rebel and resisted the entirety of this man, Pontius Pilate, who held his future in his hand.

I have never thought about this before. Never thought about the enormity of what the choice going on here! Jesus wasn't up against some petty thief. He was up against a man who despised everything about Pontius Pilate and his court...his rule...his governing body. Do you really think Pilate is ready and willing to let this guy go? Do you really think Pilate was looking between Jesus and Barabbas and saying "yeah. this guy Jesus is obviously the most detrimental to my kingdom. Barabbas, ha! What's he gonna do if I let him go? Plot to kill me? Woop-de-doo! This guy Jesus is So. Much. Worse!" ???  I can't believe that. I would have to think Pontius Pilate is wanting like crazy to keep the crazy anarchist lunatic locked up where he can see him while he continues to rule the land.

Mark even points out that Pilate has seen through the smokescreen of the Pharisees and Sanhedrin. He sees Jesus is here only because they are jealous of him and are out for the purposes of their own selves.

Maybe the Chief Priests noticed the smirk on Pilate's face as he looked at them and asked, "Do you want me to release the King of the Jews?" and they freaked out a bit. So they did what they do best - they stirred the pot. They got the people stirred up and shouted "CRUCIFY HIM!"

Can you see Pilate's inner struggle? Sighing on the inside as he asks, "But WHY? What crime has He committed?"

The Pharisees could not care less. Literally. They have a care bucket where Jesus is concerned and it is E M P T Y....emmmmmm-p-teeeeee.

"CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM!!!" They turn to the crowd and swing their arms up in a "louder! louder!" motion and yell "CRU-CI-FY HIM!"

Did Pilate look at Jesus then? Did he look to see if this King of the Jews was showing defeat and a willingness to fight for His life? I don't know and the Bible doesn't say anything more on that, but what it does say speaks volumes of the character of a person who is about themselves and their popularity more than justice and truth.

Mark says, speaking of Pilate, "Wanting to satisfy the crowd.................."

Doesn't that just make you sick to your stomach??? So many instances in today's world of the same injustices and we get all up in arms, rightly so, but this! THIS IS THE SON OF GOD!!!!! And JESUS CHRIST stood there......condemned to die because Pontius Pilate didn't want to be in the bad graces of the Sanhedrin, Pharisees, Chief Priests and other people like him.

Did you catch that? "...other people like him." Birds of a feather flock together. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours, and all those other cheap cliche's that put my Savior to death.

So Barabbas went free.

And Jesus went to the blood-thirsty hounds called Pilate's henchmen.

And if this was all the story there was this would NOT be a Good Friday in the least.

The Pharisees and their cronies walked away self-satisfied and self-righteous.

The family of Barabbas cheered and hugged and went on their merry way.

The crowd of Jesus lovers wept and fell to their feet in disbelief.

THIS was NOT how it was supposed to happen!!

Just the Sunday before He experienced this:


Today, though. Today brings this:

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts. Neither are My ways your ways." declares the Lord." -Isaiah 55:8

In our minds THIS is NOT how it was supposed to happen. 

I have one final question for you....

Do you think Barabbas was amazed by grace that day?



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The War For Our Kids

Okay, my praying friends...I have some serious prayer requests for you this morning. .They're prayer requests that break my heart with the full-on attack they are, and I often don't have words to convey the magnitude of fight I want for these. However, as I read in my devotional "Forgotten God" by Francis Chan this morning, I know the Holy Spirit prays for us when we have no words...when we don't know what to do...when we.......can't. I cling to that this morning.

I have several people close to me who are dealing with the pain of kids being attacked by the enemy. They're being told they are worthless, they have no purpose, they don't belong, they just need to end it all. Not by people around them - but by "voices". If you're not a Christian, or you don't believe there is spiritual warfare going on, you'll just think they're crazy. I, however, fully believe these kids are being attacked because there are plans for them to reach their generation for Christ and the enemy wants to stop them before they have the chance. One little girl is in an emergency situation right now, and others fight this battle while at school....while at home...when they least expect it. I will not get in a debate or discussion about how these are the kids who cause problems because they are not. These are the kids you would not suspect if you knew them. These are kids who are cutting their skin so they have something to blame the pain on...these are kids who are laughing with their friends at school, smiling on the outside and hurting like crazy on the inside. These are the kids you'd never suspect. Sometimes, the ones who are outwardly showing the same issues are the ones who will be okay because someone sees them (pray that if you run into someone like that you SEE them...), but the ones who don't show it? PRAY! Pray for the suicidal young girl who told her friends goodbye yesterday and today is fighting a fight with her mom by her side in a hospital. Pray for the young girl who is dealing with depression so severe she can't sleep....Pray for the young boy who is feeling lost and hopeless because he feels like he's failed and can't see a way out. Pray for the boy who is being told he's something he's not. Pray for the girl who stands out and isn't afraid to be different, but is told she's weird and doesn't belong because of it. Pray for the kids who are looking for acceptance, worth, and hope....that they will find the true peace that passes all understanding (and in doing so, find all those things and more).

Pray, too, for the parents of these kids. It's easy to ask for prayer when your child is sick, or facing something at school or wherever, but it's an entirely different thing to put up a Facebook post that says, "hey, will you pray for you my child? They are on suicide watch and I've had to take all razors away so they can't hurt themselves. Thanks." Pray that they would reach out to someone who can walk beside them and help them cling to the truth - if God is for us, who can be against us? The fact - He created all things, and IN HIM all things hold together. The promise - He will never leave you nor forsake you. The hope - He will work all things out for good for those whose hope is found in Him.

I have a running list of students I pray for....if you have someone you'd like added, please inbox me and let me know.

I fully believe, folks, that this generation is going to do mighty things, and our prayers are going to make a huge difference! Thanks for praying!