Looking For God In the Storm

On Monday night, several strong storms moved through our area. There were also severe storms in other places, like Mexico City, and around Manila– high winds, heavy rains, hail, and flash flooding. Our town did not see much damage, but some nearby towns had many trees down and power outages, followed by near record-high heat.

Often when storms come, we question– “Where is God?” Doesn’t He see our suffering? Why does He allow it? We look for evidence of God’s goodness in spite of the storms in our life. We may even look for evidence of God’s goodness in the aftermath of a storm– “Well, it could’ve been worse..” But in the past couple days, I have seen evidence of people finding God IN the storm. At least a couple of friends were watching the storm approach and/or pass by, and they were able to capture a picture showing lightning striking through a rainbow!! Others have pictures of a glorious red sunset. Both pictures remind us of God’s faithfulness and His promises. God never promised that we would never see storms, but His rainbow reminds us that He will have mercy. A red sunset also speaks to sailors and farmers of better weather to come with a new dawn. God is not absent, waiting to speak after the storm is past. He is right there in the middle of the storm for those who are looking.

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Another thing I noticed is that several people have become evidence of God’s care in, through, and in the aftermath of the storms. Several people have volunteered to help clean up downed trees, or offered to provide food and water, or even (air-conditioned) shelter for those without power. Many such people have suffered some damage themselves. But their hearts are open to help their neighbors in their time of need.

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I don’t recommend that we put ourselves in grave peril to see signs in the raging storms, nor am I trying to shame those who cannot volunteer to help in times of crisis. When storms come, it is wise to take shelter and TRUST that God sees us, knows our greatest needs, and will not leave us without hope. But it is also a great time to look for ways we can both SEE God and SERVE others.

Praying can help us in both ways. We should seek to praise God at all times–even in times of storms and trials. Instead of focusing only on the problems we face, we can be reminded of all the times God has been faithful in the past and remember all the promises He has kept! Instead of focusing on our own losses or pains, we can focus on praying for the needs of others and praying for wisdom in how to be helpful and encouraging. Because God is with us. Always!

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The same mighty power that brings the storm is available to withstand it. God IS present IN the storm, just as He is present before and after. Sometimes, we ignore Him during times of ease and comfort. Sometimes we miss His voice in the raging wind and pounding hail. Sometimes, like Jesus’ disciples, we forget that God controls the winds and waves, and we let fear get the better of us for awhile. We wonder if God is “asleep on the job.” (See Mark 4:35-40) But a single word is enough to calm whatever storm is raging around us.

What a powerful God! What an encouraging reminder.

No Greater Love…

This coming Monday we will be celebrating Memorial Day in the U.S. It is a day to remember those who gave their lives in battle, defending our nation, our people, and our way of life over the course of almost 250 years. We decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and flags and plaques honoring their sacrifices. It is a strange sort of “holiday.” We don’t like to think of wars and battles– we ache for those who are terrorized by wars in the current days. We don’t celebrate war and violence– our highest goal is to achieve and preserve peace and safety. And it can seem somewhat morbid to “celebrate” the fallen soldiers of bygone days.

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But we are not celebrating their deaths. We are celebrating the causes for which they fought and died. We celebrate freedom, and justice; the rights of individuals to pursue liberty and fulfill their dreams. These are causes worth fighting for, and yes, even dying for. We mourn the loss of life, and we grieve the necessity of fighting and struggling to preserve basic rights. But we are grateful for and humbled by the examples of those who have shown the courage and strength to give their all. We honor these sacrifices when we decorate the graves of fallen soldiers, or hold services and memorials at cemeteries. It is not meant to be a time of joyful celebration, but a time of solemn reflection and humble gratitude.

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But Memorial Day can also be a time of reflecting on an empty grave– that of Jesus Christ, who gave His all for a cause even greater than liberty and justice in a particular nation or time or for a particular group of people. Jesus gave His life to reconcile an unholy human race with a Holy and Righteous God. He fought against Sin and Death, and conquered them both. And we cannot decorate a grave to honor His sacrifice, because, unlike all the soldiers we honor next week, Jesus did not just preserve a cause or a way of life– He became Life for us. His grave is empty as a symbol of Death’s defeat!

It was Jesus Himself who said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 NASB) Soldiers who lay down their lives often do so to save the lives of their comrades at arms– their friends and fellow warriors– as well as their countrymen and women, their neighbors, and their families. And it isn’t just soldiers who give their lives. Recent news stories tell of teachers, police officers, and other individuals who have sacrificed their lives for the sake of innocent shoppers, students, and neighbors. Such sacrifices are tragic, but they are also heroic, and deserving of our acknowledgement.

We take time to honor those who died for a cause. How much more should we honor the One who died to bring eternal freedom and life to each one of us! And how much more should we be willing to give our lives for the sake His Kingdom! There is no greater love that we can show.

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St. Francis Visits a Contemporary University…

St. Francis was allowed to visit a 21st century university, which housed a chapel bearing his name. He was both honored and confused by the opportunity. Walking about the campus, he was amazed at the number and variety of students rushing to and fro; they were not looking at the grounds or the sidewalks or at each other– they were focused on their devices. It was a noisy campus, full of the sounds of buses and other traffic, music and podcasts playing, people arguing… Finally, St. Francis arrived at “his” chapel. It was a beautiful building, quiet and simple in its design. It was empty, except for a single student, saying her prayers. At the entrance, there was a plaque with a well-known prayer:

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Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace; 
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; 
Where there is injury, pardon; 
Where there is doubt, faith; 
Where there is despair, hope; 
Where there is darkness, light; 
And where there is sadness, joy. 

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console; 
To be understood, as to understand; 
To be loved, as to love; 
For it is in giving that we receive, 
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, 
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. 
Amen.

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Francis took a seat, absorbing the peaceful stillness, yet wondering at his assignment. Why had he been sent here? Why this moment in time? Taking his cue from the student, he also spent some time in prayer. Then he walked back outside.

He was struck again by the students– they were everywhere, but they were isolated. No one noticed him or stopped to speak. He tried to talk to someone–anyone–but they were all busy and not inclined to pause or interact. He noticed a coffee house across the street. Carefully avoiding speeding buses and weaving bikes, he crossed and entered the shop. It was a little quieter than the commons, but most of the customers were sipping their drinks and staring at screens–personal devices or the huge screen above the counter, streaming the latest news. War, scandal, protests, mud-slinging politicians, all made their appearance, only to be replaced by a commercial break and the next headline. No one stopped in horror at the litany of injustice, death, greed, or duplicity. They simply sipped their lattes and went back to scrolling through their Instagram accounts.

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The door opened to admit the student he had seen earlier in the chapel. She glanced up at the big screen, shook her head, and ordered a coffee. She found a table, and sat down. The coffee house was busy; it was the last empty table. She smiled as another student came in. She invited the other student to sit with her. She started a conversation. At first, the other student was jumpy and disinclined to talk. But soon, the two students were chatting. The sound of it attracted attention. Some customers were bothered by the new noise; others were intrigued by the sound of real conversation– even laughter! Two other students brought their chairs and drinks over and joined the conversation. They spoke of missing their families, of struggling with certain classes, and enjoying others. They spoke of future plans, and the obstacles that stood in the way. They spoke of fears for the future, as well. Francis noticed that one student listened from a distance, but did not join the others. He seemed weary and despondent. Francis walked over and asked if he could just sit at his table for awhile. The young man was startled, but said, “Suit yourself.”

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Francis sat in silence, his head bowed. Finally, the young man spoke quietly. “I saw you watching that girl. Just a word of warning– she’s a nut job. She comes in here about once a week, talking nonsense. She’s not even a student here.”

“And yet, I saw you were also watching her. She intrigues you.”

“I don’t know how she does it. She comes in here, talking about love and joy and faith, and people listen to her. They eat that stuff up. Don’t they know it’s all garbage? Look at the news! But she comes in, all smiling and happy– she’s crazy.”

“But she still intrigues you. Could it be that she is at peace, and you are not?”

“Peace?! Peace is nothing but an illusion. Power is what counts. Action. Look at her– she’s not doing anything to make the world better, and yet she acts like she’s got all the answers. It’s sickening!”

“Why do you keep watching her?”

“I don’t even know. She’s so stupid. She’s all wrong, and she acts like everything is fine.”

“Have you spoken to her? How do you know what she thinks and feels?”

“I’ve told you. She’s crazy. I don’t want to talk to someone like that.”

“Are you afraid?”

“Afraid of what?”

“That she’s not as crazy as you think. That she might laugh at your thoughts, the way you laugh at hers. That she won’t talk to you, like she talks to the others… Maybe you’re afraid of what you would say.”

“What do you mean?”

“What would you say to her if she spoke to you? Would you listen, or would you argue? Would you wipe the smile off her face and take away her joy and faith? Would you make the world a better place by winning your argument with her?”

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The young man was at a loss for words. He suddenly noticed that other conversation had stopped. People were looking at him– even the young woman he had been talking about. His face turned red, and he jumped out of his seat and dashed out of the coffee house. The group dispersed, and Francis was left alone with the young woman.

“He may be right, you know,” she said with a wry smile. I don’t think I do enough to make the world a better place. I just sit and talk with people, and listen, and pray. It’s not much. Not enough to make a real difference.”

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Francis put a hand on her shoulder and shook his head. “It is enough in God’s economy to be available. To be humble and willing and faithful. Keep up the good work. And may God bless you.”

Of Broken Femurs, Hearts, and Toilets

The past two weeks have been just a bit chaotic for our families. My mother fell and broke her femur, near her hip–not the hip she broke over a year ago, but the other one! Less than twenty-four hours later, my mother-in-law fell–and broke her femur. Each mom ended up in a different hospital for surgery, and in a different rehabilitation facility, located nearly fifty miles apart. Last week, two members of our extended family died on the same day in the same city; their funerals were a day apart in two different parts of the city, but handled by the same funeral home. On the day of the first funeral, we found out that another member of the family died. That same night, our toilet broke. Water poured into our upstairs bathroom, soaking the floor, running into the next room, and dripping down to the floor below. In the middle of all this, I slipped on the ice, fell hard, and bruised my ribs.

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Where was God in all this? He was right there in every situation. God doesn’t disappear when the going gets tough– He is steady, sure, and faithful.

  • Neither of our moms suffered a concussion or any other major damage from their falls. They were able to get treatment and surgery, and they are receiving care and therapy. And, while this is something we might have taken for granted at one time, it is something for which we praise God, because it could have been much more tragic in both cases.
  • We live close enough to both moms that we have been able to help and visit (where we can because of continuing COVID restrictions). Though the facilities are fifty miles from each other, neither is fifty miles from our home. Also, both moms are able to receive phone calls, and we are able to receive updates from the staff at each place.
  • We have close families, and wonderful neighbors and friends– we are not alone in caring for our moms or grieving our loved ones, and there is a network of prayer, support and concern that staggers my imagination! I cannot imagine trying to navigate this without help– again, this is something we might take for granted, but God has been in the details long before any of this happened. Our families, friends, and neighbors represent dozens of church bodies from around the country and the world, as well as a significant group close to home– how marvelous that God allows us to work together as a body in every situation.
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  • Though we have lost three family members in rapid succession, all three were believers! All three left a legacy of faith, love, and hope. We mourn their loss, but we also celebrate their lives with joy and not regret.
  • David HATES plumbing, but he knew what to do to fix the toilet. The damage from the flooding was minimal, all of our towels are freshly laundered, and the toilet works again!
  • My fall could have resulted in ANOTHER broken femur– or a broken arm, concussion, etc.. While it hurts to sneeze or yawn or blow my nose, at least it doesn’t hurt to breathe, and I can move and go about my day, cautiously, but normally.

God allows difficult things to come into our lives– and I don’t have any definitive answer for WHY we have been experiencing so many trials all at once. But I can say this:

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  • Trials make us stop and look and question– and that can be a good thing. God is big enough, wise enough, and sovereign “enough” to handle our tears, our fears, our weakness, and our momentary doubts. In fact, it is in recognizing our limitations that we can focus more on God’s limitless grace and boundless love!
  • Trials bring us closer to each other. Our chaotic couple of weeks are just a drop in the bucket among all the other problems of the world, but so many wonderful people have called or sent messages of hope and encouragement over the past two weeks, my heart is bursting– not with the pain, but with joy and gratitude.
  • Trials teach us patience (see my post on “Be Careful What You Pray For.”) The toilet breaking was my low point this past week– even though it did not directly touch on our health or a loved one. But God sent friends and angels to remind me that this was a very minor problem– even among all the others– and that God was “flushing” away some unnecessary angst if I would just let it go!

There is nothing that takes God by surprise– nothing that causes Him to pause and wonder, “what happens next.” I can praise God in the hospital as I watch my mom cry in pain. I can praise God when my husband finds his mother “alive” (when he couldn’t be sure). I can praise God when I’m flat on my face on the ice, winded and sore. I can praise God when toilet water is soaking my socks. I can praise God when I hug cousins who have lost their parents to cancer or dementia, or age, knowing that God is with us every moment, in every tear, every hug, every shared memory, and every hope that our loved ones now experience what we will also know someday.

I’m ready for 2022 to calm down a little bit. But if it doesn’t, I’m also ready to be broken again– whether through broken legs, broken toilets, or broken hearts. God is in the business of repairing and restoring broken things and broken people. And no one does it better!

When God Sends Clarence

I’m a huge fan of the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It tells the story of George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) who considers committing suicide on Christmas Eve. His uncle and business partner has lost $8,000– enough to ruin their business. His rival has called for him to arrested, after George has begged him for help. He had nowhere left to turn. In desperation, he leaves his family, goes to a bar, has a drink, and finally, broken and crying, he prays a simple prayer. Almost immediately, an angry man slugs him in the jaw, and both men are thrown out into the cold. George runs his car into a tree, and proceeds on foot to a bridge, where he plans to jump to his death before he can be arrested and sent to prison. Not a feel-good holiday movie, right?

However, that simple prayer has been heard in Heaven. George thinks that the “answer” to his prayer was being punched, but God has other plans, which include sending a “guardian angel” to help George change his mind. But God doesn’t send a mighty angel to prevent George from jumping off the bridge. He doesn’t send a glorious angel of light to amaze and instruct George. He doesn’t send a warrior angel to protect him from his rival or the consequences of his uncle’s mistake. Instead, He sends Clarence.

Now, I have to pause a moment to say that I disagree with the film in its depiction of angels. I believe angels are spiritual beings who serve the Lord of Heaven, but I don’t believe that humans “become” angels after they die, nor do I believe that they must “earn their wings.” In fact, this flies in the face of the Gospel, that we are justified by faith in the saving work of Christ on the Cross.

But I mention Clarence, because, in the film, he is precisely the sort of “help” we do not expect of God– someone who is earnest, but inept and uninformed. Clarence has almost no clue how to keep George from throwing away his life. He tries to reason with George, but to no avail. He tries to cheer him up, encourage him, and befriend him, even explaining that if George would just let him help, Clarence would earn his wings. George is still determined that his life has been in vain. Finally, he tells Clarence to go away, and claims it would have just been better if he (George) had never been born.

I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who has never seen it, but the story reaffirms the value and the joy of life, even as it faces the very real darkness of depression and despair. George finally realizes that his life is really far more wonderful than his circumstances– and very much worth living!

We live in a desperate and dark world– many people are discouraged and facing dark days. Debt, sickness, grief, homelessness, betrayal, alcoholism and addiction, prison, abuse–they are all very real and overwhelmingly oppressive. Sometimes those who face such circumstances cry out in desperation, only to have an experience similar to George Bailey’s– they end up getting punched in the jaw! But this is NOT the answer from God– this is the world’s “solution.” Anger, despair, chaos, violence and abuse come when we try to run away from problems or solve them in our own powerlessness. God’s answers often come in unexpected packages. An unexpected encounter with a stranger; an overheard conversation on a bus or train; even an ad on TV or a song on the radio. God doesn’t usually send an angel– He often “sends” ordinary people in ordinary ways to do His extraordinary work.

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But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

1 Corinthians 1:27 (KJV)

God delights in using the “simple” things and ordinary people. (See a much fuller exposition here:) https://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_corinthians/1-27.htm#:~:text=To%20confound%20the%20wise%20%E2%80%94%20To%20shame%20those,he%20does%20it%20in%20irony%2C%20he%20aggrandizes%20them. George Bailey is a simple man who stays true (often in spite of himself) to what he knows is right. Even as he despises his life, it has produced dozens of small miracles. But it requires a change of perspective to see them. “Clever” people; “powerful” people, and “successful” people have surrounded, and even “surpassed” George, but it takes a “Clarence” to make him see the eternal value of a life well-lived. George’s life is worth far more than money; far more than worldly success; far more than power and greed. George is truly “the richest man in town” in all the things that most matter.

It’s a Wonderful Life– George with his family

If God has blessed you by sending a “Clarence,” take a moment to thank Him. If God is calling you to be a “Clarence” in someone’s life today, take a moment to thank Him for that, too! You may not earn a pair of wings, but I guarantee you will be blessed.

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His Eye is on the Sparrow

We had an unexpected visitor to our store the other day…a sparrow somehow managed to get inside our store over the weekend, after we closed on Saturday. We assume it found its way in through a small vent, in an attempt to get out of the heavy rain, and couldn’t find its way back out. We don’t know how long it was trapped inside, but by the time my husband found him, its leg was caught, and it was unable to fly away. It was scared, dehydrated, and weak. My husband gently and carefully extracted its leg, and I got a small dish of water. The sparrow was listless, and its breathing was shallow. We feared the worst. Putting small drops of water on his fingertips and holding it up to the bird’s beak, David finally got it to drink some water. After several attempts, the bird started perking up, and finally flapped its wings and flew off!

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I was reminded of Jesus’s words in Matthew 10: 29-31–Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

Source: https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Sparrows

Sometimes, we pray for guidance, or protection, or safety when we know we will be facing certain trials or long journeys. And we should acknowledge known dangers and our continual dependence on God. But how many times does God guide and protect us without our awareness!? How many times do we, like this little sparrow, find ourselves in an unfamiliar or dangerous situation and wonder whether anyone even knows where we are? We struggle, only to find ourselves caught– helpless and without much hope. God’s eyes are always on us– wherever we are, whatever our circumstances. His love is unchanging and sure. And sometimes, He sends help in the most unlikely ways and times. Sometimes, He chooses to work through US to help the most unlikely candidates– even a sparrow!

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God gave us the opportunity to save this little sparrow– and He gives us opportunities throughout each day to help those around us– to encourage, give, protect, defend, support, and even “save” them as the arms, hands, feet, and voice of God in the world. Similarly, He sends others to cheer us, to warn us, to come alongside us, and to “save” us when it seems like all hope is lost.

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Lord, for today, I pray that you will open my eyes to the “sparrow” moments– whether I am the one offering help, or the one who needs to accept it. May I see my worth, not in my circumstances, but in my relationship to you. May I see others as precious and worthy of care, respect, and love. Thank you for sending a little sparrow to remind me how much you love us all.

I Will Arise and Go To Jesus

Prayer is a pursuit. It is a lifestyle. It is a practice. But it is, sadly, a last resort for some people. And for others, it is a habit, but one among several others.

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What happens when we substitute other habits for prayer? When we turn to other sources first for our comfort or answers?

I know something of this from a brief but bitter experience– as a medium.

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It started out as a bit of fun. I never planned to dabble in the occult. In fact, I was repulsed by Ouija boards and Tarot cards and Palmistry. But the mother of a friend of mine taught some of us a “party trick.” Using an ordinary deck of playing cards, she showed us how we could “tell fortunes.” And it wasn’t full of “spiritual” or “mystic” symbolism at all. It was like making up a story. Certain cards would “represent” certain things– face cards represented men or women; a certain number card might represent communications, another finances, and another travel. The other person did all the “work”– they cut the cards, picked one pile, cut again, chose another pile (until it was small enough to tell a story without too many elements); they even laid the cards out in a random pattern, face up. All I did was the initial shuffle, and the “fortune telling/storytelling” at the end.

I had almost forgotten about this “trick.” I hadn’t seen it done in years. But when I was in college, and we were bored one night, I told my friends, and they wanted to try it. I never took it seriously; I never depended on cards to shape my own future, and I never thought of it as being any kind of substitute for prayer or trust in God. But it was “fun” to see what stories I could make from the cards. “You will soon receive a phone call from an old friend. They will invite you to take a short trip/run some errands with them. It will be costly.” All the details very vague– no names or dates, no specific locations or consequences–and I didn’t advise anyone what to do. My friends got in on the act, suggesting possible “stories” from the cards and their arrangements. Most were silly and had a positive tone.

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But then, something changed. A friend of a friend stopped by as we were “telling fortunes.” I explained that it wasn’t “real,” and she seemed to understand. But she went and got some more “friends.” And one of her “friends” took it very seriously. He wanted to know what he “should do” about an upcoming event…could I tell him whether he should go or not? Could I help him find out if his girlfriend was “the right one?” I explained that I couldn’t tell him anything like that, and nor could the playing cards– all I did was make up stories for fun. He pushed for awhile, and I refused to do another “reading” for him. He was disappointed and confused. Why wouldn’t I tell him what he needed to know? Why didn’t I help him?” I was a little angry at his insistence and I made an excuse to ask everyone to leave for the night– I had to study for a test; it was getting late–I just wanted it to end.

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But after he left, I began to shudder. This young man wanted ME to tell him what to do about situations about which I knew nothing. He was willing to place his hope and his future in the turn of a few ordinary playing cards and MY made-up story. I had never met him, but he assumed that I had knowledge about his future and the wisdom to guide him through it. And all I had offered him was a parlor trick. I hadn’t talked to him about his worries or offered to pray for him, or even asked if I could pray. I have no idea what his spiritual condition was, but he was eager to find easy answers from a stranger. And what if I had “made up” more stories for him? What if he acted on them? What harm might have come from a “harmless” parlor trick?

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I have never done the “fortune telling trick” since that night. But I often think about all the many “games” I see that offer to “tell” me about my past, or my inner self, or my future. How often have I been tempted to “play?” How often have I, even in “fun,” allowed a stranger or an algorithm to “reveal” secrets or predict outcomes? And how often have I failed to bring my thoughts, questions, worries, or attitudes to the One who knows everything? How often have I neglected to put my whole trust in Him?

I know people may say it is “harmless” to consult a Horoscope, or play games involving the future, but it is not wise. There are dozens of Biblical warnings against such activities. We are to seek God first and foremost, and trust His will for our lives.

24-Hour Help Line

My husband and I run a small business. And I am always surprised at the number of people who call us “after hours.” Sundays, early mornings, late at night…they seem to be under the impression that we will be available to answer their questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We have a website, which includes frequently asked questions, and a list of our hours, but people still call when we are not available. Some of them even call to complain that we are not open as they stand outside our door–which also has a list of our hours! We just can’t be at our shop all the time, and we can’t anticipate when someone will call or want to stop by.

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God doesn’t have any “after” hours. He’s always available when we need help, have a question, or want to express our feelings and thoughts. There is no busy signal, no “peak” time, and no need to “hold” while waiting for Him to listen to our call.

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We know this, or we ought to, but we often take for granted this incredible gift of access to the Almighty. Suppose God went on vacation for two weeks every year, or took a siesta every afternoon, or had a staff of “receptionists” to screen prayers, so that only certain ones reached His ears? Imagine a God who could only be reached between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays, or could only be reached at His “main office” in Peoria, or Lagos?

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God– The Only, Sovereign, Eternal God–is accessible in a way that no one else can ever be. He is our “ever present help in time of trouble” (Psalm 46). No matter when, no matter where, God is “on call.” And He is available to anyone and everyone at all times. Hundreds of thousands of prayers rising up at any given moment– ALL reach His ears and capture His attention.

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It is tempting, especially when we expect an instant answer, to interpret God’s seeming silence as inattention or even rejection. We begin to wonder if God has heard us, if He cares, or if He is indifferent to our pleas. One way to keep things in perspective is to journal our prayer life. Not just the requests, but the answers.

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I keep a prayer journal, and periodically, I go back over the requests from last week, last month, or even last year. I am astonished at how many I’ve forgotten in the march of time, and how many of them God has answered– often in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. He never forgets, but He often acts in His own ways and in His own perfect timing.

God is the ultimate 24-hour help line– ALWAYS there to listen; always available; always able; and always compassionate.

Praying the Perimeter

I love puzzles–jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, logic puzzles, etc.

This may seem like a strange way to begin a blog on prayer, but stick with me…

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Puzzles can be fun, but they can also be very frustrating, especially if you approach them with no strategy. If you dump 1,000 pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on a table, and begin by trying to find any two pieces that fit, you may be able to eventually solve the puzzle, but it makes more sense to look for the “edge” and “corner” pieces first, and build a framework. Depending on the puzzle picture, you may also be able to work on colors or patterns that stand out– sky/clouds, a patch of red or blue, a dog in the foreground, etc.

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The same is true of word and logic puzzles. There is usually a strategy when you approach each puzzle that can help make it easier and more rewarding. Words have patterns of letters– vowels and consonants; logic puzzles depend on deduction– narrowing down the possible by eliminating the impossible. Sudoku, and its cousin, Kakuro, involve simple math and numbers 1-9 in changing patterns. Start with the strategy, and you will find even the most challenging puzzles a little less challenging.

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Some puzzles seem impossible; and some are beyond my ability to solve, even with the best of strategies. That’s life. We don’t know all the answers, and we can’t always “see” the solution, or make all the pieces fit.

Sometimes, our lives seem like a challenging puzzle. Nothing seems to “fit” a pattern or make sense, and we end up lost and frustrated. Our most basic need is to trust God. But God does not leave us without a strategy. Prayer (along with reading God’s word and keeping in fellowship with other Christians) is part of an excellent strategy. Just like putting the “edge” pieces together in a jigsaw puzzle, praying “the perimeter” of our problems can put them in the proper frame.

What does that mean? Jesus gave us a perfect example in “The Lord’s Prayer.” When His disciples asked Him how they should pray, He started with the “frame.” “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.” God should be at the center of our life and trust, but He also needs to be the “edge” and framework of our life. There is no problem or worry that is outside of His control and awareness, no need that He cannot meet, and no problem that can take Him by surprise or leave Him frustrated and “stumped.”

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“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in Heaven.” God already has the right strategy, and solution for our need. We can’t see it; we may not have a clue how to pay our bills, or deal with that devastating diagnosis, or make peace with our enemy–we may never find “the solution” on our own or in our short lifetime. But God sees the entire picture, and He has the power to make all the pieces “fit”– in His time and in His perfect will.

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“Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Sometimes our “puzzles” seem too big because we try to tackle everything at once, or we try to tackle things from the wrong end. God’s strategy is to rest in Him daily, letting tomorrow’s troubles wait for tomorrow, and letting go of yesterday’s struggles. That doesn’t mean that we don’t make plans or budgets, or that we don’t take responsibility for our health, or the mistakes we’ve made. But it means that we stop focusing on what we can’t control, and focus on the present. Instead of worrying, I can be thankful for what I have right now. Instead of focusing on what others think of me, or the threat they pose, I can concentrate on my own attitude and actions, making sure that I am practicing trust and obedience. Instead of getting angry when things don’t make sense, I can rest, knowing that God knows the end from the beginning.

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“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” God is our “Good Shepherd” (See Psalm 23 and John 10). He “leads us beside the still waters” and “makes us lie down in green pastures.” “He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:3a) If we let God determine our “edges” and boundaries, we will still have to travel through troubled times and valleys “of the shadow of death.” But we need not fear evil, when we trust that God will deliver us. We need not fear the shadows and uncertainties within the boundaries of God’s will. And even when we have taken the wrong path, and “messed up” the puzzle we are in, God is in the business of redemption and restoration! He will deliver us– if we confess and seek His solution. He will wipe away the “wrong” answers and rearrange the pieces of our life, so that we can find wholeness.

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When we develop the pursuit of prayer– daily meeting with God, acknowledging who He is, and seeking His wisdom and grace– we will meet the challenges of life with the right strategy. We will still face the frustration of not knowing all the answers, or not seeing the whole picture. We will still have to deal with struggles, shadows, grief, and pain. But we will have a stronger “framework” and a God-given strategy to help.

Heroes of the Faith

When I was just a girl, many of my cousins and playmates were fans of comic-book heroes: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, X-Men, Spiderman, and many others. In fact, in second grade, we had a “superhero” club that met at recess and played out scenarios. Most of us got to be heroes; a few had to take turns being villains. We ran as fast as we could; we pretended to fly; we pretended to save the world!

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Each super hero has a special super power (or several super powers), and each one has a “fatal flaw”– some weakness that could keep him (or her) from easy victory over a villain. Superman can fly; but he cannot overcome the effects of Krypton. Batman has a seemingly endless array of cool gadgets, but they are not always enough to counter the cool gadgets of his foes. Spider-man can spin webs, but being a superhero doesn’t pay his bills. Wonder Woman has a lasso of truth and an invisible airplane, but she must struggle between promoting peace and fighting to stop violence and war.

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I was reminded recently that we often confuse Biblical characters with comic-book superheroes. Abraham had extraordinary faith. Moses had his staff. Samson had great strength. David wrote poetry and killed giants…and so on. And each “hero” of the faith seemed to have a “fatal flaw”– Abraham did not wait for God’s promise of Isaac. Moses had a temper. Samson was arrogant and forgot the source of his strength. David was tempted by lust, which led him to commit adultery and murder!

There is nothing wrong with honoring men and women of faith and courage and obedience. The entire eleventh chapter of Hebrews is devoted to “heroes” of the faith, and the faith of Godly heroes.

But we can turn heroes into idols, and that leads us to false thinking. We falsely believe that God only calls those who are already heroic and strong. We sometimes feel that God cannot use us unless we first show that we have some super power. We also carry a false guilt about our “fatal flaws,” feeling that we have somehow ruined God’s plans or let the enemy “win” whenever we stumble. Finally, we fail to see that our ordinary obedience–even our shaky and stumbling faith– IS heroic.

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Superheroes are not Biblical, and Biblical characters were never “super” heroes. Most of them spent their lives doing mostly ordinary things– farming, fishing, carpentry, tax collecting, herding sheep! There is only one “superhero” in the Bible– God himself–and He has no fatal flaw. Instead, He chooses flawed and ordinary people to obey Him as HE does extraordinary things through them.

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One consistent thing about the people we celebrate as “heroes” in the Bible– they all prayed! They all knew that real power (and wisdom and help) comes from God alone. Prayer and obedience are not guaranteed to make us famous or heroic. But God can use the simplest acts and the smallest measure of true faith to do great things in, and around, and through ordinary people just like us!

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