When to Stop Praying

Originally published on March 8, 2015.

I remember her standing there in her driveway, confessing to me with a little laugh and a shake of her head: “I’ve been fighting with God about something for a little while now, and I should know better….I know He’s going to win in the end.” My mother-in-law was seventy-two then, and I remember smiling with her in rueful acknowledgement of divine sovereignty and human emotions–the lesson that takes a lifetime to learn. I think of her often in my own storms, when it gets hard to be still and know that He is God. Even when you know all along Who is in charge and to Whom your heart will bow in the end, still the heart needs time to process, time to find new perspectives and lay down its natural reactions. These don’t come naturally, and there is wisdom in that admission– that prayer isn’t the suspending of our wills, but the bowing down of them. Not the denying of our emotions but the sharing of them in intimate relationship. And it is the willingness to go through the changing process that is our offering of worship to the King. As Paul wrote to the Romans “…let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

This is where prayer is so invaluable to us, because in that private space we can honestly pour out every thought and feeling without regard for how correct it is, or how mature, or how admirable.  It is the one safest place to be real: in the presence of the Person who made us, the One who went through death and back, for us. As long as our end goal is to please Him and do things His way, He is unfailingly patient with the process of getting us there. And as long as we are opening the door to Him in prayer, we are allowing Him the opportunity to interact with us, grow us, help us understand Him better, which is what He wants most of all.

When all the words have run out and the storm of emotion has run dry, there is left a quietness in His presence, and the comforting of His Spirit. The situation may not have changed at all, but the heart waits, knowing that He understands, and stands alongside. This is the gift of prayer. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6)

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Practically then, I say, Pray as He did, until prayer makes you cease praying. Pray until prayer makes you forget your own wish, and leave it or merge it in God’s will.

Frederick Robertson

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Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

A Tale of Life-Changing Prayer

Originally published March 9, 2016.

Whenever I read Hannah’s story in the Bible, I pause to wonder over the fact that she gave up her sweet boy. After praying “year after year” for him (so the story goes), she finally promises to give him back if God will just hear her prayer for a child. It is reminiscent of the desperate promises that lead to tragedy in some of our best folk-tales, except this one seems to be told with joy and we hear her song of praise, get to see her leading the little boy to the Temple to live with old Eli, watch her making wee garments to take to him when she visits once a year and sees how much he has grown. I chose her words of faith as our own commitment when we dedicated our children: “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” (1 Samuel 1:27-28) And I meant it, but I always wondered how she could bear to leave Samuel there to travel back home, after waiting so long to hold him. I always thought how she must be a stronger woman than I am.

Once you get past the main attraction here, that God answered a weeping woman’s prayers with a miracle baby, other valuable features of the story come to light, the first of which is that it is not really her story at all, but the beginning of Samuel’s. He himself is writing down the story he must have heard dozens of times– probably once a year when his parents came to visit. (I have it on good authority that parents tend to tell and re-tell their favorite stories about their children…you know we all do it.) And he records it with good reason, in all its detail, because his mother’s struggle has shaped his life– poured the foundation for who he is and the role he will play in the nation of Israel.

The first years of Hannah’s marriage read like an ancient soap opera, with two wives and one good-hearted husband caught in the middle. One wife loved, but barren; a second-choice wife (and probably younger) having child after child, but all too conscious of where their husband’s affections lay. Not surprisingly, their home becomes the grounds for some pretty serious rivalry and drama. Hannah weeps and prays and fasts. The husband gives gifts and coaxes her with declarations of his love. The other wife taunts and shows off her pregnancies and her children, jabs at Hannah’s faith year after year. You can’t help but wonder why Hannah kept praying: she keeps going to the Temple to worship, keeps asking God and does not give up. On the surface it appears that when Eli finally notices her praying in a public place, he casts his favor with her, and God at last gives her what she wants. But the year after year of praying without answers is a key element in the story that we would not want to miss.

We can feel it with her, the monthly cycle of hoping and praying and being disappointed yet again. Every month watching others flourish while she waited on her own body to bear life. Month after month pouring out her heart’s desires and believing that Someone out there was listening and could help her, despite every visible circumstance to the contrary.  And I wonder how her prayers began to change as she wrestled. We only catch glimpses of what was happening in her heart: Certainly she prayed for a child to fill her arms…to affirm her womanhood…to bring joy to her life. Surely she prayed for a child to please her husband and validate his love for her. Perhaps she prayed for a child to silence the neighbors’ whispering tongues. To restore her honor. Year after year, the narrative says. Her persistence speaks loudly of her devotion to God and her determination not to turn elsewhere for answers, and in the shape of her prayers we hear how God met her in those wilderness years. “… for the Lord is a God who knows, and by Him deeds are weighed….He will guard the feet of his faithful servants….” (1 Samuel 2:3,9)

She kept on giving her pain and her longing and her dreams into God’s care, until finally she just laid it all down– gave up her ideas of what should happen and why, and said Not my will but Your purposes be accomplished in my life…This child will be from You and for You, and this miracle will be for Your glory. And Samuel did belong to the Lord from the moment he was born, dedicated to serve Him as the last of the judges and the first of the prophets– the one who would guide the great kings of Israel’s Golden Age. Both mother and child were overshadowed by the Holy Spirit so that Hannah could prophesy “My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high….for I delight in Your deliverance.” (1 Samuel 2:1) 

Maybe this is how she could give up little Samuel to be trained in the House of the Lord– because she had already surrendered her life and her son into the Lord’s good purposes for them. A thousand years later, Jesus will describe the rightful and appropriate cost of obedience this way: “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it.” (Luke 9:24) So Samuel begins his book here, with the faith and perseverance and worship of a strong woman who understood her purpose to know God.

This is where Hannah’s story intersects our own, because whatever we long for most, and whenever we labor long in prayer and wait for answers, we can know there is much more at stake than the object of our desire. We can be assured that God’s purposes are much larger than ours, and that He will allow us to wrestle with our emotions, and our circumstances, and His answers, until we are ready to surrender to His right to rule. And we can know for sure “that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) 

Hannah understood that if she turned away, He would not be diminished in the least; it was her own everyday experiences that would be affected most by the blessing or loss of His presence. She declared her commitment to draw near to Him: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” (1 Samuel 2:2) Year after year she chose Him, and gained everything that mattered, for both her and for her little boy Samuel. May we be as strong and as faithful.

And we can hear Hannah joyfully singing, “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; He seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.” (1 Samuel 2:8)

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Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:25-26

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He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Jim Elliot

Things I Can See

Originally published November 9, 2016.

Whenever 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 as a fact of life. 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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And far be it from me to not believe
Even when my eyes can’t see
And this mountain that’s in front of me
Will be thrown into the midst of the sea
And through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
And through it all, through it all
It is well….
So let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name

It Is Well, Kristene Dimarco

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So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.

Matthew 6:31-33

When It’s Hard to Put into Words

People tell me all the time that they don’t know how to pray for themselves. Don’t know what to do in a hard situation? Can’t find the words amid the jumble of thoughts and mixed feelings? Yeah, I get that.

But I know how we tend to fall into thinking we need to pray the solution, and that’s just hard and overwhelming, not to mention that we have it all backwards. Prayer isn’t about us figuring it out, so we can ask God to do the proper things. As if He will stand helpless until we know just the right answers to pray for. Nor is it a matter of finding the formula that will enlist God’s service on our behalf. He is already on our side, and ready to pour out abundance, if we will only be still and receive it. Like Paul writes to the early believers, “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)

Prayer is about pouring out our hearts to God and then filling it back up with His truth. And truly there is nothing better for that than the Musician-King’s songs. If circumstances shake your world, pray his songs of faith. If your heart is broken over sin, pray his songs of repentance. If the voice of the Enemy is whispering dark in your head, pray the songs of deliverance and victory. And in all things, at all times, pray his songs of praise that shift your eyes from the difficulty to the One who loves you.

So when you are running out of hope, or running out of words, or just plain running scared, pray the heartfelt prayers that have stood the test of time, and let them point your heart in the right direction. We don’t have to know how to pray for ourselves, we just have to come into His presence, because Paul is writing in the same letter about how “… the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (verses 26-27)

How wonderful to know that our difficulties are on His mind, and He is expressing our struggling hearts in just the right ways to the Father, who is working all things out for our good and His glory.

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Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge

Psalm 62:8

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Take this fainted heart
Take these tainted hands
Wash me in Your love
Come like grace again

Even when my strength is lost
I’ll praise You
Even when I have no song
I’ll praise You
Even when it’s hard to find the words
Louder then I’ll sing Your praise
I will only sing Your praise

Take this mountain weight
Take these ocean tears
Hold me through the trial
Come like hope again

Even when the fight seems lost
I’ll praise You
Even when it hurts like hell
I’ll praise You
Even when it makes no sense to sing
Louder then I’ll sing Your praise
I will only sing Your praise

And my heart burns only for You
You are all, You are all I want
And my soul waits only for You
And I will sing ’til the morning has come…

Even when the morning comes
I’ll praise You
Even when the fight is won
I’ll praise You
Even when my time on earth is done
Louder then I’ll sing Your praise
I will only sing Your praise

Even When It Hurts, Hillsong United

The Work of Love

This thought keeps coming back around, this week, in articles and Scripture, and around-the-table discussions….and when an idea comes at you from all sides, it is wise to pay attention. So we sit up and take note of this concept that of all the things we do, prayer is the most effective, however small it may seem.

It’s a little hard to grasp, that mere words, poured out and often not even spoken aloud would have the power to change the way things are. It makes more sense to do something tangible, that we can measure and others can see– share what we have, to fill up what is lacking somewhere else. It makes us feel better about life if we can count the money for refugee relief, pile up the shoeboxes for children, build a ramp, or buy a gift. It counts for something, piles up as evidence for good, but underneath I wonder if it isn’t more about this urgent need in all of us to regain some sense of control. In a world of overwhelming evils, doing something visibly good makes me feel that I have some influence over the situation. And I like the thought that we are equipped to combat the darkness, that if we work together and harness all our good intentions we could make a sizable difference. But when it comes right down to it, we are fighting a losing battle if all we are using is our hands and feet.

The Church-planter Paul quotes the prophets and they are all speaking the plain truth that our best efforts are not good enough in any way that matters. We just don’t have what it takes to make a long-term difference: “No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” (Romans 3:11-12) And maybe it takes something as big as loss or illness to make us realize what we can’t control; there’s something about getting to the end of your own abilities that inspires you to reach for More.

But right there, over and over again, Paul is urging the early Christ-followers to reach out in love and do the most powerful thing in the universe that they can do: “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” (Ephesians 6:18) Because when we take our concerns for the people we love, and shape them into prayers, we are surrendering our desires for them into the hands of Someone who loves them even more and has the power to do the things we cannot. We might be able to wrap up a toy for a child, but the God who came to earth to rescue that child can rearrange circumstances that will help him to grow strong. We can raise money for clean water, but the Creator who shaped the earth can raise up someone to spread the gospel of Living Water in that place. We can clean houses and cook meals, but the Healer who bore our pain in His own body can give strength and hope to the sick. It is a miracle and a privilege, how He allows our concern for others to take on lasting influence and form when we offer them up to Him. It is scary to admit how little we can control, but we have a real God who can make real life-change happen for good when we put needs into words.

So by all means, let us do what is before us in the tangible Everyday to help others, and may we do it gladly in Christ’s name; but may we also be quick to pour out our heart’s desires for their good in our prayers, and wait in anticipation to see what our Father in Heaven will do for them.

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“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

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There is no factor in prayer more effectual than love. If we are intensely interested in an object or an individual, our petitions become like living forces. Not only do they convey their wants to God, but in some sense they convey God’s help back to us.

AB Simpson

Every Kind of Prayer

We are learning to craft our prayers from the Scriptures we are reading, and rejoicing in the beauty of God’s truth, the way it turns our full attention on Who He Is and the power of His Word spoken into each other’s lives. And sometimes we find that when our own spirits are dry and we can’t find the words to say, it is hearing the prayers of our fellow travelers that stirs us, lifts us up into God’s presence. So thankful for the Family of God, and I can hear the Church-planter reminding us again: “Never stop praying, especially for others. Always pray by the power of the Spirit. Stay alert and keep praying for God’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18)

Today this beautiful lyrical prayer is running through my head…

From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me O God
From the need to be understood
And from a need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God
And I shall not want, no, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want
From the fear of serving others
Oh, and from the fear of death or trial
And from the fear of humility
Deliver me O God
Yes, deliver me O God
And I shall not want, no, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want
No, I shall not want, no, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want
I shall not want
I shall not want

Audrey Assad

His Answers

Savoring this wisdom today, and seeing the truth of it working out all around me in this bent world. Because the Savior who came to give us new hearts is making all things new, for our good and His everlasting glory…

And yes, we pray for healing, and we know that by His stripes we are already healed in eternal ways. We pray for restoration, and we know that by His mercy we know complete restoration and no condemnation. And we pray for more time, and we know that by His grace, we have been given time that goes beyond all time.
The miracle that always happens in prayer happens in the most important place: the heart.
Prayer isn’t so much about outcomes, but about us coming much closer to God.

Ann VosKamp

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Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, 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 8:34-39

When You Call My Name

Originally published on January 8, 2015.

By the end of the day it feels like a tangible knot inside…that growing heap of small worries and what-ifs, the prickling irritations of things gone wrong, the ruffled feathers of getting along, and the nagging list of tasks left undone. Each one wasn’t much at the time, and I told myself that I could handle it, press on, deal with it all some other day (or maybe it will go away on its own if I can ignore it long enough). But even tiny snowflakes can add up to an avalanche, and by evening that pile of little things is enough to crush the heart of a person. And Jesus’ words come in a whisper, clearly and persistently: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) He calls through the noise and the motion, like someone standing on the doorstep knocking, until suddenly I stop to wonder why I would want to ignore this weight of living, when Jesus is telling me to bring it to Him? And how often have I soldiered on, trying my best to manage, when He is offering rest?

I know that Jesus is holding out God’s grace and forgiveness, as a release from the weight of trying to measure up to impossible standards of holiness. I understand that a rabbi’s “yoke” was the sum of his teachings, and that Jesus was calling us to a new way of living, inviting us to follow Him: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” But here at the beginning of a new study group, as we read and focus on prayer, it sinks in that He means it quite literally, as well. Come. Just come here and let it go, dear Child. Every day. Give up anything that is too heavy for you, and let Someone Bigger carry it, and then you can rest.

Knowing He is with me is not the same as addressing Him personally. Believing He can help me is not the same as asking Him for help. And knowing He cares is not the same as giving up my burdens to Him and resting in His love. What I know has to move me to action, if my life is truly going to change. Not sure why I so often fail to take that necessary step towards Him, though I feel sure it has something to do with the Enemy’s battle plan to distract us from God’s greatness.So I bow my head right there, in the middle of running from one thing to the next, and I tell Jesus about every one of those small weighty things, put into words why they trouble me and ask Him to take care of each one. And suddenly it is easier to breathe.

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On my bed I remember You;
    I think of You through the watches of the night.
 Because You are my help,
    I sing in the shadow of Your wings.
 I cling to You;
    Your right hand upholds me.

Psalm 63:6-8

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If you have not much time at your disposal, do not fail to profit by the smallest portions of time which remain to you. We do not need much time in order to love God, to renew ourselves in His Presence, to lift up our hearts towards Him, to worship Him in the depths of our hearts, to offer Him what we do and what we suffer.

Francois de la Mothe Fenelon

On Choosing Celebration and Finding Joy

Originally published April 21, 2012.

I am reading through Paul’s letter to the Philippians at night, in a thick hardbound edition of The Message.  I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases Paul’s letters in fresh energetic language that jumps off the page with the sheer force of the writer’s personality.  I picture Paul a lot that way: colorful, energetic, passionate  and driven about his message to the point of being offensive at times….tact was clearly not his strong suit.  But then, when you are an itinerant preacher spreading the good news of salvation to the bulk of the civilized world in the first century, there are more pressing concerns than being “nice.”

I have been parked in chapter 4 for the past few nights.  The middle of that chapter is one of my very favorite “how to live” passages of Scripture anyway, but this week I have been captivated by the way Peterson phrases it: “Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! “  I can picture PauI leaning forward, eyes alight.  His is the voice of experience– in a life without any of the comforts we prefer on a daily basis, he has discovered an ever-flowing fountain of joy, and urges his readers to search it out. Revel in God and there will be no more room for self-pity, or despair, or even run-of-the-mill grumpiness on general principles.  Celebrate the infinite God and you’ll never run out of joy, never come to the end of Him.

We are used to following our feelings, paying attention to them and letting them move us through life…it is the pattern of this world that we have conformed to since birth.  Has it never occurred to us that a woman’s hurt feelings are what got us into this mess to begin with?  And the more we follow our feelings the more mixed up our minds get.  What a surprise to Self to discover that God is far more concerned with our obedience than with our comfort.

No wonder most of Scripture’s practical how-to passages are teaching us how to stop listening to the feelings of Self and instead listen to the Spirit of God, be transformed by the renewing of the mind.  Think first, choose how to respond, then act in a way that pleases God, and the feelings will follow.

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” 

Philippians 4:6-7

I come back to this over and over, transfixed by that last line.  When I follow my feelings– focus on them and act out of them– I am putting them at the center of my life, making them an idol, letting them control me.  Worry?  Discouragement?  Fear?  Anger?  No good can come from following where they lead.

Choose to do this instead, Paul says… choose to offer up those feelings to the One who made them and put Him in the center of your life where He belongs.  Do this… choose this…it’s an act of the will, an act of obedience.  Let your mind be transformed by Jesus and lead you to what is right, and let the feelings tag along behind.  Paul even leaves me pointers on what to think about if I want a transformed mind– if I want to follow Christ instead of these tyrants of emotion: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:8)

Simply put, I live best when I fill my mind with God’s truth… all He has done for me, all that He is… thankfulness and praise taking the lead.  It’s an every day kind of choice, and some days every minute.  So I keep coming back to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, soaking the reminders in, deep down to the heart.   It’s the best prescription there is for getting emotions back on track.

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When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse
    everything I know of You,
From Jordan depths to Hermon heights,
    including Mount Mizar.
Chaos calls to chaos,
    to the tune of whitewater rapids.
Your breaking surf, Your thundering breakers
    crash and crush me.
Then God promises to love me all day,
    sing songs all through the night!
    My life is God’s prayer.

Psalm 42:8, The Message

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Better is a moment that I spend with You
Than a million other days away
I’m running, I’m running
I’m running to the secret place
Hands are lifted high, hearts awake to life
We are satisfied here with You, here with You
Chains will hit the floor, broken lives restored
We couldn’t ask for more here with You, here with You

The Secret Place, Phil Wickham

Chasing After Great Things

We’re talking about prayer around the table, and how God invites us to call out to Him. And I feel sure that most of us are thinking of those pressing things we’ve been asking about– maybe feeling relieved to hear that God actually wants us to pour out those needs to His listening heart. But the song lyrics keep running through my head: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:1-2) And it seems to me that all these verses we are reading have more to do with relationship than they do about fixing our problems.

When He says “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for….” (Matthew 7:7), Jesus was talking to hearts that are hungry to be close to God, people who will continue knocking on doors of opportunity to know Him better, who persist in wrestling with the deep questions of life in order to understand them in His light. When we persevere in coming to Him as the needy people that we are, we discover His heart toward us, an abundant flow of grace. This is how the Church-planter could claim “In everything…present your requests to God, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) And it strikes me how that peace is not a passive feel-good vibe but an active transforming Presence within us. Whatever circumstances are on our hearts, when we answer His invitation to come, He gives us the best answer we could hope for in return– Himself, who is the very Prince of Peace. “Keep on seeking and you will find…” (Matthew 7:7).

This invitation to come near is about taking our eyes off our needs and problems, and instead focusing our minds and hearts on Jesus. He is calling us to long for Him– to leave our cares in His capable hands and pursue relationship with Him. He understands what we need most and is ready to tell us, if we will only learn to come and to listen.

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Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’

Jeremiah 33:3

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How we direct our eyes, minds, hearts, and hands in the everyday will determine who we ultimately worship and what we ultimately become.

Ruth Chou Simons