Reflection

Lord, Teach Us to Pray (Part 5)

  • Posted on October 25, 2020 at 4:59 pm

And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.  ~Matthew 6:13

God does not tempt people to do wrong (James 1:13). Instead, He provides a “way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13) if we will look for it. The reason so many people feel helpless to change their sinful lifestyles is because they are helpless without Christ. But also, many want their sin and Jesus too while the fact is that you cannot have both. Everyone comes to a Y in the journey where they must choose which way they will go. Will you choose the straight and narrow path that leads to life, or the road of destruction that leads to death? Only you can decide. Once you have truly surrendered your life to Jesus, then He is able to give you the power to withstand temptation while He receives the glory for another life that has been set free.

Some would say that God never promised us a rose garden, but I like to think of the Christian life as just that. Life is full of thorns that will try to scar us along the way. Sometimes the patch may be so thick that we don’t think we can penetrate it, and we want to turn around. In fact, early on, sticks and thorns may be all we see. In due time, however, the roses begin to bloom, and we realize that, had we not persevered, we would have missed the beauty that God had planned for us.

I guess this ended up being not so much about prayer as it is about temptation. Part of an effective prayer life is confessing sins, but if you find that you are continuing to do those sins that you have asked forgiveness of, examine your heart to know if you really want to be free. If you do, then ask God to show you the way of escape and take it. Do not keep riding the fence. You may not have tomorrow to make things right.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray (Part 4)

  • Posted on October 22, 2020 at 4:37 pm

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  ~Matthew 6:12

Some versions use the word “sins” instead of “debts,” and I expect that is what Jesus is getting at here. Forgiveness is not easy. In fact, I expect it is one of the hardest things for a Christian to do, and yet Mark 11:25-26 tells us, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” Wow. Take a minute and ponder this before reading further.

Years ago, there was a man I hated. I really did. He had hurt my family, and the sight of him or the sound of his voice would send a wave of hatred coursing through my body. Every time I thought I had conquered it, there it was again. After I had grown in my relationship with the Lord and truly came to know Him, I despised myself that I could not get over these feelings. I prayed frequently for God’s help, and eventually I was able to forgive this man, but it took quite a few years. Now this does not mean that I get together with him and “let bygones be bygones.” There have been other times when I have had to put offense aside and forgive someone while being willing to still interact with the person, but I don’t believe this is always necessary. Sometimes it depends on the crime that was committed and whether or not this is someone that God placed in your life and desires for you to continue in relationship with. You must, however, make sure that you do not wish anyone evil and that you are willing to place them in God’s hands. It’s true that if you pray for a person, your heart will soften towards them as well.

The more you realize that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness and that you can be pretty annoying yourself, the more I expect that you will show grace to others. I know it works for me.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray (Part 3)

  • Posted on October 18, 2020 at 6:08 pm

Give us this day our daily bread. ~Matthew 6:11

Daily provision. I expect that most of us do not have a habit of asking for our daily bread, although some may have felt more of a need to do so this year. Although there are people who do not know where their next meal is coming from, the majority of Americans eat very well. So well, in fact, that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that every morsel, everything we own comes from God’s hand. We should definitely be thanking Him on a daily basis for His many blessings. Even if things are tighter this year than they usually are, thank God for your family. Thank Him that you still have a roof over your head and a car to drive. If you are in need, then present your petitions, but I encourage you to spend even more time in thanksgiving. We have so much to be thankful for.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray (Part 2)

  • Posted on October 14, 2020 at 9:03 am

Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven. ~Matthew 6:10

I believe that this is the hardest prayer to pray–that God’s will would be done. I am not immune to wanting my way and yet sometimes the answer is No. Like children, we can pitch our fits and whine and scream, or we can trust Him and say, “Yes, Sir.” As I get older, I am learning to more quickly respond appropriately, but this has come after many times of not getting my way and yet realizing that God’s will truly was better.

This verse doesn’t mean that we should not ask specifically. I have heard people pray along the lines of, “Lord, if you are willing, please heal _____________.” Although I understand the sentiment, this does not seem like a fervent prayer to me. Bartimaeus cried out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus answered his cry (Mark 10:46-52). When you pray, know that God is able to do what you ask. He knows your heart so you may as well be honest with your longings. The key, though, is in surrendering to the omniscient God who knows what you do not.

As I write this, I am thinking of Steve Weatherford who is still battling COVID not knowing whether or not he will survive, my friend who is in pain after heart surgery, and my dad who has a long road to recovery after neck surgery. These are all things I cannot control, but I am fervently interceding for each of these needs. I want those I love to be well and free of pain, and I am praying accordingly. At the end of the day, though, I acknowledge that God is God, and I am not. All I can do is ask and then leave my friends and family in God’s hands.

If you have an urgent need right now, I want to encourage you to keep asking, seeking, and knocking. Then rest in knowing that your petition has been heard. You will receive your answer in due time regardless of whether it is Yes, No, or Wait.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray (Part 1)

  • Posted on October 12, 2020 at 1:21 pm

Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”

So He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.  ~Luke 11:1-2a

As we continue our series on prayer, I’d like us to look more closely at what we have now dubbed “The Lord’s Prayer.” I’m not sure why we have chosen that name for this portion as I would more readily think of John 17 in that manner, but for better or worse, you understand what I am referring to.

When people memorize this passage of Scripture, they do not typically include the verse before it and could easily lose sight of the fact that God has given us a model prayer. That does not mean that we should mindlessly quote this word for word and let that suffice, but I believe there is an order in prayer that could help our prayers to be more effective.

As Jesus began His prayer, He acknowledged that He was praying to His holy Father. I imagine that if we understood just how holy our Father is, we would shudder with fear as we approached His throne. Instead, it’s easy to pray flippantly, taking no thought for the way we live our lives, treating God as if He were a fairy godfather awaiting us to present our petitions so that he can grant our every wish. As you are praying this week, I encourage you to think about the One that you are praying to. Examine your heart and repent of anything that might hinder your fellowship with Him. It might be a good time to get in the habit of talking less and listening more.

Pray Precisely

  • Posted on September 15, 2020 at 5:43 pm

And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.“ Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” (Matthew 6:7-8)

For a long time, I have tried to understand how this verse reconciles with the story of the unjust judge where the widow pled day and night for justice and finally received her answer. I have also heard people interpret Matthew 6:33 to mean keep praying, seeking, or knocking.” So, what do the above verses mean?

I have come to the conclusion that Jesus is not telling us to refrain from praying about the same thing repeatedly. He wants us to pray fervently about important matters, and that may sometimes mean asking for something on a daily basis. I think he is rather addressing those who use pious words or who say the same phrases or prayers over and over. My mom used to tell us to “use precise words,” and I expect that is partly what Jesus is getting at here. Since the Lord knows what we need before we ask, the only reason to use a lot of big, lofty words is to be seen of men. (We covered that in the last post.)

As you pray this week, make sure that you are praying from the heart in accordance with the heart of God. That is when you will begin to see results.

 

Pray Discreetly

  • Posted on September 3, 2020 at 8:26 am

“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. ~Matthew 6:5-6

I believe I mentioned in the past that my sisters laugh at me when I say, “We need to pray.” I guess that is my answer for everything as I am continually aware of this vast necessity and hold to the belief that the majority of people do not pray nearly enough. But I suspect that part of the problem is that people don’t really know how to pray. Even Jesus’ closest friends needed to be taught.

As I was reading through Matthew recently, I felt prompted to write a small series on prayer. I am in no way, shape, or form the “prayer expert,” so I am studying and learning along with you. With so much sickness, fear, and depression this year, not to mention an election coming up, our friends, our communities, our country, and we ourselves need God like some may not have experienced Him in a long time.

In the verses I quoted above, Jesus told the people not to pray to be seen of men. It would be easy to misunderstand what He is saying and think He doesn’t want anyone to know that we pray, but there is a difference in saying, “Don’t tell anyone that you talk to Me” versus “Don’t pray in order to be noticed by others.”

As I’ve attended prayer meetings through the years, it is usually easy to spot those who are praying in order to impress others. This person tends to wax overly eloquent, use big words that no one but God understands, and sometimes talks in a voice that he only uses when he prays. The purpose in praying with others is to join in agreement with other Brothers and Sisters for certain things that you all want to ask for (Matthew 18:19-20). True unified prayer should be humble as if you were making a petition before a powerful person who has the authority to give you whatever you ask for. If you found yourself in the Oval Office and were able to ask the President for anything in the world, I doubt you would stand there pompously, saying, “Oh, wonderful, majestic President, I beseech thee that you would grant this, my humble request.” Maybe you would but I expect that you would have a sense of awe as you graciously stated, “Mr. President, thank you for your willingness to see me. Would you be willing to _______________?”

I’m not saying we should be timid in prayer (Hebrews 4:16 tells us to come boldly to the throne of grace), but neither should we be arrogant or confusing with our many words. I will talk more about this in my next post.

My Journey to Friendship

  • Posted on August 24, 2020 at 7:48 pm

Intermittently over the last few months, I have been asking questions on Facebook about relationships: How important are they? How do you maintain a good friendship? and other similar inquiries. So I found it interesting that our pastor’s wife chose The Friendships of Women by Dee Brestin for our book discussion in July.

This book took me down memory lane in a way that no other has, as I began to reflect on a childhood with very few friends to a life full of people who care about me. Maybe you will identify with the first half of my life. Maybe you’re there now. I’d like to help you to step outside of your fears and insecurities and find the person or people who will encourage you to be all that you can be for your Father.

When I was a child, I don’t remember a lot of other children in our church. If they were there, I decided early on that I preferred the company of women in their late teens and 20s. Fortunately for me, there were several young ladies who were willing to let me hang around instead of treating me like a burden. I would sit with them and talk with them any chance I got, and never thought about the fact that they might not want to be pestered by a 6-year-old girl. We also had neighbor boys that we played whiffle ball with, and I still treasure those memories. Those were days when life seemed perfect. I just knew that everyone liked me. After all, how could anyone not like a cute blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl?

Although I was homeschooled for most of my growing up years, I did attend public school Kindergarten as well as 4th and 7th grade private school. My brother was popular in school, but I was not. He tells people that I was teacher’s pet, and he was teacher’s nightmare. This is not far from the truth. I was shy and could not figure out how to fit in with the other girls so I either stayed to myself or close to the teacher. When I was nine years old, we attended a conservative Christian school where the students wore uniforms, and the teachers still disciplined unruly behavior. I spent most of every recess walking back and forth along the gym wall running my fingers on the heater until my brother had pity on me and asked the boys if they minded if I played basketball with them. They were always gracious, and I did learn to hit a basket (which I can no longer do unfortunately). One day, my brother told me that I just needed to jump into whatever game the girls were playing. I cautiously approached some girls who were jumping rope and asked, “Can I play?” “No. You can’t play with us” had me running to the bathroom crying and, unfortunately, I hadn’t stopped before the teacher walked in. She asked what happened so I told her, and that probably sealed my fate with the girls the rest of the year. I believe it was then that I discovered there are other girls that are not popular and could use a friend, so I began to seek out those who were also sitting on the sidelines and not surrounded by many friends.

One thing I learned in fourth grade that I don’t think I had encountered before is how two-faced girls could be. One girl, in particular, would act like she liked me, and even tell me so, until the popular girls came around. Then she was quick to distance and make it clear that she did not want me hanging around. I determined at that point that I did not want to be like that.

When I was a teenager, we attended a couple of churches that had girls around my age. At one church, the only friend I had was the pastor’s daughter who, by the way, is the only friend from my childhood that I’ve stayed in touch with, and we continue to be good friends today. At another church, there were a couple of teenage girls who were nice to me, but I didn’t see them much outside of church, and it was obvious that my life was different from theirs. They came from in-tact homes for one thing, and they didn’t have little sisters to take to the restroom. (In time, my sisters became some of my closest friends but, back then, I did not always embrace these responsibilities.)

When I was 17, we moved to Texas and joined a church that had a lot of girls my age. I did make some friends there but lost touch with most of them after we moved away. Then began a long road of adjusting to friendlessness. During that time, I began to answer phones for my mom’s publishing company. At first, it was a job, but, eventually, it became a calling. People would tell me that they could hear me smile when I said “Hello,” and that just hearing my voice brightened their day. I realized then that no matter how my day was going, God had given me a way to bless others. I also found that I was really able to connect with people and, in some cases, I began to feel a friendship with some of our repeat customers even though we had never met. I was wary at times, wondering why people would want to be friends with me, but I thanked God for those opportunities.

When I was in my 20s, we ended up leaving a church that we had been attending for a couple of years, and rumors were spreading about my family. For the first time in a long time, I had gone out of my way to befriend some of the women and now they were gone. No one wrote or called to see how I was doing or what really happened to cause us to leave, and I was hurt. Sure, I could have reached out too, but I was young and, at the time, I felt like they were too willing to listen to gossip than to check on me and find out the facts. This propelled me back into thinking that it is best to stay guarded and not open myself up to others.

What a journey it has been to take me from that frame of mind to the present. As the years progressed, I began traveling more, running book tables at churches and conferences and, in time, I found people who seemed to enjoy getting to know me for me, not just because they thought I was “somebody.” This took some getting used to, but God is so good, and He has blessed me with many friends across the country. Plus, thanks to being home this year, I have begun to once again actively seek local friendships as well, and God is blessing in that department too.

The older I get, the more I realize that relationships are important. They are the only things we will take to Heaven with us. It sounds nice to say, “If I don’t see you here, I’ll see you up there,” but the reality is that we won’t need each other in Heaven the way we do here. On earth, we benefit from the encouragement that our Brothers and Sisters have to give, and God has enabled us to give back to others. It was hard to overcome the insecurity of thinking that people wouldn’t like me, but I used to remind myself that, if I am reaching out to others in the name of the Lord, it’s not my fault if they don’t respond or if they take it the wrong way. I often quoted the King James rendering of Proverbs 18:24, “He that has friends must show himself friendly,” and I strove to do just that.

A few years ago when I was going through a “down” time, someone told me that I am the most loved person she knows. When I thought about it, I knew that she was right. I really am loved! Not just by God but also by people all over the country! When a child is growing, you’re not noticing every heightened inch but, at some point, you wake up and realize, You are getting tall! So it is with spiritual growth. I don’t know how or when I went from suspecting everyone to opening up and choosing to be real, but I do know that God produced that change, and He has blessed me abundantly with people that I know love and care for me. This is not to say that one shouldn’t use wisdom in relationships. There are people that I sense would bite me if they had the chance, and with them I am guarded. But I also have friends that I trust, and this is important.

I am now into my 40s, and it’s still not uncommon for insecurity to try to rear its ugly head, but with God’s help, I plan to keep reaching out, to remember that He is able to complete the work He’s begun in me, and in all of those that He brings into my life.

Although the focus of this post has been about myself, I don’t want it to just be an information piece. Instead, I hope someone will benefit from reading about my journey. Never forget that some of the most confident-looking people are really shy, insecure children at heart. Maturity won’t stay there, however, but will instead blossom into a child of God who shines His light to those around them. My prayer is that, if you have withdrawn into a cocoon, afraid of being hurt, you will ask God to show you how to reach out and to whom. It’s not easy. There are still a lot of self-protective people who will hurt others. But there are also genuine followers of Christ who desire to be a blessing. I pray that you will find those people and, when you do, do not let them go.

 

If you care to share, I would love to hear about your dearest friend: what you like about him or her and how God brought you together. Do not include your spouse in your story unless you were good friends before you began dating.

 

Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

Your Story Is Not Over

  • Posted on August 18, 2020 at 10:10 am

Rodney Griffin often shares how songwriters get inspiration for the songs they write, and I expect that a lot of blog writers get material for their posts the same way. At least I do. The idea for this post came to me a couple weeks ago while listening to a pastor. He probably didn’t say anything that I’m about to share, but he was talking about our life story, and something he shared sent my brain spiraling down this path.

I’ve heard it said that conflict is vital to a good story. I used to wonder if this is true but try reading a book or watching a movie where nothing happens, and you will most likely get bored pretty quickly. It hit me the other week that, just as conflict is vital in fiction, so it is in real life.

I wonder if there is anyone on earth who heeds Paul’s admonition to “Count it all joy … when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2). I know I don’t. But there are times that I can look back and realize that the trials I’ve been through are in part what has made me who I am today.

Although I never realized how much conflict adds to stories, I have known that I do not like sad endings. If I am going to spend time reading or watching a movie, I want it to have a happy resolution. Well, if you are a Christian, you don’t have to sit in suspense wondering how your story is going to end. You are guaranteed a happily ever after.

The next time you are going through a difficult time, remind yourself that, although not pleasant, it is not the end of your story. Unlike novels where you can think of things that you would change if you were the author, you have the pen that determines how the saga of your life turns out. You may not be able to control every circumstance, but you can monitor yourself. You can be that person of shining character that everyone looks up to and wants to be like. And it very well may be that conflict that produces the patience and longsuffering that brings you to that place.

So be of good cheer, Brothers and Sisters. Your story is not over. There must be conflict to produce your happy ending, but that happiness will come if you do not give up.

 

Photo by Reuben Juarez on Unsplash

There Is Rest for the Weary

  • Posted on August 4, 2020 at 1:17 pm

The road’s been long
I’m a little bit weary

Boy, can I relate to how Dottie Rambo must have felt when she penned these words. The last six months alone have been long and weary, and there have been a couple of times lately that I felt like I had hit my emotional limit. But God still calls out:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

What a comfort it is to know that I can cast my care upon Him while resting assured that He cares for me (1 Peter 5:7).

Often when I write, I feel like my blog isn’t earth-shattering. I don’t write much that you probably haven’t heard hundreds of times, but there’s a reason God told people over and over “Don’t forget …” He knows that we are prone to do so. So if you find yourself yawning and thinking, Ho hum. Tell me something I don’t know, then you may need to graduate to my brother’s blog. I like to think that our mission is the same: to challenge people to think and to encourage them to live the life that God created them to live. But we are different so if you are bored with me, definitely check him out.

Meanwhile, if you find yourself weary and discouraged as I have been lately, I want to encourage you to keep pressing on. Let’s finish this race hand in hand if we need to, but do not stop and, whatever you do, don’t look back. God has not brought you out of Egypt to die in the wilderness. Yes, Brothers and Sisters, there truly is a Promised Land that awaits us if we don’t give up.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  ~Hebrews 12:1-2

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