Introduction

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.

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Featured post

Bringing in the Leaves

It’s fall here in western Michigan, and that means falling leaves…lots of them!  In cities and larger towns, there are leaf “pick up” schedules.  Trucks come along at appointed times to pick up leaves that have been raked and piled up by the roadside or placed (along with other yard waste, sticks and such) into waste bins. In smaller towns and around the countryside, leaves will be raked, piled up and burned or placed in compost heaps and bins.  In a few cases, leaves will be left where they fall or are carried by the wind until the snow covers them, to be rediscovered in the spring when the snow melts off.

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Falling leaves are part of the cycle of every year.  They announce the advent of autumn, delighting us with their colors for a few short weeks.  But when that task is done, they fall beneath our feet to be stepped on, swept up, burned up or forgotten.  Gone are the memories of shoots and buds blooming in the spring, or rich green leaves shading us from the intense heat and light of summer. Leaves are ephemeral.  They pass out of memory and time, their swirling colors lost in a heap of crunchy detritus underfoot.

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People are not leaves.  We share the same creator, but God has placed eternity in the minds, hearts, and souls of humankind.  Whether we are blooming, changing color, falling, or being swept aside in this world, God will gather us all in a great harvest of souls.  But we will not be turned to ash or mulched into compost.  We face an eternal destiny; one where our true “colors” will be permanent, and our placement fixed.  We will either be raised to vibrant life, attached to the source of life and abundance; or we will be eternally “fallen”, swept away by judgment and guilt and the consequences of rebellion.

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That may sound harsh and dramatic, but it is written in our soul–we feel it as we watch the withering leaves let go of the tree or smell the acrid of the burn pile.  We feel the pain and injustice of people being treated like no more than dead leaves– swept away as just another inconvenience.

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Today, I want to look for fallen leaves–we are all “fallen” from Grace, but some have also “fallen” through the cracks or by the wayside–look for people and seek ways I can pray for, reach out to, and offer Hope and Grace, especially to those whom life has swept aside.  Someone did it for me…Now it’s time to pass it forward.  It’s time to turn over a new “leaf”.  Let’s not “leave” the job unfinished–“branch” out beyond our comfort zone and bring in some leaves this autumn!

 

Surprise!

Have you ever been the “victim” of a surprise party?  Maybe you sensed that something was “up”, but you were still shocked and elated to see old friends or family all wanting to wish you well on (or near) your birthday, anniversary, wedding, retirement, or even “just because”.  Even is you “catch on” or if someone “spoils” the surprise, it can be a wonderful celebration.  (Or, on occasion, a disaster.)

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Have you ever been on the planning side of a surprise party?  Several years ago, we threw a surprise birthday/retirement party for my father.  It required several months of planning.  We invited cousins from out of town, co-workers, neighbors, and old friends.  We gathered old pictures and momentos to display, ordered cake and balloons, and tried to keep the excitement under wraps, lest my father guess our intentions.  All the details fell together, except we couldn’t figure out how to get him to the party without guessing.  Dad was a genius at “sussing out” secrets and surprises, and also at setting them up.  We wanted to turn the tables and give him the best surprise of his life.

 

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Just less than a week before the party, my aunt (my mom’s sister) died in a car accident.  The funeral was arranged for the same day as Dad’s celebration.  We suddenly had to wrestle with a decision– to cancel or to forge ahead.  With so many coming from out of town, we decided to stick with the original plan.  It would be difficult– my aunt’s funeral was scheduled earlier in the day, and there would be about an hour to drive from one event to the other.  Dad was certainly surprised–already dressed in his best suit, he drove from a funeral in one town to a party in his honor 20 miles away.  From flowers and tears to laughter and cake..it was a day unlike any other.  The first several minutes were surreal and jarring.  But it was also cathartic.  As difficult as the day was, we honored both my father and my aunt.  Being surrounded by family and friends, some of whom joined us for both events, became a healing and encouraging experience.
It was not the surprise we expected–certainly not the surprise we had planned.

Several years later, (in fact, after my father had passed away) we planned another surprise party– this time for my mother.  Mom had, of course, been part of the planning (as well as the trauma) of the first event.  As with the first party, we invited family from out of town, ordered cake and balloons, gathered photos and memorabilia, and wondered how to get her to the event without suspicion.  All went as planned, and we had a wonderful time.  Mom was delightfully surprised, and even more so for having been through the experience of the prior party.

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What does any of this have to do with prayer?
Well…we prayed for both parties.  We prayed that all would go well, that Dad and Mom in their turn would be surprised, that guests would arrive safely, and that the parties would both please and honor the recipient.

But, far more, the two parties offer an illustration of God’s grace in the area of knowledge and foreknowledge.  “If I had only known…” is a common phrase, and one that we could readily apply to the Dad’s party.  But if we had known the end from the beginning, would we have changed our plans?  When we say that we want to know the future, we’re generally asking to know a specific outcome of a specific event– without considering the greater consequences and impact of that outcome.  When we pray, we generally pray for a specific outcome, again without knowing the full consequences.  What seems like a disastrous outcome to us may be God’s way of preparing us for an unexpected blessing.  God doesn’t send bad gifts– disasters come (and God allows them in His sovereignty)–but He doesn’t send disaster and pain to mock us or ruin our lives.  Instead, in the midst of tragedy, He gives us unexpected strength, comfort, and sometimes, even joy.

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If we had known that Dad’s party would be shadowed; that my aunt would be so suddenly gone, we might have given in to despair and bitterness.  And though the party brought unexpected comfort, it did nothing to erase the overall grief of my aunt’s passing.  But we learned so many things that day.  We were reminded that our time with Dad was precious– that life itself is precious– in a solemn and powerful way.  We were able to receive comfort from unexpected sources.  We would not have shared our tragedy in such a public way with those who did not even know my aunt.  But circumstances forced us to do so, and in the process, we were able to continue to honor her in the celebration.

If we had known all that would happen at Dad’s party, and not seen it through, we might never have risked planning a party for Mom.  If we knew in advance all the joys and tragedies we would face, we would never learn how to trust God for the next step in life.  Even more, we would live in constant dread of looming tragedies and negate all the joy of discovery and wonder.  We might not be driven to take risks if we already knew their outcome, and we might not learn from our mistakes if we already knew their consequences…and because our lives are so short, we might only see the short-term consequences, and never see the ultimate outcome.

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God is above and beyond time– He is the creator of all things, including time.  He has decreed for us a beginning and an end to life on earth, and He has decreed that we should life our lives with a certain amount of suspense– of not knowing what the future holds.  It holds both triumph and tragedy– trial and temptation.  Life is filled with surprises– catastrophes, ecstatic joy, and “a-ha” moments–as well as peacefully uneventful moments to reflect and enjoy.

As we pray today, we can be thankful that God’s knowledge is perfect, and that His power is sufficient to hold us in the midst of shock, lift us in the midst of tragedy, and surprise us with joy along the way.  And we can ask Him to grant us the wisdom to trust Him fully when we don’t see the end from the beginning.. or from the middle of the storm.

Why Journal?

In this blog, I try to focus on three basic aspects of prayer:

  • The purpose of prayer
  • The power of prayer and
  • The practical pursuit of prayer.

Today, I’d like to just put in a plug for journals as a very practical way to pursue a better prayer life.  For a more detailed list of ideas to get started, please see this page:  Prayer Journal

Journals are as individual as the people who create them, but the very practice of writing and keeping a journal has certain universal benefits.

  1. It develops discipline.  Prayer should be a daily practice, but having a journal can provide structure, accountability, and motivation.  Writing down requests, answers to prayer, questions I want to bring before God, even feelings or events of the day, can help establish a routine and a reason to come back to the same place (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) each day.
  2. It serves as a focus for each day’s prayers.  There are times when prayer is difficult–maybe the stresses of the day are distracting; maybe I just can’t think how to begin because there are so many thoughts running through my head or needs that I want to bring up.  If I begin with items in my journal, and add others to a list, it can be easier to bring order, focus, and steadiness.
  3. It serves as a witness and testimony.  One of the values of writing things down is that it gives me a chance to look back and review.  Sitting down every few weeks or months can reveal how many times God has answered prayers that I’ve already forgotten about.  It can also show how my ongoing prayers for certain situations may reveal changes God has made in my own heart and my own thinking, which sometimes helps me see why God didn’t “answer” my prayer when or how I imagined.

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  4. It serves as a reminder of God’s general faithfulness.  In times of doubt or pain, it can be encouraging to see and remember how God has helped or healed so many others around me.  Even if it brings up questions, like “Why did you heal that person, and not me”, in the end, there are mountains of examples of God’s care and faithfulness that allow me to see that He works “All things” together for good.  All of which can be written in and added to the journal as a further reminder!
  5. It serves as a reminder of God’s specific faithfulness.  If I look at the list of people and situations in the past and present, I am often overwhelmed at the amount of love that God has showered on me in the form of friends, family, opportunities to meet and be inspired, or share and give kindness.  In big ways and small ways, God has brought in and through my life miracles, amazement, and blessings– so very many.  It is tragic that I can so easily dismiss such blessings, or be distracted by the same worries and fears that God has brought me through in the past.  The journal sparks powerful memories of God’s enduring love for each one of us.
  6. It convicts.  As I mentioned above, it is tragic to think that I can so easily be dissuaded and discouraged by present troubles, when there is so much clear evidence of God’s faithfulness in the past.  But the journal can also show times when I have been unfaithful or lacking in faith.  This is important, not to beat myself up or become despondent, but to turn me back from such behavior and help me get back on track.

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  7. It inspires.  As mentioned above, each person’s journal is unique and personal.  God has given each of us passions and interests that can be brought into our prayer journal.  If I have a heart for missions, I can include prayer requests from missionaries of my acquaintance, or from web sites.  I can research cities and nations and people groups being reached by missions organizations.  If I have a passion for art, I can include drawings and sketches that flow out of my worship time.  My journal (and yours) can be filled with unique expressions of our heart for God– our deepest questions, hopes, worries, aspirations, and worship.

If you don’t already keep a prayer journal, I hope you will consider starting one.  It’s never too late or “the wrong time” to start one, and it can be as personalized as you wish– keep a notebook, a sketch pad, index cards, a electronic journal, a calendar– whatever works best for your resources, your personality, and your needs.

 

What a Wonderful World

Years ago, Louis Armstrong recorded a song, called “What a Wonderful World.”  Video and lyrics here.  It’s a pleasant song, pointing out all the wonderful things to see and hear in the world around us…people sharing greetings, day and night, rainbows, children…but it is also a wistful song.  Armstrong sings it as an observer, more than a participant.  He sees all the wonder of the world around him, and he sees hope for the future.  The flowers and rainbows are there for all to see; but the greetings are not for him; the children are not his and will surpass him in knowledge and opportunity.

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I could name a dozen other songs or poems with similarly ambivalent messages; songs about smiling, hiding one’s tears, hoping for tomorrow and happy days returning.  Such songs acknowledge that our world is filled with wonder, beauty, and joy; they also acknowledge that sprinkled amid the wonder there is heartache and disappointment.

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It is tempting in times of hardship to focus on the negative and miss the wonder that still exists around us.  It can also be tempting to resent the joy others experience as they soak in the wonder that seems to taunt us.

Some people ask, “How can you believe in God when you see all the pain and suffering and evil in the world?”  And others answer, almost flippantly, “How can you doubt God when you see all the beauty and grandeur in the world?”  To someone who is in pain, this is the kind of answer that rubs salt in open wounds.  It’s not that the answer lacks logic or merit, but it is devoid of compassion.

The truth is, that even in the midst of extreme suffering, we DO live in a wonderful world.  The sun still shines, there are still rainbows, and happy children, and, most of all, HOPE.

The Bible speaks of hope as one of the “remaining” virtues– Faith, Hope, and Charity (or Love).  We hear this, and study it, and recite it, but do we really appreciate it for the wonder it is?  Hope may fade in the midst of chaos, but it is not easily suppressed or smothered.  Hope gives us strength when we are struggling; it gives us a reason to look up from the ashes and see the sun.  Hope gives us the motivation to work and build after a disaster; to risk new adventures; to plan for a future.

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Our world needs hope–we need encouragement to reach out; to build and rebuild our communities; to look forward with vision, and set goals to reach that vision.  And we need hope to turn our eyes to the source of that hope– for we do not hope in vain!

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Even in our fallen world, God is wooing us with wonder, beauty, joy, and HOPE.  What we will find in the redeemed world is beyond our wildest imagination

Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
   Sailed off in a wooden shoe,—
Sailed on a river of crystal light
   Into a sea of dew.
“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”
   The old moon asked the three.
“We have come to fish for the herring-fish
   That live in this beautiful sea;
   Nets of silver and gold have we,"
            Said Wynken,
            Blynken,
            And Nod.

The old moon laughed and sang a song,
   As they rocked in the wooden shoe;
And the wind that sped them all night long
   Ruffled the waves of dew;
The little stars were the herring-fish
   That lived in the beautiful sea.
“Now cast your nets wherever you wish,—
   Never afraid are we!”
   So cried the stars to the fishermen three,
            Wynken,
            Blynken,
            And Nod.

All night long their nets they threw
   To the stars in the twinkling foam,—
Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
   Bringing the fishermen home:
‘Twas all so pretty a sail, it seemed
   As if it could not be;
And some folk thought ‘twas a dream they’d dreamed
   Of sailing that beautiful sea;
   But I shall name you the fishermen three:
            Wynken,
            Blynken,
            And Nod.

Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
   And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
   Is a wee one’s trundle-bed;
So shut your eyes while Mother sings
   Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
   As you rock in the misty sea
   Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three:—
            Wynken,
            Blynken,
            And Nod.


What does a child’s poem have to do with the Bible and prayer?

I’m not sure there is an exact answer to that..I was wistfully thinking of something to write about, and as I looked for a Bible verse for inspiration, I came upon an odd Proverb (which I’ll get to in a minute) about winking.  This set me to thinking about the old child’s poem and song– one of my favorites.  I wondered– if the Bible has something to say about winking, does it also address blinking and nodding?  And, if so, can we draw a connection between the three and then from all three to prayer?

I think we can… bear with me.  Since the poem has to do with sleeping as well, I want to start, (and come back in the end) with this passage from Mark, where Jesus is praying, and the disciples are nodding off.

Mark 14:32-42 English Standard Version (ESV)

Jesus Prays in Gethsemane

32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

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How often have you prayed early in the morning or late in the evening, only to find yourself nodding off?  I’ve certainly done it– more embarrassingly, I’ve seen (or rather heard) it happening in a group setting!  It’s not a laughing matter at any time, but in this setting, Jesus is in anguish so powerful he was sweating out blood– he even describes it as being “sorrowful even to death”–yet his disciples failed to stay awake, keep watch, or help him pray.
Hold onto that image for a minute.

When I was first thinking about what to write, I didn’t start with nodding.  I found a verse about winking in Proverbs 10:10: “He who winks maliciously causes grief, and a chattering fool comes to ruin.”  (NIV)  There are other verses throughout scripture that talk about the danger of winking.

See verses about winking

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Winking isn’t exactly the same as nodding or sleeping, but it involves closing ones eyes (or eye) to evil– giving it a momentary pass.  Winking “maliciously” is not only turning a blind eye, but actually colluding with evil– giving it a figurative “nod” of approval.  We don’t often think of winking as a sin.  Winking is winsome, flirtatious perhaps, but it is passive.  How can it hurt to wink?  We don’t wink at war, or genocide, or injustice…do we?  How often do we excuse what is clearly bad behavior because we don’t want to offend someone else, or come across as “judgmental”?  How often do we fall into the false justification that “the ends justify the means”–that a small lie or bad habit can be ignored or overlooked in light of “the greater good” we expect will result from our overall actions?
God calls us to integrity– being honest with ourselves as well as with others.  When we wink at so-called small sins, we begin to close our eyes (or at least one eye) to the truth.  Sin disguises itself as winsome and flirtatious, but it is not passive– it eats away at truth, life, peace, and joy–it is corrosive, poisonous, and deadly.

time

1 Corinthians 15:52 New English Translation (NET Bible)

52 in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

2 Peter 3:8 New English Translation (NET Bible)

Now, dear friends, do not let this one thing escape your notice, that a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day.

Commentary on 2 Peter 3:8

Winking at evil is especially dangerous if we lose sight of the urgency of these last days.  There is a tension in the Christian view of the future–on the one hand, we expect the “soon” return of Christ.  He will come in the “blink of an eye”; like a “thief in the night” with no warning, and with judgment.  On the other hand, he is patient, not wanting any to perish.  God is beyond and above Time– he is slow to anger, and slow to judgment–but he is also eternally aware and omnipresent.
We don’t choose to blink– and we do it often throughout the day.  In fact, it is good and necessary that we do so.  But, because blinking is an automatic function, we don’t think about it–even when we are tired and blinking turns into “nodding off.”  If we continue to look about, or try to read, or worse, drive in this condition, we will miss important information, and we risk making mistakes and getting into accidents.
The same can be true as we walk through our days waiting for the return of Christ.  Sometimes, instead of resting in Grace and looking to God for help, we get focused on all the distractions around us.  In our restlessness we put much of our focus on what will happen in the “blink of an eye” and less focus on the single day or even the thousand years that God has given us to bring in a harvest.

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And this leads me to the nodding…Jesus had something to say about this very tension of waiting and anticipating his return.  He gave several parables, but I want to focus on just one– the parable of the virgins in Matthew 25.

Full parable here…

Jesus pointed out that even if we are invited to have a role in the wedding feast, we need to be prepared.  The virgins in the story were not punished for having fallen asleep (as all of them might have been), but the five foolish virgins had no oil when the bridegroom finally came.  They didn’t just “nod off” waiting for the groom, they were winking at their own lack of preparation, blinking back their false expectation that what they had in their own lamps would be enough, and nodding off with no concern that they might be left out of the festivities.

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In the same way, we can be guilty of winking at our own lack of obedience and commitment, blinking in the flashy distractions of the world around us, and nodding off unprepared for the very event we claim to hope for most.  If we were with Jesus in the garden, would we be any more faithful or watchful than the disciples?  Are we sending up vague and half-hearted prayers as we get sucked into the distractions around us?  Are we so busy pointing fingers at others or excusing our own lack of diligence that we have nothing left to bring to God in earnest prayer?  Have we given up on prayer in favor of social media or social action to “let our light shine”?  Are we winkin’, blinkin’, and nodding off in our Christian walk?

Instead, Jesus asks us to “watch and pray” during these dark and dangerous times.

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Let’s take his warning to heart!

More Important

Everything I thought I wanted
Was more important than
Spending time in prayer that day.

The noise of the radio in the background;
The daydreams and worries in my head-
Drowned out
That still small voice.

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As the day passed by
My thoughts and actions
Turned…
Your presence
Nowhere to be found.
My worries and fears
Cancelling out
Faith.
UNTIL– I saw Your power in someone else’s life, giving ever increasing
Faith;
Cancelling out
My worries and fears–
(Nowhere to be found).
Your presence
Turned
My thoughts and actions
As the day passed by.

That still small voice
Drowned out
The daydreams and worries in my head;
The noise of the radio in the background.

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Spending time in prayer that day
Was more important than
Everything I thought I wanted.

The Season’s Not Over, Yet!

Last Friday, I attended a high school football game in my home town.  It was homecoming, complete with floats and balloons, face paint, and screaming fans (myself included).

My hometown team is having a fantastic season so far– their record is 6 and 0, and they are winning by wide margins each week.  I’m a little biased, not only since this is my home town, but because I have a nephew and a cousin on the team!  They have already qualified for a spot in the playoffs for their division, and they have dreams of becoming state champions.

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I hope they make it.  I pray that they will play their best; that they will stay safe and healthy, too.  I want them to win, and I think they have a good chance.  But the season’s not over yet.  They still have to play a couple of tough teams in the regular season, and they will face stiff competition in the playoffs.

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As good as they have been so far, the teammates and coaches will still drill, train, and learn how to adjust the way they play based on whatever the next game throw at them.  Next week’s team may be better at passing, or rushing.  Their players may be bigger, or more agile, or more experienced than others.  The weather conditions may play a bigger role next week.

All that to say that we all go through seasons– sometimes even “winning” seasons– and each one requires that we prepare, work, train, and persevere until the season is over.  Some of us are facing a season of trials and losses–we’re waiting and hoping for the season to end.  And it will.  But the season’s not over yet.  Stay in the game– keep praying, keep training, and keep believing that there will be a new season of hope.  Some of us are in a season of victory!  That’s great, but the season’s not over yet.  Stay focused– keep training and preparing, and learning, knowing that there will come a season of trial.  Some of us are watching others in their success–but the season’s not over yet.  Stop comparing– reach out and connect.  Show respect; show compassion.

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This is true in all areas of life– there are seasons in our education, seasons in parenting and relationships, seasons in our careers and service, seasons in politics, economics, and even in our faith walk.  And in every season, God is there.  Like a proud parent or an ardent fan, He is cheering you on; like a great coach, He gives guidance and instruction; like a cherished teammate, He has your back.  In all of this, God roots for all His children– not that some will “win” and others will “lose”, but that all will learn to play their very best and become “victors”.

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No matter what kind of season we are in, or where we are in our season, we should remember a few things:

  • Life is both an individual and a team activity.  None of us can “win” on our own, nor can we expect the team to “carry” us to victory without any effort on our part.
  • We can’t see the end from the beginning (or even the middle).  But God can.  And we can trust His guidance and His timing, even if we don’t see the whole picture.
  • God goes not see “winning” and “losing” in the same way the world judges it.  What looks like “winning” to us may be superficial and false.  What feels like losing may be building a Godly character that will overshadow the temporary struggles of this season.
  • Seasons come and go, but not everyone experiences them the same way or at the same time.  In other words, don’t compare your winning swim season to someone else’s losing soccer season, or your dry summer to someone else’s monsoon season.  Instead, focus on your own season and your own growth.  Don’t close yourself off to others– you may have an opportunity to give or accept help, advice, training, and encouragement along the way–but don’t let others become more powerful (or less worthy of respect) than they really are.
  • At the end of the “season”, if we know Jesus Christ, we will share in the ultimate victory.  The celebration that occurs over each person who comes to Christ makes any celebration here on earth seem dull and timid–no amount of parade floats, lights, fireworks, screaming fans, balloons, or other excitement can compare to the joy of welcoming a lost soul into the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Mercy Rule

I witnessed a blow-out high school football game last week.  The final score was 57 to 0!  Once the point differential was over 50, they invoked the “mercy rule.”  The game clock would not stop for downs; there would be no more “time out” calls– as this happened late in the game anyway, it just meant that the end came quickly and “mercifully” for the losing team.  It also meant that players were less likely to take dangerous risks in the forlorn hope of scoring big points.

High school football has a “mercy rule”  so that struggling teams don’t become victims of absolute despair.  This team deserved to lose, and they did.  They lost big; but they could’ve lost by a wider margin.  And they didn’t lose for lack of effort– they pushed hard and gave it a mighty try.  But they were not up to the challenge of a better team.

 

In life, when we come up against Sin, we can give our best effort, and still lose big.  Oh, there are certain sins that seem easily “tamed” or “defeated,” but there are others that end up crushing us– maybe it’s an addiction to porn, or a tendency to spread rumors; maybe we harbor bitterness or doubt, or we can’t control angry outbursts.

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In the end, we are all losers in the game against Sin– whether the loss seems like a close shave or a blowout, the result is the same.  But the consequences are much more dire.  The penalty for Sin is Death.  Not just a single lost game, but an eternal loss of life and hope and light and love!  We are no match for Sin, and Sin shows no mercy.  Even with a mercy rule, our situation seems hopeless.  But it is not.

Death may seem like a a harsh and undeserved judgment.  We “can’t” win.  Or, more correctly, we will always lose.  Even a “mercy rule,” while it may mean that we don’t get the death we deserve, wouldn’t keep us from being “losers.”  This is how many people see God’s offer of salvation– as some sort of mercy rule that keeps us from the fate we can’t avoid.  But even if God only offered mercy, it would be infinitely better than we can imagine.  Because God’s mercy is not just a “rule”, it is a priceless gift of restoration.  We can be free from the “loss” and penalty we deserve, no matter what the “point differential.”  Even a close “loss” to sin is wiped out by God’s mercy.

God’s offer of salvation doesn’t just stop at mercy, however.  It includes something that will never happen in a football game or anywhere else in life.  God extends His Grace– all that we don’t deserve, and never could deserve–above and beyond the already infinite and superior mercy we needed to escape the judgment of Death.  We don’t just escape the horrors of death and hell.  We are gifted with all we need to win the game– to be co-victors over Death and Sin.  God, in His mercy keeps us from losing.  In His Grace, He coaches us, plays alongside us, cheers for us, and gives us the power to become all that we need to be to play our best.  AND, He has already secured the victory.  Far from being in a position where we “can’t” win– God offers us the opportunity to be in a position where we can’t LOSE!

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It is my ongoing prayer that if you are reading this, you have already responded to God’s invitation, through Jesus Christ, to be victorious; that God’s spirit would guide me to write what will be helpful in encouraging you and strengthening your faith (as well as my own).  I pray that you will grow in faith and make the pursuit of prayer part of your daily walk in Faith.  If that is not the case, and you have not accepted both God’s mercy and His grace, I pray that you will take that opportunity today.

Don’t wait for a “mercy rule”– accept the mercy of the Ruler!

All of Nothing is Still All

What do I bring before God when I pray?  Awe, gratitude, requests, confession, what’s on my mind, my heart…there are many things I can lay on the altar.  But what do I bring God that doesn’t originate with Him?  What do I bring that has value independent of God? Nothing.

My relationship with God is completely uneven.  God is the provider of everything I need.  I owe Him everything, and have nothing to give that can begin to “repay” Him.  What a blow to my pride, my self-sufficiency!  What is the point of pretending I have anything to bring before an all-knowing and all-powerful God?  All of nothing is still nothing.

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But wait…

What do I bring before God when I pray?  Awe for the beauty and power that inspires and uplifts me; gratitude for the blessings He has poured out so lavishly– life, health, family, joy, peace, grace, love…  I bring requests, not idly, spewing them out to the wind or to random passers-by, but purposefully, to a God who hears.  Confession, not coerced through torture, not met with unbearable punishment, but given freely in the knowledge that there is forgiveness and restoration on the other side of confession and repentance.  I can bring thoughts, fears, hopes, dreams, joys, pains, disappointments, and frustrations and lay them on the altar–not as a reluctant sacrifice of a servant, but as the outpouring of love from a child to her beloved Father.

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I can’t out-give God.  But that’s not a fault or a lack.  Instead, it is the mind-blowing reality that God is able to GIVE abundantly above all that I can hope or imagine.  And even though He needs nothing, He eagerly desires to share with me all the awe and wonder, all the beauty and grace, all the majesty and power of who He is, and to accept from me the joy and humble acceptance of His gifts–nothing more, and nothing less.

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I could give God nothing– no time, no credit, no joy, no love.  Instead, I want to choose to give all.  Because even all of nothing is still ALL, thanks be to God!

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