I Was There!

Disneyland!  Niagara Falls!  Tokyo!  Paris!  Dallas!  Machu Piccu! Sydney! Kilmanjaro! Stonehenge! NYC!  Souvenirs remind us, and declare to others, where we’ve been.  T-shirts, knickknacks, photos, post cards, and more call us to remember places we’ve visited, or even lived.  There are apps that allow you to tag, city by city, all the places you’ve ever been (if you can remember them all).  Metropolises to tiny hamlets, all can be recorded and seen by anyone else with the app.

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Most of the time, when we think of souvenirs, we think of pleasant memories and planned visits.  But there is another kind of souvenir–scars, traumas, sickness, crime– that can taint our memory of a place.  It’s one thing for my husband and I to visit battlefields from the American Revolution or the American Civil War– it is quite another for a veteran to visit a battlefield where he took a shell to the stomach and had to be carried out still under enemy fire, or for someone to return to a war-torn village they once called home.

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As humans, we can only be in one geographic location at any one time.  We can watch live footage of events around the world, but we cannot participate in  or experience them in the same way.  But there is one way we can “be there” from miles away, any time.  We can pray.  I can pray for people I’ve never met; I can pray for many people at once.  And I can feel the power of others’ prayers even when I am otherwise alone.

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More importantly, we can be reassured that God is ALWAYS there–He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He needs no jet or GPS, no visa or key, to reach us wherever we are.  And he needs no souvenirs to remind Him of His visits with us, or of the beauty (or disaster) in which we live.

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I love looking at souvenirs, but far more, I love the memories that can’t be captured by a keyring, or a T-shirt, or a small statuette.  I love the memories of smiles, and warm hugs, meals shared, and tears spilled.  And I love the stories that remind me that even if I’ve never set foot in a particular village or city, through prayer, I was There!

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Where will you go today?

 

The Prayers of the Righteous

James 5:16 Modern English Version (MEV)

16 Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much.

 

Romans 3:10-11 Modern English Version (MEV)

10 As it is written:“There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 there is no one who understands;there is no one who seeks after God.

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Anyone can pray.  God hears our prayers.  God answers prayer.  But He doesn’t answer all prayers equally.  That doesn’t mean that God is unfair or unjust.  It means that God listens beyond our words and prayers– He knows our thoughts, He perceives our motives and inmost desires.  He also knows the consequences of all that we ask.

James 5:16 (above) is sometimes misused by Christians to boast in their “effectiveness”: in essence, saying “If God answers my prayers for a comfortable lifestyle or good health, it proves that I am righteous.”  But this is putting the cart before the horse.  The last phrase is contingent upon the first– “Confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”  It is the effective (prayers designed to effect others), fervent (heart-felt, committed) prayer of a righteous (cleansed, renewed in spirit and mind and heart) man (or woman) that accomplishes much (for the kingdom, for healing, for grace, unity, or renewal).  The effectiveness comes after the confession; after the renewal, and through the Holy Spirit.  If we are boasting about our effectiveness, we’re missing the point.

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It is the humble seeker who prays for and with others, pours herself/himself out for “one another” who accomplishes much.  Such men and women spark movements and revivals, not in their own power or wisdom, but in allowing the Holy Spirit to work in their lives, and in their prayers for others.  Which is more “effective”– getting what I want for myself, or bringing lost souls to new life?

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If your prayers seem to lack power, consider the following:

Who am I praying for today?  What am I praying for myself?  For others?  For the Glory of God?  Am I praying fervently?  Diligently?  Righteously?  In confession and gratitude, as well as supplication?

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Next, consider what it means to be “effective.”  Are you praying for a healing that doesn’t happen immediately or completely?  God may be using your prayers to great effect in ways you do not expect.  God can bring spiritual and emotional healing even in physical suffering.  He can also bring healing to others as they see our faith and hope at work in difficult circumstances.

 

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Finally, ask if there is something else you should be doing in addition to praying about the situation.  Are you ignoring a clear call from God to do something (or stop doing something) in obedience to His Word?  Are you harboring a grudge against someone?  Do you need to make things right with someone?  With God?

The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous person WILL accomplish much more than we can imagine.  What would our neighborhood look like if we spent more time on our knees than pointing fingers or shaking fists?

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In God We Trust

It appears on our money in the United States.  It is our official national motto, “In God We Trust.”  See article here  But is it true?

In recent years, many people and groups have tried to challenge this simple four-word phrase.   Some claim that it violates the “separation of church and state”.  However, the phrase is not specific to any one religion– most of the major world religions (and most of those practiced in America) agree that there is (at least) one God, who can and should be trusted.

I actually worry a little less about those who are challenging the phrase than about those who simply ignore it or give it lip service.  And I pray that I don’t fall into the latter group, but in certain moments, I can’t honestly say that I am trusting fully in God.  Instead, I tend to trust in various “God-like” things:

  • I trust my own intuition or my own reason
  • I trust “experts”
  • I trust “the science”
  • I trust “the numbers”
  • I trust in the money that bears the motto
  • I trust in my own strengths and abilities
  • I trust in my husband
  • I trust my church
  • I trust my family
  • I trust what I read on Wikipedia or what I look up on Google
  • I trust what my friends send me on Facebook or Twitter
  • I trust what “they” say on TV
  • I trust what I read on a cereal box or food label
  • I trust headlines
  • I trust photos and videos I see on the news
  • I trust what I hear on the radio
  • I trust celebrity endorsements
  • I trust public opinion
  • I trust my feelings…
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Of course, some of the things listed above are obviously suspect; others seem reliable and true.  It’s hard to argue against some of the things on the list– it’s hard to doubt what I see, what can be measured, or what has proved true in the past.  And yet, I have been hurt and betrayed by many of these things– my feelings are unreliable; my friends or family give me advice with good intentions, but bad results; images and even eyewitness accounts don’t always tell the whole story, and, increasingly, honesty and integrity are being crushed out by compromise and expediency.  “If it bleeds, it leads…”  “The truth is evolving..”  “We all have our own ‘truth’..”

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God’s truths are eternal and righteous; that doesn’t make them easy or comfortable.  Sometimes it seems as though God takes a stand on both sides of an important issue– or that He takes no side at all– leaving us confused and wanting quick and well-defined answers.  I have friends who agonize about being on the “wrong side of history” with many current issues.  Let’s face it– no one wants to be on the “wrong side” of anything. We draw lines and pick sides– both sides can’t be “right”, can they?  So how can we know if we’re trusting God if God is silent or ambiguous?

In the end, there are a few guidelines that have helped me be more confident and have acted as anchors for my faith:

  • Reading the Bible:  not a verse here, or a chapter there to support a particular action or position–consistent reading THROUGH the Bible– from beginning to end, or at least through an entire book at a time.
  • Asking tough questions:  I would love to assume that I already know the answers or have the “right” opinions, but if I can’t handle being challenged; if I never have any questions or can’t ask the ones I keep pushing down, that should be a sign.  Sometimes the more questions I ask, the more I have!  But, as uncomfortable as it is in the beginning,  it is better to ask, and chase after an uncomfortable answer than to ignore the question or pretend to have all the answers.
  • LISTENING— really listening, whether to friends who seem to know all the answers (see above) ,  or those with really good questions.  It also means listening to those with whom I am tempted to disagree, and to those with whom I passionately disagree.  Listening is not the same as accepting or agreeing, but it is important for at least two reasons:
    • Every person is made in the image of God– how I treat them is a reflection of my love for God.  I will fall short; I will still hurt people’s feelings, whether or not that is my intention, but if I’m doing it through pride, hatred, or disdain, I am dishonoring God.
    • Second, I cannot say I understand a person if I’m cutting them off, talking over them, and finishing their sentences for them.  Often, while we may disagree on semantics or details, it turns out we agree on more than we assume we know about “the other side.”
  • Praying for wisdom and discernment.  It sounds odd to those who trust in their own understanding, but God WILL open your eyes, ears, and mind to truth, even if it’s being twisted, covered up, hidden, or falsified.  God promises, again and again, to give wisdom freely to those who ask.  He doesn’t want us to be confused and frustrated– but He does want us to seek out His truth instead of wallowing in the bog of “little white lies” and obfuscation around us.
  • Waiting and listening for the Holy Spirit to prompt my conscience.  This is much like asking for wisdom, but more subtle, and in some ways more dramatic.  The Holy Spirit is our guide and counselor (think Jiminy Cricket, but much more spiritual and always right).  Even if I’m not aware enough to know what to ask or what to question, the Holy Spirit will often prompt me.  Have you ever been reading along, or listening to someone’s story, and suddenly you just get the sense that something is “wrong”– you’re not getting the whole truth; or there is a detail that stands out and doesn’t make sense, and it keeps niggling at your conscience?  Yeah– that.  Pay attention to that– even amidst the graphic images and angry voices surrounding you.
  • Keeping track of God’s faithfulness– I don’t maintain this blog because I “wish” that God was faithful, or because someone managed to convince me that this is what I “should” believe.  God has proven faithful through all my questions.  I know I can trust Him because I have trusted Him through good times and difficult times; times when it didn’t make sense, when it wasn’t popular, and when circumstances pointed in other directions.  I have seen God’s hand at work in history and prophecy and personal testimony in ways that defy expectation and explanation.

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And whether of not it’s printed on my money; whether or not it’s popular or “patriotic” or punishable by law, I will continue to trust in God.  He is trustworthy and true; faithful in mercy and love; sovereign and altogether righteous.  In God I have trusted; In God I trust; and In God I will continue to trust.

That Voice in Your Head

Most days, I post about Pursuing Prayer from the “praying” end…how do I pray, what attitude do I have about praying, why do I pray, etc.

Today, I want to explore the “responding” end…how do I know when God is answering my prayer, or what he’s asking me to do in response to his will?  While I don’t have a complete answer, I do want to share some wisdom– some from experience and some from Biblical principles and others’ testimony.

Isaiah 55:8-9 English Standard Version (ESV)

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform. He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm. William Cowper

It often surprises people to learn that “God works in mysterious ways” is not actually in the Bible.  God’s ways are NOT our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts, but his answers to prayer are not obscure and unknowable.  God does not delight in vexing us and making us guess and second-guess his will.  It would be easy if God always answered our prayers with a flashing neon sign that gave a simple, one-sentence directive– “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”  “Click your heels together and say, ‘There’s no place like home.'” “Hakuna Matata.”  But pithy platitudes and easy answers are not God’s way, either.  God created each of us as a unique reflection of his divine image– his answers will be uniquely designed to fulfill his will and meet our deepest needs, not always in ways we expect or understand.

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So how do we discern God’s will when there is no neon sign or simple answer to our prayers?  Here are a few guiding principles:

  • God will NEVER answer your prayer by contradicting himself or compromising his holiness.
    • God will not answer your prayer for money by giving you an opportunity to cheat or steal.  He will not answer your prayer for a husband by throwing you into the arms of someone else’s.
    • Just because God doesn’t send a lightning bolt or physically stop you from doing something doesn’t mean that he has given his OK.  If he ALLOWS you to sin, that doesn’t mean that he APPROVES of your sin or that it is his answer to your prayer.
    • God will never ask you to do harm to yourself or others as an answer to your prayer.  Vengeance, sacrifice, atonement, and retribution are the province of God alone.  I believe that God asks us to be vigilant in defense, and allows us to take up arms in defense, but to initiate a feud, to seek personal vengeance, or to act out vigilante justice is to flout both God’s authority and the authority of the powers God has set in place over us.
  • God MAY use circumstances or people to answer your prayer.  But the same principle above applies– circumstances that lead to sinful actions are NOT God’s answer to your prayer; people who advise you to do what you know is contrary to God’s holiness are not sent from God– no matter how appealing the prospect, no matter how powerful the person or persons.  That being said, God may choose to use the most unlikely of persons or events to bring about a resolution to your need–LET HIM!  Don’t judge a gift by the size, the shape, or the wrapping paper!

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  • God may use time to answer your prayer.  I prayed for a husband from the time I was a young girl– I married at age 46.  Waiting doesn’t mean that God has forgotten about you; it doesn’t mean that you aren’t worthy of an answer or ready for an answer– sometimes your answer isn’t ready for you!  There are two caveats I want to share from my own experience of waiting for an answer:
    • Don’t give up!  God knows the desires of your heart– but keep praying anyway.  Well-meaning people will say awful, hurtful things– that you aren’t praying enough, or praying the “right” way; that you must be hiding un-confessed sin; that you need to try some other way to get what you want, or to hurry God along.  In my case, I had people trying to fix me up, suggest dating services, remind me that my “clock” was ticking (it was broken, but they didn’t know that), or suggest that it just wasn’t God’s will that I marry, and I should pray for him to take away the desire for a husband.  Listen to folks like this (if you must) with half an ear and less than 10% of your heart– let them cause you to re-examine your heart and your desires, but don’t let them cause you to give up or doubt God.  That was not their intention, but it can often be the result of their ill-considered words.
    • Do the next right thing.  Doing nothing while you wait for the perfect answer gets you nowhere.  Wringing your hands and pacing gets you nowhere.  God wants our trust and our obedience.  As we wait for more specific direction, we need to trust that doing the next right thing IS the RIGHT thing to do.  This was the hardest lesson for me, but the one I most needed to learn.  So while I waited, I moved ahead step-by-step.  I made a lot of friends, gained a lot of experiences, and learned about marriage by watching the examples of others (both good and bad).  I got involved working with children, first as a secondary teacher, and then as a librarian.  I got to spend nearly thirty years of my working life surrounded by young people.  I got to laugh with them, love on them, mentor them, dream with them, discipline them, and cry over them (and send them home).  I didn’t just “settle for” a single lifestyle– I learned to embrace it.  I learned to be grateful for the wonderful opportunities I had as a single woman, and to anticipate the changes that marriage would bring, should it come along.  I learned that marriage should be a means to an end, not the end itself– that marriage done right is not about my growth and fulfillment; not even about his growth and fulfillment; but about OUR growth together and toward Godliness.
  • Trust “that voice in your head”– not the one that speaks out loud and gets you strange looks–but your God-given conscience, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  “That still, small voice” is often the most personal way God speaks to us.  In my own life, it was taking the risk to leave a career I loved (teaching) to reach for a deeper dependence on God.  I left the security of my teaching position for three part-time jobs (at one point), no health insurance, and a move to a new community where I knew virtually no one.  I had other choices, other more appealing options, chances to reconsider.  I wasn’t being pushed out of teaching–in fact, I left just as my options at the school were opening up for bigger and better things.  Yet I felt compelled to leave.  I had no safety net waiting– I ended up in libraries, but that wasn’t my original plan.  There were many people counseling me to reconsider– and their reasons were compelling.  But as I stood firm, other voices came along to encourage me.  I believe they were sent by God to confirm that this risk was from him and for my good.
  • Don’t trust “that voice in your head”–No, I’m not trying to confuse you or contradict what I just said.  But this is another caveat (see above).  We are told to “test the spirits”, and sometimes, that voice in your head is NOT the Holy Spirit.  In the case I mentioned above, I had to follow all the other principles of discerning God’s will.  In my case, leaving teaching did not violate God’s holiness or come about because I wasn’t willing to follow God’s leading–I wasn’t leaving teaching to try my hand at a get-rich-quick scheme, or because I had lost my desire to work with students, or had lost faith in God’s sovereignty in my life.  God DID use circumstances and people to confirm my decision and help me grow through the experiences that followed.  God used time to help me transition from schools to libraries, and prepare me for other opportunities, including short-term missions trips and marriage.  I can’t even begin to list all the ways I tested and examined what I felt God was leading me to do before I made the leap.  That much testing may not always be necessary, but we need to be careful not to rely on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6), but to Trust in the Lord with all our hearts.  He WILL direct our paths when we do that.

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  • Finally, Pray for it– pray for discernment, for wisdom, for strength to do the right thing!  Won’t God DO IT!

 

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