Faithless Prayer

“In the morning, Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation.” –Psalm 5:3.

This verse evokes a concept of childlike faith that seems so foreign to us realists.  How can we give God our requests and wait in expectation?  Doesn’t that just set us up for disappointment?

So often we think that way, but if we request of God something we believe is too big for Him and continue to worry, what is the purpose of prayer?

In Acts 12, while Peter is in prison and awaiting trial for his faith, his friends are gathered together praying for Him.  God answers their prayers; He sends an angel to miraculously rescue Peter.  The chains fall off his wrists, the iron gates are opened, the guards are struck dumb, and an angel leads Peter out.  Once out of prison, Peter makes his way to where his prayer warriors are gathered in a house.  When he knocks on the door, a servant girls opens it, only to close it promptly in his face, not daring to believe it could possibly be him.  The others in the house show the same level of disbelief, telling the servant girl she is out of her mind, and explaining away this phenomenon by assuming that Peter has been martyred and his angel has come to visit them.

Think about it: they’re trying so hard not to believe their prayer has been answered, that they have to come up with an even more ridiculous theory to explain Peter’s appearance!  Why?  Were they so afraid of hoping, that they had to explain away God’s power when it was staring them in the face?  Had they really spent all that time praying without believing?

Obviously, God can still move in response to faithless prayer, so be careful what you pray, or He just might come through when you least expect it…maybe even if you don’t want it.

But at the same time, how often do we lay our requests before God, only to pick them back up again and carry the weight of our concerns with us because it seems impossible that He would actually move on our behalf?  What kind of prayer is that?

It’s fruitless prayer, that’s what.  It’s faithless prayer.  It’s “heaping up empty phrases” (Matthew 6:7).

If we pray without believing that God is big enough to respond, perhaps we need to reevaluate why we’re praying, or who we’re even praying to.  If it’s the God who parted the Red Sea, who made fire fall from heaven, who made the deaf hear and the blind see and the lame walk, the God who created the universe and raised Jesus Christ from the dead, stop this half-hearted, weak-willed nonsense and believe that He can still move mountains.

Published in: on February 25, 2013 at 11:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Claim the Promise

God made an incredible promise to His people Israel: He would lead them to a land they would call their own.  After 400 years of slavery, it was nearly unfathomable, especially when they saw how beautiful the land of Canaan really was.  In fact, it was so hard to believe that they…didn’t believe it.

Craig Bartholomew sums up what happens in his book The Drama of Scripture: “They say that the land is wonderfully fertile and would make a fine homeland for Israel, but its people are powerful and their cities well-fortified.  The reported strength of the enemy engenders fear, and the Israelites’ faith in the Lord collapses.  They become depressed and disgruntled, complaining that God has brought them this far only to kill them.”

They forfeited their right to claim the promise simply because they believed it was too good to be true.  How sad is that?  And how often do we do the same thing?

“I’m not worthy of love.”

“It won’t last.”

“God would never bless me that much.”

“This is impossible. Even for God.”  (Yes, I have actually thought this.  Not in so many words, perhaps, and not without realizing its stupidity immediately afterwards, but my disbelief and self-deprecating thoughts definitely convey this.)

First, nothing is impossible for God.  Nothing.  Second, while I don’t intend to portray the gospel as materialistic, God does love to bless His people who are surrendered to Him.  When you can finally open your clenched fists, He will fill them.  In fact, the only place in Scripture where God invites us to test Him is in Malachi 3:10 — “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse…test me in this…and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”  I love the imagery in this verse, as if I’m a small child looking up in wonder and amazement as a pinata breaks open and candy rains down.

sorry, couldn't help throwing a little humor in there!

sorry, couldn’t help throwing a little humor in there!

At least, that’s what I felt like this past week as God poured down blessing after blessing until I was overwhelmed.  He is so full of goodness that is just waiting to rain down on His children who will receive it.  In Psalm 37:4 the Bible says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  This verse is often misinterpreted and overused, but that doesn’t mean it should be discounted entirely.  It doesn’t mean you will get a new car, or a fabulous body without dieting.  But God knows the deepest longings of our heart, and He wants to be the One to fulfill them in His time and in His way, if we will trust Him.

Abraham and Sarah believed it was impossible for them to have a child, so they eventually gave up waiting on God and tried to do things their way.  God hadn’t forgotten His promise; He was just waiting to prove His ability to overcome all odds and display His sovereignty.  God loves to bless radically to show off.  Every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17), and He will display His glory by the supernatural way He cares for His children.

If God has spoken to you, if God has given to you, stop doubting and believe.  Claim the promise, child of God; nothing is impossible for Him.

If He has called you to Africa, He will provide for you to go.

If He has given you a gift for writing, He’s big enough to publish your book.

If He has given you the desire for marriage, not only can He make it happen, He can provide someone who is perfect for you even beyond your wildest dreams.

As my dear friend and pastor’s wife Sarah Berger recently told me (listen to her life story, and you’ll realize she knows what she’s talking about), “God isn’t just good.  He’s better than you can even imagine.

When God speaks to you a promise that seems too good to be true, don’t let fear make you faithless.  He is big enough.

lake

 

Published in: on February 18, 2013 at 12:17 am  Comments (2)  
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Dear Grace: On Wrestling With God

There is nothing more intimidating than being asked a deep theological question by a 13-year-old who looks up to you.  But there is also nothing I love more.  Sometimes I flounder a bit, and sometimes I have to admit that I don’t have all the answers.

Tonight, in the middle of a crowded and noisy restaurant with the youth band playing Christmas carols, struggling to be heard over the noise, Grace asked me one of these questions.

“I just learned the story of Jacob wrestling with God.  Was that…okay? I mean, is that a sin?”

Instead of answering, I simply asked Grace this question: “Have you ever wrestled with God?”

She thought about this for a moment. “You mean mentally? Yeah…yeah, I have.”

“Do you think that was a sin?” I asked her.

“I’m not sure,” she answered. “If it is, I guess I’ve sinned a lot.”

“Do you remember from the story what Jacob said to God?  Why he wrestled with Him?” I asked. “He said he wouldn’t let go until God blessed him.  Sometimes we have to doubt before we can believe, and sometimes we have to wrestle with God before we can receive blessing.”

She considered this. “I feel like the concept of doubt has been showing up in my life a lot lately,” she responded. “My mom and I were talking about it the other day, and now you just mentioned it.”

I shrugged. “We all go through doubt.  Some of the greatest people of the faith are the ones who have wrestled with the hard questions. Try reading through the Psalms and see if David didn’t do some of his own wrestling with God.”

Long after the Christmas party was over that night, I continued to think about her question.  Is it a sin to wrestle with God?  I pretty much told her no, but do I act like that’s true?  I’ve done a lot of hiding the past week because I’m afraid to voice some of my frustrations.  So my Bible has sat in my backpack for a few days, sadly neglected, because I can’t seem to read it while ignoring the elephant in the room.  So Grace’s question made me do a lot of thinking.  And praying.  And wrestling.

So, Grace, if you ever get a chance to read this, here’s my answer.

Dear Grace,

It’s okay to wrestle with God.  Don’t be afraid of messing up by wrestling with Him.  Sin is a far deeper problem than just messing up, than thinking or saying or doing the wrong thing.  Sin is disconnectedness from God.  Sometimes we have such a tiny view of sin that we think it’s something we do, something that we think we can manage or fix, but we can’t.  The very second that humanity chose to turn away from God, we lost the beautiful intimacy with Him that we were meant to have.  Sin at its core is just the gap between us and God.  So sometimes I think we try to pretend that we have a relationship with God by doing everything right, but pretending can’t bridge the gap.  We don’t want to get into fights with Him because that must mean we don’t love Him, but that’s not the way real relationships work.  Real relationships don’t pretend like there aren’t problems or miscommunications; they work through them. They wrestle with them.

You see, sin is anything that keeps us away from God.  And if you wrestle with God, you’re closer to Him than you’ve ever been.  You’re making physical contact, skin on skin, looking Him right in the eye, saying that you’re not letting go until He blesses you.  When you grapple with the God of the Universe, you’re being more open and transparent and vulnerable than ever before.

But if you leave your Bible in your backpack and hide because you’re ashamed of your feelings, the gap just got that much wider.  God bridged that gap by sending Jesus to experience life the same way we do.  He understands our feelings.  And He’s big enough to handle our questions.

So I think it was okay that Jacob wrestled with God.  And I think it’s okay if you do too.

Love,

Lauren.

The Girl in the Mirror

26790_379253246924_2837817_nSometimes I look at the picture of this little girl and think about her future.  Don’t her eyes just melt your heart?  What wouldn’t you do for that little shy smile?  I watched her grow up, so I know her story.  She’s had a good life, and she’s done well for herself, but it hasn’t always been easy for her.  You know how it is:  She grows up and realizes the world isn’t quite what she thought it was.  And looking at her picture sometimes, I want to keep her in her safe little world of innocence, keep her from the pain of disillusionment.

Because I feel helpless knowing that she will one day feel the pain of a broken heart.  That she will make wrong choices that will lead down questionable paths and end in disappointment.  I cringe knowing that one day, like so many other girls, she will take a knife to that soft, perfect skin just to watch the blood trickle down.  Looking into those warm and trusting eyes, it tears me apart knowing that they will lose their sparkle one day — that they will have seen too much of the world to shine with naive expectation.

One day she will begin to question everything she ever believed in:  Santa Claus.  Prince Charming.  God.  Herself.

This little girl doesn’t know what it’s like to feel alone.  But one day, she will.  I look in her wide-eyed, innocent face and see her future, and I desperately want to shield her, to protect her, to tell her that there is an easier way.

But as I reach out my hand, I see that I am simply grasping at a mirror.  And as I look deeply into the eyes of the woman I have become, I see that there wasn’t a better way.  I took exactly the road I had to take to end up where I am, right now, standing here gazing at my reflection and looking back on the life I’ve lived.

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I had to make stupid choices to gain wisdom.  I had to be influenced and controlled before I could discover who I really was, and I had to hate myself before I knew what it meant to love myself.  I had to doubt before I could believe, I had to be broken so that I could be made whole, and I had to experience the imprisonment of shame before I could truly raise my hands to God in freedom and victory.  I had to live the life I’ve lived, every step of the way.  I always did what I felt I had to do to get by, so I really couldn’t have made any other choices.

And realizing this, I realize that, as much as I may want it to be, my job is not to keep other girls from the same struggles I went through.  I see the same look of excitement and wonder in their eyes, and I want to.  Oh God, I want to.

Others, I see the dullness and numbness beginning to replace the sparkle as they learn how broken the world really is and how ugly life can be, and I want to heal them.  Oh God, I want to.

But I can’t — it’s not my life to live.  And I’m learning that as desperately as I want to keep them from experiencing pain, I have to love them enough to let them figure it out on their own.

I know that some of them will starve themselves to find acceptance.  Some of them will cut themselves to feel again.   Some will compromise themselves for affirmation.  Some will experience loss and abandonment and depression.  And the thought of it breaks my heart.

But…

The best I can do is to equip them to live faithfully, to make the most of their lives, to find their own healing.  The best I can do is walk alongside them on their journey and share the little I know about life.  To let them make mistakes and to cry with them when they’re broken.  To pray them through as they sort out who they are and why they’re here.  To teach them enough of the Story so that they can faithfully improvise no matter what stage they’re on or what costume they’re wearing.  And to be a faithful audience to the story they write.

This is my ministry.

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Good Friday Thoughts

When I was younger, I always wondered why the Friday before Easter was called “Good Friday” since such a terrible thing happened on that day. Of course, I know now. What’s “good” about Good Friday is that it didn’t end there. If Sunday hadn’t happened, it would have been just another day when a criminal was executed. But the fact that we call it Good Friday is all about anticipating the future. It’s about believing that Sunday is coming.

Jesus’ disciples saw Good Friday as anything but good. Through their tunnel vision, the last three years of their lives had been wasted, and everything they had believed in and hoped for had come to nothing.

But as it turns out, they were a bit short-sighted. Not too long before that, Peter had made his confession of faith that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of God.” Yet when he saw what was happening in the Garden, he fled. He fled! He didn’t have enough faith to believe that Jesus was still who He said He was, even when everything looked hopeless.

But how often do we do that very thing? We constantly underestimate the power of God to come through in our circumstances. We think our pain — our marriage problems, our health issues, our depression — is the end of the story. It’s “the way things are.”

But let me tell you that God is not limited by “the way things are.” Let me tell you I have seen Him move in some amazing ways this week. Let me tell you that God is changing lives, restoring what is broken, coming through in impossible situations, and overcoming the darkness.

For Resurrection Week, the theme question on the Lipscomb campus was, “Who do you say that I am?”

What’s your answer?

Who do you say that He is?

Because if you can honestly say, and mean it, that you believe He is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Risen Savior

…then even in the midst of your grief and pain, when everything seems dark and hopeless, don’t be too short-sighted to believe that the One conquered death can call YOU out of the tomb on Sunday morning.

Published in: on April 6, 2012 at 12:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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