As I look outside, there are bare branches on the trees, and the grass is covered in fallen leaves. The beauty of early autumn has almost gone, and winter is coming. The air is brittle and chilly, but not as cold as it will be in another month.
Yet, this is My Father’s world. I trust that winter will come, and pass. Spring will follow, and the trees will once again be covered in leaves and filled with birdsong and new life.
As I listen to the news, I hear of COVID deaths and hospitals filled with the sick and suffering. I hear of political unrest, and people spewing hatred, anger, and fear for the future. There is chaos and uncertainty, injustice, and pain. There are hurricanes and fires, floods, and earthquakes.
Yet, this is My Father’s world. He sends rain on the just and the unjust; He brings healing and hope, even in the darkest hours. This world does not belong to any one nation, or political party, or natural disaster, or epidemic. Such circumstances have the power to cause destruction and fear, but they do not have power over the Creator of all things. Their reign is temporary and limited. And ” ‘tho the wrong seems oft so strong,” God is eternally sovereign– nothing that happens today can either take God by surprise, or cause Him to quake.
I meet with people who are discouraged, angry, bitter, and scared. And I cannot “fix” the world around me with good intentions, or hard work. I cannot give assurance based on my own efforts or my own wisdom. I don’t know the answers, and I don’t have the solutions. I will make mistakes. I will say things that cause confusion, or even offense.
But this is not my world; and it isn’t the world of those who try to discourage me, judge me, take advantage of me, or manipulate me. This is My Father’s world. And in this moment, I will choose to look for His hand and listen for His voice.
One of the things I find amazing about prayer is hearing about and seeing God work globally through the prayers of His people. God is Sovereign–He can choose to work however, whenever, and wherever He chooses. But He gives us the awesome privilege of participating in His work.
I use a prayer journal. In it, I keep names of people, ongoing and urgent prayer requests, and a list of places. Each day, I pray for those who are celebrating their birthdays or anniversaries (if I know them). I also pray for ongoing and urgent requests as I receive them. I pray for world leaders, local officials, and even those who wish me ill (if I know of them). Lastly, I pray for a particular place each day–as I write this, I am on the day reserved for Uganda. I don’t know anyone in Uganda; I’ve never visited, and I know very little about the nation. But God knows. God knows the people, He knows the weather, the land, the economy, and the spiritual needs of Uganda. I don’t have to know any of that. I just need to be faithful to call out to God on behalf of this land that is precious to Him. Some days, I pray for a nation; sometimes a city or a region; sometimes an ocean or desert.
My prayers rise to God like a mist, but God gathers prayers to form clouds and send a shower of blessing wherever He wills it. I may never see the answer to my prayer for Uganda today. But I trust that God will send blessings like rain– maybe today, maybe next week– to someone in Uganda. Someone I’ve never met. Someone I hope to meet and love in Eternity–my long-lost, never-before-met brother or sister! And as I pray for those with birthdays or urgent needs, I trust that others are doing the same. God may not choose to answer those prayers in the way we expect. But He WILL send out showers of blessing. The rain will fall on the just and the unjust https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+5%3A44-45&version=NIV and it will fall where and when God decides.
God doesn’t need me to pray for Uganda or any particular person or place. His work will progress with or without me. And if I pray for Moldova or Tokyo or the Arctic Ocean tomorrow, it won’t change God’s plans. But it might change MY outlook. And I will know the joy and glory of joining in God’s work as I watch it unfold. Amazingly, I know that some of those showers will fall on me and my family as other believers– perhaps strangers I have never met– pray today. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+113%3A3&version=NIV
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:7-10 NIV (via biblegateway.com)
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States, once said, “Comparison is the thief of Joy.” Comparison, envy, judgment– they have a way of sapping our joy, our energy, and our purpose, leaving us angry, deflated, and anxious. He knew a lot about the subject. Coming to the office as the result of the assassination of William McKinley, Roosevelt was the youngest man ever to hold the office of president, and it was not expected that he would be capable of fulfilling his duties. He was a blunt, restless, often hot-tempered man– not a smooth and polished statesman. There were plenty of people comparing him to McKinley and others– and finding him on the short end of the comparison! Yet Roosevelt was a man known for his optimism and joy. Even with his bluster, he was rarely seen without a smile and a positive outlook. And that optimism won people over so that he won his reelection bid in 1904, and became one of our most esteemed presidents.
Comparison can creep into all sorts of areas of our lives– we compare finances, status, “likes” on social media, looks, job status, clothes, houses, cars, even shoes! And sometimes, it impacts our prayers. I know people who won’t pray in public because their prayers “aren’t good enough.” They fear that their prayers lack eloquence; that the people listening will be disappointed or bored or even amused or disdainful. And sometimes, I’m ashamed to say, they have reason for their fears! This should never be.
But it isn’t just public prayers that we compare.
I write about prayer; I’m very open about praying, and I receive a lot of prayer requests. I’m honored and glad to be able to share in praying for others. But every once in awhile, I hear from people that they want certain people to pray for them (as opposed to other people). They seek out “prayer warriors”– people who are viewed as being “better” at prayer than others. On the surface, this seems like a wonderful thing– some people are gifted with more time or more opportunity to pray–why not celebrate their gift or promote their ability?
But what about those who are not seen as “prayer warriors?” What about those whose prayers involve months and even years of crying out in groans and tears and unfulfilled hopes? What of those learning to pray?
We can easily fall into the bad habit of comparing our prayers– our style of praying, the amount of time we spend on our knees, the stories of answered prayer and miraculous outcomes, the number of people who come to us asking for prayer… And this can rob us of the joy of spending time with God! God loves each of us for who we are. And He wants to spend time with US– not our neighbor, or the sweet lady at church who prays so beautifully.
I love communal prayer– even though I know there are people who are terrified of praying in groups. I love to hear the individual voices and styles of those who come together to cry out to God. Some are short and sweet; some are convoluted and conversational; some are anguished and passionate– but all reflect God’s heart to communicate and interact with us, and to have us draw near to Him. He never pulls away from us when we stutter or stumble, or forget someone’s name or mix up a request. He patiently listens to our rambling; He reads the deeper heart of our short outbursts– He even hears our unintelligible moans and mumblings (see Romans 8:26)! And His heart is filled with compassion, love, and inexpressible, boundless joy as He hears the sound of one of His precious sheep.
Jesus described Himself as the “Good Shepherd.” He told the religious leaders of His day that the true sheep would recognize His voice over all others. And He spoke of the “thief” who comes only to kill and steal and destroy. This “thief”– Satan– uses certain tricks to steal our joy and take our focus away from God’s love and wisdom. One of his favorites is to whisper comparisons in our ear. And if we listen to his voice, we will begin to look around instead of up; to ourselves and our words, instead of God and the Word of God. But Satan does not use the voice of our Good Shepherd. His words do not bring safety and peace–they bring doubt and discontent.
God will not urge us to comparison– He will always urge us to Communion!
Have you ever seen a photo collage–a large picture made up of hundreds or thousands of tiny photos? If you stand back, you can see a large picture– a face, or a landscape, perhaps–but when you get closer, you can see the many smaller photos that make up the details.
Prayer is like that. Each of us is a tiny details in the grander scope of the world’s population. Millions of people are praying at any given time on any given day. And we don’t see all of the others– sometimes we don’t see or hear or think of anyone else as we pray. But God sees and hears them all–moreover, God weaves and blends our prayers into something amazingly more than meets our awareness. Prayers of thanksgiving add a dash of bright color; prayers of anguish sound a minor tone; prayers of confession rise like incense, and prayers of worship wrap around all the colors and sounds and scents.
Yesterday, I was feeling very depressed and small. It was difficult to pray. My perspective was off, and I could only see my own problems and emotions. Prayer helped change my perspective. As I spoke to God; as I thought about His power and omniscience, I began to see that I WAS small–but my God is enormous! And while He sees the entire picture– all places and times and peoples–He also looks on every tiny detail. He knows my name; He knows my every thought. He knows my needs and my desires; He knows my weaknesses and my unique gifts– gifts He has given! Even if no one else noticed, God would be able to pick out the smallest detail in His amazing creation, and bring it into perfect focus.
Sometimes, I come to God full– full of joy, full of worry, full of praise, full of confession. But sometimes, I come to God feeling very empty. I am worn out, tired, depressed, inadequate, and lacking. My cup is very empty.
The Bible is filled with images of cups and pouring out– have you ever noticed? “My cup runneth over” (Psalm 23:5) “Let this cup pass from me.” (Matthew 26:39) “Take this cup..” (Luke 22:19-20) “I am being poured out like a drink offering..” (Philippians 2:17) (and many others).
My husband and I went out to lunch recently. The hostess took our drink orders while we looked at the menu. By the time we were ready to order our food, there were glasses of ice water, lemonade, and hot coffee already at our table. Our waitress came over often to check on our food and drink. Before I had finished my lemonade, there was another glass waiting! Before David had finished his coffee, there was more– fresh and piping hot! We came into the restaurant hungry and thirsty– we left refreshed and full. Imagine if our hostess had brought us cups with only a small amount of water or drink, and refused to give us more. We would be disappointed, even surprised. And often, the hostess would come around to a table to find that no one wanted or needed a refill. There was plenty of water to satisfy thirst, yet some people drank sparingly, or left their drink nearly untouched. We take for granted that there will be plenty to drink at the restaurant, yet we often come to God expecting only a little of His rich blessings.
When we come to God empty, He is always ready to fill our cup to overflowing. God’s blessings are abundant. He fills us to overflowing, so the blessings can be shared. Jesus said to the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14 NIV via biblegateway.com)
I feel guilty when I come to God feeling empty and needy. I don’t deserve a full cup of God’s blessing. But I must come willing to accept, not what I think I deserve, but what God is pleased to give. Even if I feel empty, I may be ignoring a cup filled with pride, shame, guilt, or self-dependence. God cannot fill a cup already full of such things. But God is pleased to fill to overflowing the cup that is ready to receive Him! And He is not just filling my cup to overflowing– He is filling my cup so that I have something to pour out to others!
Sometimes, my cup seems empty because I have been pouring myself out. I can do this in good ways or bad, for the right reasons or in self-abasing ways. But Jesus poured Himself out for others–figuratively and even literally, spilling His blood for our atonement. We are to share our lives and resources with others– to pour out of our abundance. Sometimes this leaves us feeling empty–temporarily. God does not mean for us to live in emptiness, but He also doesn’t mean for us to hoard His blessings. The more we pour out, the more there is to refill our cup!
But there is another blessing– the blessing of another empty cup. There is a cup of wrath that should be ours– a cup filled with bitterness, regret, punishment, and pain–a cup of eternal thirst for justice and salvation–one that Jesus willingly drank for us. The cup He extends is the cup of blessing and joy that was His from the foundation of the world; a cup we could never have tasted but for His sacrifice.
Before us are two cups– one that can be forever filled to overflowing, and one that can remain empty of the bitter dregs of sin.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)
In my life I have met “important”people– people with money, or power, or fame, (or all three!) And I have met “forgotten” people, “ordinary” people, “special” people, flamboyant people, even repugnant people.
I know hundreds of people’s names; recognize their faces; carry memories of laughter created, or goals accomplished, or griefs shared. As I get older, I sometimes meet up with people I should remember or know, but I can’t place their name, or their face has changed out of recognition since we last met. And of course, the same thing sometimes happens in reverse– I expect to be recognized, but the other person has no memory of me. It can be distressing; this feeling of not remembering or not being acknowledged.
I know many families who have journeyed through Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Loving someone who no longer remembers looking into your eyes, no longer reacts to the tone of your voice, no longer knows your intimate secrets…who searches your face and sees only a stranger. Hoping for even a glimmer of recognition; a moment of memory–it’s heart-breaking and harrowing and exhausting.
But imagine hearing those words from your creator– “I never knew you.” In all your life, never having made time to create memories with the God who formed you in the womb, who counts the very hairs of your head; hearing HIM say, “I never knew you. I made you; I was as close as your next breath through every moment of your life. I heard every laugh; I saw every tear– yet I never KNEW you. You never let me in; you never reached out or looked in my direction. You pretended to others that you knew me. You ‘name-dropped.’ You told others that we were friends. That you spoke with me every day. I heard you. I wept. But I never knew you. And you never knew me. Oh, you learned about me. You knew enough to convince some others that you knew me. You even said elaborate prayers and quoted many of my words. You put on a good show. But you lived your life as though you never met me; as though I were no more than a myth or a shadow. And now, now that you see me for who I AM; now that your eternal life depends on it–you have to hear the most frightening words I will ever speak: ‘I never knew you.'”
10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Philippians 3:10-12
Of all the people I have met; of all the people I know– Lord Jesus, let me recognize Your voice above all. Let me cherish your presence in every moment of my life, and in every relationship. Grant me grace and wisdom to follow you and live in joyful obedience. And let me invite others into your presence. Let me know you and be known by you. Let me be eternally yours as you are mine.
When I was growing up, I knew three important things about my father: I knew he loved me–and the rest of our family–faithfully and truly. I knew he loved God–He was a man of faith, prayer, integrity, and obedience to the Word. I knew he would do anything to protect and provide for our family.
But I also knew that my Daddy wasn’t perfect. He was not the strongest man in the neighborhood; or the fastest, or richest, or most respected. He wasn’t the tallest, or most athletic. He wasn’t a leader in local politics or a chamber group or fraternal organization. He didn’t have a string of degrees, or a fleet of fancy cars. He didn’t even have a lot of hair, or perfect teeth. But he had a gentle laugh, a deep wisdom, and a hug that made me feel safe and precious. He had a enormous heart– one that was easily touched, but firmly committed. He was humble and kind; he was loyal and brave and joyful.
I was blessed to have such a Dad. I know people whose earthly fathers were distant, disapproving, absent, or even abusive. Earthly dads, even one like mine, are still human. They make mistakes and bad choices; they carry baggage from their own childhoods; they carry fears and failures; they fall short of our expectations, and their own hopes and dreams.
God is a different kind of Father. He is eternally sovereign; the King of Kings, and the Creator of the Universe. There is no comparing Him with anyone else’s father– because He is the Ruler and Father of all! Yet, He wants a close loving relationship with each one of us– with me! With you! He is not just committed to doing His best to provide and protect some of us– He is fully capable of providing ALL our needs and protecting us against ALL enemies, including sin and death!
Someone once used the analogy of President John F. Kennedy. As President, JFK was arguably the most powerful man in the world– the leader of the most powerful nation on earth. At his command, soldiers, sailors, pilots, and even nuclear missiles, could be deployed. The stroke of his pen could sign bills into law, grant pardons, and appoint powerful positions. To enter the Oval Office and have an audience with the President was an honor reserved for rulers and generals and authorities– and his children.
There is a picture of JFK, Jr. as a small boy, peeking out of the Resolute Desk, as his father sits behind the desk conducting the business of the nation. The son had complete access to his father’s presence– access to the most powerful man on earth–his Daddy. He may not have fully understood what his father was doing, or even how important his father was– but he knew that he could spend time with his Dad.
Of course, President Kennedy was not God. He was fallible, and terribly mortal, as the nation learned to its grief. But the idea that God is distant and uncaring, or even vindictive and petty, is belied by the many Psalms and hymns and prayers throughout the ages. And the idea that God is just another “pal”, or “the man upstairs”–someone who loves us, but has no real power to command our obedience or rescue us from our enemies–is also belied by the many miracles and examples of His power in nature and in history. And unlike the exclusive nature of the relationship between JFK and his biological children, God invites ANYONE who calls on Him through His Son to be adopted as a son/daughter with the same intimate privilege of total access. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%201:11-13&version=HCSB (John 1:12)
So when I pray today, I’m not praying to my “Daddy” in any earthly sense. I am praying to the King of Kings, who also invites me to call him, “Abba”– “Dad.”
As followers of Christ and believers in an Eternal God, we live in the “here and now,” but we also live in something called the “not yet.” Our life here is finite, but our life in the “not yet” is eternal.
Most of what we pray for belongs in the “here and now.” We pray about what we see and know. We may pray for an upcoming surgery, or a looming job loss, or give thanks for something that happened in the recent past, but most of our prayers do not venture into the eternal future.
Yet, God speaks to us of things to come. No, He doesn’t always reveal details or give us a calendar of times and dates; but He does remind us that what we see is not the whole picture. And we need to remember this when we pray and when we look around us.
Much of the Old Testament, plus parts of the New Testament, are given over to prophecy– visions, promises, warnings about the future. Many of the prophecies have already been fulfilled– in detail. Some of the prophets prayed for revival in Israel and Judah; others prayed for the coming of the Messiah. Their prayers were answered– but not always in their lifetime, and not always in a way they understood. The Apostles, writing to Jesus’ followers looked forward to His return– but they never saw it in their lifetime.
Prayer is not just about us and our immediate needs. Today, spend some time praying with an eternal mindset–that God’s will would be done, in His time and His way. And then, trust that whatever is going on in the “here and now,” it is all part of God’s perfect plan. One that we will understand more fully in the “not yet.”
But that is an illusion. I have the same amount of time as anyone else. And I can’t do anything to add to the amount of time I have in a day, or a week, or even a lifetime.
27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?… 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:27; 33-34 NIV via Biblegateway.com
What’s more, I was created for eternity– I have all the time in the world! Or, at least, I will. Right now, I feel bound and limited by time. And sometimes, I feel controlled by it. Deadlines, promises, schedules–all hem me in and press in on me, making life stressful and forcing me to make tough choices.
Will I choose to use my time each day wisely? Will I let pressing tasks and urgent interruptions throw me off-stride or make me feel guilty? Will I see time as a resource, or let it become my master?
Over the years, I have found several things to be true about time– you’ve probably noticed them too (and maybe even more!), but it’s nice to have a reminder every now and again:
Time spent with God in prayer, meditation, worship, and Bible study is NEVER wasted time. It is an investment in eternity. No matter how long or short, it never seems as though I’ve spent “too much” time with God at the expense of other things. It’s when my quiet time turns into self-talk or daydreaming, or when my mind is divided with worry and distraction that it eats into the rest of the day.
Time spent caring for others is better than time spent amusing myself. That doesn’t mean that I don’t need “down” time, and “self-care”, and boundaries– everyone does. But hoarding time for my entertainment and achievement at others’ expense is a recipe for depression and emptiness.
Time IS a resource. It should be managed wisely. That means having a schedule, but not being enslaved by it. There is always something you CAN be doing, something you probably SHOULD be doing, and something you SHOULDN’T be doing. None of them matter. What you CHOOSE to be doing is what will get done. Someone may argue that they have no choice–” when I’m at work, I don’t get to choose what I do; when I have chores or housework or family obligations, I don’t have a choice”–but that’s a false argument. You CHOOSE to go to work, to fulfill your obligations and family commitments, to do the “next right thing” that comes your way. And every time you make a choice, you show what is important to you. The difference is owning up to your choices– both good and bad– and recognizing that time (in this life) is a finite commodity. You can’t be everywhere at once or do everything at once.
God is beyond time and the giver and keeper of time. He doesn’t want us to waste His gift, and He won’t give us “more” time in our day, but He can redeem some of the mistakes we’ve made with time, and He can give us the wisdom to make the most of today, and help us manage each day to come.
There is an old joke about a man whose house was in the path of a great flood. He prayed and prayed for God to rescue him from the rising waters. As the water crept closer to his front door, a man in a canoe came paddling by. He said he had room in the canoe, if the man wanted to evacuate. “No, no,” the man replied. I have faith that God will rescue me.
But the water kept rising. The man was now trapped upstairs, as the water had flooded his ground floor and continued pouring into his house. A Coast Guard rescue boat came by. It was crowded with people, but the rescue workers assured the man that there was still room for one more. “No, no,” the man replied. I’ve been praying, and I know God will rescue me.
Just before sundown, the man was forced to climb onto his roof, as the waters kept rising. A Marine rescue helicopter hovered, and a Marine was lowered with a rope to rescue the man. By this time, the man was hungry, exhausted and shivering, but he refused to accept the Marine’s help, once again claiming that God would rescue him.
As night fell, and the waters were creeping up to his perch on the roof, the man cried out to God,” Where are you, Lord? I prayed for your help, and I trusted you to rescue me. Yet here I am, clinging to the roof. I’m wet, scared, cold, hungry, and tired. Didn’t you hear me? Don’t you care?”
From the darkness above, a voice answered: “I sent two boats and a helicopter. What more do you want?”
This is a silly story, but it made me think– how often do I miss God’s answer to my prayers because of my own narrow focus or selfish expectations? When God sends a canoe, do I dismiss it because I want a different outcome? The story doesn’t say why this man refused to see God’s hand in the reasonable rescue attempts that came his way– perhaps he thought God would simply redirect the floodwaters away from his house, or provide a supernatural rescue. And we never find out what happens next– maybe the man gets his miracle, after all.
God’s ways are not our ways, but God often uses practical, even humble means to answer our prayers. And He rarely ever tells us what His answers will look like.
Even the Apostle Paul had to be rescued– several times. In Acts 27 and 28, we find an amazing story in which God revealed to Paul that he would be shipwrecked and rescued. Several attempts were made to save the ship, but Paul’s focus was on saving the lives of all on board. And God answered his prayer. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+27-28&version=NIV Strangely, God chose not to reveal that Paul would face a new danger as soon as he was safely on land. Paul trusted God to make sure he arrived safely in Rome– no matter WHAT crisis arose, no matter what surprising disaster loomed. When he was bitten by a poisonous viper, Paul didn’t panic. The same God who had led him safely to shore kept him from harm yet again. This same God would bring him to Rome, where he would be executed for his faith. While in jail, Paul wrote many letters, sometimes asking for basic necessities– including a warm cloak and some parchment. Paul never lived to see his letters become part of the New Testament. He never lived to see generations of martyrs and missionaries reading and sharing his words around the world. But he left a testimony of faith that God would be with him, wherever he went and whatever circumstances he faced.
Whether God sends me a canoe today, or a helicopter tomorrow, I know I can trust Him to do what is best– in His way and in His time.