Do you ever get the feeling God is trying to teach you something profound, but you can't quite wrap your head around it? My mind has been swarmed with thoughts about prayer, more specifically, faith in prayer.
I'm a firm believer that prayer is important and powerful and essential. I have beseeched God earnestly for unselfish things, believing in every fiber of my being He could do it, but seen little results. I have fasted and seen exactly the opposite of what I asked for happen. I have been sure God could do the impossible and waited anxiously to see it unfold, only to watch life go on as normal. I have mustered up all the child-likeness I can to watch Him work in awe, only to feel Him saying, "Tami, did you really think it could be that easy? What do you learn from that?" I discovered recently this disappointment has taken a hit on my faith.
I reached a point where I didn't EXPECT God to answer positively and even worse, didn't always pray about issues because I was certain He wouldn't make it easy on me by "granting my wish." (Now there's a statement that reveals a lot!) I didn't think it mattered if I prayed about my problems because He would do what He thought best anyway. Don't misunderstand me, I still prayed, but with a defeated attitude, not truly believing He would do anything about it. I didn't trust God any less, but was convinced He was putting me through boot camp to toughen me up. He wanted me to suffer a little. I always loved Him and served with devotion, but prayed cautiously, not expecting much.
And then God did a surprising thing. He answered the prayers of people praying FOR ME. I felt the difference too acutely to dismiss it. Now I am left with thoughts of how to view prayer. How much should I expect from God? Should I ask for the impossible because He is God and absolutely has the power to do the miraculous? Or is that putting Him to the test? I believe He CAN do anything, but my downfall is I'm not convinced He WILL. It may not be what is best for me or for those I pray for. I know from experience God is not about magic fixes. We grow in our faith by persevering, especially when we don't understand what the heck is going on. We grow by trusting when we don't get it, by hanging on to what His Word says is true. We believe Him even though we can't feel Him.
"And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:7-8)
When Jesus comes, will He find me faithful? Will I persevere in prayer, especially when I don't get the answers I want? I suppose that is where the child-likeness comes in, being content with not understanding. (I'm certain the best part of heaven will be FINALLY knowing everything!!!) Without a doubt, my faith has matured and strengthened in my disappointment. God has done a work in my heart that is irreplaceable. I can honestly say I will love Him even if I never get my prayers answered how I'd like. (Although I'm almost afraid to say so. What if He decides to test me on that?!) When things are not going so well, I am still confident of His love for me.
So I think I'm revamping how I view prayer. How can it be I've been a Christian for nearly thirty years and still don't get this?! Now I think of it as talking things over with God, not so much asking. I do a lot more of "Here's what I'm feeling, Lord. Here's what's going on" or "What do You think about that?" and a little less "Please help me ________________." I am so thankful He has not given me everything I asked for. His plan HAS to be better than mine.
I'm not sure I grasp the whole idea of prayer, but I know I am to do it, so I will. And when the times of silence from God come, I will persevere. I will trust His judgment. Scripture tells us over and over God rewards perseverance. Hebrews 10:35-36 and James 5:11 are among my favorites, but the verse that spurs me on today comes from Jesus Himself, "but he who stands firm to the end will be saved." (Matthew 24:13)
Lord, thank You for teaching me about prayer. Thank You for stretching my faith and asking me to press on without answers. Continue Your work in me, despite my objections. I love You.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Sunday, November 26, 2006
I read an article in a local paper yesterday about a church who received a letter from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Apparently PETA feels it is inhumane to have animals included in live Nativity scenes and asked this church to discontinue its annual tradition. According to Jackie Vergerio, author of said letter and PETA's "animals and entertainment specialist", live Nativity displays subject animals to temperature extremes, harsh weather, stress, cruel treatment and hunger. Instead she hopes "churches will follow the example of a church in Louisiana that created an elaborate Nativity production including 55 actors, with 40 children playing animals' parts, rather than using live animals."
It's better to subject CHILDREN to temperature extremes, harsh weather, stress, cruel treatment and hunger than it is to use animals who likely live outside everyday? Is it just me, or is that logic a little screwy?
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
The Christian Women Online Blog Ring I belong to has been encouraging people to consider writing down 1000 gifts they have received from God. Click on the link below to find out more about it.
I've been thinking about doing this for weeks, but haven't gotten on the stick yet. Don't panic, I'm not about to put 1000 gifts in this one post, but my thoughts have been focused on God's goodness today as I think about Thanksgiving. Here's my top ten.
1. I am thankful to be married to a godly man who loves me on my good AND bad days. I am awed at how God has equipped us with complimentary gifts that allow us to bring out the best in each other.
2. I marvel at my children, all unique and amazing in their own ways. I am thankful for a teenaged son who works very hard to honor his parents despite pressure from his friends. My heart is grateful for my eighth-grade daughter who displays discernment, compassion, leadership and wisdom. I am proud of my 11-year-old who isn't afraid to be his own person and think outside of the box. My spirit is refreshed by my little girl who always has a skip in her step, a smile, a hug, a kiss and special little surprises.
3. I appreciate parents who are supportive, but let us live our own lives, cheering us on all the way.
4. I am thankful for my sister who was has been so many of my firsts--playmate, enemy, ally and forever friend and for my brothers who are closet softies with tender hearts.
5. I am privileged to have relationships with the most amazing women. They have made me laugh, understood me, listened to me, loved me and enriched my life in countless ways.
6. I love having sisters-in-law who are dear friends and fit right into #5.
7. I am indebted to many Christian brothers and sisters who have loved me and humbled me with their care and prayers.
8. I am grateful for many opportunities to serve my Lord.
9. I am absolutely blown away by the grace of God this Thanksgiving. The past year has been a tough one for me personally, especially the last few months, yet even in the darkest times, God has been so faithful. I am grateful for His grace and forgiveness. I am thankful for the precious promises in His Word sustaining me through many days when I couldn't hear Him or feel His presence. He gave me little nudges when I needed them and arms to cry in when it got to be too much. I am flabbergasted at how His answers to prayer are perfect, especially when those answers were hard to hear. He has taught me waiting may not be fun, but is necessary to grow me up and fulfill His plans for me. He has sustained me with added strength through the prayers of others. HE IS TOO MUCH!!
10. Finally, I am thankful for you, friend. God sees you, God hears you, God fights for you as He has for me. Believe it. Hold on to it. He knows your struggles. He knows your failures and He loves you anyway. Thank Him for the good AND the bad. Nothing is a mistake. Everything makes you into the person He has intended. Lean His way. Consider His words true. Be patient as He does His thing with you. It will be worth it. One day you will be overwhelmed with Him as I am.
May you have a blessed Thanksgiving, recognizing the gifts of our Lord.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
My Bible study group had a lesson on the "what ifs" this week. It's got my wheels spinning.
What if I lose a loved one?
What if my kids reject God?
What if I don't fulfill God's plans for me?
What if I become seriously ill?
What if my furnace dies?
What if a tornado levels my home?
What if my husband goes blind or has a stroke?
The "what ifs", our fears of the future. One thing I noticed is that our what ifs are negative. For some reason, we never ask ourselves, "What if God blesses me beyond my comprehension?" or "What if all my children marry believers and raise up a new generation of committed Christians?" or "What if the menial things I do earn me crowns in heaven?" Why do we anticipate bad things? Do the questions we ask say something about our expectations of God? Are we not truly thinking of Him as God if we can only see the bad that may happen?
I'm thinking it's more childlike to expect great things and we cynical adults "know better." It's a shame. We could be having so much more fun imagining the good stuff.
What if I lose a loved one? What if my husband and I celebrate a 75th anniversary? (That would make me 97--it could happen.)
What if my kids reject God? What if they are models of Christian love and articulate communicators of the Truth?
What if I don't fulfill God's plans for me? What if I get to heaven and God applauds and says, "Well done, good and faithful servant"?
What if I become seriously ill? What if I become the next Denise Austin or Susan Powter or Richard Simmons (ooh, scratch that last one)
What if my furnace dies? What if it continues to squeak along as it has been for years?
What if a tornado levels my home? What if a tornado swoops in, misses the house, but flattens the dilapidated garage? (mmm, I like that one)
What if my husband goes blind or has a stroke? What if he baffles the medical community as his body instantaneously heals the bulging disc in his back and suddenly sprouts six-pack abs and intimidating pecs with the ability to carry me around the house for hours at a time?
See how much fun this is?!
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Monday: I woke up with a headache and a general, unexplained sadness.
Tuesday: It was a short night and I was groggy, but up before 6:AM.
Monday: "Why do You feel so far away, God?"
Tuesday: "Thank You, Lord, for your direction."
Monday: Encounters with people were solemn, serious, and a few involved tears.
Tuesday: The comments of others motivated me.
Monday: Making a phone call was too hard.
Tuesday: My busiest day of the week was enjoyable and meaningful.
Monday: I found myself sighing a lot.
Tuesday: My sighs were only yawns and nothing more.
Monday: "When will I feel happy again?"
Tuesday: "Happiness is overrated. Being content is better."
Monday: My eyes were sore, my nose burned, and my brow was tired from all the furrowing.
Tuesday: A smile peeked out.
Monday: My soul was weary and sad.
Tuesday: My soul was weary, but at rest.
What made the difference? I racked my brain trying to figure it out. There was no sudden solution to a problem. There was no break from the normal routine. There was no release from the pressures of life. I didn't even get a better night's sleep. What made me feel so much better on Tuesday? I desperately wanted to find the magic formula so I could retain the peacefulness I felt. Retracing my steps from Monday, I recalled four conversations I had where I let another person in to see my struggle. Each one gave a sympathetic ear, a hug and the certainty they would pray for me. Could it be. . .simple prayers couldn't make that much difference, could they? Nah. Later I talked to more people who mentioned they had been praying specifically for me without knowing anything about my troubles. You don't think. . .no. . .it had to be more than that. . .didn't it?
Whenever I tell someone "I'll pray for you," it always seems like too little. I know it's the right thing to do. And I pray plenty for others, but I often wonder if my efforts make that much difference. God's got it figured out. He's gonna do what He's gonna do regardless of what I say. But apparently I haven't understood the strength, peace and calm available to those we pray for, probably because I don't often see the results. Let me tell you, I've experienced first hand this week the power of interceding for others. And if you were one of those precious people who did so for me, know that your work strengthened my heart in a huge way. I've learned it makes the difference between a day spent going through the motions, pushing to get things done purely out of love for God and one spent living with purpose, content in His plans for me, come what may. I need that strength. I need the power of prayer. I assume you do too.
You can be sure I am a huge believer now that our prayers matter. They DO lift others up whether we see it or not. Our efforts are never in vain. "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." And I am so thankful. It makes me wonder how many times I've benefited from someone else's prayers without ever being aware of it. And it motivates me to greater consistency and faithfulness in my intercession for others.
Who is on your mind right now? Who are you being nudged to pray for? Do it now. I mean it. Stop right now and pray for them. Don't shrug it off as a silly churchy thing to do. Take it seriously. Don't miss an opportunity to bring love and power to someone you care about (and especially to someone you can't stand!). You have a part in keeping them on the straight and narrow path. They need you. Just like I needed someone to hold me up this week and God's gracious love provided the prayers of a few faithful people.
"With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)
Thank You, Lord, for the prayers offered on my behalf this week. Bless those who have done so and motivate me to repay their kindness on my knees before You.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
I admit it.
I'm a people pleaser.
It bothers me if I think someone doesn't like me or understand what I do. I analyze past conversations trying to figure out where I said the wrong thing. I remember a flippant comment and wonder what was really meant by it. Quiet people can unnerve me because I don't know what they're thinking--are they approving or not?
But lately, God's been telling me to do things just for Him. He says, "Don't worry about what anyone else will think. Make it an offering to Me." I've tried, but old habits die hard. Positive feedback spurs me on. I know when I've pleased people. But how do I know when I've pleased God?
I really want to get this lesson, because it will be so freeing if I do. Can you imagine? NEVER worrying about what other people think? Doing things purely for the glory of God, not giving thought to the perceptions of others. Is that possible? Or am I just a raving egomaniac assuming those around me HAVE any sort of opinion of me? Maybe I think too much about everything (if my husband were looking over my shoulder right now, he'd be screaming, "AMEN, SISTER!!"). More importantly, I need to get this learned so God is in His proper place in my life. He needs to be at the top. Is He number one if I worry about the impressions of people?
I like the praise of others, probably too much or God wouldn't be impressing this on me now. I've had Galatians 1:10 memorized for years ("Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ."), yet I still struggle with this. I want to seek His praise more than the praise of men, but how can I know if I please God? DOES He let us know? Is it a tricky thing because if I know I've pleased Him, I might exalt myself? Am I like the man who won a medal for being the most humble in his town but ended up getting it taken it away because he wore it too much? Is it better for us to obey and persevere without knowing if we've made God smile? Is that the real sacrifice on our part, living our life to please Him without knowing if we have?
I need some help here. Got any ideas? What do you think?