Things I Can See

Even when we talk about balancing faith and sight, somehow it all gets back to recognizing the fence-lines around my Yard of responsibility. Because here in the Everyday, in the realm of my words, my choices, my actions… I reap what I sow. I know this, but I also recognize that outside the fence there is a whole world of things that I cannot control: other people’s feelings and perspectives, even their behavior…and it doesn’t matter how much I love them or how badly I want to help (fix?) them. I could sow all the best things in their lives, with no guarantee of reaping. Their lives are their own, and it is harmful to everyone involved if I go rooting around in their yards. Boundary lines help keep relationships healthy, and keep us humble, realizing the limits to our own power. So I balance living my best, inside my circle of influence, with holding onto hopes for happy endings for the people and the situations I care about.

And I can have hope, because out there in the unseen world– in God’s wide reality– nothing is impossible, and He “is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20) His Wind blows everywhere and no fence-lines can stop it.  No wish-dreams we hold onto so tightly can get in the way. He plans from beginning to end for the good of all His creation, and His loving-kindness never fails…it falls like rain on every Yard, because it is all His. The Song-Writer David could not find a single place on this planet where God was not at work: “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:9-10) So when we talk about living by faith, we really mean acknowledging how small is our Yard and how big is creation, and Who is its rightful King.

I find that in the balance of understanding my Yard better, there is a different kind of Hope, something more than wishing hard. God’s overarching plans are for sure and certain, like the sun coming up in the morning and the way Winter always melts into Spring, whether or not we can see how it works. We can build our lives on Hope like that. And it is prayer that bridges the gap between the two worlds. “The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and His ears are open to their prayers.” (1 Peter 3:12) Big-brother James goes so far as to say that “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16) I have no delusions of power– the older I get, the more clearly I see all the things in this world that are outside my control– but I understand that prayer allows me to participate in the work of an almighty God, to reach beyond the fence-lines of my small Yard. This kind of Hope motivates me to turn fears and concerns into prayers, balances how helpless I feel at times, because the King’s plans are real and good and indestructable. Faith says that all I have to do is take care of my own Yard, and for everything I cannot do, there is Grace and all the Father’s good gifts.

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“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

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“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (CS Lewis)

 

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A Mother’s Super-Power

The world is a scary place, maybe for mothers most of all. Whether we are sending our baby girl off to preschool for the first time, or releasing our young men to pursue their dreams, our hearts race on ahead of them, and we are profoundly aware of all the ways the world will hurt and confound them…how swiftly and irrevocably tragedy can fall. Any mother can tell you, we would face lions to keep safe the ones we love. And any mother can tell you, we know there are so many giants out there that our growing-up children will have to face alone. This is the particular strength and vulnerability of a mother’s heart.

But we are not alone with our fears and we are far from helpless, because the God who made us designed our hearts to look like His, to mirror the nurturing care He has for all His creation. Jesus reminds us that His Father God feeds all the little songbirds; He watches when they fly and when they fall. The same Creator who tells Job that He keeps track of when the wild goats give birth, describes Himself as “a bear robbed of her cubs” to the prophet Hosea. He appeals to a mother’s love as the highest standard, to help us understand how He feels: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15) It is one of the most intimate and passionate promises in the Scriptures.

Perhaps this is one reason that many women become such warriors in their prayers: expressing their hearts to God’s in that shared intensity for the needs and well-being of others, a common language of love. Women like this are affirming Paul’s conviction that “neither death nor life…nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) Although our children will certainly face monsters in this world…of bigotry, of injustice, of violence, of harsh words and harder consequences, of war and disease and heartbreak…yet we understand God’s heart and we say with Paul, “if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32) All the monstrous evil in this world is overcome with the blood of the Lamb, God’s own fierce sacrifice of love for us, and nothing has the power to destroy us in the shadow of His Cross.

So we can stand firm on truth in the midst of a frightening world, and be who God made us to be. We can teach our children to know their Creator and follow His ways, so that they have a foundation on which to build. We can show them how to live with integrity, how to walk in faith, and how to serve in love. We can pray with them and for them in Jesus’ mighty Name and claim His protection over them.

And we can rest our hearts in knowing that He loves our children even more than we do, and He is at work in their lives as He has been in our own. We can trust His love and faithfulness to follow them all the days of their lives. This we can do, as mothers, and take captive every fear.

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“The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid?… Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.” (Psalm 27:1, 3)

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“Peace be still, You are near
There’s nowhere we can go
That You won’t shine redemption’s light
Our guilt withdrawn
As You rise, we come alive
The grave has lost, the old is gone
And You’re making all things new
You are making all things new
You are making all things new
And we are free”
(All Things New, Elevation)

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Keeping It Simple

Feeling thankful this week for the wise words from other pilgrims on this Faith-journey, and how they inspire and challenge us. When you read their words from long ago and are amazed at how much you resonate with their spiritual experiences, there is a certain sense of soul-satisfaction– a relief that you are not alone. That is also the best part of being in a small group, of course. The encouragement and prayers of brothers and sisters in Christ accomplish for me far more than my own solitary efforts could ever manage.

But I also see how comparing ourselves with others becomes one more way we complicate our walk with Christ. Somehow we get the idea that if we can’t pray or teach or give or send cards like someone else, we are not doing well as a Christian; maybe God prefers people who dress a certain way or like to read the Christian best-sellers. Surely there is some kind of point system to all this, and surely we could be doing better. That feeling of not measuring up can be downright paralyzing. After all, how do we know how much is enough, to feel close to God and have that abundant Christian life we truly desire? And here we are– just ordinary women who often fall asleep in the middle of our prayer lists at night.

As we wrestle with implementing basic good habits for spiritual health, let’s not get off-course by setting up impossible standards for ourselves. No matter how many hours you’ve heard so-and-so spends in her prayer closet (before dawn, no less!), or how many times another one has read through the Bible…no matter whether you feel heart-hungry or ready-to-give-up…let’s not forget that all God asks of you is that you choose His way right this moment. Just make the effort and show up, expecting Him to meet you. He will not let you down. Whether you read one verse or fifty. Whether you pray with your eyes closed or open, indoors or outdoors, in stillness or in chaos. Whether you feel His presence or not. “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:8) The testimony of millions of saints who have gone before us stands as a reminder (maybe even a challenge) that there is nothing in life that is more vital to our inner health and well-being than time with our loving Father. Just do it. Any way that works for you. Today, and again tomorrow, and over and over again, until it is a lifestyle.

Ours is the choosing to spend time with Him; His is the fruit that will grow from our actions. Sometimes the choice comes out of our desperate need; sometimes only out of obedience. Regardless, it is better than not showing up at all. He will not fail to speak to us if our hearts are ready to listen. There is no magic formula for success in the Christian life. There is just real life and a real God who wants to be right there in the middle of it. Don’t let anyone complicate this matter for you.

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“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:21)

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“Most important though is…our deciding on some time and duration and sticking to it, at least for a trial period of a few weeks.  This means that once we’ve decided to do it, we treat it like brushing our teeth: it is just something we “do,” without agonizing over it each time.  Brushing our teeth, once it’s a habit, is very simple.  So is prayer time.  If we leave open a crack for “re-deciding” every day, then it becomes complicated. We’ve undercut the very simplicity that prayer time can reveal.”  (Tilden H. Edwards)

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When Cares Abound

Finding much encouragement and challenge in this old sermon from Charles Spurgeon, first delivered in January of 1888 from his pulpit in the Metropolitan Tabernacle. What would it have been like to listen to this sermon 127 years ago in London, from the mouth of “The Prince of Preachers” himself?

“I suppose it is true of many of us that our cares are numerous. If you are like me, once you become careful, anxious, fretful, you are never able to count your cares, even though you might count the hairs of your head. And cares are apt to multiply to those who are care-full and when you are as full of care as you think you can be, you will be sure to have another crop of cares growing up all around you. The indulgence of this evil habit of anxiety leads to its getting dominion over life, till life is not worth living by reason of the care we have about it. Cares and worries are numerous, and therefore, let your prayers be as numerous. Turn everything that is a care into a prayer. Let your cares be the raw material of your prayers and, as the alchemists hoped to turn dross into gold, so you, by a holy alchemy, actually turn what naturally would have been a care into spiritual treasure in the form of prayer! Baptize every anxiety into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—and so make it into a blessing!” (Spurgeon, Prayer, The Cure for Care)

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“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

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Reminders for The Race

There is just this to say, to those running hard in the faith-race, and maybe losing perspective:

You are never too far along to shed your skin and be made new. And neither is anyone else.  Because “we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) He is still calling people closer to Him and He will not stop till the final breath. Don’t give up on our ability to change in the Creator’s hands.

God’s promises are not too big for ordinary people to lay hold of. His resurrection power is at work in this world, and in us, whether or not we have eyes to see it. He is the Creator of all this ordinary who says “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3), and promises that He is working every last little thing into His good plans for us, and the ordinary will all be made extraordinary, in the end. That’s why Jesus came down here, remember? “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

The words He gave us are not simply inspiring thoughts and lofty ideals. No, they are  breathed out by His Spirit into the concrete limits of ink and paper, and yet by His power remain “living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword…and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) They are wisdom and reality, meant for us to take hold of and put into practice, despite what society may call normal and our experiences may tell us to settle for.

Just because you haven’t found your happy ending, doesn’t mean there is no such thing…and let me tell you this: your story is not over yet. Life in this world may have wounded and disappointed, time and again, and I know what it is to build walls against the hurt, and to learn to walk carefully, but how do you live Real and still keep the deepest places walled up?  There is a choice there, and you have to know there is Someone who intends to be those protecting walls for you– the sooner you learn to run to Him as a safe place to hide, the healthier your heart will be. The Musician-King knew all about loneliness, and grief, and betrayal, and his songs are about his own real life journey: “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust Him….He will cover you with His feathers. He will shelter you with His wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.” (Psalm 91:1-2, 4) God defines what is right and good and beautiful and true with the Person of Jesus, and all this is His Story, from beginning to end– the Hero who slays the dragon, rescues the girl, and brings her home to His Father the King to live happily-ever-after.

See, when you are still in the middle of your story, where the action and the conflict is, it is easy to forget that all of us Jesus-followers get happy endings. What you see now is only a few chapters so far, and all the characters aren’t even fully developed yet. The Author is the only One who sees the entire story from Beginning to End– so don’t get sidetracked, muddling through the pages, and conclude this is all there is. I’m with the Church-Planter, Paul, on this one: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) 

So pick yourself up when people disappoint and life hurts… and keep on running. Fasten your eyes on Jesus, pour out your heart to Him, and don’t give up. “…Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5) Remind each other, and keep running.

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“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

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“When I feel the cold of winter
In this cloak of sadness, I need You
Oh the evil things that shake me
All the words that break me I need You

Over the mountains, over the sea
Here You come running, my Lover to me

Do not hide me from Your presence
Pull me from these shadows, I need You
Beauty wrap Your arms around me
Sing Your song of courage, I need You

Over the mountains, over the sea
Here You come running, my Lover to me
Oh, through the valleys, through the dark of night
Here You come running, to hold me till it’s light

I’ll come running, I’ll come running, I’ll come running back to You”
(Song of Solomon, Jesus Culture)

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How Big Is Too Big?

On the whiteboard in my classroom we are writing our mountains, the big rocks that only faith can move. The ones that Jesus said would pick right up, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed.” (Matthew 17:20). The ones we might have all but given up on. The ones that we pray about because they matter, but wonder if there are really any answers out there: our young people to come to faith and stay close to God; powerful men and women to stand up and speak truth and wisdom in our society; our marriages to grow deep and healthy; the next step in ministry; bodies and minds of people we love to be made whole.

We’ve talked in small group before, about this odd rating system we have for prayers– the subconscious evaluation of what is the right-sized prayers to bring to God, and which ones might be beneath His notice or too presumptuous to ask…though why we think we are qualified to make that judgment is a mystery. Or maybe it’s just a matter of how much stress we can handle, and how much we are willing to risk. I read a youth pastor this week saying, “To have faith in God means that you need to tender your resignation….as CEO of the universe….recognize that some things are out of our control.” (Glyn Barrett) And surrendering control is risky business– even if it was only an illusion all along– because what if everything doesn’t turn out right? (But if I stay in charge everything will turn out just the way I want? There is a yawning precipice there, if you start to follow that through, logically.)

Putting our mountains down in ink is a statement of belief: a statement of Who is in control and that He is good. A commitment to believe what God says about Himself. A refusal to be satisfied with mediocrity just because it seems more attainable. A courage to step out of familiar places and into the risky unexpectedness of supernatural power.

Because we are studying the resurrection, and how Ezekiel speaks God’s Word into the dry hopeless bones of his people, and there is power that brings new life. And how Jesus’ mere touch brings healing to desperate people….power strong enough to reverse a lifetime of suffering for a desperate woman, and perspective big enough to look at our great enemy Death and call him a Pretender. We are seeing God’s depth of compassion for the brokenness of His creation, and His desire to lift the crushing weight of the consequences of our sin. In the middle of all this dirt, He weeps for our pain and our fear and the bonds of our mortality. Jesus stands here in our dirt and looks in our eyes and offers hope: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) And we whisper a yes and write down our mountains. Putting them into words here is a commitment to see them with Jesus’ eyes, in light of the resurrection.

Paul says that “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, He will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.” (Romans 8:11) The Spirit of God has taken up residence in our flesh and blood, made Temple by His presence. And so Eternity touches and transforms us from the inside out, and the resurrection of Jesus becomes a starting place, or as Paul calls it, the “first fruits” of what is to come. “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:21) If we can believe in the resurrection of Christ, it is just the beginning to believing in a great many other impossible things. It’s the mustard seed of faith that He can move these mountains.

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“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:18-21)

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“Saviour, he can move the mountains–
My God is mighty to save,
He is mighty to save.
Forever author of salvation,
He rose and conquered the grave;
Jesus conquered the grave.”
(Mighty to Save, Hillsong)

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What Prayer Does for Me

At its roots, prayer is evidence of our restored relationship with God. Prayer acknowledges that He is the Creator and we are the created; He is the Provider and we are the needy; He is the King before Whom everything bows, and we open our mouths to praise His name and give thanks. It is appropriate (or fitting, as they used to say) for us to turn our hearts toward Him in prayer, constantly and gladly. It is the best way to stop the painful legacy of hiding and self-sufficiency that we got from our First Parents, and clear evidence that we are being transformed into Christ-likeness. Charles Spurgeon preached it well:

“…the act of prayer teaches us our unworthiness, which is no small blessing to such proud beings as we. If God gave us mercies without constraining us to pray for them, we should never know how poor we are. A true prayer is an inventory of needs, a catalog of necessities, an exposure of secret wounds, a revelation of hidden poverty. While it is an application to divine wealth, it is also a confession of human emptiness. I believe that the most healthy state of a Christian is to be always empty, and always depending upon the Lord for supplies. It is to be always poor in self and rich in Jesus. It is to know our personal weaknesses and yet be mighty through God to do great exploits. While prayer adores God, it lays the creature where he should be—in the very dust. Prayer is in itself, apart from the answer that it brings, a great benefit to the Christian.” (The Power of Prayer in a Believer’s Life, Charles Spurgeon)

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“All of You is more than enough for
All of me, for every thirst and every need;
You satisfy me with Your love,
And all I have in You is more than enough.”
(Chris Tomlin, Enough)

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When The Answer Is No

I must have absorbed it by osmosis through the years, this idea that answer to prayer was a synonym for receiving from God what I had asked for. And unanswered prayer somehow became just another way of saying “I am still asking, but haven’t received it yet.” I don’t remember being told that, specifically, and if you had asked me I would have said with certainty that God doesn’t always do what we ask of Him. Any praying person figures that out pretty quickly. And yet there it was, that use of the term that implies the only answer that matters is the one we want.

As we study prayer on Wednesdays, we have talked about this particular oddity of church culture, and we have found our understanding of God’s answers widening. God promised His people, “Call to me and I will answer you…” (Jeremiah 33:3) So whatever God gives us in response to our prayers He must consider a sufficient answer, even if sometimes it does not look at all the way we thought it would. Sometimes the answer is a promise for the future; sometimes a charge to repent or take action so that He can bless us; sometimes His tender mercies toward our heartache, or provision for our need; and much to our dismay, quite often His answer is No, my dear child.

And sometimes when the need is most pressing and it feels as if the world is collapsing around us, the answer still seems to be No, and hearts can lose their faith in the rubble, unless we can be still and listen to His promise: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) Because when we ask anything of Him, the unspoken question between us is always whether we will trust Him in this, and which we want more– the thing we desire, or more of Him. It is not an easy thing, to say with the Church-Planter Paul, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

We can blame it on perspective, maybe, because we are very bad at knowing what is good for us, and our prayers reflect our short-sightedness and our dependency on the world we can taste and touch. Sometimes our prayers are more heartfelt than wise, and we should be glad that the God who lives in Eternity knows what is actually good for us in the long run, knows all things inside and out. As Sheldon Vanauken observed, in his account of love and loss, sometimes our great tragedies are but “a severe mercy” from the hands of a compassionate Father. Job was honest about the impact of his life-changing losses: “For sighing has become my daily food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” (Job 3:24-25) But I wonder, in the long run, whether he would have traded those long dark months of grieving, for his glimpse of God’s glory and the wisdom he gained through it. You can’t have one without the other. I heard a preacher say last week that God allowed the worst thing he could imagine to happen in his life, because it made him desperate…and desperation brings about transformation. In God’s book, it is always okay to be desperate.

We talked this week about what it means in practical terms to pray “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven,” like Jesus taught us to do. That phrase has a ring to it, and it rolls off the tongue very poetically when you are reciting The Lord’s Prayer in a group. But to be able to pray that with face to the earth, in total surrender to the Lord of heaven and earth, requires us to dig deeply into our desires and motives. It’s not the kind of prayer one should pray lightly, without counting the cost. Yet when you think about it, is it not the end goal of all true prayer? If prayer is abiding with Christ and communicating heart-to-heart with Him, then each of our petitions, from the simplest childish request to the deepest struggles of the human heart are a seeking for Him, a crying out for the Father to respond to His children. And every answer He gives (no matter how it comes) is a way to know Him better, a glimpse of His heart and His plans for us. And the more we know His heart, the more we trust Him and embrace His will, till everything in our corner of the world bows in submission and worship, as it does in the heavenly places. With Jesus we will be able to pray, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) and know that even when the answer is No, God will be there still, and He will be Enough.

 

 

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“He must often seem to us to be playing fast and loose with us….And the danger is that when what He means by ‘wind’ appears you will ignore it because it is not what you thought it would be– as He Himself was rejected because He was not like the Messiah the Jews had in mind.” (CS Lewis in a letter to Vanauken)

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“‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor My covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10)

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Prayer is Always Called For

 

In every situation we can possibly find ourselves, there is one response that is always appropriate (even necessary), and that is to pray. God gives us this command over and over again through Scripture: come to Me…call out to Me…turn your hearts to Me…over and over, because our turning away to do things on our own is part of the great Wrong that needs to be righted, the Original Sin. This aspect of relationship is so important to Him that because we could not bridge the gap, He came to find us Himself and tear down all the walls between.  And still, over and over, God tells us, “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3) It is food for every hungry heart. It is a command that covers every circumstance.

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“Are you sick? Call unto Me, for I am the Great Physician. Are you fearful that you shall be able to provide for your family? Call unto Me! Do your children trouble you? Are your griefs little, yet painful, like small points and pricks of thorns? Call unto Me! Is your burden heavy as though it would make your back break beneath its load? Call unto Me!” “Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never allow the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22) In the valley, on the mountain, on the barren rock, beneath the billows in the briny sea, in the furnace when the coals are glowing, in the gates of death when the jaws of hell would shut themselves upon you—never cease to pray, for the commandment addresses you with, “Call unto Me.”
(The Power of Prayer in a Believer’s Life, Charles Spurgeon)

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“He will call on Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.” (Psalm 91:15)

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No Fear in Love

We keep coming back to the fact that relationship with God is the essential context for prayer. Jesus put the two together in the word picture of the vine and branches: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7) He is speaking to His closest disciples– not just anyone on the street but those who know Him and love Him and will follow Him to the cross and beyond. He is describing a prayer life that pours out of living in His presence, flows from our understanding of His written words and Himself, the very Word of God. The prayers are a conversation between our spirits and our constant spiritual Help-meet, a result of our connection with Him and our delight in Him. It reminds me of the mutual absorption and delight of new lovers, gazing into each other’s eyes with so much to say and never enough time to say it all, when every turn of the head and every sentence is a new revelation of the beloved. There is nothing we could not ask of that person. Why is it then, that we tend to measure our relationship with God by the response we receive from Him, as if prayer were a loves-me-loves-me-not test of cosmic proportion? When we truly see the deep everlasting love of God at the cross, grab onto it with both hands for our very lives, there is no need for uncertainty within our relationship with Him. This is how John can say that love-without-fear will be a defining mark of the person abiding in Christ: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us…..There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:17-18)

Spurgeon articulates well how this loving relationship affects both the nature of our prayers and the fruit they bear: “I see clearly why the branch gets all it wants while it abides in the stem, since all it wants is already in the stem and placed there for the sake of the branch….in such a man as that there is a predominance of grace that causes him to have a renewed will, which is according to the will of God.” (The Power of Prayer in a Believer’s Life) A woman who walks and talks with Jesus constantly and naturally, while going about everyday life here in this world trusts the heart of the One in whom she abides because she knows Him well. She sees her own knowledge and abilities in comparison to His and if she desires something with all her heart, yet will hesitate in thinking she knows best or is qualified to judge in the matter, and will gladly defer to the decision of the Branch in Whom she lives and breathes and has her being. It is easy, then, for Jesus to promise that our hearts’ desires will be accomplished for us, as He describes that kind of relationship with people who follow Him.

And this abiding closeness helps us understand the answers we receive from God. If our hearts are delighting in Him and pursuing deeper knowledge of the Beloved One, then every answer He gives is a means to that end…not only when our desires are affirmed and granted, but also when He counsels us to wait or gives us only the answer of His presence and peace…still we are learning to know Him and receiving the grace of His response to our requests. I listen to the older-and-wiser saints who have learned to live in vital connection to the Vine, and see their serene understanding that everything He does is an expression of His everlasting love and kindness, no matter how it feels or appears in the moment. “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all– how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) We can believe this in our heads, but as we practice abiding, and grow in our close relationship with the Savior, we begin to believe this with our whole hearts. We taste and see for ourselves that His ways are good. And we begin to see how all His answers are nothing but grace and love poured out on us, even when it hurts or we have trouble understanding.

Lord Jesus, heal the wounded places that have left us un-trusting and un-resting. Straighten the bent spirits, the handicaps that cause us to struggle to love fully and unafraid. Strengthen the despairing hearts, the weary and the broken, that we may be able to hope for all good things from Your hand. Restore us and make us new– enable us to live in relationship with You, moment by moment, as Your creatures were meant to live from the Beginning. This is our prayer.

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“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:9-11)

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