Fruitcake?

Poor Fruitcake– the butt of dozens of Christmas jokes. Someone once said that there were 20 Fruitcakes produced in France in 1541– and they are all still in circulation today! I know a few people who like fruitcake, but most people just make fun of it. Technically, it IS a cake, but it is mostly made up of fruit and nuts soaked in rum or brandy or candied for preservation. Fruitcakes can be mailed, shipped, and saved for months without rotting, but the fruits never taste fresh, and much of their flavor is overwhelmed by the sugars used to preserve them. Fruitcake is heavy, and sweet. It is full of things that are “good for you,” but the end result is not very healthful.

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I was reading the other day in Galatians, and a couple of days later in Philippians– two passages that speak of Christians producing fruit. Our lives are to be characterized by virtues and acts of service that bring health and healing, joy and peace to those around us. And these virtues are the products of our Faith in Action– of The Holy Spirit working in and through us.

22 But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  23 gentleness and self-control; and here there is no conflict with Jewish laws.

Galatians 5:22-23 (Living Bible–emphasis added)

 So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.

Phillipians 1:9-11 (The Message–emphasis added)
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“Fruit of the Spirit” is not something we can manufacture ourselves. Only God’s Spirit at work IN us can produce such fruit. And, while it is Fruit that will last, it doesn’t need to be dried or candied or soaked for preservation. Unlike the fruit in Fruitcake, the Fruit of the Spirit is eternally fresh and bursting with life and flavor. There is nothing wrong or evil about Holiday Fruitcake. But it cannot compare with fresh fruit for wholesomeness and healthfulness.

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Sometimes, we try to manufacture our own “Fruit of the Spirit.” And this can be far worse than a harmless but calorie-laden Holiday Fruitcake. Even those who are opposed to Christ can manufacture a certain amount of Joy, or Patience, or Self-Control. Anyone can appear Gentle or Kind when they choose. But, separated from the source of life and growth, we cannot produce fresh fruit. Our Joy may be soaked in Rum. Our Patience may dry up. Our Kindness may be candy-sweet, but hiding malicious or selfish motives. Or we may surround our fruit with worldly “wisdom,” disguising and transforming it with cake and nuts.

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This holiday season, let’s not become dried out or artificially sweetened in our acts of service and Love. Let’s be producers of Godly Fruit– Love that reaches out to the Lost, the lonely, and the “unlovable” with true love and not just sentimentality; Joy that bubbles up from a thankful heart and a transformed mind; Peace that transcends our current trials and circumstances; Patience that endures hardship without losing hope; Kindness that wraps itself around the unworthy and never tires; Goodness that knows no conceit and seeks no credit; Faithfulness that inspires and produces hope in a faithless world; Gentleness that smooths over troubled waters without being overcome; and a rock-solid Self-Control and steadiness that produces trust– not in our own power or wisdom, but in the One who produces it in our lives. We should be humble and grateful, teachable, and ready to forgive, encourage, and pray for others.

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Don’t be a Fruitcake this Christmas– be a Fruit Basket instead!

Hi-Fi or Wi-Fi?

(Please note:  This is an updated post from a few years ago.  Please enjoy.)

I know by writing this, I’m dating myself a bit, but when I was younger (MUCH younger!) we used to listen to a Hi-Fi stereo system.  It was a piece of furniture, made of wood, complete with legs and fabric-covered speakers, and it had an enormous hinged cover that had to be locked into the “open” position or it would slam shut as your head and upper body was “inside” trying to adjust the settings!  It had a turn-table for records, an AM/FM radio, and even storage for albums and other gear.  It stood proudly, if awkwardly, in the living room or family room, off to the side of the other large piece of entertainment furniture, the giant television set, complete with rabbit-ear antenna.  Hi-Fi stood for “High Fidelity”, reassuring us that the sounds issuing from this box were as close as we could get to “being there” for concerts, broadcasts, and other recordings.  Our model was “old school”– there was no remote control, no way to record in any other medium (no tape deck or USB port), no “pause” or “mute” function– all the knobs and buttons and “arms” had to be operated by hand.

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Today, we have “Wi-Fi”– a word that looks and sounds very much like the earlier “Hi-Fi.”  Many people think that Wi-Fi probably stands for “Wireless Fidelity.”  I looked it up– the “Wi-” does stand for wireless, meaning that information is transferred via radio waves, eliminating the need for a wire or cable connection.  But the “Fi” part does NOT stand for fidelity (or anything else, exactly).  It is simply a brand name for a particular wireless protocol See more about the definition of Wi-Fi here.   Still, wireless communications, including cell phone service and internet, has radically changed our world, making it possible to connect with virtually anyone, anywhere, any time.  It is a marvelous innovation with potential for great good.  In our world and culture of global communications, we rely on Wi-Fi or wireless connections every day.  We use them for information, entertainment, business, and social networking.  I rely on it for this blog.

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When it comes to prayer, it’s important to recognize the important difference between Hi-Fi  and Wi-Fi .  Both are important, but they are not the same.

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High Fidelity Prayer (as I see it) is consistent, daily prayer.  Faithfully coming before God and seeking His face.  Some may use a rote prayer for grace, or bedtime prayers, matins, or other standardized prayers.  Others may set aside a daily time to pray–15 minutes in the morning, or an hour after breakfast, or even 10 minutes before bedtime.  Some people set an alarm to pray at a certain time each day.  Many even make a habit to pray with a group once or twice a week.  To some, this type of prayer may seem passe, outmoded, old fashioned–after all, if God already knows our every thought, why does it matter if we pray every day or meet with the same group?  It matters because fidelity matters– faithfulness, even in the “small” things, matters to God.

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High Fidelity Prayer may seem awkwardly placed in the middle of our “living room”–forcing us to take time; to make and keep a commitment; to face questions or ridicule–it may seem clunky and wooden at first, even scratchy and hard to tune.  And it depends on being “plugged in” to our power source! Hi-Fi prayer is meditative, deliberate, and worship-focused. We should be careful, however, of making Hi-Fi prayer a relic. Many Hi-Fi stereos from “my day” are now collecting dust, or being used to hold plants or books! Hi-Fi prayer must be practiced– even in an age of Wi-Fi lifestyles– if it is to do us any good.

Wi-Fi Prayer is not the opposite of Hi-Fi Prayer.  It is not “wrong”, or illegitimate.  In fact, it is great to know that we can talk to God anywhere, any time, for any reason.  Wi-Fi Prayer (again, as I see it) is spontaneous prayer that is poured out to God “in the moment”.  It can happen as you are driving or walking down the street (just don’t close your eyes!)  It can happen alone or with a group.  It can happen in response to something you overhear on a bus or a train, or read in an e-mail, or hear on the news.  It is not a substitute for Hi-Fi Prayer, but it is certainly a healthy addition to it.

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But Wi-Fi Prayer, just like Wi-Fi communication, can be taken for granted.  Wi-Fi prayers can become “small” and “hand-held”– things we bring before God because it seems like the thing to do.  We tend to put little thought, and even less grammar, into our wireless messages; we sometimes put little thought, and even less doctrine, into our Wi-Fi prayers, relying on common phrases that sound religious, but lose meaning.  “Jesus just be with _____________ during this time”, “put a hedge of protection around ________________”, “I’m just claiming your promises, Lord.”  There is nothing “wrong” with any of these statements, but what do we really mean?  Isn’t Jesus always with us?  Why is protection always a “hedge”?  Which promises are you claiming?  Again, there is nothing wrong with any of these phrases, and we know that the Holy Spirit can understand even our deepest utterances and wordless groaning.  But just like auto-correct can mess up the simplest message, so our auto-pilot praying can mimic real communication with our Lord and Creator.  There are entire comedy routines built around this kind of praying– but it creates an uncomfortably convicting kind of laughter.  We should not be shamed out of Wi-Fi prayer, but we should also be careful not to let our prayer lives become a joke.  Thankfully, God listens to our hearts and not just our words!

Hi-Fi or Wi-Fi, prayer is a sure connection to a faithful God.

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On a final note, whether we have to turn down the knob or hit mute, there is another important “sound” principle of prayer– LISTEN!  There have been some voices mocking this element of prayer, claiming that those who claim to “hear” from God are hallucinating or just plain crazy.  God rarely ever speaks aloud and directly to an individual–even Jesus, while He claimed that He only did what His Father “told” Him to do– never claimed to hear the audible voice of God telling Him what to do or where to go next.  There are only a few recorded instances of anyone else “hearing” the voice of God directly throughout history.  But there are countless instances of people discerning the “voice” of God, and the leading of the Holy Spirit throughout the ages.  How?  Often through changes in circumstances, other trusted voices, new insights into scripture, or the “still small voice” of their own conscience giving confirmation.  One caveat about “listening” for the voice of God– it will NEVER lead you to contradict God’s own word or act in contradiction to His character.

We have a Hi-Fi, Wi-Fi kind of God–let’s keep in tune, log in, and listen!

Don’t Lose a Minute…

5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

2 Peter 1: 5-9 (The Message)
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The Apostle Peter was writing to people in the early church– people who were under enormous pressures and persecution. The Epistles of 1 and 2 Peter are filled with dire warnings– and urgent calls to action! Earlier in his first letter, Peter spoke of prayer: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7 New Living Translation). Prayer is primary, but it must be paired with action. In this passage, Peter lays out a progression of characteristics to pursue. We must actively chase after a Godly character. It will not develop in a vacuum. We must build on our foundation, and keep building up– so that we can build up others as well!

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The foundation is basic Faith. We need a bedrock, solid and sure; unmoving and capable of handling stress and pressure. In our own power and our own wisdom, we will crumble under the kinds of stress and persecution we may face in modern circumstances. We need to trust God– and seek to trust Him more completely–before we can advance in Christlikeness. We will be tempted to doubt– that is normal in a broken world. But we must continue to bring those doubts before the power of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Doubts, like other challenges, will test us. The challenge of doubt is particularly tricky, because the more we try to wrestle in our own mind, the more doubt (aided by pride) can take hold. It is counter-intuitive. The more I try to answer every doubt and every contradiction– the more evidence and reassurance I require before I am willing to trust, the less I am likely to find faith. Faith is like a muscle– if you never exercise it– you will hardly know it’s there. But when you need it, you’ll wish you had worked out more! Faith is not fully developed overnight. God will NOT answer every question, settle every niggling doubt, solve every seeming contradiction. But He HAS promised not to leave us alone, without hope or help. And when we do exercise Faith, we will learn to trust more. As we learn to trust God’s wisdom and provision, we will develop our other muscles…like goodness, self-discipline, and self-sacrificing love!

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I like the above translation, because it stresses the urgency that is a core of all Peter’s writings. “Don’t lose a minute…” Don’t waste time in second-guessing, excuse-making, distractions, or empty arguments. Don’t lose the opportunity to see God’s work unfolding as you take baby steps of Faith! Don’t become complacent, and lag behind, losing momentum and focus! Chase after Faith! Cling to the “hem of His garment”

20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

Matthew 9:20-22 (NRSV)
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We may not see the instant miracle of this woman, but our faith WILL make us “well.” It will change our perspective, open our eyes, and chase away doubts like a breeze chases away a cloud of smoke.

Peter’s list is worth exploring more deeply. I’ve looked at Faith today…next time, I want to explore good character (also translated as “goodness,” or “moral excellence.”) Today, I pray that I would build on the gift of Faith, and strive for a deeper faith, aided by the Holy Spirit, as I face whatever challenges life brings.

Running the Race

I am NOT a runner. If you ever see me running, I’ve either just encountered a snake, or there’s a wild animal chasing me. So I don’t know a lot about running a marathon, or even a 5-or 10-K race. Even in my daily life as a Christian, I prefer to use the term “Christian Walk!” But the Bible uses the imagery of a race to describe the Christian life. In our pursuit of Christ-likeness, including our pursuit of prayer, we need to think like a runner.

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For those of us who don’t run, this may pose a bit of a challenge, but the Bible gives us clear principles that provide good guidance.

  • Keep moving forward: “12-14 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” (Philippians 3:12-14 The Message) Runners don’t worry about what is behind them. They are focused on the goal– reaching the finish line. We need to stop focusing on our past, or the anxieties about the road ahead, and keep our focus on the ultimate goal.
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  • Travel light/Get rid of the baggage: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us..” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV) What is weighing me down, that I need to let go of, if I want to keep running with endurance? I wrote earlier this month about the expectations attached to the “model” woman in Proverbs 31. Expectations, guilt, unforgiveness, shame, wanting to please other people, even our own self-talk can weigh us down, slow us down, and wear us out. It’s time to let go!
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  • Run with the pack: Running alone can be good for meditation, but we need the challenge and the encouragement of others if we want to train and grow stronger. Reconsider the passage I quoted above in its larger context: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV–emphasis added) We need to surround ourselves with companions, role models, teachers, friends, and others who can encourage, sharpen, comfort, and help us in our pursuit. And we need to remember that NO challenge or opposition we face is unknown to Christ. He is our ultimate role model, and, along with the Holy Spirit, our greatest coach!
  • Run/train with purpose: “25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.” (1 Corinthians 9:25-26 NIV) I know many people who “know” a lot about the Bible; they’ve grown up in the church or attended seminary; they’ve memorized scripture or studied theology– only to leave the church and their faith. I know many others who have a “faith” that bears little resemblance to the Bible’s teaching– it is based mostly on their “feelings” about God and a “truth” that is relative to their circumstances and changing emotions. Pursuing the Christian life involves discipline– being a disciple–and that involves all areas of life– studying the Bible, and putting it into practice. It’s not enough to “know” about doctrine or to “feel” like a Christian. We must pursue Christ-likeness in our words, prayers, habits, relationships, etc..
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  • Don’t run on “no fuel.” “29 He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, 31 But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31 NKJV). It is tempting to run on an empty stomach (see traveling light above), or to start running without stretching or warming up. Anything we do in our own wisdom and power– even “good” things like prayer and Bible study, can leave us empty and worn out. We need to come back to our source of wisdom and power–(See Hebrews 12: 2-3 again!)
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Running a race isn’t easy. Walking through life is a challenge, too. Pursuing Christ-likeness in our habits, including our prayer life, takes dedication, discipline, guidance, and endurance. But God is faithful to provide all that we need to finish the race and gain the prize!

Unwelcome or Uncomfortable?

I really enjoy going to church. I love our church family. I love the sanctuary. I love singing and worship. I love the teaching from the Bible each week. I always feel welcome and comfortable and inspired. Well…almost always.

Have you ever visited a new or unfamiliar group? It need not be a church– any group that is already established, where you are visiting for the first time? It can be a very uncomfortable experience, even if the other members make an effort to be welcoming. There may be group dynamics with which you are unfamiliar; maybe there are rituals or responses that are new to you, as well. Where should you sit? Are you taking “someone else’s” spot? Are you expected to participate? At what level? Should you introduce yourself, or will you be asked to do so at some point? Will others introduce themselves?

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I was thinking about all this in relation to church because of Easter service last week. As we entered, several people greeted us with “He is Risen!”, to which we responded, “He is Risen, Indeed!” But not everyone responded– some were confused. As the service started, a husband and wife introduced this phrase as a tradition, explaining the call and the expected response. They welcomed any newcomers, then they invited us to say it as a congregation. This helped make it a more comfortable experience for any visitors.

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I have visited many churches over the years, and some congregations work hard to make everyone feel welcome, and even comfortable. But there is a difference between welcome and comfort. I have visited some churches where I feel welcome, but not very comfortable. The people are nice, the music is upbeat, but there is a restlessness– sometimes inside my own conscience–that makes me squirm. This can be a good thing– a movement of the Holy Spirit. But it can also be a warning that something is “off” in the worship– the focus is not on God, or the message is not true to Scripture, or there is a tension between members of the group that needs to be resolved.

I have also visited churches where I felt comfortable enough, but I did not feel welcome. I knew all the right phrases to say or the words to all the songs and hymns; the seating was soft, and the room was neither too hot nor too chilly. But I felt closed out by the other worshippers. They did not notice that I was there, and they (probably) never noticed that I did not return. No one introduced themselves or made an effort to reach out, nor did they respond when I tried to reach out to them.

How does any of this relate to prayer? Prayer can sometimes be uncomfortable– confession, supplication, confusion, and even doubt. God is not in the business of making us comfortable at the expense of our own good. Sometimes we need to be made uncomfortable in order to take needed steps to change or move ahead. Sometimes, we need to recognize our discomfort as a warning to look around and reevaluate. And sometimes, we need to be patient in our discomfort, as it is only temporary, and stretches our Faith.

But we should never feel unwelcome in the presence of God. God longs to meet with us, even in our discomfort– even at our worst! Jesus modeled this attitude throughout His ministry. He made many people uncomfortable (particularly the Pharisees!), but all were welcome to come, to listen, and to speak to Him. He took time to talk to people that were often seen as outcasts, but He was just as likely to talk to people who thought of themselves as very important. Jesus SAW people. He acknowledged them, and He valued them. As followers of Jesus, we can feel welcome, AND comforted when we come into His presence.

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But even more, we should follow the example of Christ when reaching out to others. We are Christ’s ambassadors, and if we make people feel unwelcome and unwanted, they may never understand how wide and deep and immense God’s love for them really is. At the same time, we need to be reminded that others may still feel uncomfortable for their own reasons. We should make every effort to be welcoming, but we should allow for the Holy Spirit’s work as well. We should not push people away, but we should be prepared that some will choose to walk away from uncomfortable truth.

A Mighty Wind

It’s been very windy here lately. Even when the sun is shining, the wind still makes it feel like winter (which, technically, it still is)! I don’t know that I have ever bothered to thank God for wind. After all, most of the time, we think of wind as being destructive–tornados, hurricanes, typhoons–winds tend to blow things over, knock things down, and they are often accompanied by water in the form of rain, waves, or hail.

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God created wind. He uses it for many good purposes that we may ignore or take for granted:

  • God used winds to dry up the waters after the great flood. (see Genesis 8:1)
  • God used a strong wind to blow locusts into Egypt as one of the plagues demonstrating His power to Pharaoh. He used another strong wind to blow them back out of the land and into the Red Sea. (see Exodus 10: 13-19)
  • God used a mighty wind to blow on the Red Sea, dividing the waters and allowing the Israelites to escape from the Egyptian army that pursued them. (Exodus 14)
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  • God used a wind to blow thousands of quail into the Israelite camp, providing so much meat that they got sick from it! (Numbers 11)
  • God often demonstrates His power, authority, and judgment through wind. (see Amos 4:13; Psalm 78:26; Jeremiah 10:13; Jonah 1 and 4; etc.)
  • God sent His Holy Sprit on Pentecost with a sound like a mighty rushing wind (Acts 2:2)
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Wind moves things. Without at least some wind, the air becomes stagnant, wind-borne seeds cannot find a home, and flying creatures must work harder to stay aloft. Wind can act as a cleanser, blowing away dead leaves and dust so that new growth can occur. Wind moves the waters– from gentle ripples to white-capped waves–pushing along the boats and ships over lakes and seas. Wind bears clouds and brings gentle rains and shade from the harsh sun. Wind can be directed for power in windmills and wind tunnels. Wind can even “sing” as it whistles through bare tree branches or moves wind chimes.

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One of the most unusual uses of wind in the Bible happened to the great prophet Elijah. In 1Kings19:11, God told Elijah to stand on the mountain. Elijah had fled for his life from the wrath of Jezebel and Ahab. He was discouraged to the point of death. God sent a strong and destructive wind, but His presence wasn’t in it. He sent an earthquake, but His presence wasn’t in that, either. Finally, in the stillness, God appeared to Elijah and gave him a message of hope and encouragement. Sometimes, the winds come, not as a judgment, not as a message, but as a signal that God wants us to be still. HE is the mover; HE is the wind– but He is also in the middle of the stillness, if we are ready to listen!

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I don’t know that I have ever bothered to thank God for wind. I take it for granted when it is gentle, and I dislike it when it is destructive– even when it just musses my hair or makes me shiver on an otherwise sunny day. But today, I thank God that He has the power, wisdom, and authority to use wind for His purposes. May He blow away all that is old and stagnant in my life, and move me to see His power at work in the world around me today. Thank You, God!

When I Don’t Know How to Pray

Prayer is both simple and complex. Anyone can pray. There is no single correct “formula” for prayer. God is always listening and hears the prayers of those who sincerely seek Him. I can pray to God in formal words, songs, groans, and scattered thoughts.

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But there are times when I don’t know how to pray. More precisely, I don’t know WHAT to pray. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, or a chronic illness, my first instinct is to pray for healing– immediate and total healing. When I hear of a mass shooting, or a blatant injustice, or a natural disaster, I want to pray for all the pain and loss and evil to disappear or be reversed. I want all those things that I know to be “good”– health, happiness, healing, hope, unity, righteousness, and wholeness.

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Still, God’s ways are not my ways. God’s “goodness” is not measured in comfort and quick resolutions. I may not understand the goodness of struggle and pain in the short term. I think of disaster as total and irredeemable, and my prayers often come out of my own short-sighted thinking and my own discomfort at the realization of others’ (and my own) weakness and mortality.

There are a few Biblical principles that I find very helpful when I don’t know “how” to pray:

  • God knows –REALLY KNOWS– all my inner thoughts and feelings. Even more, He KNOWS what will happen, what should happen, and what is best in every situation. I can pour out my desire to see my friend restored to health, or a community re-united in hope, knowing that God is a God of healing and restoration; but also knowing that God’s timing and purposes may involve temporary suffering–even for those I love. Moreover, God knows why I am confused. He knows why I struggle to know how to pray. He doesn’t ask me to always know the “right” answer– He does ask that I trust Him to know and act in His sovereign strength and wisdom. No matter the circumstances, God is still on His throne. And I am not!
  • Jesus gave us simple but powerful examples of “how” to pray. In “The Lord’s Prayer,” He prayed for simple, personal things– daily bread, forgiveness, guidance–as well as big and overarching things–“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done..” His trust in the Father’s ability to accomplish all things was absolute, and His relationship was firmly established– “Father…Hallowed by Thy Name.” In the garden, Jesus was clearly suffering, and asked that the “cup” of suffering– the torture of the cross and the inconceivable horror of being rejected as He bore our sins and carried them through death and the grave– be removed. Yet, He submitted His desire, His fears, His anguish, to His Father– “Not My will, but Thine..”
  • There are other wonderful examples throughout the Psalms, the Gospels, the Epistles, and hundreds of years of Church leaders and saints: their prayers can teach us, encourage us, and embolden us.
  • Jesus promised that we would have an advocate–the Holy Spirit– who would intercede for us. When we don’t know how or what to pray, the Apostle Paul says that the Spirit makes intercession for us with “groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8:26 KJV). The Spirit also speaks to our own spirit to help us understand more clearly God’s ways and plans.
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I may not always know how to pray, or what to pray. But I can be confident that God hears my prayers. I can come before Him with the assurance that my prayers– and all my thoughts and emotions–are precious to Him because I am His child, redeemed by His sacrifice. My heart may not know all things, but as He continues faithfully completing the work He began in me (Philippians 1:6), my prayers will come more fully into alignment with His will.

Praying “Seventy Times Seven”

The Apostle Peter once asked Jesus if he should forgive someone up to seven times. He seemed to feel this was generous and even noble, but Jesus said that Peter should be willing to forgive someone “seventy times seven” times (or seventy-seven times! (for an excellent discussion on this exchange, see https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/why-is-seventy-times-seven-still-so-radical-today.html. For the context, see Matthew 18.)

The same applies to praying for someone. I know many people who ask for prayer almost daily –often for the same “little” problems or complaints. The selfish, human part of me sometimes wants to judge what is “worthy” of my prayer, and what is not. But this is not for me to judge. Other people are too proud to ask for prayer. That does not make them better or stronger people, or less “needy” of my prayers. I need to be willing to pray for everyone as I have the opportunity: that includes when they request my prayers (over and over) or when they refuse to share their needs at all. Someone who is struggling with ongoing issues needs my compassion and wisdom, not my judgment. Someone who resents my prayers needs my compassion and wisdom, too. We are to pray without ceasing, not just when we think it is “worth” doing. (see 1 Thessalonians 5:17)

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There is a caveat here. My prayer life should not be determined by others’ expectations. I should gladly pray for the person who asks; however, I should NOT let someone else determine how or what I should pray. In other words, if someone is asking me to pray for “healing,” I will gladly lift up their situation and leave it in God’s hands. I will ask God to heal that person according to His will and in His timing. If they are asking me to pray for total instant healing, I will still pray, but I won’t demand of God what is not His will to do. If they are asking me to pray that they win the lottery because they gambled away their rent money, or avoid prosecution for a crime they committed, I will not pray for things that so clearly contradict God’s will. If someone else is telling me not to pray for them, I will not promise NOT to pray at all, but I will not insist that they listen in; nor will I pray that God “fix” them as I would like. I will pray for their safety, healing, well-being, etc.– again, according to God’s will and timing. Some people are afraid that I will pray for them to be saved against their will. Some people think that because I pursue prayer as a lifestyle, that I have an “in” with God– that He will do what I ask, when I ask, because it is me asking. That is not how God, or prayer, operates. I have seen God do miracles, but I have also asked Him for healing that never came in this lifetime, or for things that turned out very differently than I expected. And I have prayed for the salvation of others, but I don’t have the power or authority to change their will or pierce their conscience– that is the work of the Holy Spirit.

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Sometimes, it is difficult to keep praying for the same stubborn person, or the same unresolved situation. When God doesn’t answer us how or when we expect, it can seem as though He isn’t listening, doesn’t care, or even taunts us with silence and frustration. It can be tempting to give up– to think that our prayers are “not working.” But, once again, that is not how God, or prayer, “work.” Often, while we are staring at the situation that doesn’t seem to change, we miss seeing the changes happening in other areas of our life, or the obstacles that are being cleared from our path going forward. This is true of prayers we lift up for others, as it is for ourselves. We continue praying anyway. Sometimes, prayer changes our outlook– sometimes prayer even ends up changing how we pray! Prayer isn’t about getting what we want; it’s about getting closer to the heart of God!

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So, if we are willing, we can keep praying–seventy-seven days in a row! Even 490 days! Not because God is counting the days or keeping score of our faithfulness, but because we know that God is faithful in ways we cannot see with out limited vision, or know with our limited understanding.

He Who Began a Good Work…

 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6 (ESV)
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I have a lot of unfinished projects–scrapbook pages, crafts, stories I began writing, closets I started cleaning out..some projects were abandoned due to waning interest; others due to distractions or other more urgent tasks. A few of the projects I can pick up and continue (if I choose). Others must be discarded or started over again. I began each task with good intentions, but some proved to be more complicated than I anticipated. Their very presence reminds me that I bit off more than I could chew.

Sometimes, it feels like I am an unfinished project– because I am! While I still live, I continue learning and (hopefully) growing more like Christ. But every day I am reminded (as with my unfinished projects around the house) that I have a long way to go. And I occasionally wonder if God will get tired of me and set me aside– lose interest or just decide His efforts will be more rewarding somewhere else. And yet, Paul assures me that I will never be abandoned or left “undone”–God always– ALWAYS– finishes what He starts. And His finished project are always perfect.

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And what is true in my life is true in the lives of others, and in the wider world. We may not see the way forward. It may seem as though things or people around us are falling apart. But God sees the end from the beginning. And He works — sometimes in mysterious ways–to bring all things to their appointed end.

There are two “caveats” to the above statements:

“He who began a good work in you…” God created all of us in His glorious image, but He has not begun a good work in those who have not trusted Him to do so. It is God’s desire that all of us should reach perfection, and that none should perish. However, the Bible is very clear that not all of us will seek to be reborn, reshaped, redeemed, and reconciled to God.

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“…at the day of Jesus Christ.” We will not be perfected in “our” time, but in God’s. We will be tested, refined, purified, stretched and shaped, but what we will be “has not yet been revealed” (1 John 3:2) We should pray for continued growth; we should humbly submit to the renewing of our minds and hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit, but we should not consider that we have reached perfection or that we have learned all there is to know.

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I am so glad that I serve a God who will never tire of me, or find me “too much” to handle. And I am so glad I can fall on His grace and mercy when I fail in my tasks (or fail to complete them). God isn’t finished with me yet– but by His Grace, He will not leave me incomplete or lacking in any good thing!

The Silent Treatment

Have you ever had someone give you “the silent treatment?” Or have you ever been angry or disgusted and refused to talk to someone? It can be very frustrating. You may ask a simple question– even look the other person in the eye–only to face a wall of silence. Silence of this type can be oppressive. It is less an absence of sound than a presence of something heavy and dark.

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God spoke through His prophets, messengers (angels), and sometimes, in visions throughout the days of the Old Testament. But then, He was silent. For four hundred years! There were no new messages, no prophetic visions– just a gloomy silence. There was still noise in the world– chaos, confusion, war, debates, chattering, gossip– but no word from God. He had spoken for thousands of years, and His laws and the words of the prophets still stood, promising a coming Messiah, a rescue and a redemption for the nation of Israel. But then, nothing.

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Imagine how much more glorious it must have been when the angel hosts announced the Messiah’s birth to the shepherds! After such a long silence, they must have nearly exploded with the joyous news! The shepherds, already frightened by the sudden appearance, must have been held in thrall to hear voices from the heavenly realms– something that hadn’t been heard or even heard of for over a dozen generations!

And that’s how it often is–after a period of silence, the sound comes spilling out in a mad rush. Feelings, thoughts, announcements, all waiting to rush out in an explosion of sound and excitement. The silence is over! The heaviness is lifted. The dam has burst, and the words pour out in a great flood.

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When Jesus– the Word of God– arrived, He spoke to many. He told parables and spoke words of healing and kindness and even warning. But at His trial, He refused to answer many of the questions that were posed. He dared to give “the silent treatment” to Pontius Pilate and the Pharisees. People who had refused to listen to Him during his ministry suddenly wanted answers. But He had already spoken and told them everything they needed to know.

Not so with His disciples. He spoke to them plainly and promised them a “counselor.” The Holy Spirit would speak, and would teach them how to speak. There would be no more “silent treatment” for those who knew the Spirit. No need for angelic messengers or prophetic visions (though God could still choose to use them as well)–God’s Spirit would dwell in the hearts and minds of His people.

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And yet, we often feel that God is “silent” in our own time. But is that really the case?

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Have you ever given God the “silent treatment?” How long have you held in resentment or doubt over something God did or didn’t do; a prayer He answered in a way that left you feeling hurt or confused? Is there a wall of silence on your part? It may not even be full silence. Is there some issue or topic you refuse to bring to prayer? Some secret desire you won’t discuss with Him? How does it weigh down the rest of your relationship?

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I have found myself holding things back, keeping silent about things in my life. It stunts my growth and hinders my prayers. But when I finally break my silence, pouring out the full measure of my fears, confusion, and deepest desires, it is like a weight sliding away, and light breaking through the clouds. The joy and relief are overwhelming. (See Psalm 32 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+32&version=ESV) What the psalmist says about sin can apply to doubt, anger, or confusion, as well. Unconfessed and unspoken, it will weigh upon us.

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Don’t give God the “silent treatment.” He already knows all that you would keep back from Him. Silence doesn’t “treat” anything– real healing comes from open communication with the Great Physician. Don’t wait four hundred years– or even four hundred seconds! Let the words (and maybe the tears) flow…And don’t be surprised if your silence is replaced with singing!

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