This is an experiment–in my own pursuit of a deeper, richer prayer life, I want to share some of the struggles and triumphs I have had in and through prayer. I would also like to share (and gather) suggestions to enrich how we can grow closer to God, closer to others, and closer to becoming more Christlike in our daily walk.
I’ve been very blessed with a large extended family–in-laws, cousins, step-cousins, half-cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, second cousins–well over 600! (and counting). I’ve spent a lot of time recently attending family events, and each one has been happy, encouraging, and invigorating. I know that is not always the case in families. Some families argue; some won’t even speak to each other. And there is not perfect harmony, even in the best of human families. We’ve had divorces and divides, too; but mostly, as my one cousin is fond of saying, “We like us.” We like belonging to a family, but even more, we like belonging to our family. As our family grows, it is becoming more diverse, and we like that, too. Many years ago, most of our family members were farmers from a small area in southwestern Michigan. Now, our family includes truck drivers, mechanics, teachers, architects, coaches, doctors, office managers, car salesmen, nurses, dispatchers, accountants, chefs, shopkeepers, ministers, photographers, cosmetologists, pet groomers, medical transcriptionists, cinematographers, artists, dancers, contractors, factory workers, and yes, some farmers, too. We have family members with varying skin tones and ethnic backgrounds, and differing physical and mental abilities. And we LIKE “us.”
Jesus likened the Kingdom of Heaven to a family– it is made up of many members, but we are all brothers and sisters “in Christ.” And, like a family, we are supposed to like “us.” More than that, we are supposed to LOVE one another! We are to be there for each other, in good times and bad; in mourning and in rejoicing. “For better, for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health..” It shouldn’t matter if our brothers and sisters live close by or halfway around the world; whether they belong to our local congregation of “that other church across town.” And it SHOULD matter when we see some of our family members being persecuted or facing hardship while others live in comfortable apathy.
But Jesus went even further. We are to love those who are not “US.” We are to show love and mercy to those who don’t “belong.” We are to reach out to those who dislike, despise, and even persecute us. The way we treat each other as “family” and the way we treat those “outside” will either attract or repel others, and it will show whether or not we have learned to love as Jesus did.
God “Likes” us. He wants to share life with us –any of us who will respond to His call. And God LOVES us. He treats us with the same compassion and love, regardless of who we are or what we’ve done, or how we’ve responded (or failed to respond) to His outreach.
Clearly, there are those who do not like us; who do not wish us well. And God does not call us to be victims, dupes, and doormats for abusive relatives or strangers. We are to Love– but wisely, and with the strength of God. Liking someone does not obligate us to betray our conscience, or enable abusive and immoral behavior in others. Loving someone may mean setting boundaries where they are needed. But it also may involve tearing down false walls of fear and “inconvenience” that we’ve been using to excuse action.
Who can we reach out to this week, extending the kind of welcome and acceptance we give our family? How can we begin seeing more of “us” in the people we meet, and less of “them?” And, if there are family members (either our birth families, or our church families) with whom we have a broken relationship, are there ways we can make a move to try to mend fences? How can we set wise boundaries, while tearing down false ones? One sure way is to begin praying– pray for those we meet, whether or not we consider them “family.” Pray for those who have hurt us– and those we have hurt. Pray for those who seem different and hard to understand or accept. Pray for God to bless them, encourage them, meet their needs– Pray that God will give us wisdom, opportunities, and strength to reach out.
The other day, someone complained that she couldn’t “hear” me because we were both wearing face masks, due to COVID restrictions at the doctor’s office. I remarked that the masks didn’t cover her ears, but I know what she meant. Not only did the mask cover my mouth, which limited my volume, but, more importantly, it covered the lower half of my face, so that she couldn’t see my lips or read my facial expressions. Nor could I see hers. It is terribly frustrating to be sitting half-face-to-half-face!
Effective communication is up to 90% non-verbal! That means facial expressions, tone of voice, choice of words, etc.. When we cannot see fully “face-to-face” we lose a lot of our ability to understand and interpret what someone else is saying– even if we can hear the words.
The same is true in communication by phone or social media. Someone can read my words or listen to me talk, and still be confused about my meaning. Am I being serious or sarcastic? Am I fully engaged, or just “throwing out” words? How can I know if someone has understood what I’ve said or written?
We crave the intimacy of “real” communication– talking and being “heard;” listening and being engaged with another person’s thoughts and feelings. Knowing that someone else understands and sympathizes. Someday, our human limitations will be removed. The Apostle Paul writes about it this way:
12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12 (ESV)
The Apostle John also comments:
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
1 John 3:2 (NKJV)
What an amazing promise! The next time you are having a “face-to-face” conversation with a friend, imagine what it will be like to be able to talk and share that kind of intimacy with God! And then, when you pray, remember that God ALREADY sees and hears you with perfect clarity and understanding!
There is a flip side to this, however. Imagine that your thoughts and “hidden” comments are also uncovered and known by all. One of the dangers of living in a digital, global age is that we feel free to post our immediate thoughts and feelings without regard to how they may be received and interpreted. We post things and say things that we might never say “face-to-face.” We spew out indignation, sarcasm, arrogance, snide criticism, and offense, assuming that others will admire our cleverness or our virtue, rather than seeing our selfish conceit and our rush to judgment. We spill out all the supposed “wrongs” done to us, but we excuse our own wrongs and failings– even brag about them.
Someday, we will see how very hurtful, selfish, and short-sighted we have been– and so will everyone else. This will shock or embarrass many of us, but God will not be surprised or upset– He has already known the worst about us. And He still listens to us and speaks words of compassion that we often ignore or dismiss. Someday we will not only hear the words, but see the compassion, love, and mercy in His eyes as they meet ours.
That’s the image I want to take into prayer today– and every day. Even though I can’t see it today, it is already eternal reality!
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Mark 4:35-41 ESV
I’ve been reading through the Gospels this month, and one of the phrases that has stood out for me this year is “ye of little faith.”(or “you have so little faith!) Jesus uses this phrase to chastise His disciples, as well as the crowds– they claim to want miracles, yet when Jesus does miracles, they seem astonished almost to the point of fear. Or they attempt to “explain them away.”
We live in a world of possibilities– when we are young, we see possibilities everywhere. “When I grow up…” we imagine ourselves as astronauts, or world leaders, or Olympic champions. As we grow older, our world of possibilities grows narrower. We become cynical (or more aware of our own limitations!) and, while we long to see miracles, we neither expect them nor ask for them. We know some difficult or unexpected things are still possible, but we tend to see more “impossibilities.” “My health will never get better.” “My boss will never listen to me.” “I can’t…”
One of the biggest roadblocks to becoming a Christian (and to continue to grow in faith) is to accept that NOTHING is impossible for God. We set limits on God’s ability, His willingness, His goodness–we expect to be disappointed, disillusioned, and disheartened. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy– we end up disappointed, disillusioned, and disheartened in others, in ourselves…
Yet, God has given us an entire book filled with miracles and impossible events that are meant to show us that He is the God of the Impossible; the God of Miracles. From the beginning, God has demonstrated His willingness to make a way when there seems to be no way. From Noah and the Flood, to Abraham becoming the Father of many nations, to bringing Joseph from a pit to becoming the second-most powerful man in Egypt, to the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery…the stories abound. Whether sending food from heaven, water from a rock, or fire from the sky, God’s power is on display throughout the Old Testament. The crowds following Jesus grew up hearing these stories. But after four hundred years of silence, they seemed to remember what God COULD do, but doubt what God WOULD do for those who call on Him.
Jesus walked on water, healed the sick, turned water into wine, cast out demons, raised the dead, and much more. And still the people wanted “proof.” But we are not so very different. Not only do we have all the stories of the Old Testament; we have all the stories of Jesus’ miracles. Yet we still wonder whether God will hear and/or answer our prayers. And it doesn’t take 400 years of silence to cause us to doubt. Sometimes it is four hours, or four days, or four months of seeming silence.
Nothing is impossible with God. There are some things that are not productive; some things that are not part of His plan. Imagine Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego praying that God would not allow them to go into the fiery furnace? That wasn’t the plan. Instead, God chose to do the unexpected, the unthinkable–the impossible. He rescued them IN the fire– caused them to come through without being singed. Imagine those who prayed that Lazarus would recover from his illness. That wasn’t the plan. Instead, Jesus did the impossible– raising Lazarus after four days; after the funeral, after the burial, after all possible hope was gone.
God excels in the impossible. He delights in it. What impossible situation are you facing today? God may not choose to remove the situation. But He can take an impossible situation and turn it into a miraculous victory. Not because we demand “proof” of His divinity or power. But because His plans are bigger and better than what we can comprehend.
I’ve shared a bit about one of my current struggles. My Mom is in her 88th year, and her health is failing. She is very independent and lives alone. My siblings and I are being “stretched” in trying to help Mom navigate several decisions and several changing conditions. God has not taken away her health issues, or conveniently provided an easy transition or simple answers to our questions. But He has been “with us in the fire.” That doesn’t mean that I understand all that Mom is going through, or how best to help her from moment to moment. And I’m not asking God to provide a dramatic “rescue” for Mom as she navigates this part of her journey. But I trust that God has already seen the end from the beginning– none of the “setbacks” or “unexpected events” we face can take God by surprise or leave Him unprepared to use them for His glory and our ultimate good.
18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
Luke 18:18-27 ESV via biblegateway.com
I love that Jesus didn’t just give pithy answers to questions, but often went in roundabout ways to explore the motives behind them. I also love how He would use others’ questions, mixed with parables, metaphors, or other figurative language to stimulate further thought. And His parables and word pictures, while short and simple, have layers of meaning that cause us to ponder deeper issues.
The “Rich Young Ruler” in the above story came to Jesus with a question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Instead of answering the question, Jesus seems to get distracted by the young man’s greeting. “Why do you call me ‘Good?'” Did the young man really think that Jesus was better, or wiser, or more righteous than the religious leaders of the day? Or was he trying to flatter Jesus? Or did he think that Jesus would see him as an equal (or even superior) when he found out how righteous the ruler was? Jesus got to the heart of the greeting– “No one is good except God alone.” And therein lies the true answer to the ruler’s question, as well. There is nothing anyone can do to be “Good” enough to inherit eternal life.
Jesus could have said this, but would the young ruler have accepted this answer? Probably not. His question betrays an assumption that he WAS good enough– that he had already done all that was required and that Jesus would surely be impressed and announce to the crowd that here was an example of someone who was worthy of eternal life. Instead, Jesus led the man through his pride by naming a few of the commandments– the very ones the ruler was so sure of. Indeed, this seemed to be exactly what the ruler was hoping to hear– proof that he had “passed the test.” Ironically, he was addressing Jesus as “Good teacher, ” but seemed to miss that fact that he was also addressing the only One who is truly Good! Jesus–God in the flesh — the very one whose death would guarantee that anyone would “inherit” eternal life. This young ruler doesn’t want Jesus to be his “Lord” and “Savior,” he just wants Jesus’s opinion.
But then, Jesus pulled the rug out from under this man’s assumptions. “One thing you still lack.” One thing…I’m sure the young ruler thought it would be a fine point in the laws or traditions he know so well– some minor point that could be cleared up with a gift or a small offering. I find this a fascinating statement, because it is followed by “sell all you have and distribute to the poor…” It seems like such an oxymoronic statement. You lack one thing, therefore, you must give away all that you have. How is that possible? Because the “one thing” the rich man lacked was not an object; not something he could check off a list of “things I can do to impress the religious leaders.” This man lacked humility; he lacked a self-awareness of his own need. And he lacked the understanding of what it means to “inherit” eternal life. No one “earns” an inheritance. Even someone who is rewarded with an inheritance must trust in the goodwill of the person writing the will, and will only inherit under the terms of the will. Jesus’s “terms” were not that the man had to become destitute or spend the rest of this life as a beggar. But faced with the choice of his comfortable life in the here and now, or eternal and abundant life in heaven on God’s terms, this man chose earthly wealth and spiritual poverty.
Almost lost at the end of Jesus’s surprising answer are the last two phrases, “and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” This man wanted eternal life as an extension of his comfortable life on earth. He did NOT want eternal life enough to sacrifice his present comforts or his preconceived notions of “goodness.” He did not want to follow Christ– he only wanted to consult with Him.
I find it uncomfortable to hear about the young ruler’s rejection of Christ. I understand the initial shock of the disciples as Jesus uses the illustration of a camel going through the eye of a needle to compare with a “rich” person coming into the kingdom of God. Wasn’t Abraham wealthy? Wasn’t Solomon rich? What about King David? If riches make it impossible to follow Christ, who can gain eternal life? Thankfully, Jesus redirects the focus– it’s not about the riches; and it’s not about what we “do”– it is God’s “Good” pleasure to give eternal life to those who choose to “follow” Him.
“Good Teacher and Lord, help me to remember this lesson as I come before you in prayer. You have not asked me to ‘earn’ my inheritance. It is your gift to answer my prayers as you see fit; to be the Lord of my life; to be merciful and gracious to me; to prepare a place for me to live with You for eternity. What you ask of me is that I ‘follow’ you– that I listen to your call; that I accept Your “terms” of inheritance; that I share Your Grace and Mercy with those around me.”
The Apostle Paul is consistent in opening most of his letters with a phrase that uses the same four key words– Always, Remember, Prayers, and Thank. The order of the words may change, but the idea stays the same. Paul is always remembering others, always praying for them, and always thankful to God for them.
Paul uses similar phrasing whether addressing individuals, like Timothy or Philemon, or church groups, like the Ephesians or Philippians. But the message is always very personal. He is not saying a general “Thank You” to God for people “like” Philemon, or “like” the church in Ephesus. He is remembering shared burdens, shared laughter, shared experiences, and thanking God for those deeply held memories. He is lifting up individual burdens, such as the on-going disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche in Philippi (Philippians 4:2), or Timothy’s stomach problems (1 Timothy 5:23).
It is easy, and costs nothing, to pray generic prayers for a large, faceless mass of strangers. It is easy to love humanity from afar. It is another thing to enter into another person’s “messiness” and “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2); to remember struggles and sacrifices made on behalf of others (or to remember being the one in great need of another’s sacrifices). Life– abundant, vibrant, and glorious–calls us to get involved. Not just from the sidelines, not just when it’s convenient, but “always.”
Prayer calls us to be involved. That doesn’t mean we can’t pray “general” prayers– for peace in foreign lands, or and end to drought or hunger, etc. But we must not neglect “wrestling” prayers–prayers for our unsaved loved ones, prayers for persecuted believers (whether next door or around the world), prayers for our community workers, and prayers for those who are in need. Nor should we neglect prayers of remembrance and thanksgiving for those who have come into our lives. Finally, we need to be willing to let individuals KNOW that they are being remembered, prayed for, and appreciated.
One of the greatest blessings I know is remembering all the special people who have crossed paths, shared the journey, and borne shared burdens with me, and knowing that each person, each memory, each moment, is eternally and infinitely precious to God! What a privilege it is to share good times and even “battle scars” with so many amazing, unique, beloved people! What a privilege to lift them up before the throne of grace!
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Sometimes, I write because I feel as though I have received wisdom to pass on about prayer. But sometimes, like today, I write because I need to confess how much I still need to learn (or put into practice)!
My mother has been in and out of the Emergency Room over the past few weeks. It’s not that she is experiencing actual emergencies–heart attack or difficulty breathing or broken bones or blood clots (though she has been checked for all of these at one point or another). Instead, she is experiencing pain and fear– fear that her pain is related to a larger issue that could be life-threatening. My mother is 88 years old, and there is a reasonable fear that her health is deteriorating and that death is closer than she wants to think about.
The other day, I received a call from a dear friend and neighbor of my mom to say that she had stopped by to visit Mom and ended up taking her to the ER at the local hospital. Again, Mom was not in medical distress requiring an ambulance– this was not a “life or death” call; but Mom hadn’t slept well, she was hurting, and she just didn’t feel “right.” She had just seen her physician last week, and she had an appointment to see another doctor the next day, but she was afraid.
I was very much less than gracious about receiving the call. My siblings and I are exhausted, frustrated, and worried. I can’t speak for the others, but I feel guilty about not doing enough, and guilty for doing “too much” all at the same time. My emotions were raw; my gut was churning, and my mind was a complete disaster. I couldn’t think clearly, and I couldn’t “feel” anything. As a “last resort,” I sent out a request via Facebook asking others to pray for my mom– I didn’t feel like I could even do that on my own.
Of course, there is a power in prayer that goes beyond anything we can comprehend, much less explain. Within minutes, over three dozen people let me know they were sending prayers for my mom. But more than that, I received a call from my cousin–and he had just the words to assuage my false sense of guilt and refocus my thoughts and emotions. As time passed, our friend called with an update–Mom has severe arthritis in her back, and another minor issue that should respond to simple medication. She will still have pain; but now she has one less reason to worry about the cause.
I can’t say that this is the “end” of the frustration, exhaustion, or even the worry about my mom’s declining health. We are still struggling with various questions and decisions she needs to make for the future.
But this episode reminded me that prayer should not be a “last resort” when facing the unexpected. It’s not that I haven’t prayed about Mom’s health recently– a lot! But in that initial moment of hearing about yet another trip to the ER, my first thought was not to “take it to the Lord in prayer,” but to worry and let my thoughts run everywhere but up.
Thankfully, God is eternally gracious and powerful– willing to give the doctors wisdom in dealing with my Mom, and willing to give me peace and restore my flagging faith. Mom still has to face pain; my siblings and I still have to face the looming reality of life “after” God calls Mom home, and the chaos and uncertainty in the time between now and then. But we can seek Him first, with confidence and hope, rather than letting worry sap our energy and steal our joy. God’s love and grace are more powerful than worry and doubt, fear and guilt.
I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my earliest memories is of my Mother singing and humming an old hymn as my lullaby. Even as I watch her struggling with end of life issues, I am joyfully anticipating that this season will give way to being “lifted” by Love into eternal bliss. I am so grateful that this song is etched in my heart– even when I need a reminder. So I’m going to listen and let it be part of God’s comforting message to me. And I hope, for anyone struggling with stress, guilt, worry, or fear, that it will be “uplifting” for you today, as well.
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
John 10:10-11 (ESV)
I know a very wonderful and kind-hearted woman who put out a table with several items she wanted to give away to anyone in need. She set up the table, taped a sign to the front, reading, “Free”, and went about her day. She returned to find that not only were all the items gone, but so was the table!
I also know many other people (including my husband and I) who have been victims of theft, shoplifting, pick-pocketing, mugging, etc. The world is full of honest people, but it is also full of thieves. One of the worst things about theft is not the loss of “stuff.” It is the loss of security; the loss of trust; the loss of innocence and faith. Theft is invasive, even when it is non-violent and impersonal, like fraud or shoplifting. Theft is almost never random– a thief “comes.” A thief has a plan, and a target. Thieves tend to choose their targets based on two factors– the risk and the perceived “payoff.” A thief will target a person or place where the risk is worth the prize–if a target is low-risk, a thief may strike even for a small amount. A high-risk target may still attract thieves, but they will not take such a risk without a lot of planning.
Thieves also come unannounced and unexpected. While thieves plan carefully, their victims have little or no warning. Theft is shocking and upsetting. We don’t set aside a time to be robbed, or items that are meant to be stolen. Thieves creep in, or distract and deceive us. It would be very foolish to leave valuables or cash around unattended or unprotected. As my friend found out, even a table left unguarded can be lost.
Most of us take precautions against theft. We lock our doors, put our valuables in a safe or in hiding, and even install security cameras and alarms to alert us to possible theft. We avoid dark alleys and dangerous places. We keep watch.
We guard our valuables, but how well do we guard our hearts? Jesus compared us to sheep– helpless and vulnerable to predators, including thieves. He warns that the thief– Satan– comes only to steal and kill and destroy. Satan doesn’t want our money or our watch, though– he wants our time, our attention, our desires, and our worship. He wants to steal them, and kill us, and destroy our relationship with the Eternal Lover of our Souls. He wants us to be distracted by worry, greed, fear, pride, addictions, dysfunctional relationships, anger, abuse, emotional entanglements, empty pursuits, and endless doubts and questions.
Satan doesn’t wait for us to seek him out. He doesn’t give us warning about his intentions. But he does come like a thief. He comes to steal our joy, our faith, our innocence, our rest, our security, our gratitude, our focus, our sense of purpose, and our hope. How much of an effort have we taken to stop him? How much effort do we take to guard what is more valuable than our money– our families, our character, our very soul? We wouldn’t walk down a dark alley with a wad of cash– but will we walk into temptation? Will we ignore warnings, believing it just “won’t happen” to us?
Luckily, we have a Good Shepherd. Even when we, like sheep, aren’t paying attention, and don’t see the enemy, God is still there, laying down His life, so that we can have a more abundant, more joy-filled life. The thief will still come– that’s not just an abstract warning, it’s a guarantee. There will be troubles in life that will threaten to steal all that God intends for us to enjoy. And, if we insist on going it alone, we will become victims of theft– our relationships, our character, our futures– we are at great risk. But if we trust in the Shepherd, we will have the best protection. The thief will still come to attack, but he cannot take what is in the Father’s hand– US!
The thief comes– to take; to destroy. The Shepherd comes– to give; eternal and abundant Life!
When I was growing up, my Mom used to say, “I love all my children differently, but I love them all the same.” It didn’t make sense to me at first, but what she meant was that she loved us equally, but also uniquely as individuals. She didn’t treat us exactly the same, because we weren’t the same person, and because our circumstances were different. When my brother was small, there wasn’t enough time or money to do some of the things she did with me or my sister. When my sister and I were young, Mom was older and had less energy to do some of the things she had done with my brother. She punished us in slightly different ways, and encouraged us in slightly different ways, because we responded differently.
Mom is human, so even her best efforts weren’t perfect. Sometimes, we felt she treated us unfairly in certain matters. But overall, Mom has lived out her intention to “love us all the same.”
God follows the same principle. He shows no partiality; no favoritism. He sends rain and sunshine on “the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) He allows us to face sickness, trials, hardships, and disasters, regardless of our status or our relationship with Him. And He allows others, even evil-doers, to prosper and enjoy good health. This can be difficult for some of us to accept. I know many people who believe that they have an “in” with God– a special status that is supposed to keep them “safe” from disappointments and hardships, while punishing those who cross them in some way. But it doesn’t happen like that. God loves us and treats us each differently, according to our unique circumstances and personalities.
It is especially difficult to accept this in relation to prayer. God does not promise that, if we pray or if we have dozens of others praying for us, we will be spared pain and suffering, or receive only blessing and favor. This past year, we prayed for many friends and family who struggled with COVID (including David and I!) Many of them recovered; but others died. I just heard some wonderful news about a relative who was supposed to have a biopsy of a tumor on his brain. As he was being prepped for surgery, the surgeon realized that the lump had disappeared– there was nothing to biopsy! Case closed! It was wonderful news, and an answer to prayer. But what about my friend who had dozens praying for him to be healed of cancer? He had been in remission, but his cancer came back and just kept getting worse, and then he died. Does God love my relative more than my friend? Is he a “better” person, or more deserving of health and life? Absolutely not!
When we pray, we pray about what we see and what we understand. But God loves us each as individuals, and with perfect understanding and wisdom that we lack. I may never understand why some of my friends died of COVID or cancer, while others lived. I don’t know why some of the people I love have had to suffer pain and grief and loss, while others have been blessed with good health, opportunity, and riches. But I know this– God loves each one exactly as much as the others, and exactly as much as He loves me. Nothing about who I am or what I do can change God’s love for me– but it can and DOES change my love for Him!
Praying for those we love, especially those who are suffering, is not a “magic” formula. While God listens to and answers prayer, He doesn’t guarantee that “more” prayers or “better” prayers will change our circumstances or the outcomes of our circumstances. But prayer changes US. It can change our outlook and our attitude. It can change circumstances in unseen ways we cannot measure or imagine. One thing prayer cannot change– it won’t cause God to love us any more or less than He already does. His love is perfect in scope and power. He loves us–“All the Same!”
14 1-4 “Don’t let this rattle you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.” 5 Thomas said, “Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?” 6-7 Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”
John 14:1-6 “The Message”
My mother is fast approaching that time in life where she may no longer be able to live independently. Her health issues and failing eyesight mean she can no longer drive, and her house in the country, while familiar to her, causes her anxiety– What if the furnace breaks down in the winter? What if her pipes freeze? What if she can’t get back and forth to her mailbox, or falls down in the bathroom?
My siblings and I are facing questions, too. Are any of us able to provide room for Mom to stay with us? Can we provide proper care? Can any of us “be there” when she needs us? Where can she go, if she can’t stay in her own home? How will she manage if she has to go “into care” somewhere? Will they provide for her needs?
These are questions that plague us during our lifetime. I remember looking for housing after I left college and got my first job. Where would I stay? Could I afford rent? Would it be safe? Noisy? What about maintenance and utilities? When I got another job– Could I find another place close to my new job? How would I get moved? Would I be able to fit my furniture into the new space? Would I need to buy new appliances? Would the neighbors be friendly?
One day, we will “move” to our eternal home. If we have trusted Christ’s promises, we don’t have to worry about any of those questions. Our new and everlasting home has been prepared especially for us by our Loving Father. There is plenty of room, and it is rent-free! We don’t have to worry about the location, the safety, or the utility of our Heavenly home– it comes with an eternal guarantee.
Jesus gave this promise to His disciples during the “Last Supper.” Preparations had been made for them to eat the Passover meal in an “upper room.” Jesus didn’t own a house; He had no apartment or condo or even a hut where He could invite His friends or family to join Him for a meal. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20 ESV) This is the same Jesus who was born in a stable “because there was no room in the inn.” (Luke 2:7) This is the same Jesus who was “in the beginning” creating the whole of the universe.
We can trust the promise of Jesus– there is “plenty of room” in God’s Kingdom. There is room for all who come to the Father’s house. No one will have to wonder or worry about heat or light or plumbing. No one will have to wonder about food or clothing, mobility issues or health concerns. No one will have to worry about the neighbors or the neighborhood. All we have to do is follow the “road” laid out by Jesus Christ.
Jesus came into a world that had “no room” for Him– a world that rejected Him– so that we could have plenty of room with Him, forever.
Even though we may have decisions to make about finding a temporary “place” for Mom, we can be very sure that God’s already prepared a place for her– better than anything we can plan for or imagine!
My first name, Lila, is not unique, but it is uncommon. Last week, when my husband and I got away for a few days for our anniversary, we visited a gift shop. I was excited to see a magnet with my name on it, so I bought it (though we don’t need any more kitchen magnets, and it was more than I would normally spend on such a trinket). My husband, David, on the other hand, has the opposite experience. He can be in a room with 20 people, and if someone calls out, “Hey, Dave,” sometimes three people will answer! He can find trinkets that say, “David,” “Dave,” and “Davey” almost anywhere.
Names can be funny that way. Almost everyone knows how to pronounce my husband’s name. And spell it. It’s a good name, a strong name– that’s one reason it’s so popular. My name is shorter by one letter, but almost no one spells it correctly– I’ve seen it spelled Lyla, Lilah, Laila, Leila, and Lily; and I’ve heard it pronounced Lee-la, Lay-la, Lill-a, as well as just misread completely as Lisa, Lilian, Lina, Lenore, Delilah, Lora, Mila…
Both David and I were named after other members of our families, and we have nieces, nephews, and cousins named David or Lila, as well. Our names have personal and family importance beyond just the normal meanings. Still, somewhere in the world, there are dozens of people who bear the same name (first, middle, and last) as my husband, while there may be one other who bears my same name.
God knows my name. He never misspells it, never mangles the pronunciation or gets me confused with someone else. And he knows “my” David, and never gets him confused with someone else or lumps him in with a group of other “Davids”. God knows why David and I were named as we were, and He knew the family members after whom we were named. He knows the names of our great-great-great grandchildren!
Jesus had twelve disciples. The Bible records that two of them were named James, two were named Simon, and two others were possibly named Judas. Jesus gave one of the “Simons” the new name of Peter’ the other was also known as “Simon the Zealot”. The two James were distinguished as “the elder” and “the younger” or “James the brother of John, and son of Zebedee” and “James the son of Alpheus.” Judas Iscariot was the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the authorities; there was another disciple, who went by the name Jude, or Thaddeus, or Judas the brother of James. Historians know little about “the other Judas”, and even the authors of the Gospels give different lists of names for the twelve disciples, given that some of them went by more than one name. However, Jesus knew each one from before they were even born.
Of course, God knows far more than just our names. He knows our every thought– before we even think it! God “gets” us–for better or worse. He knows our quirks and our capabilities. He knows our deepest shame, and our deepest fear; our greatest accomplishment and our most secret desire. Even more, God knows our future; He knows all that we could be and all that we will become (or fail to become). He knows “what might have been” if we had been born in a different time or place. He knows exactly how our decisions have affected us for good or ill, and how others’ actions have impacted our character.
There are nearly 8 billion people alive on this planet at the current time (7.9 billion estimated as of September 2021). God knows the name and dreams and histories of each and every one! And when we pray, we are not praying to someone whose knowledge of us is limited or determined by our relation to someone He knows “better.” Imagine God having 8 billion kitchen magnets with names on each one–even if there were 100,000,000 of them with the name “David,” God would know exactly which one belonged to “my” David. And God would not confuse mine with any of the millions of similar magnets saying Lily, Lisa, Lylah, Lola, Laura, or even “Lila.”
What an amazing God! What a privilege to call on HIS Name, knowing that He knows us so intimately and loves us so thoroughly!