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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A Beautiful Guy In the Image of a Beautiful God

In my life, I have met three men whom I could only describe as beautiful.  I couldn’t really think of any other way to describe them — handsome wasn’t exactly what I was talking about.  They were just stunningly, unbelievably, breathtakingly beautiful.  Here is how I described one of them: “In him, God has created a masterpiece.  It’s not just his looks — it’s everything about him.  It’s the depth in his eyes when he’s thinking.  It’s the way his heart shows in his actions.  It’s the way he responds to God in worship.”

Beauty has become a descriptor which we attribute only to women, or to delicate and feminine things like flowers and sunsets and snow.  We don’t typically think of men being beautiful…

…or two perpendicular beams of blood-stained wood…

…or the God that died there.

But one day I was reading Psalm 27 and noting all the characteristics of God that were mentioned.  I paused for a moment when I came to verse 4 — “that I may gaze on the beauty of the Lord.”  God? Beautiful? I had to think about this.  In a world where “beauty” is constituted by a sexy body and eyeliner and perfect hair, I wasn’t sure how to process what it really meant as a description of God.

But as I thought about it, I remembered God’s declaration of His creation: “It is good.”  It was…beautiful.  Because God created beauty, I realized, maybe He’s the only One who knows what it really means.  Maybe beauty is some kind of mysterious, intangible concept, inseparable from the reality of being fashioned by the hand of a beautiful God.  Maybe beauty is simply the quality of being made in His image.  Maybe beauty is everything God is, and everything He desires us to be.

This began to make sense to me as I thought about the three guys.  The first time I ever thought a guy was beautiful was when I saw a picture of him holding a baby goat.  Kinda random, but there was something about the gentleness and simplicity of it that was attractive.  The second time I thought a guy was beautiful, it was a pretty ordinary setting, but a powerful moment.  He was sitting on a couch across the room from me during a time of worship, and his faraway gaze happened to catch my eye.  It was like that line from the Benjamin Francis Leftwich song, “I know if I find what you hide in your mind, I’ll get lost in it.”  There was something beautiful going on behind that contemplative gaze.  The third time I thought a guy was beautiful, he was literally on his knees on the ground crying out to God.  It was so raw and…well, beautiful.  However, the word “beautiful” has never crossed my mind for a shallow, lazy, or arrogant guy.  Ironically, I never find guys attractive when they try to prove their worth or impress girls.  Beauty comes from who they are in the little moments, when the rest of the world is forgotten.

Last Wednesday when I was leading small group, my junior high girls and I were talking about the description of Jesus in Revelation 1 and the unlikely aspects of beauty.  I briefly shared with them about the concept of beauty being the image of God, and one of the girls commented, “I think it’s so beautiful to see a guy worshiping with his eyes closed and hands raised, not caring what anybody else thinks of him.”  Several other girls agreed: “Seriously, the most unattractive thing ever is when a guy thinks he’s too cool to be in love with God.”

Thinking about all of this, I came to realize what “beautiful” really means:  Guy or girl, we are beautiful when we become what we were created to be and do what we were created to do.  When we can return to the ideal for which God designed us, when we realize our full potential as His creation made in His image…that is when we truly attain beauty.  Beauty is in the intricate workings of the mind, in creative expression, in a surrendered heart, in unconditional love.  Beauty is in everything that reflects the very heart of God.

Girls, two lessons for you here:  first, beauty isn’t what the world tells you it is.  They distorted the definition.  They got it wrong.  Chasing after things that will make you attractive by the world’s standards only draws you away from true beauty.  Chase after God and His beauty, and when you become the woman He designed you to be, that is when you are truly radiant.

Second, never marry…or date…or give a second thought to a guy who doesn’t have beauty that takes your breath away.  They’re few and far between; in 20 years, I’ve only met 3.  But trust me, you want a man who is seeking God’s highest potential for him, and a man who will amaze you for the rest of your life.

Wait for a beautiful man, in the image of a beautiful God.

Ribbet collage

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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Seeking God

“Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge Him.  As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” –Hosea 6:3

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” –James 4:8

If you felt like God was distant in 2012…

If you’re longing to hear His voice again…

If you want to experience the adventure of a relationship with Him…

…Take these words to heart.

God is not hiding from you, beloved.  He is waiting for you.  Seek, and you will find.

Published in: on January 2, 2013 at 4:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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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