Dying to Self

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24

It’s hard to imagine that dying to self could be a pleasant experience.  It goes against all reason and sense. Dying is bad, right? Dying hurts.  Dying is the end. But not to God.

Each day I am dying to myself.  I am letting all that I am, all that I have, and all that I want be broken down into death so that it can be resurrected by Christ for His glory.  

To God, dying brought life and light to the world.  Jesus conquered death so that it no longer had to hold me with its fear and power.  Jesus rose from the dead! Jesus rose other people from the dead! Jesus brings life from death in all of His creation!  The seed that dies and is buried springs for life. Every 24 hours, the day itself dies in a glow of majestic color and beauty only to succumb quickly to darkness, and then be reborn again the following morning.  

So I guess death isn’t quite as bad as it sounds.  Nihilists make death the end. Not Jesus. Jesus proclaims death to self for us, so that we might live:  not on our own, with our sinful brokenness and decay, but with Christ who lives within us, magnified, glorified and free.

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

I don’t know about you, but I like the sound of freedom.  The evil in this world sickens me. It sickens most of us.  We hate it and we wonder why God would let it happen. But God has offered us a free solution if we want it.  And the solution is to let God make us alive through Jesus Christ. When we submit to Him and die to our own desires, we receive the fullness of life that God always intended.  

So, I choose to let myself be put to death so that I might find and enjoy life in Christ, because Christ Himself lives in me by His Spirit.

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7

In the Summer of 2016, while praying the verse above, I received the following vision:

On a plain pedestal rests a cracked and pitiful clay pot.  The pot is large. It is crazed with lines and imperfections.  It isn’t made to last. It isn’t even finished. It isn’t fired.  It’s fragile. Unpainted. Unadorned. But little beams of light stream out through the cracks and chips. The light inside the pot makes ornate patterns across the shell and beautiful pictures reflect on the walls of the room.  The pot is me.

Without warning a giant sledgehammer slams down on it.  The pot is annihilated. Dust and debris remain for a moment and then dissipate in the breeze. The light within the pot also explodes, but the light has form.  The light covers everything. It cannot be extinguished. The source of the light remains bright and strong. It throbs with power. It is joy and peace and love.  It is unquenchable. The light coats everything it touches with a thickness that spreads and grows. Little splatters become throbbing pulsing lights of their own.

 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:5

My earthen vessel, my jar of clay, has been shattered by the enemy, but the Lord’s hand is upon the hammer.  The Lord made the hammer and the jar. The Lord decides what the hammer can strike and what the outcome will be. The Lord will use the destruction of my body as an instrument to spread his enduring, powerful light, his love, his joy, his peace, to thousands upon thousands of people.  Even creation itself will be affected by the light that explodes out of me, and the light will never die. I will never die. The power of God will only spread and multiply.

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24

 

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Come Let Us Reason Together

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
   they shall become like wool.
Isaiah 1:18

Going back to the Garden of Eden, we get a story of how the Lord intended things for humanity.  He created a world that man and woman could live in, enjoy, and tend to. He gave them stewardship over all that He had created.  And in that creation, He walked with them. He listened and encouraged them. He gave advice. He made suggestions. He reasoned with them.  God and man worked together in His creation.

Only when Adam and Eve were seduced into the arrogant notion of gaining the “knowledge of good and evil” for themselves, did they cut God out of the picture, and fall into the terrible temptation and condemnation of sin.  They no longer reasoned with God over what was right or wrong, they decided for themselves.

The battle between right and wrong entered into the world of man, and with it life and death.  This perversion of God’s plan started a series of events that would culminate into the Salvation and Restoration of God’s people to Himself through Christ.

With it also came the tragic perceived contradictions in scripture that often play havoc with our intellect. If we are not clear and precise in our understanding of the character and transformative power of Jesus, we will question and doubt God, or worse, only consider ourselves in regard to our interaction with the world and God’s plan for it and us.  

The knowledge of good and evil broke our dependence on God to show us right from wrong, and brought into question every future act committed by man.  Right or wrong, man got to choose, and in so doing, his perspective might or might not line up with God’s. Man had been shown in the Garden that obedience and partnership with God brought life and happiness.  Unfortunately, man also learned that life apart from God would bring death.

To man, the human existence is life, followed by death.  Comprehending the reality of what life and death mean to the human condition is best explained by the Lord himself.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24

Death comes before life. Jesus proved this point through His own body.  He allowed himself to die, be buried, and then resurrected, to give us the ultimate picture of the obedient sacrifice and what it would bring. He gave up His own “right” to life in order to receive the fullness of His deepest most joyful desire: the salvation of the lost (Hebrews 12:2).  His was a perfect sacrifice with perfect obedience. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before being arrested was this:

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
Luke 22:42

Too often I think our church culture suggests that we beat down who we are and what we think in regard and response to Jesus: that beating down our own thoughts is how we “die to self.”  We tell ourselves and each other that we must consider “what Jesus would do” and forget that Jesus might want to actually have a conversation with us about it. Jesus had a conversation with God in the garden of Gethsemane, not a silent robotic command.

We don’t give up our self to “live as Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).  We let ourselves shine by sharing our thoughts with God and then letting him tell us how best to proceed, knowing that His decisions will lead us on a course of life.  We die to having the “final say” on what we will do. We let Him tell us what is right for us and what is wrong.

I’d like to add, though, that as we muse and ponder and plan with the Lord, though, we should act with care and caution.  Otherwise we open ourselves up to the attack of the enemy, who prowls around at all times, looking for ways to exploit our weakness and stir our insecurities.  

8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8

In our obedience to God, and our active intention to put to death our sinful desires, we find peace.  Peace and joy and power come from walking in the Presence of the Lord and reasoning together with Him. When we follow our own hearts without God’s input, we are submitting to the death of this world instead of receiving the life of Jesus that we are promised.

Jesus said,

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
John 10:10

 

Unfaltering Faith: All is Well

Unfaltering faith.  It is a gift God offers us on a daily basis.  Do we have the faith to trust Him with our provision?  Do we have the faith to walk in submission to Him? Do we have the faith to even believe He is real, moment by moment, day by day?  Faith can be a bit of a sticky mess when we start to think about it.

We get caught up in our circumstance.  There isn’t enough money in the bank to pay the bills.  There’s been a horrible diagnosis from the doctor. Someone needs prayer, and we can’t even muster the faith to pray for ourselves.  And then enemy uses shame or fear or sorrow to come in and steal whatever he can of the little faith we have left.

But God isn’t content to let our faith be stolen.  We all know that He promises He will work all things for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) Though, when we’re in the faltering moment, it can be hard to remember that.  Faith needs to come from God through hope: hope that God is who He says He is.

8 One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. 9 And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way.10 Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.”
2 Kings 4:8-10

This wealthy woman takes it upon herself to honor a man of God.  Her hope isn’t in the man, but in the God the man serves. She wants to serve this man of God and give him her best because of her blind hope in God.  She shows a faith she may not even be aware of, all because of hope.

God honors her hope and builds her faith further by offering a blessing through Elisha, His servant.  

11 One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. 12 And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him. 13 And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.”
2 Kings 4:11-13

The woman asks for nothing in return for her provision for Elisha.  She never looked at her hospitality as a way to earn anything from God or His servant.  She gave from what she had. I don’t think she thought anything more about it, but that it was right to honor God’s servant. She was content with the blessing of being able to serve God as she had.

Elisha, though, is prompted to do more for her.  He wants to show her God’s blessing. God’s blessings can be a reward for faith.

16 And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” 17 But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.
2 Kings 4:16-17

God offers her something miraculous.  The gift of a son wasn’t even on her radar, and that’s what He offers her.  God uses her faith to foreshadow the coming Messiah: a son born of miraculous circumstances.  The woman is startled and uncertain, but she receives her son.

And then he dies.

18 When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. 19 And he said to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 And when he had lifted him and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died.
2 Kings 4:18-20

Wow. The son she was given dies. How could that be a blessing?  How could that be good? Why would God punish her for serving Elisha with such a cruel joke? It’s hard not to think these things.  People do it all the time. Something goes wrong in the moment and the response is to go right to the source and question God.

But not this gal.  Nope.  She’s resolute.  She’s unfaltering.  Her faith is solidly built on the hope of God’s reality.  Like Abraham, she decided to persist in her faith, even though her son was dead.  Even Abraham didn’t have to go that far! He got provided with a ram for sacrifice before having to kill his son. (Genesis Ch. 22)

Then she called to her husband and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” 23 And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” She said, “All is well.” 24 Then she saddled the donkey, and she said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.
2 Kings 4:22-25

Her response?  “All is well.”  Wow.  What a powerful testimony.  Unfaltering faith in action! She knows all will be well because of her faith and hope in God. With expediency she sets out to receive her son’s life back.

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite. 26 Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” And she answered, “All is well.” 27 And when she came to the mountain to the man of God, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came to push her away. But the man of God said, “Leave her alone, for she is in bitter distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.”
2 Kings 4:25-27

Again, as she approaches Elisha and he asks her what is going on, she responds with “All is well.”  Wow, again! Though she is in the midst of “bitter distress” she clings to the hope of God with the steadfast truth that “all is well.” In her heart, God would and could give her son life.  

The foreshadowing of Christ returns again!  When Jesus died on the cross, all was still well, even in the distress and pain and fear of that moment.  His friends and family were distraught. But all was well. Jesus would be resurrected! The Promise was not defeated.  The Promise was victorious. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead!

Life would also be given to the Shunammite woman’s son.  But not before a testing and trying of faith and hope. What happens if nothing happens?  

28 Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?’” 29 He said to Gehazi, “Tie up your garment and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply. And lay my staff on the face of the child.” 30 Then the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her.31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. Therefore he returned to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.”

It’s hard to keep ahold of hope when nothing happens.

But something does happen.  Elisha contends for the woman’s son.  He doesn’t give up. He stands in faith with the woman that God will act.  They partnered in faith and stubbornly waited for God.

32 When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 33 So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. 35 Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. 36 Then he summoned Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” 37 She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out.
2 Kings 4:32-37

A partnership of unfaltering faith between the woman, her husband, the servant Gehazi, and Elisha, brought life.  Partnership strengthened faith. Hope in God strengthened faith. And unfaltering faith brought life.

So, as we look to Jesus and his death, burial, and resurrection, may we join together with unfaltering faith, knowing that the Lord will be true to His promises for us.  All is well.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
John 10:10

 

Faith Builds Faith

It seems that I’ve had a running theme in my blogs lately about how much things “suck”. Pain, brokenness, being wrong. All of it sucks. But there is a lesson in it, right? And the lesson is faith.  The pain we endure brings a harvest of faith. Faith is born from things that suck. I have to chuckle at that even as I write it.  

God builds our faith as we endure trials.  

2 And the word of the Lord came to him: 3 “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4 You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” 5 So he went and did according to the word of the Lord. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. 6 And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. 1 Kings 17:2-6

I have been contemplating Elijah again.  After he prophesied the drought, God sent him to a specific creek where he would have water to drink and crows would bring him food.  Elijah obeys. Wow. God told him birds would bring him food and Elijah didn’t laugh, he said, “okay.” That’s serious faith.

7 And after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.
1 Kings 17:7

The creek dries up.  Because there’s a drought.  And droughts mean no water. How easy it would have been for Elijah to raise up his hands in frustration and not faith and question why God would bring him to such a bitter end.  But that’s not what happens. Elijah has faith that God will continue His faithfulness to His servant, and the word of the Lord does indeed speak to him.

8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, 9 “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” 11 And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”
1 Kings 17:8-12

So Elijah ends up in a town asking for an impoverished widow to take care of him.  Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Aren’t God’s people supposed to take care of widows and orphans, and not have them take care of us?  But Elijah obeys. Elijah doesn’t question it, he just obeys the word of the Lord.

Sure enough, the widow obeys Elijah and by proxy obeys the Lord, she brings Elijah water and makes one last cake with the handful of flour and oil she had left.  Bread and water. I can’t help but see Jesus here. Jesus is the bread of life and the living water. This obedience to the Lord’s request brings Elijah and the widow both a picture of Jesus as salvation.  The bread and water would keep them alive. God would bring them salvation, and keep the flour and oil from running out. God brings salvation to the widow and Elijah.

13 And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” 15 And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah. 17 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18 And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!”
1 Kings 17:13-18

The widow’s son dies.  Ya. And the widow’s son, by her cultural perspective of the time, was her only chance at life with someone to take care of her.  Without her husband, all she had was the hope in her son to provide for her. And he dies.

This would have been a really good time to give up.  And the widow does! She’s devastated. But Elijah decides not to give up.  

19 And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed. 20 And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” 21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22 And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.
1 Kings 17:19-22

He takes the boy upstairs, out of view of the widow, to have a private pleading moment with God.  He begs the Lord to bring life back to the boy. And God listens! The boy’s life is restored.

This miraculous moment of resurrection further reveals the promise of Jesus.  The son, the widow’s only means of salvation and life, is resurrected by God to show her that He will provide for her salvation.  


23 And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” 24 And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”
1 Kings 17:23-24

The widow’s faith is built up.  She sees the power of God revealed in a tangible way, not just in the life returned to her son, but in the life that God provided for her, first with bread and oil, and then with the life of her son.

Elijah’s faith brought faith to the widow.  Faith brings faith.

As we suffer and overcome, our faith expands and through that expansion, the people we are in contact with have their own faith built up.  It may be the faith to finally trust in God, or perhaps it’s just the faith to endure, but as our faith is strengthened it has the power to multiply the faith in others.

Lord, help me trust You that my faith may be built up by the trials I endure in this life.  Let my faith be a testimony. Build up my faith so others may be built up in faith. Let my faith produce more faith, that Your Glory may be revealed.

close up of hands
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A Worker Approved

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

For a very long time, and sometimes still, I have felt that the work I’ve done for the Lord was insignificant.  I longed to be known for my good works. I longed to be recognized for my “accomplishments” for the Kingdom of God.  Embarrassing, right?

I’ve come so far over the years, though, and that is something only God could do.  Is my ministry more famous or more recognized now? Nope. Is my work for God more relevant now? Nope.  My work is generally the same. It’s only me that’s changed.

So, Paul’s advice to Timothy was to be unashamed, approved, and to rightly handle the word of truth.  Hmm. So working for God means being the perfect pastor, right? Or maybe the perfect evangelist? We know a lot of their names.  The ones on tv must be pretty good. They are surely unashamed and approved or God wouldn’t let them be on TV, right?

Wrong.

Obedient submission to God is what grants us the ability to be unashamed.  To have the faith to accept that God’s answer for my salvation is from Him and not from me. The righteousness of God, given as a free gift, unearned, undeserved, that’s what lets us approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Having Jesus as our high priest, Jesus as our righteousness, Jesus as our savior, Jesus as our King. That’s what gives us the right to be unashamed.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11

So how do we know we are approved?  “We are afflicted and not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

And look at what Paul says in Romans:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Romans 4:1-3

Approval doesn’t come from anything we’ve done or are doing!  It comes from faith. Abraham believed God. That’s approval. When I believe God and what He says, that’s approval.  That’s it. Nothing more. Faith brings God’s approval.

So, when I act according to God’s will for me.  When I trust that He is going to use me as He sees fit, that He will give me opportunities to trust Him and serve Him, and revere and worship Him, that’s when I’m working for God.  He’s given me gifts and tasks to use for His glory and not my own.

Did He ask you to hug that lady at the grocery store, and you obeyed?  That’s God’s work. Did He ask you to give up your career and serve refugees in the Middle East and you said, “ok”?  That’s God’s work. Buy someone’s groceries because you felt stirred? God’s work. Preach a sermon because the Lord has burned it in your heart to share what He has taught with His people? Yep, God’s work.

But here’s what’s not God’s work: quitting your job to become a missionary because that sounds like a great adventure.  Or, going on a mission trip to Nicaragua every year because the church body will know how holy you are. Or, teaching a Bible Study because you want people to think your smart.  Or being the front man of the church band so that you can maybe get a record deal or you love the attention. The list can go on forever.

So many things in this world sound good to us.  King David thought building a temple for God was a great idea, but did God ask him to build it?  Nope. Did God let David’s son Solomon build the temple? Yes.

God will partner with us even when we’re wrong.  He’ll partner with us in folly just to teach us how to hear His voice better.  Was building the temple folly? Of course not. But did it last? Nope. God will let us “work” for Him in a million different ways, just to teach us, just to show us that it all comes down to Him in the end.  Nothing else.

Have faith in Him, the One who made you, the One who calls you. To work for God is to submit to His rule.  You must stop obeying your own heart and the picture the world has offered you of what ministry is supposed to look like.  You’re never going to find it that way. And you’re not going to accomplish much for the Kingdom, either.

Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus.  Trust Him. That’s it. Only trust Him and do what He says.  That’s how I’ve changed the most over the years. I’m much quicker now to want to glorify Jesus, instead of myself.  If God asks nothing more of me than to point my silent smiling face to the King of Kings, then that’s what I’ll do. That is being a workman approved.  

Jesus, give me the faith to trust You.  Help me to stop looking at myself. Help me to hear Your voice and obey Your commands.  Thank you for how far You’ve brought me. Teach me and help me to go further for You and for You alone.  

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
John 10:7-18

 

Is There More, God?

Is there more, God?  My heart echoes those words over and over.  Is there more? More suffering. More fear. More pain. More joy. More healing.  More learning. Lord, I am hungry, but I’m scared of the buffet table. In this world there is so much more, but not all of it is good.  Nor is it all bad. You are here to some degree, Jesus. You are here through Your children. But the world is so broken, and wrapped in seduction, each offering can be more suffering or healing.  And I struggle to know which one until I taste it.

I want more healing, Lord Jesus.  It’s not even about the physical anymore.  It’s so much deeper than that now. I want more knowledge of my sin, and more refining of my heart.  I want more renewing of my mind. I want more, God. Give me more.

But more is so scary, Lord.  I don’t trust myself anymore.  I don’t trust my hearing. I don’t trust my discernment.  Is it You or is it me? Is it light or is it darkness? I want more, God.  But I’m afraid. You haven’t given me a spirit of fear but of a sound mind.  You have given me self control and clear thinking.

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7

You give me power, God.  But is there more? Give me more, God.  I need more power, love, and self-control.  Why do I fight it? What am I afraid of? Why do I long for more and run from it all at once?  Will I fail You, God? Is that what I’m afraid of? I know that more from You means less of me. Why don’t I want to give You all of me?  Give me more me? Is that what I want?

Wretched (wo)man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Romans 7:24

Deliver me, Jesus!  Give me more of You.  Break me of these horrible desires that causes my flesh to battle against me for death and darkness instead of life and light.  I want more light. I want more life?! Why do I fight it? What am I so afraid of? Is there more darkness, Lord? Is that my fear?  Will I have to face more of my own ugliness to find Your light? I don’t want to see it anymore, Jesus! I hate it! Does that mean I hate myself?  Does that mean I don’t know Your love?

Jesus, I want more.  Will You give me more of You?  I’m so scared, Lord. I’m terrified.  What will more of You reveal in me? I want to approach the Throne of Grace with confidence.  I need more grace, Jesus! I need more confidence in You. I want more!

You have given me so much already.  And I want more! There is so much more.  I want it, Jesus. I want more. Let me feast on the joy of Your salvation!  Let me taste and see that You are good! Give me more, Jesus. Break down my fear.  Break down my lust. Break down my doubt and my cowardice and my stubborn pride. Humble me, though I’m so afraid to ask for it!  Humble me and make me more like You.

I want more.  So much more! Give me more!

 

A Legacy of Prayer

Give ear to my prayer, O God,
   and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
2 Attend to me, and answer me;
   I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
3 because of the noise of the enemy,
   because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me,
   and in anger they bear a grudge against me.
Psalm 55:1-3

I listened to a sermon tonight about prayer and it got me thinking about the legacy of prayer that has followed me since my childhood.  From the time I was a little girl I can remember falling asleep every night talking to Jesus. I wasn’t necessarily taught to do that, but from the time of my salvation at 5 years old, I knew that I could call upon the Lord and He would answer me.  I wasn’t raised regularly attending church, and by my adolescence I had revolted defiantly against organized religion and church attendance, but I still had this intimate ritual of conversations with the Lord before I fell asleep. It was my only safe place at times.  When the angst of teenage life overcame me, I could feel the Lord beckoning me into His lap and opening His ears to my every cry and complaint. I never doubted it.

I realize now what a gift from God that was.  That’s not how things should have gone for me.  But God didn’t care what “should” have been my story, but instead cared about me and the plans He had for me from the very beginning.  He knew that prayer would be my only life line at times. He knew it would shape me into the woman I have become. And He knew that without that prayer life, my husband never would have found Jesus.

If you know me, or you regularly read my blog, you know that I got married during a time in my life where I wasn’t walking with God at all.  The man I married did not know Jesus, and instead was a devout Muslim from Saudi Arabia. I think that may be as opposite of Christian as it gets.  

But I call to God,
   and the Lord will save me.
17 Evening and morning and at noon
   I utter my complaint and moan,
   and he hears my voice.
18 He redeems my soul in safety
   from the battle that I wage,
   for many are arrayed against me.
Psalm 55:16-18

And that’s what I did.  I cried desperately out to God for help.  I knew that without God I had nothing.  My trust in Jesus grew as my relationship with the Lord was rekindled out of desperation for my husband’s salvation, and with my growing faith I grew bolder and bolder in my requests to God. I became desperate for my husband to know Jesus, and no amount of arguing would sway him. I had no recourse except to admit to God that I had been foolish and brought myself into that anguished place of falling in love with and marrying someone who didn’t know Him.  What else could I do but pray?

In those days, my husband was not a good person.  At times he was cruel. His words tore at my heart.  His arguments waged a war on me that tore me down to the very bones.  He was relentless in his attempts to convert me. His barbs of persuasion drew spiritual blood on a daily basis.  I don’t know how I survived it, except that the Lord had given me this gift of prayer intimacy that drew me into His arms when my world seemed darkest.

My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;
   he violated his covenant.
21 His speech was smooth as butter,
   yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
   yet they were drawn swords.
22 Cast your burden on the Lord,
   and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
   the righteous to be moved.
Psalm 55:20-22

My husband had become a cruel tool of the enemy, but the Lord heard my pleas for help and answered me.  When the war raged around me, I sought comfort in the arms of the Lord. It didn’t take long for me to be stirred to invite others into my mission to pray for my husband’s salvation.  I was desperate and prayer was all I knew. Prayer and John 3:16. That was my entire Christian resume. And it was more than enough. After enlisting thousands (really!) to pray for my husband, the Lord granted my request and spoke boldly into my husband’s life and he found salvation.  

God hears our prayers.  He never needed me to be a grand apologist or theologian.  I didn’t need arguments or clever words. All I needed to do was cast my burdens upon the Lord and have faith in His love for me.  I knew one thing for certain: Jesus loved me, he loved my husband, and together, through prayer, we could bring my husband into the Presence of God.  It truly was a miracle the day my husband came to Christ. Only God can bring revelation to a proud and stubborn Arab Muslim from Saudi Arabia who grew up with the nickname “the little Imam”.  

Prayer has power, not because it is some sort of magical spell to invoke the Spirit of God, but because our God is a God of partnership and promise.  He promised Abraham that the world would be blessed through him, and God has kept that promise. He kept it with me, and He’ll keep it with any who would trust in Him.  So, don’t give up on prayer. And don’t give up on those you love who need Jesus. Partner with the Lord in prayer as I have done, and see what partnership with the Creator of the Universe can look like.  

Lord, I pray for faith to trust You more.  I pray for all who are struggling with prayer and the fear that their prayers never get past the ceiling.  Renew hope in those who are suffering and doubting. Give them Your peace and call them to prayer. Show us how faithful You are, Lord Jesus!  Show us Your salvation through prayer and petition. Teach us to pray more. And teach us to trust and obey You in all things. Thank You for saving my sweet husband.  And thank You for the powerful anointing in ministry You have given him, all because I asked for him to know You. You invited him in and he accepted You. But You didn’t stop there.  You gave more than I could ask or imagine. You give good gifts to Your children when they ask You. And You gave me a beautiful gift that day that You showed my husband Your face and invited him into Your family.  Thank You, Jesus. You are Salvation for all who believe. Thank You for the faith to believe You over and over again. I love You, Jesus. Thank you for teaching me to pray.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21

Here is the sermon I mentioned: Sermon on Prayer