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Thursday, June 30, 2016

How Do I Pray in Faith?

On Tuesday, we discussed how it is not wrong to have expectations but rather it is our response to unmet expectations that causes us trouble.  That topic led to another question, one that I wish to tackle today:  How do I pray in faith?  Allow me to set the scene.

Tom has applied for a new job.  He is excited and ready for a change in vocation, and everywhere he turns, it seems as if God is giving him the green light to proceed.  The interview goes well, and Tom is hopeful.  The entire experience, he feels, has brought him closer to God.  He's praying and reading his Bible more than he has in a while.  In his reading, he comes across James 1.

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. - James 1:5-8

Tom decides to go all in.  After all, he feels like this new job is God's will, and he doesn't want to miss out on God's will because of his unbelief.  So, he claims God's promise and believes with all his heart that he will get the new job.  Unfortunately, two weeks later, Tom receives a phone call notifying him that the job went to someone else, and Tom is left feeling discouraged and disappointed.  What happened?  He believed.  He asked in faith, nothing wavering, and He truly believed it was God's will.  But that door closed, leaving Tom on the outside looking in and feeling like God had let him down.

I've been in Tom's shoes.  How about you?  I've prayed in faith, daring to believe that God would come through exactly how I imagined, and I, too, was left feeling disappointed and let down.  Was God not listening?  Was He playing some cruel, cosmic joke?  No, nothing like that.  I'd love to tell you that I have all the answers concerning why God chooses to respond to prayers the way He does, but the truth is that no one can truly understand the mind of God, which brings us to point #1.

1.) We are commanded to pray in faith, to ask our petitions in faith, nothing wavering.  But keep in mind that God will never answer a prayer in the affirmative if it's outside of His will, and while we may think and feel that what we want is within His will, as I just said, we cannot truly understand the mind of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. (I Corinthians 2:11)  In such situations, God may not be giving us what we want because we're asking for the wrong thing (James 4:3), and He is protecting us from what we think we want but shouldn't have. (Think of it like a four-year-old asking his parents for a BB gun.  The child wants it and thinks it would be a good thing, but his parents know better.  No four-year-old should have a BB gun!)

2.) This is where it gets sticky.  If we don't know if the thing we're asking for is within God's will, how can we pray in faith, believing with all our heart that He will answer our petition?  If He says "No," won't we be left with disappointment?  How do we end the cycle?  Believe it or not, it goes back to our expectations.  We're not commanded to pray for something believing that God will give us that something.  That's a misinterpretation of the Scriptures.  Rather, we're supposed to pray for something believing that God will do what is best and right for us.  That may be to give us what we want, or it may be to say "No."  That's up to God, but we can rest in faith and know that we did our part.  We asked in faith, expecting God to be good.  And remember, good doesn't always mean what we think it means.  We say chocolate chip cookies are good, but the hard truth is that they're not good for us.  God understands the difference even when we don't.  He isn't swayed by emotion or lust or greed or anything else like that.  His driving force is His love for us, and if we keep that in mind, we'll never be disappointed with His answers because we have faith, nothing wavering, that He has our best interest at heart.

***Special note:  For the past week and a half, I've been praying about a situation, and I've been trying to put into practice what I've discussed here.  I poured out my heart to the Lord.  I set the impossible situation before Him and asked Him to move in a mighty way.  I had in mind one thing, but the Lord gave me something else.  A wonderful something else!  Something that I would never have dreamed of in a million years and that blessed me in more ways than what I had in mind would have.  Did it solve all my problems?  No.  Did it meet the current need?  Oh, yeah, and then some.  But more than that, it reminded me that God cares.  He knew what I had in mind, but He also knew that I needed something different.  I couldn't see that, but He could, and He came through in a miraculous way!

Try it for yourself and see.  Ask God for what you need and even what you want, and ask in faith.  Not faith that you'll get the answer you want, but faith that you'll get the answer you need.  Then stand back and watch how God moves in your life.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What Do You Expect?

This morning, I'd like to take you on a brief journey and show you some of the things that happen inside this crazy brain of mine.  Don't be afraid.  I'll hold your hand and guide you through.  I know it's a mess, and some of the things you'll encounter will be unrecognizable, but it's okay.  I'm used to it, so I'll get you through the maze.

For the past week or so, I've been meditating on expectations.  If you've followed my writings for any length of time, you know that the topic of expectations appears frequently, and the reason for that is because it's something I struggle with.  You see, I have this bad habit of expecting God to work certain ways or do certain things in my life, but when He doesn't come through in the way I think He should, I get angry and disappointed.  So, a while back, I came to the conclusion that expectations are bad and tried to convince myself (and you) that we shouldn't set up any expectations concerning God.  That way, we can't be disappointed.

It sounded good at the time.  In fact, it even sounded Biblical, but I'm afraid I must apologize to you, for the Lord has made it clear to me now that having expectations is not the problem.  It's how we deal with our expectations.  It all began many days ago when something I read (I can't remember what now) brought about a question in my mind:  What is the difference between asking in faith with nothing wavering (James 1:6) and having expectations?  Don't they both involve asking God for something and then believing (or expecting) Him to give it?  Immediately, I was confused, but of course, my poor little brain couldn't stop there.  It had to continue the thought process and pose another question:  How are expectations different from hope?  After all, the biblical definition of hope is "quiet, confident expectation," and the Bible tells us repeatedly to hope in God.  Is anyone else getting a headache?

After much prayer and meditation, I posed the question to Jason in hopes that he could further enlighten me. His opinion is that there is no difference between expectations, asking in faith, and hope.  They are all one in the same and, therefore, carry the same message.  The problem we often have with expectations is not that we expect but rather that we get mad when those expectations aren't met exactly to our specifications.  Jason's thoughts on the matter led to many other questions on my part (some of which I will discuss in the upcoming days), but I truly believe that in this matter, he was right.  The reason I think that is because the Lord confirmed it during the preaching on Sunday morning.  (Did I mention we had this discussion on the way to church?  Coincidence?  I think not!)

The preacher's message was about the prodigal son, and somehow, in the midst of that sermon, God spoke to me about my quandary.  The prodigal's father expected his son to return.  He was waiting for him at the gate. He made sure the calf was fat and ready for the barbecue.  No doubt in my mind, he prayed for God to send his son home again and expected God to answer his prayer in just that way.  Fortunately, for the father, God did grant him his request, but what if he hadn't?  What if the son had never returned?  Would it have been wrong for the father to have waited all that time, expecting God to answer in the affirmative?  No, as the pastor reminded us on Sunday, "Waiting time is not wasted time."  However, suppose God had not honored the father's request because He, in His great wisdom, wanted to give the father something better.  What if the father had grown angry and rebellious toward God because He didn't meet his expectations?  Then, we'd have a problem, right?

So, you see, there's nothing wrong with having expectations, but we have to be careful in how we respond to God's answer to our expectations.  Remember, "no" is an answer as is "wait."  And sometimes, even when God says "yes," He still doesn't work things out the way we wanted.  The key is to have expectations (ask in faith; hope) but also to expect that God will be God.  He is just and holy, and He knows the beginning from the end.  He will always give us what is best even if it's not what we want.

Now, if your brain works like mine (and I hope, for your sake, that it doesn't), you may be wondering, So how can I ask in faith if I'm not sure God will grant me my request?  Never fear!  We're going to discuss that one on Thursday, Lord willing.

For in thee, O Lord, do I hope: thou wilt hear, O Lord my God. - Psalm 38:15

Monday, June 27, 2016

I'm Not Sure I Can Do This!

Even though Jason and I weren't able to go anywhere for our anniversary vacation, we had a great time during our "staycation."  We chilled out and caught up on some rest.  We visited some historical sights in the area.  We did some window shopping and some actual shopping at the Goodwill Pound Store (my favorite place!).  And, of course, we did some hiking.

On Saturday, we did a familiar hike that was fun and almost relaxing.  The trail is mostly broad and flat, allowing us to stroll along hand in hand while Mitch raced up ahead, chasing squirrels and digging holes.  On Monday, however, we decided to do a hike that I had never done.  Jason had done it with a friend many years ago.  In fact, he and his friend had done the entire trail which is quite long and rated "Very Strenuous."  We were planning to enter the trail about halfway through and do the half that is not as difficult.  According to Jason, the trail wasn't bad at all, mostly an old logging road like what we're used to.  Evidently, his memory is getting as foggy as my own, for the portion of the trail we hiked was VERY strenuous.

We've done tougher hikes but not in a very long time.  The longest hike we've done in a while is the seven-mile familiar trail I mentioned earlier.  Seven miles of flat trail is not difficult at all.  Nine miles of ascending and descending a mountain is killer!  That's what we did on Monday, and I quickly realized that I was not in good enough shape to tackle that kind of hike.  Not yet anyway.

We made it--well, we mostly made it.  We didn't go all the way to the waterfall because it involved descending many more switchbacks which we would then have to climb back up, so when we reached the river, we decided it looked like a beautiful spot to rest a moment before beginning the climb up the mountain.  That's when I struggled.  It was horrible!  I climbed ten steps then had to stop and catch my breath.  Ten more steps.  Another minute of rest.  I remember praying on several occasions, "Lord, please give me the strength to climb this mountain.  I really don't think I can do this."  I wasn't kidding, nor was I exaggerating.  I wasn't sure my body was going to have the strength, energy, and stamina to make it up that mountain.

Perhaps you know exactly what I'm talking about.  You may not be climbing a literal mountain, but maybe you feel like you're fighting an uphill battle.  You're tired.  You're weary.  Your strength is just about gone, and you find yourself whispering, "Lord, please give me the strength to climb this mountain.  I really don't think I can do this."  You're not kidding or exaggerating either.  You're serious.  Dead serious!  You feel like it's too much effort to take another step.  I get it.  I've been there both physically and spiritually, and it's not a pleasant place to be.  But may I share with you the end of the story from Monday in hopes that it will encourage you and give you hope for your situation?

The entire trip up the mountain was a struggle, but with the Lord's help, I pressed on.  My legs ached, and my heart pounded, but praise the Lord, I made it to the top!  I crashed that night and could barely move for the next few days, but I made it.  (Why, oh why, do I do that to myself?)

On the positive side, I feel good about conquering a new hike and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.  Jason and I have a new memory to share and laugh about at a later time.  And I have another blessing to write in my book of remembrance:  God got me through.  He was the One who kept me going.  It was His strength that enabled me to press on.  I have no doubt that there, in the midst of the woods on the side of the mountain, God heard and answered my prayer for deliverance.  And He will hear and answer yours too.

The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments. - Habakkuk 3:19

Friday, June 17, 2016

I Can't Wait!

For the past ten days, I've been on a strict detox diet.  No sugar.  No caffeine.  No gluten.  No dairy.  Basically, none of the four major food groups (at least in my book).  And when I say strict, I mean it's an all or nothing thing.  The purpose of this process is to rid the body of unwanted toxins and then to add things slowly back into the diet one by one to assess any potential allergies that can cause a number of symptoms in the body including digestive issues, headaches, sinus troubles, body aches, mind fog and much more.  If you stay faithful to the plan, after ten days all of these substances and their side effects have cleared the body, making you aware of how you should feel.  Then, when you add them back in, you can monitor any changes.  Do you feel better or worse?  Have any issues resurfaced?  It's a good system, but let me tell you, it isn't easy (especially when a kind friend from church brings you homemade cookies that break all the rules of the detox).

I can honestly say that one of the things that has kept me going and faithful is the anticipation of what I could feel like without things blocking up my system.  I've been dreaming about the "new me," and it's a glorious picture.  Though the process has been difficult, I know that the results will be worth it, so I've kept my mind on the results rather than on how much I dread the process.  And I'm happy to say that I've made it through the detox period without cheating once!

Another thing that helped me through was looking forward to enjoying my favorite foods again once I could add them back into my diet.  We tend to appreciate and savor things more when we haven't had them in a while, and trust me, ten days feels like a while!  But I know it's worth it.  The results will be worth all the times I wanted to quit.  They will be worth the tears and heartaches.  They will be worth the effort.  And as long as I keep my eyes on the goal, I think I'm going to be just fine.

Life is the same way.  As the old hymn goes, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue."  Living life can sometimes feel like my detox diet.  It's hard.  It's frustrating.  It makes us want to cry, quit and even swear (though I hope none of us give in to that temptation).  My point is, the journey is rough, and if we lose sight of our ultimate goal, we may not be able to find the strength to go on.

On the other side of this detox, I have the hope of better health--not perfect health--but better.  Think about what we have to look forward to on the other side of this life.  Glorified bodies.  Illuminated minds.  Mansions.  Streets of gold.  No more pain or death or crying.  Eternity.  And most of all, Jesus!  It's all there waiting for us, and we can have it just as soon as we're finished running our race.  If we keep that goal in view, maybe the days here on earth won't seem so long and trying.  So, feel free to keep your head in the clouds because that's where we're headed (if you know Jesus as your Savior).  Allow the anticipation of Heaven and all that awaits us in eternity to put a spring in your step and a smile on your face.  Focus on hope!

Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. - II Peter 3:12-14

*Special note:  If you have not accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, you have nothing to look forward to, for your future is a horror beyond explanation.  Jesus is coming soon to take God's children to Heaven, and if you're not one of them, you will be left behind, doomed to spend eternity in the Lake of Fire.  Please, don't wait another day to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.  He loves you.  He died for you.  He wants to spend eternity with you.  Don't delay, for time is short.  If you need help, please contact me.  I would be thrilled to introduce you to my Savior, Lord and Friend.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Learning Through Suffering

Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; - Hebrews 5:8

The above verse fascinates me.  Hebrews 5 talks about how God established Jesus as our High Priest--the one who would offer the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin.  The entire passage is a blessing to read and a beautiful reminder of just how precious our Lord is, but when I was reading through it yesterday, verse 8 jumped off the page and nearly slapped me across the face (proof that words can hurt, hehehe!).

The verse tells us that Jesus learned obedience through suffering.  We know that he suffered while on this earth, and not just the suffering of the cross.  He was ridiculed all His life.  He was mocked and disbelieved.  He was forsaken, even by His own Father.  He endured fasting and temptation on more than one occasion.  Yes, He was definitely familiar with suffering.

What fascinates me the most is the fact that He learned obedience.  I mean, we're talking about the Son of God--literally God Himself.  Wasn't He already obedient?  After all, He wrote the words "Children, obey your parents," so we know that He wouldn't instruct us to live one way while He lived another.  Plus, to disobey would be a sin, right?  Is God--even in human form--capable of sinning?  (See Hebrews 4:15)  Besides that, how is it possible for the Son of God to learn anything?  He's omniscient, which means all-knowing.  He already knows everything, so how could He learn something new?  (See Luke 2:52)

That single verse presents a long list of questions in my mind, but it also serves as a reminder to me that suffering has a purpose.  We are to be like Christ, so if He learned obedience through suffering, shouldn't we do the same?  The purpose of our trials is not to make us bitter; it is to make us better.  God often uses the struggles of life to guide us where we need to go and make us more open to His will and direction.  It's not to hurt us, confuse us or exhaust us, though I know it may sometimes feel that way.  No, even in our darkest moments, God is still working all things for our good.

I'm sure that, to many, the crucifixion of Christ seemed like a cruel and dark thing.  What kind of God would sacrifice His own Son?  What kind of man would endure such torment when He had the power to save Himself?  Yes, I'm certain that there was much confusion and disappointment that day, but through it all, God had a plan.  Jesus was obedient unto death, and His obedience gave us life.  At the time, it didn't make sense, but looking back, we can see how the intricate pieces of God's plan fit together.

In our lives, we don't have the luxury of looking back because we're living them right now.  We can see a few broken pieces but don't have a clue how they fit together.  That's okay because we don't need to see; we need to trust.  Understanding God's character and love for us, we can trust that our suffering has a purpose and that purpose is for our good.  Rainstorms bring about rainbows.  Suffering brings about obedience.  And obedience brings about a reward.  Hang in there, dear one, God is working in your trial.  Trust Him.  Lean on Him.  And be obedient to His will.  You won't regret it.  Jesus doesn't!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Are You a Believer?

Over the weekend, Jason and I watched a Christian movie.  Overall, it was a cute movie, but let me tell you this, the "Christian" aspect of it needed a lot of help.  There were several little things that bothered me, but there were also a couple of huge spiritual issues that upset both my husband and me.  To explain, let me give you a brief summary of the plot of the movie.

Tired of being alone and frustrated by the many disastrous dates she's been on, a young woman decides to try out a Christian online dating site despite the fact that she is not a Christian herself.  She meets a wonderful guy and soon finds herself lying to him, his friends and family, all in an attempt to keep her unbelief a secret so that she won't lose this guy of her dreams.  When her secret is revealed, the young man breaks off the relationship and goes back to his former life.  The girl tries to do the same but realizes that the more she learns about God and His ways, the more she seeks Him.

My first of the big problems is that the guy, upon finding out about her deception, pushes her away, promising to pray for her.  While I certainly understand his not wanting to stay in a relationship with her, he had the perfect opportunity to be a witness to her, and he passed it by.  After all, she had been studying the Bible, attending church and Bible study, and much more to keep up her ruse.  She admitted to being drawn to something but simply didn't know the way.  Right there, she opened the door for him to show her the way, but instead, he left her to figure it out for herself.  That part really bothered me.

Another issue I had with the movie was with the girl's coworker whom she had known for many years.  Throughout the movie, you see the girl confiding to her coworker about her deceitful plan to meet a guy.  She tells her everything.  Toward the end of the movie, we find out that the coworker is a believer.  The girl didn't believe it and questioned the coworker about wearing a cross or some mark to let people know that she was a Christian.  The coworker only replied, "That's not my style."  Consider me irate!

The fact of the matter is that if this coworker worked with this woman for years, and the woman still had no idea that she was a believer, then the coworker was a sorry excuse for a Christian.  A Christian doesn't have to wear a cross necklace or spout Bible verses 24/7, but a true Christian should stand out.  There should be something different.  Obviously, this coworker never witnessed to the main character, not even when she knew what the girl was up to with the Christian dating site.  Again, there was an open door to share the love of Christ, but instead, the coworker chose to stay true to her "style."  Grrrr!

My friend, are you a believer in Christ?  I pray that you are, but I also pray that you behave like one.  If we have to go around telling people that we're saved, we're obviously not doing a very good job living it.  Christians act like Christ, and the Bible gives us a clear record of how He behaved and spent His time.  We are to follow His example, and when we do, it won't come as a surprise to anyone that we're a child of God.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. - Matthew 5:16

Monday, June 13, 2016

You Want Me To Go Where?

If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you'll know that the showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal is one of my favorite Bible passages.  There is so much meat there to chew on and so many blessings to be had.  Today, I'd like to share with you a bit of what happened right before that showdown when Elijah was running from his enemies.

I think you know the story.  Per God's orders, Elijah went to King Ahab and told him that it wasn't going to rain until God said so.  Obviously, Ahab didn't take this well, so God sent Elijah into hiding. First, He commanded him to wait by the brook Cherith where the ravens would feed him.  Strange instructions, to be sure, but nothing compared to what was coming next.

And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee. - I Kings 17:7-9

To understand the irony of this command, we need to know a little about Zarephath.  First off, it was a Gentile nation, which means God wasn't even using His people to take care of Elijah.  Strange, huh?  But it gets worse.  The name "Zarephath" actually means "smelting furnace."  Perhaps Elijah was the first one to utter the phrase "out of the frying pan and into the fire."  Seriously, what kind of name is that?  But believe it or not, it gets worse still.  Zarephath was part of Zidon, and would you like to guess who the king of Zidon was?  Jezebel's father.

I don't know how much of this information Elijah knew at the time, but I imagine he at least knew that he was walking in foreign territory.  I wouldn't be surprised it he was a bit leery of the entire situation.  After all, weren't there people in his own land who could have cared for him?  Was it necessary for him to seek shelter and provision from a Gentile?

Imagine Elijah's surprise when he turns up in Zarephath and spots the widow who is supposed to take care of him.  He asks her for some food and water, and she informs him that she's gathering some sticks so she can fix the last meal for herself and her son.  I would have been like, "Seriously, Lord?  How is this woman supposed to care for me when she doesn't even have enough food for her household?"  Fortunately, Elijah had more faith than I do, and things worked out exactly how God had planned.

Let's face it, sometimes God's directions don't make sense to us, do they?  They seem odd or even dangerous.  But if there's one thing I've learned through life and Bible study, it's that God works in mysterious ways.  Seldom does He do things the way we expect Him to do them.  He has His own methods, and they are always right.  Our job is to be obedient to His commands, however strange they may seem to us.  Elijah trusted God, and God met his needs. We can trust God to do the same for us, even in the midst of what seems like a smelting furnace!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Keep Praying

Often when we think about the stories in the Bible, we think of immediate miracles and quick fixes.  Moses raised his rod, and the Red Sea parted.  Elijah prayed over the widow of Zarephath's son and immediately he came back to life.  Andrew brought the five loaves and two fishes to Jesus, who blessed them, broke them and divided them among the people.  Immediate problems, immediate solutions.

But if we stop and think about it, there's a lot of waiting in the Bible.  Many of those whom we consider being spiritual giants didn't get an immediate answer to their problems.  Abraham waited 25 years after God's promise before receiving a son.  Hannah prayed for years for her child.  Joseph spent years in captivity before God elevated him to a place of honor and recognition.  David spent years running from the king before he could become king himself.  Even Daniel admits to waiting for the Lord to respond to his pleas for the nation of Israel.

In those days I Daniel was mourning three full weeks. - Daniel 10:2

For three weeks, Daniel prayed faithfully (and we're all aware of the praying habits of Daniel).  He fasted.  He pleaded.  But most of all, he waited.  Waiting for an answer from God.  Waiting to hear God's reply.  Finally, after three weeks, a messenger from the Lord arrived, and look what he had to say: Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. (vs. 12)

God heard Daniel's prayer from the very first day, and in fact, he sent His messenger out that day.  But if you read on in the text, you'll see that the messenger was hindered from reaching Daniel until three weeks after his initial request.  It wasn't that God wasn't listening or that He wasn't answering.  It wasn't that He didn't care.  God heard.  He answered.  The reply simply took a little longer getting to Daniel than he would have liked.

I know we've discussed waiting a lot in the past several posts, but currently, it's where my heart is.  I, like Daniel, am waiting for an answer from God, but I've been praying for this situation much longer than three weeks.  Still, this passage about Daniel reminds me of a few

First off, God does hear and answer prayer.  It may not seem like it.  It may not feel like it.  But God will not ignore the requests of His children.  That's not to say that He will always answer in the affirmative, but He will always answer, though sometimes that answer may be delayed, which brings me to my next point.

God could have prevented His messenger from being delayed.  He could have seen to it that the messenger arrived within seconds of Daniel's initial prayer, but He didn't.  He allowed the messenger to be delayed for three weeks, which means He allowed Daniel to wait and wait and wait.

It's what Daniel did during that waiting that impresses me.  He didn't argue with God or complain about God not answering His prayers.  He didn't pout, nor did he throw up his hands and quit.  He kept praying.  Day after day, he took his burden to the Lord, determined to keep asking until God gave Him an answer.  Bold?  Certainly, but isn't that how God commands us to come before His throne? (Hebrews 4:16)  Maybe God simply wanted to see how serious Daniel was in his request.  Maybe He wants to see the same with us.

Perhaps you, too, have been praying for something for a long while, and you feel as if God is not listening.  Maybe you're about ready to give up, thinking What's the use?  Hang in there, dear one.  God is listening, and the answer may already be on its way.  Don't pout or cry or get angry with God. But do keep praying, and don't stop until you have your answer!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Protection Versus Perfection

Last Sunday, I heard a quote that I have since traced back to its source (I think).  The quote can be found in a book by Paul David Tripp, and it goes like this:  "God will not protect us from what He will perfect us through."  No offense to Tripp, but to me, the phrase makes more sense when worded this way:  "God will not protect us from what He uses to perfect us."  Same meaning, I believe, but the second way jumps out at me more and causes me to take note.

The Bible tells us over and over again that the Lord is our protector, our shield, our refuge, our hiding place, etc.  So why is it, then, that it seems we're so often under attack?  Why does He allow sickness to linger?  Why does He allow trials to come?  Why doesn't He protect us from the storms of life or the waves of the crashing sea?  I think the above phrase answers those questions, don't you?  If God chooses to not protect us from a particular thing, then we can rest in the hope that He is using that thing to perfect us. . .to make us more like Him.

I know what you may be thinking.  Some days we'd rather have the protection than the perfection, right?  We'd rather sit comfy in our haven of safety and enjoy life rather than endure it.  That's the human way--swayed by our emotions and current circumstances, often losing sight of the big picture and ultimate goal.  Think of it like losing weight.  We say we want to lose weight and place ourselves on a strict diet plan.  But when we've had a rough day, we'd much rather choose the double cheeseburger over the salad, right?  So, what is it that keeps us strong and helps us to choose the healthier option over the one we really want at the moment?  The ultimate goal.  The big picture.  The motivation to lose weight and get healthy.  If we don't lose sight of those things, we'll accomplish what we set out to do.

The same is true in our spiritual walk.  When we're going through hard times, instead of complaining to God about not protecting us, how about we try to keep in mind the end goal which is to be like Christ.  We all want that, right?  It's easy to admit it on the good days, but it's time we hold fast to that truth on the bad days too.  Not only will it give us the motivation to make it through, but it will also encourage us to praise God in the storm.  What a privilege to know that He is molding and making us in His own image, that He loves us enough to take the time to make us perfect and complete in Him.  Yes, He's a good, good Father!

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. - James 1:2-4

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Well Worth the Wait!

In I Samuel 20, we find the tragic parting of dear friends, Jonathan and David.  David is convinced that Saul wants him dead, but Jonathan can't believe that his father would be so petty and bitter.  He pleads with David to hide for a few days while he (Jonathan) sorts things out with his father, Saul.  Jonathan soon discovers that Saul is even more bitter and angry than David had let on, and Jonathan has to send David away for his own safety.

I think we all know the account.  David hid in a field when Jonathan and his servant came out as if practicing with the bow and arrow.  Jonathan and David had already discussed the code phrase they would use if David were right about Saul, and when Jonathan used that phrase, David knew it was time to say goodbye to his dearest friend, not to mention the life that God had promised him, it seemed.

Last Saturday, I went to a ladies' meeting in Colombia, and let me tell you, the Lord moved in that meeting.  The speaker talked a little bit about the above passage and about the stone Ezel where David awaited Jonathan.  She gave a definition of the word "Ezel":  waiting place of destiny.  That phrase hit me hard because I feel like that's where my husband and I have been for quite some time now.  Waiting.  There are things we've been praying about for years that still have not come to pass even though we feel those things would be for our benefit.  Still, we pray and wait.

This morning, I wanted to study out that word "Ezel" a little more.  I just had a feeling that the Lord had something more for me there.  I wasn't wrong.  As I searched, I discovered that the word has more than one meaning, yet they go together so perfectly.  Ezel also means "the stone that shapes or shows the way."  Hallelujah!  You see, it's not just a waiting place; it's also a molding place, which means that while we're waiting, God is working.

I believe there are many reasons why God often makes us wait for an answer to our prayers or for our miracle to take place, but I also feel that this is one of the main ones.  God is working on us while we're waiting because it's only when we are still that He can do the detailed work that needs to be done.  During those long times of waiting, He is shaping us to be what He wants us to be and showing us so many things--things about Him, things about ourselves, things about the path we desire and the way He desires for us.  So much can take place while we're waiting on God.  That's why waiting is so important.  It can change our lives if we let it.  No, it's never easy, but it is always worth it.

Perhaps you are standing at your stone of Ezel today.  Maybe, like me, you've been praying for something, and it seems as if God has turned a deaf ear.  Don't despair, friend, for God always hears and answers our prayers when we come to Him with clean hearts.  But remember that the answer will come in God's time, and while you're waiting, He will be working on you and showing you the way He wants you to go.

Keep in mind, also, that the answer may not always be the one you wanted. David waited at Ezel, and he received his directions:  he had to flee.  That was not the answer he wanted, but we know from understanding the rest of David's story that it was all part of God's plan.  Remember that should God give you an answer that is contrary to the one you desired.  He is working all things for our good, and sometimes the biggest part of that work is the waiting.  Hang in there, my friend.  God is not through yet, and what He has in store for you is well worth the wait!

Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord. - Psalm 27:14

Monday, June 6, 2016

Finish the Race You've Begun

John Stephen Akhwari represented Tanzania in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.  Though a good runner, Akhwari's chances of winning the race were demolished when he realized that he had not trained for such a high altitude.  Within moments of running, his muscles began to cramp, leading to significant discomfort and slowing his pace.  Still, Akhwari pressed on.

Not even halfway through the marathon, Akhwari became tangled in a group of runners who were trying to gain ground on one another.  In the melee, he was knocked to the ground, dislocating both his knee and shoulder.  Onlookers were confident that they had seen the last step of Akhwari, at least for this particular race.  But after receiving medical attention, the injured athlete rejoined the runners and continued his race as he hobbled down the track.

Of the 75 starting participants, Akhwari was the last of the 57 who crossed the finish line.  His completion was nearly an hour after that of the winner, and most of the crowd had departed.  Still, those who remained cheered him on as he persevered through his pain and finished the race.  When the news crews heard that the last runner was about to cross the finish line, they hurried to interview him and asked him why in the world he kept running when he was injured so severely.  His response was this:  "My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race."  Though he finished in last place, Akhwari is regarded as a hero with superhuman spirit and has received numerous honors for his dedication to the race.

Dear friends, I remind you that God has not placed us here to start the race but to finish it.  Yes, sometimes the running can be painful--even excruciating, and there are likely to be stumbles and injuries along the way.  But God wants us to be like Akhwari.  He longs for us to be determined to finish, no matter the cost.  He will give us the strength to complete the race as long as we have the willingness and dedication to see it through.  It's not about who wins; it's about who finishes.  Let's not be like the 18 runners who quit the 1968 Marathon before crossing the finish line.  Let's keep going, allowing God to provide the strength and motivation, so that when we complete the race, we can give Him all the glory.

Perhaps you've stumbled recently, and you're having trouble getting back on your feet.  Call out to Jesus.  He'll lift you up.  Or maybe you've been injured by someone or something, and you just don't feel like going on.  Turn to Jesus.  He'll shower you with grace and comfort.  Or maybe you're just at a place where it seems too difficult.  You're tired.  You're weary.  And you're struggling to put one foot in front of the other.  Lean on Jesus.  He'll carry you when you can't run.  He is determined to get you across that finish line.  He won't give up on you.  Don't give up on Him.  Keep moving!  Finish the race you've begun.

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: - II Timothy 4:7

Friday, June 3, 2016

Your Work Is Not in Vain

A couple of days ago, I was thrilled to receive an email from one of my blog subscribers.  He told me that he had been following my blogs for a while now and that they had been encouraging to him.  He went on to say that he had finally accepted the Lord as his Savior and was urging his friends to do the same.  What a blessed reminder that God is still in the saving business!

The email also reminded me that our work here on earth is not in vain.  Whatever we do, whether it be encouraging the saints or reaching out to the lost, our efforts will be rewarded.  As God promised, His words will not return void.  We each have a purpose even when it may seem that our work goes unnoticed or unappreciated.  For that reason, we must not give up or give in.  God is working through us.

When I write a book, devotion or story, I have no idea who might read it.  My writing is available throughout the world thanks to the wonders of the Internet, so at any time, it could fall into the hands of anyone.  This thought keeps me going when the process is rough and the rejections are many.  With the hopes that my work will help someone in need or lead someone to Christ, I have the power to press on through many obstacles that would ordinarily have me throwing in the towel.  And God, in His great mercy, is even kind enough to send me evidence in the form of notes, emails, and comments that my effort is not in vain.  It is accomplishing the goal that He has for me, so while I may not be famous, I intend to keep being faithful, knowing that it's worth it!

I know what some of you are thinking.  Sure, it's easy for you to impact people's lives.  You're a writer.  You have a blog that is read around the world.  I'm nobody.  I don't have that kind of outreach.  I refer you back to yesterday's blog where we discussed Mary and Jesus' comment, "She hath done what she could."  God doesn't expect you to influence the same people as I do.  He knows where you are and what outreach you have.  He wants you to do what you can within your realm of influence.  Maybe you can't reach the lost in Nepal, but you can witness to the neighbor across the street or offer a shoulder to cry on to the co-worker whose husband just left her.  We all have something we can do.  Give a smile.  Send a card.  Bake a cake.  Do whatever it is that God has given you the heart and talent to do and know that your efforts are not in vain.

As for those of you who are thinking, Well, that sounds good and all, but I've been doing my part, and I just don't see God working at all, hang in there.  God is always working, even when we don't see it. If you are doing His will, He will bring about a good result in His time.  Remember, He is the God of possibilities.  He can reach the unreachable and save the despicable.  There is nothing that He can't do, and we know that He wants the best for His children and that He longs for all to come to repentance.  Don't lose hope.  Keep doing what you can, then allow God to do the rest.  I promise you, the work is not in vain!

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. - I Corinthians 15:58

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Do What You Can Do!

On Sunday evening, one of the preachers in our church preached an excellent message out of Mark 14, which is the passage where Mary anoints the feet of Jesus with the expensive spikenard.  The challenge of the message was for each of us to do what we can for Jesus while there is still time, but as usual, my mind took things in another direction.

And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. - Mark 14:6-8

She hath done what she could.  What a powerful and convicting statement.  As the preacher said on Sunday, how many of us can honestly say that we've done everything we can?  The truth is that we often fail to do the things we know we should do, but as I said, that's not really what I want to talk about this morning.  Instead, I want to look at that passage from the viewpoint of someone with chronic illness, someone whose expectations far outweigh her abilities.  Yes, I'm talking about myself, but this could apply to anyone who is sick, elderly, weak or any other number of things.

Notice that Jesus said Mary had done what she could.  He didn't say she had done what Martha could or what Lazarus could.  He didn't compare her efforts to anyone else's abilities or expectations.  He knew what she had to offer, and He accepted it gladly and with commendation to her.  Two chapters earlier, Jesus applauded the widow for casting her two mites into the treasury even though others cast in much more.  It wasn't the amount that matter.  It was the percentage.  In both cases, each woman gave all that she had to give.

For whatever reason, God has each of us in our current state, whether that be young and healthy, old and sick, or somewhere in between.  He knows what we're capable of, but He also understands our limits.  God knows that I cannot physically accomplish what my husband can, and it does not honor Him when I try.  I honor Him when I offer all that I have to give, however little that may seem to me. Whether it be strength or time or money, the lesson is the same:  God is not comparing your sacrifice to others to see how it stands up.  God is comparing your sacrifice to your ability--that's all!  If we diligently give Him all that we have to give, He will bless us and applaud our giving.

I don't know about you, but that revelation has given me peace.  I don't have to try to keep up with anyone else.  I don't have to force strength and energy where there is none.  All I have to do is what I can do.  God will take care of the rest.  What a relief!