Tuesday, February 14, 2017

On becoming a person given to prayer

My Pastor recently called our church to become people given more to prayer in 2017. His exhortation was to persistently, consistently give ourselves to prayer for just one thing. He had made it easy even...just focus on one particular thing. It was a biblical, encouraging message, yet as I mused over it I couldn’t help but feel a sense of deva vu…and a bit of dread. How many times over the course of my Christian life have I heard this same message, set myself to pray hard—even prayed hard for a time—then gradually let my schedule make me too busy for prayer time? How often have I found myself believing in prayer, yet not really praying? How do I move a call to prayer from a nice-sounding New Year’s resolution to a vital, life-giving, daily part of my life?

Prayer changed for me when I noticed that my prayer life was most consistent (and the most satisfying) during seasons when I enjoyed a particular closeness to Jesus. Which makes sense, for we tend to talk to our friends. We tell how our day has been. We share our joys and sorrows. We listen. We ask for help with our challenges. At its most basic, prayer is conversation with God, so prayer is most natural, most likely when I remember that God is a real person. He thinks and feels, sees and hears. He's not a cold, ethereal being, far, far away who bends near with Sunday School countenance to listen politely to my list of requests. Among all the things Jesus is, He is my friend. But that natural conversation is harder to maintain when the friend is invisible.

What helps is recalling what Jesus has said about me and my relationship with Him. He calls me His child, His beloved, His own. I am forgiven, chosen, and delighted in. I am His bride; He watches over me with a jealousy based not on selfishness but the right of a husband to protect his wife, guarding her affections. His wisdom is always perfect, His direction inerrant. His love is constant and complete. My relationship with Him cannot fail because it is based on His faithfulness, not mine (hallelujah!). His gentleness is never in conflict with His fierce anger at sin, or His just determination to burn away everything I've let come between us. He is my faithful shepherd, my tender guardian, my diligent protector, my greatest good. He says I am the treasure He came to Earth to redeem. I was the joy set before Him as He endured the horrible cross. My determination to hold onto Him is but dust on the balance compared to His promise never to let me go. When my mind is related rightly to Jesus, engaging in prayer becomes as natural as breathing and as necessary as air.

But knowing this does not mean I always put it into practice. I can become preoccupied with my life, growing too busy to spend time with Jesus. Then as my desire for Him cools, I 'forget' to talk to Him. I find myself guiltily throwing prayers up as I go, knowing I'm supposed to pray. I feel ashamed and begin to avoid my friend, thinking that He must be irritated with me. But I resist saying, "sorry," out of a misperception. Jesus is not angry with me—He knows in advance my every failure, fall, and outright rebellion. He is not surprised. Like the father of the prodigal, He waits with open arms for me to come to my senses and return to Him. 

Far from being an item on my spiritual 'to-do' list, prayer is necessary to the health of my soul. Through prayer I express my love, share my needs, and hear my Master's voice. It is the pipeline through which flows the fuel of satisfaction, peace and joy. Prayer fills me with power, because prayer connects me to the Source of all power. My enjoyment of prayer is directly related to my enjoyment of Jesus. 

So my resolution for this year is to stop beating myself up over needing to pray. Instead I resolve to wait quietly for my Master, meditating on His beauty and perfection, basking in His love, and listening for His voice. I resolve to repent quickly when I find myself feeling distant from Jesus, confident that as I draw near to Him, He will draw near to me. His presence will spark a fire that illuminates and warms my heart, drawing me back to conversation with Him. He is not disappointed—or surprised—when I fail, but eagerly waits for me to come to Him for restoration. He longs for my company because He loves me. To be a person of prayer is to be a person actively seeking friendship with God. So I resolve to open myself, allowing Him to woo me into spending more time with Him, listening for His heart and telling him the secrets of mine. How lovely is that?




"You make me know the path of life;
in your presence is unbounded joy,
in your right hand eternal delight."
Psalm 16:11



Thursday, February 2, 2017

"These aren't the gods you're looking for..."

Remember the scene in the first Star Wars movie when Obi-wan Kanobi uses the Force on some storm troopers, telling them "these aren't the droids you're looking for"? We were surprised when the troopers agreed and sent the Jedi, the droids and an incredulous Luke Skywalker on their way. Obi-wan explains that the Force can exert a powerful influence on the mind. Since that moment in film history we've seen the Force used over and over to persuade unsuspecting folks to do what they did not intend to do.

It's a fun bit of movie magic, but don't we have that very thing happening today? Isn't America now harvesting the fruit of believing what she's been told by news anchors and Hollywood, politicians and universities? Haven't these cultural Jedis unwittingly channeled the spirit of this world, using their talents and their platforms to allure, tease, and otherwise convince us that their philosophies are the ones to follow? And when they fail to persuade, they threaten, bully and shame us, illustrating the peril of refusing to worship as they direct. The whole world is under the deception that humanity has the answer to what ails it, that all we need do is celebrate every man doing what is right in his own eyes and we will usher in a paradise of peace, equality and abundance. Those who dare disagree are seen as obstacles to that peace—even dangers to be overcome. 


I confess that I am fighting anger. My sense of fairness has been poked hard. It seems it was perfectly fine for my values to be ridiculed, warred against, or ignored, but when the shoe is on the other foot, rioting is justified. I don't know why I expected anything different. Our Jedis are now telling us that the world is tearing itself apart because Donald Trump won the White House. But the truth is the world is fractured and hurting because the gods it trusts to protect and provide have proved inadequate to the task. Because these really aren't the gods they're looking for. Our country is terribly divided, and no election could fix that. But the divide of rich vs poor, black vs white, gay vs straight and left vs right are only symptoms. The foundational divide is between those who know God and those who don't. This divide is of God's making; He is using current events to draw a line to help us see our desperate need for Him. 

It is one thing to know that the world is lost, quite another to turn on the TV or computer and see what happens when people put their faith only in themselves and fall under the delusion that God is an irrelevance, safely mocked (Romans 1:21-32,  II Thess. 2:11-12). Every day we see new evidence of satan's rage working itself out in people who, having rejected the rule of God, have fallen under the bondage of sin. The search for love and significance has taken a very wrong turn when it results in vile proclamations and vicious rioting. Far from being convinced that there is another side to consider, the world is doubling down on its insistence that we do things its way.

But if I can look away from the drama on the brightly lit stage, my spiritual eyes can refocus on what God is doing behind the curtain. If I can quiet my understandable anger and frustration, I can begin to hear His voice giving me direction and strategy. 
If I allow His Spirit to fill and indwell me, my thinking can align more closely to His. I can chose to let His word predict the future, rather than the reports filling the evening news and social media. I can invite His peace to overcome my outrage. My anxiety fades as I worship in His presence. I can rest, trusting His faithfulness, and allow His perspective to enlarge my own. Instead of Facebook, I can get my "likes" from Jesus, the only audience that matters. He is not absent, weak or afraid. He is not confused about what to do next. He has promised to be my refuge, my portion, my joy. He is absolutely trustworthy; I can lean completely on Him with full confidence, even amidst a people given over to politically correct group think and mob rule. And that is very good news.

I am seeing as never before my deep-rooted desire for my own way. But God has a better way, if I can choose it. And that is the question. Can I set aside my desire for justice, trusting God to handle such things? Can I separate myself from the philosophy that the world demands I embrace, while developing a love for the people trapped in its net? Jesus does not want any to be lost...can I love the world as He did? Can I remain silent when reviled? Can I resolve to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified? Can I lay down my cleverness and sarcasm and go forth armed with weakness and humility, loving the enemies of God even as they hate me? Well, not so much. So I am repenting and asking my Father to hold my stony heart between his loving, faithful hands while He does the necessary crushing and reshaping. 

The times are frightening, but we needn't fear, because our God is with us. I love Daniel 11:32 which says, "By smooth words [satan] will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action." Our enemy is the ultimate Jedi, using his power to deceive the whole world. Not only are we immune, we have Someone greater to offer confused and hurting people. If we can keep our eyes on Jesus, rather than the storm around us, we can do exploits because He is the God we are looking for.



“Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. 
Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], 
slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], 
slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]; for the [resentful, deep-seated]
anger of man does not produce the righteousness 
of God [that standard of behavior which He requires from us]. 
James 1:19-20 AMP



Lessons from a Possum

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