Stories… “Arise, My God”

When a person survives a life-threatening situation, we tend to focus on the miracle. We rejoice and give thanks for God’s goodness. And that is good and beautiful and absolutely appropriate. But it’s only a glimpse of the story, an incomplete picture at best.

This weekend, we were blessed to hear the other side of a miraculous story. The parts that we don’t usually ask about, the pieces that–while they’re not often celebrated–may actually contain the greater miracles. Kent’s story is a powerful one. It is a story of a dire diagnosis-Acute Myeloid Leukemia-that took him immediately away from home and into the throes of chemotherapy and hospital living. He endured infections, septic shock and at least one night at death’s door. We have seen God show up and do the impossible time after time in Kent’s life since the day he was diagnosed. From the perspective of someone who battled in prayer for him, it seemed that God was so near, so close–that He never left Kent’s side.

And He didn’t.

But what we learned as Kent shared so transparently with us, is that he wasn’t so sure. And after hearing about the less than glamorous side of this walking miracle, I am convinced that the greater miracle is what God did in the dark…

Kent shared with us that in the beginning of this journey, he sensed God telling him, “I’m going to teach you something more”. He said that when he heard this, he expected God to take him to new heights. Instead He took him to new depths. In this unfamiliar place, God seemed different than He had before. Kent was unsure of who He was. It was a dark, fearful, lonely place, and God seemed to have a harshness to Him that Kent hadn’t known before. Have you ever been in a season like that? A dark night of the soul, when God seemed cold and distant and out of reach? I imagine you have. To varying degrees, we all have probably experienced what Kent expressed.

It is in these places, these seasons marked with confusion and the threat of chaos, that we have a choice to make. Do we succumb to the fear, the loneliness, the lack of understanding and sink into the shadows of despair? Or do we lean in, trusting in what we know to be true of our God-even when we can’t feel Him near? There is a word for the honest, grief-filled cries of the soul that rise from our depths when we choose to lean in. That word is lament. The Psalms are full of laments. There is a whole book in the Bible dedicated to them. Choosing to lament before our Father requires a willing vulnerability. To lament is to bring your tattered, worn, aching heart before God without holding anything back. To lament is to implore God to listen, to act on behalf of our grief. It is bringing our hardest questions and asking our Father. It is ugly crying. It often includes shouts and wailing and indecipherable groans. It can look and sound different for each one of us. But it is always brutally honest. And it happens during dark, uncertain times, when we’re not sure God’s even listening.

What we rarely see in the moment are the treasures that are found in the darkness.

Isaiah 45:3, in the Amplified Bible, says this:

And I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.

In a book I keep coming back to, the author talks about these “treasures”. She writes, “We do not go through dark nights of the soul for nothing. We enter into these regions to find treasures that they alone hold. Jewels and precious metals are rarely found on the surface but rather are mined deep underground. Likewise, God’s treasures are unearthed when we enter, willingly or unwillingly, into dark regions and dig deep within ourselves and within the caverns of who God really is.” (This Beloved Road, Amy Layne Litzelman)

This same author writes elsewhere, “…a season of transition always stands between where we are and where He wants to take us. Something must be left behind and something gained in order to go on… We don’t understand how we can do what He has asked of us. And yet, know this: the moment we say with Jesus, “I want Your will, not mine”, mighty and glorious grace is released for the journey ahead.” 

During Kent’s dark night of the soul, he chose to lean in, to lament. He refused to let his journey be wasted, whatever the outcome. I believe the “outcome” is multi-faceted. There are pieces of his miracle left to unfold, as is true in all of our stories. But however the rest of his story unfolds, he found treasures in his darkness. As he placed his life in the hands of a God he couldn’t even feel in the moment, glorious grace was released for his journey. He saw God differently, he found unexpected beauty in unlikely places. His story speaks to the miracle of a healed body–and it testifies to an even greater miracle: A heart renewed in the truth of who his God really is. A God who never leaves us in our loneliest moments. A God who leads us into the darkness where we would never choose to go–because He wants to give us treasures that we can find no other way.

Are you living through a season where God feels far away? May Kent’s story encourage you to lean in, lament, and hold on-there are treasures to be found…

-Laura

I cried this morning while Kent spoke. I didn’t anticipate crying, but there was such beauty in the rawness of his season in the dark that it brought me to tears. He shared with us treasures, the type of treasures that Laura wrote about above, that if we are willing, they can be gems for us as well.

John asked Kent “What’s changed?”  Kent told us that upon receiving the life altering, possibly life ending diagnosis he asked himself, “What am I living for? What is truly important?” All of a sudden the treasures of this world didn’t matter anymore, and Kent had to wrestle, even in the spiritual realm with whether he wanted the things that Jesus offers—comfort, peace, presence—or if it was Jesus himself that Kent desired.  That’s a powerful question for us to wrestle with. Is Jesus alone our treasure? Kent pointed out in first service that there were only three, out of all the people who followed Jesus, only three that went to the cross. Are we willing to go the distance with him, to the hard places with him, the dangerous places with him, because he alone is who we desire? Or do we only “follow” him to get the benefits?

Kent talked about how alone he felt. For a portion of his lengthy hospital stay, after his closest call with death when he had to be intubated and coded, he couldn’t feel the presence of God, he couldnt’ feel the power or the warmth of the Holy Spirit. He wasn’t sure in that moment who God was,  the experience felt harsh, and it didn’t feel like something a loving God would do. In addition to that spiritual isolation, anyone who entered his room had to wear a mask, gloves, a gown, booties—no one could touch him. So not only was there no sense of God’s touch, there was no human touch either. There was fear, there was confusion. Isolation.

As Laura wrote above, Kent turned to lament. He reminded us that many of the Psalms are laments, that it’s okay, it’s healthy to lament; yet in the lamenting hang on to God’s truth.

And then the unanticipated beauty—Kent asked for someone to bring him his guitar. He sat in his hospital room at night and played songs of worship and sang. He did not know it at the time, but outside his door nurses would gather and listen, some patients would gather and listen. As Kent reached through the darkness for God, God was using him to minister to others in the hospital. That’s not why he did it. Kent was honestly seeking, searching, reaching, lamenting, praising, and God was using Kent’s raw honesty to reach others on that floor. Eugene Peterson once said that the people who made the greatest difference in his life were the people who weren’t trying to make a difference. Kent wasn’t trying to make a difference. He was merely being his authentic raw self—no masks, no pretense, no knowledge that God was using him—yet God was using him. What a beautiful reminder that when we walk humbly with our God, the world is impacted.

John asked Kent, “What would you say to someone who is battling today—who sees God as distant?” Kent emphatically replied that God is not distant, that He is here when we can’t feel or touch him. And then he said what may have been my favorite part of his sharing—he said that even though he couldn’t feel Jesus he got to see Jesus through the church, the body of Christ. Jesus touched Kent through our prayers, cards, text messages, visits, and Kent reminded us that this is what we are about. This is what the church is to be about. He encouraged those who may want to isolate, to stay connected because the Church truly is the hands and feet of Jesus—we are how the hurting get touched. Kent shared with us other major events from his own life, he called them “possible soul destroying” events, but his soul wasn’t destroyed because Jesus showed his love in each of those hard seasons through the body of Christ.

Then he reminded us that the church has a choice.  He said, “We can bless or we can curse and both go a long way. Be a blessing to those around you; love, pray, reach out, touch—it’s not about condemnation, it’s about calling people to a higher place…We know Jesus redeems but it’s the body that puts the touch to Jesus’ redemption…we point people to Jesus by being him.” 

I don’t know what those words do to you. I know that they fan the flame in me. My passion for Jesus’ prayer “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is really this simple. Know the Jesus of the gospels well enough to be Jesus to those around you. All others.  Bless, lift up, love, touch, reach out, listen to,  pray with, pray for, don’t condemn, don’t curse…we point people to Jesus by being him.  Can you imagine if the entire capital “C” Church made this our mission? That’s what I want my life to be about. How about you?

—Luanne

3AF2A84A-3EC8-40B7-B8AA-461ECC8B5298

Principles for Relationships (Colossians 3:22-4:6)

How often do we find ourselves praying for God to open a door? Or to close the doors that need to be closed? And if He can’t open a door, then would He please open a window?? Have you prayed prayers like this? I’m pretty sure I have prayed this way at least once in the last few days. During this week’s sermon, John briefly talked about how we often pray like this. He was telling us about Paul’s own prayer for an open door–but Paul didn’t pray for open doors the same way that we often do.

I suppose I need to back up for just a minute, before we explore that further. John gave us practical advice this week. Advice for how to respond to people-all people-especially when we find ourselves in difficult relationships. Relating with others, especially those with whom we do not see eye-to-eye, is hard. Really hard. Relating with them in a way that sees and honors their humanity as well as brings Glory to God? That can only be done one way. John said it like this:

“See your relationships with the big picture in mind”. John told us that there is a divine purpose in all of our relationships–this includes both the beautiful, life-giving friendships as well as the seemingly impossible interactions that can leave us feeling discouraged and angry. God has a plan for every relationship. Every human interaction we have has purpose. Wouldn’t it change everything if we lived like we actually believed that?

John gave us four principles, practical advice, for responding and interacting with others:

Pray first. Be wise. Redeem your time. Speak well. 

I want to focus on ‘Pray first’. Our author, Paul, models throughout the book of Colossians-as well as in every other book he penned-the importance of prayer. Much of the way we pray today has probably been modeled after his examples. In this week’s passage, Paul writes, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message…” (Colossians 4:2-3a)

Notice what Paul wanted an open door for… their message. The message of the Kingdom. He didn’t ask for a door to open for a job, a new home, a financial breakthrough, a new relationship. He asked for an open door for the message. Why? Because Paul’s entire life revolved around one relationship–his relationship with Jesus–and everything he said and did, the way he related with others, flowed from that place. He only prayed for himself in relation to whatever he needed to carry out his purpose. That purpose was carrying the gospel of Jesus, the message of the Kingdom, to as many as he could during his time on earth.

If we pray first–if we pray for God’s Kingdom to come with a heart that’s willing to leverage all that we are to see that Kingdom come–our hearts will be moved toward people. And we’ll find that we are wise in the way that we redeem the time we’ve been given and we will speak well.

IF our agenda is Jesus’s agenda. But if we have our own agenda, if we come to God in prayer asking for doors that we want to see opened for ourselves, we won’t be wise with our time or our words. Because if we come to God looking for open doors to satisfy our own agendas... we’ll relate with others the very same way. We will enter conversations with ourselves in mind. We’ll look for an “open door” to push our point or defend our argument and we won’t actually listen. We won’t speak well at all–because to speak well, we first have to learn to listen well. And that doesn’t begin in conversations with others. It begins in our conversations with God. Praying His Kingdom first means aligning our hearts with His and we can only do that if we listen to His heart. We don’t inherently know how to make the Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven. We can’t figure that out. We have to listen to Him. To learn from Him. To come to Him with one agenda–seeking HIS way so that we can carry HIS message to all of the people that HE loves. And He wants to grow our hearts to the place where we love them too.

If we learn how to listen to God-if we begin there-we will learn how to listen to others. With hearts that are already inclined toward them because we’ve already been on our faces on their behalf. And because our hearts have been moved toward them in prayer, because we’ve sought God for them, we will be able to speak well. To lift our voices to support one another using words that are full of grace, seasoned with salt and ready to give an answer. Because we’ve actually listened to the questions.

I wish I could say I was better at this than I am… Even in my closest relationships, I am often guilty of bringing my own agenda to the table. Of entering conversations looking for open doors to speak rather than listen. And of having agendas other than God’s agenda.

Jesus, I want to learn to pray like Paul, asking for open doors for your message to be spoken through me, through my life. Teach me to listen well so that when the opportunity arises, I can speak well, in a way that glorifies you and brings a little piece of your Kingdom of heaven to earth…

–Laura

Laura wrote: if we pray for God’s Kingdom to come with a heart that’s willing to leverage all that we are to see that Kingdom come–our hearts will be moved toward people. And we’ll find that we are wise in the way that we redeem the time we’ve been given and we will speak well.

Over and over and over again, in his letters, Paul reminds us that how we see people, how we treat people matters deeply.  Do we believe that? Do our lives, our interactions show that we believe that?

Colossians 4:6 in the Message translation says this: “Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.”

And verses 3:23-25 in the NIV say this: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.

In my personal time with God I’ve been studying the book of Matthew and have been in Chapter 5 and the beginning of chapter 6 for a long time. There is so much there! These are Jesus words to us about how to live in His Kingdom, how to be a Kingdom citizen on earth. Last week, I was noticing how many times the word “reward” appears in Chapters 5 and 6. Jesus tells us–“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”

Right away we see that Kingdom living is counter-cultural–that we may be persecuted as a result; however there is a reward coming in heaven. Does that matter to us?

Paul in Galatians 1:10 writes: “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.”

Back to rewards–these are the brief notes that I wrote in my journal on Friday:

Mt. 5:12 – great is your reward in heaven for being persecuted.

Mt. 5:46 – If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? (Love your enemies.)

Mt. 6:1 -Don’t “show off” your rightesness or there will be no reward from God.

Mt. 6:2 – Pharisees who show off to get accolades have received their reward from men, not God.

Mt. 6:4 -Give in secret and your Father will reward you.

Mt. 6:5-6: – Don’t show off in your prayers, pray in secret and God will reward you.

Mt. 6:16-18 – Don’t “show off” in your fasting. Fast without drawing attention to yourself and God will reward you.

So when John read the word ‘reward‘ in the Colossians passage Sunday, it drew my attention.

On Friday, as I reflected on the Matthew scriptures, in its simplest form appears to me that humbly living before Christ pleases God, but any attitude of superiority or showing-off does not please God.  John wisely said in Sunday’s sermon that arrogance destroys ministry. I couldn’t agree more.

What are these rewards? I don’t know. On this planet, I believe they have much to do with the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control) ruling our inner lives, giving us the inner peace that can’t be explained in this life, which then spills over into our relationships with others.  But I also know that Revelation 22:12 makes it clear that there are heavenly rewards: Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.

The danger in knowing that there are rewards is that all of a sudden it becomes a worldly competition– we try to “out Christian” other believers, and we fall into the comparison trap, which is exactly what Jesus was pointing out about the Pharisees in Matthew 6.  So what do we do?

We pay attention to how Jesus asks us to live, we repent when we mess up, we ask the Holy Spirit to lead us, to guide us, to fill us, we worship God in spirit and in truth, and we ask God to help us love Him with heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We pay attention to the prisoner, to the oppressed (Mt 25:31-46 give huge clues as to how to live the Jesus way), we try to model our lives after Jesus–

And we pay attention to ourselves–how we speak, because out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks (Lk 6:45)  Scroll up and read Colossians 4:6 again in the Message translation. This has been a concern of mine since we moved back to the United States after living in another country for 10 years. We lived outside this culture from 1996-2006. When we moved back, I was shocked at how much language in this country toward and about others had changed. Sit-com humor was cutting and degrading, news panels (and it’s continued to get worse) disrespect one another to a degree that I can’t even wrap my mind around, reality shows highlight conflict, fighting and disrespect, politicians  slander, lie, and tear down opponents in a horrifically ugly way, even some video game language is mean– and now, in this season of social-media and public commenting on news stories etc. Oh My! And then we’re surprised by the bullying crisis in our children and youth, without taking responsibility for, or trying to change what we’ve modeled. How the heart of God must be breaking!

And the sad thing is–this steady diet of death speaking words–it’s contagious. Just a week ago I made a “funny” comment to someone, that the Holy Spirit convicted me about. It wasn’t funny. It was unkind. I prayed the rest of the day for the opportunity to apologize face to face, and God, in his goodness, gave me that opportunity. The recipient of my “humor” hadn’t taken offense, but still appreciated the apology. Friends, this is what we must be willing to do.

If the world is to know that God is real, that He loves them, we must see relationships with the big picture in mind, we must treat others well, we must work toward Christlike relationship principles and seek reconciliation and peace when necessary; and to live this way we must pray first, then be wise, make the most of every opportunity and speak well. And it all begins in the heart.

I have to ask Jesus every single day to search my heart and show me the areas where I’m out of step with him. Every. Single. Day.  — because when it comes down to the deepest part of my heart, my deepest prayer is that I want my life to count for His Kingdom. Thank you, God, that you are patient and abounding in love. Thank you that you don’t condemn when we mess up, but you lead us to repentance with kindness, and that you speak well over us. Lead us to do the same over others.

-Luanne

Image result for colossians 4:6 message

 

 

Colossians 2:1-9

Beau began this week’s sermon by highlighting the reasons behind this part of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In verse 2, Paul writes, “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love…” The believers at Colosse were struggling with discouragement and disunity. Beau told us that discouragement happens when a heart is hurting. Disunity occurs when that hurt is left to fester.

Discouragement and disunity can leave us feeling like we’re in the dark. When we find ourselves in the dark, we will move toward any light we can see. Even if that light is less than sufficient. Even if it is artificial. Paul was warning the Colossians about some of the forms this deceptive light can take–things like believing false theology by way of rational thought or self-centered perspectives. We need to heed the same warning…

We can find ourselves believing that whatever “light” we have seen is the only true light because it has become so real to us. When we are in a well-lit room, we typically don’t go looking for another light switch-even if there is a possibility that there is brighter light to be found.

Beau read John 5:39-40 from two different translations. These verses articulate this concept of accepting a lesser light beautifully…

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (NIV)

 “You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.” (MSG)

The people that Jesus was speaking to were diligent students of Scripture-a good thing. But they missed seeing that the life they were desperate for was standing in front of them in the person of Jesus. They had been blinded by a lesser light. And they couldn’t see the need for the true Light through their well-lit theology. The Colossians were in danger of missing Jesus in their midst, too.

And so are we.

Jesus’s words in the passage above hit me in a deep place…

“…here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.”

He is still standing right before us, always. It’s not a question of whether or not we miss Him standing there. We do. Often. The question is, How do we miss Him?

I think that sometimes, when we’ve stared at artificial light for too long, we actually can be blinded by it. Especially if that light takes the form of some kind of spotlight… a spotlight that shines on us and makes us feel like we’re doing something right…

In Matthew 6:23, Jesus warns, “But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!” When what we perceive, what we see as light, is not actually The Light, the light we have is actually darkness within us.

The people Jesus was addressing in John 5 and the people of Colosse that Paul was addressing in this letter, they didn’t know that they were being deceived by a lesser light. It had to be called out. A prophetic voice had to be willing to speak up and call it out, lest their rational thought, self-centered perspectives and diligent study of Scripture keep them from ever knowing the only true Light. “Prophetic voices”, Ken Wytsma writes in a phenomenal book called The Myth of Equality, “explode things… [They are] subversive. Radical. Disruptive.” Paul was willing to be that voice for the Colossians. But not as a critical, condemning, condescending and detached onlooker. As a brother and teacher who was agonizing over them in his prayers. He was fully engaging in intercession, for people he hadn’t personally met, with fervor and empathy. He loved them and was present with them through his prayers. And so his prophetic voice was heard by them.

How do we respond to prophetic voices in our lives? Do we listen? Or are we so blinded by the artificial light that we have accepted as reality that we can’t even see a glimpse of the real Light? If the light we live in is artificial , then we must acknowledge the possibility that maybe we aren’t following the real Jesus.

So how do we know if we have been deceived? If we’re living life in a lesser light? The evidence lies in what is manifested through us. If we haven’t experienced the light of Jesus, but rather an insufficient, lesser light, then what we manifest is artificial light. This dim light can lead to division, further disunity, hypocritical & defensive attitudes when our “light” is called into question, “us” & “them” mentalities, a core desire for our own comfort above all else… the list could go on.

If, however, we have seen the real Jesus standing before us–if we have experienced the Light that dispels the inherent darkness of all other lights, then we manifest the Kingdom of God. We will willingly respond to the call of the Gospel to, as Beau put it, “leverage our lives and what we have for the benefit of the Kingdom and offer our whole lives to move the Kingdom forward”. Beau identified that choosing to lay our own kingdoms down in exchange for God’s Kingdom is hard. But He also reminded us that, “We don’t know how much better [God’s] Kingdom is until we’re living in it”. When the brightness of Christ cuts through the lesser lights we have surrounded ourselves with, it changes us. This Light exposes all things. We can’t ever un-see a light this bright-unless we choose to close our eyes

May we be people who live with eyes wide open to the Jesus standing before us. May we be willing to listen to the prophetic voices that call us out of our dimly-lit mindsets and misconceptions. And may we willingly lay our kingdoms down for the advancement and fulfillment of The Kingdom of God…

–Laura

Laura makes some excellent points. Oh…”may we willingly lay our kingdoms down for the advancement and fulfillment of The Kingdom of God…”

Here is what I think is true. None of us wants to be deceived. I believe that we all want godly wisdom and knowledge. I believe that we all want to be living in the true light, the Jesus, Light of the World light–and I believe that we all need to be reminded from time to time that Satan poses as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Even Jesus reminds us in Matthew 24:4 “Watch out that no one deceives you!” So, how do we safeguard ourselves from deception?

Laura talked about it above–the key is being absolutely grounded in Christ. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ. (Col. 2:3).

For those of us who grew up in church, or have been in church for a while, this may be trickier than we think. Colossians 2:8 gives a clue as to why this can be tricky. It reads “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ.

I grew up in a wonderful faith tradition, met Jesus there, grew in Jesus there, but have discovered that not everything we did as a church lined up with scripture. I imagine that’s true for many of us. It is imperative that we let the Christian life be defined by Jesus and not by our traditions. And if we are letting Jesus define our Christian experience, I think it will look a whole lot different than it does.

Jesus had a close one on one relationship with the Father. Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit. (Mt. 4:1). Jesus was not impressed with the religious elite, but went after the teachable, the common, the invisible and the marginalized. Jesus treated foreigners well, he treated women well, he treated children well, he treated the sick well, he treated the demon possessed well, and, because he loved them too, he warned the religious elite, who thought they had the true light, that they were misguided. He never left anyone the way he found them. His primary focus was the kingdom of heaven coming on earth, the kingdom of heaven that looks like each of us laying our lives down for one another, modeling to the world who He is by the way we love one another (John 13:35), bringing people into relationship with the Father through Jesus, and giving us–the church–the charge to take this kingdom to everyone everywhere. His kingdom is totally contrary to the kingdoms of this world, including our own personal kingdoms, which is why we must surrender our kingdoms to His and live His way. He tells us to seek His kingdom first, and He will take care of the rest. (Mt. 6:33)

Is this the way we live? Spend some time reflecting on how your life lines up with the life of Jesus. Is the Kingdom of heaven coming on earth your priority? Does what you think about the role of the church line up with what the Bible says about the role of the church? Are you seeing all people and loving them well? Does the fruit of the Spirit flow out of your life? Are people coming into the kingdom as a result of knowing you?  Are you contending, wrestling, striving, agonizing over others in prayer, even people whom you’ve never met? I am asking myself all of these questions…

Psalm 139:23-24 says “Search me, oh God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” 

Asking God to shine His light in us, show us where we have not hidden ourselves in Christ, and then making the adjustments to align ourselves with His way of doing things is where we will find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and we will experience true life. It’s only found in Christ. He will not shame us on this journey. He Will gently and lovingly lead us into becoming more and more like Himself, if we will let Him.

Are you in?

–Luanne

light tree

 

More thoughts on prayer…

The mysteries of prayer…and there are many…. can boggle my mind. At a conference a few years ago, I was introduced to this quote by Blaise Pascal: “God instituted prayer in order to lend His creatures the dignity of causality.” For whatever reason, God, in His incredible wisdom and grace allows us to connect in a deeply personal way with Him through prayer. He not only allows it, He desires it—and then the craziest thing of all– He moves, He acts through our prayers. That fact alone is mind boggling. So, when I think through this series of Big Questions, and ponder Beau’s sermon on prayer, the seemingly unanswered ones, and the answered ones, it brings me to the mystery all over again.

Beau highlighted, and I agree wholeheartedly, that prayer has very little to do with the actual words we say; it is more about our heart condition; it is about connecting with God; it is about bringing everything in our lives to the God of the universe who is also our intimate loving Father; it is about conversing with Him. He loves to hear about our victories, our defeats, our concerns for others, our love for the world, our desire to see Him move in mighty ways and make His name known, and He loves for us to be still in His presence and hear from Him, rest in Him, and trust Him.

Confession: I used to stress out over prayer. I knew its importance and was afraid that I would mess it up somehow. To be asked to pray out loud was horrifying. I was sure that I wasn’t doing it well enough. I read books on prayer, went to seminars on prayer, tried various formulas, various outlines, various methods, and eventually came to the conclusion that the only way I can mess up prayer is not to pray. God is absolutely not after formulas and polished phrases. He is truly after connection with us–me bringing all of myself to Him. You bringing all of yourself to Him.

Jesus gave us a beautiful example of what kinds of elements to include in our prayer lives when He taught us to “pray in the manner of” The Lord’s Prayer– elements that include greeting our Father, lifting Him up, praying for the things of His kingdom, and for His will to be done, asking for personal provision, for the grace to forgive others, for deliverance from temptation, for protection from the evil one, and acknowledging His greatness and authority over all. These are good things to include, AND I believe that God is just as interested in a quick sentence prayer in the middle of the day, or a “wow” prayer when He blows our minds with something beautiful, or a heart broken “why” prayer when hard things come our way–. Prayer is all about connection. Period.

So, maybe our biggest challenge in prayer is trusting God completely with however He chooses to move. Nowhere in scripture does God promise to give us everything we want. Nowhere in scripture does God say that He is obligated to us and our will. What He does say is “pray always and never lose heart” (Luke 18:1) and “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). He tells us that He hears our prayers (Ps. 66:19), that they are before His throne (Rev. 8:4) and that they are powerful and effective (James 5:16). God delights in us coming to Him with our hearts and our desires, but He is not a genie in a bottle. We know from the story of Job that God heard Job’s prayers for deliverance, yet God was doing a greater work than Job could see. God used Job’s season of suffering to give Job a new perspective on who God is–the end result of Job’s story is that Job experienced God in an incredible way. Job says in chapter 42 verse 5, “My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You.” Job experienced a new level of intimacy with the Lord through his season of suffering and his prayer relationship with God during that season.

I have had a season where I responded to what God was allowing in my life in a similar way to Job. At first I wanted a way out, an escape. God said no. Then I asked God to take my life. He said no. I was going to have to go through that season. God was with me through it all. I am on the other side of that season now, with a deep, deep reverence and deeper love for God than I knew was possible. He stripped me of my false idols and taught me that He truly is enough. He is more than enough. He handled all of my questions, all of my rants, all of my despair, and loved me ferociously in the midst of the swirling chaos. I could not see where I would end up. I was devastated and terrified, and I knew that there was nowhere to turn except for to God. He met me in the pit and did abundantly more than I could have asked or imagined.

Coming to God as if He is a genie in a bottle, there to give us whatever we pray for, is not the goal and will lead to much disappointment. Prayer is about honesty before God, about connection with God, about walking with God, trusting God and ultimately experiencing God in every circumstance and season of life, no matter how He chooses to move. He is the artist weaving the tapestry. He alone knows what we truly need. He knows the beautiful work that He is doing. He can be trusted. His view is eternal. His ways are higher. And His heart is full of love toward us. Always. To connect with Him in prayer is one of the greatest gifts He has given us. It is our spiritual lifeline. We will wither without it. And, He changes us, and the world as we enter in with Him.

How has God met you in prayer? What does your prayer life look like? I’d love to learn from you.

–Luanne

Luanne wrote, “To connect with Him in prayer is one of the greatest gifts He has given us”. I agree with that statement completely. Prayer is not a duty, a means to an end or something to cross off my to-do list. It is a gift. God already sees the end from the beginning. He knows what we need and want before we ask. He knows how He intends to answer every prayer before we pray it. And yet, He invites us to talk to Him-anytime, anyplace, about everything. I can’t imagine the cacophony that fills His ears at any given moment… It has to be loud. But He desires to hear from us. He didn’t have to give us the gift of communication with Him. But, because “He has also set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11b), He made a way for the eternal part of us-our spirits-to connect to that which we long for.

I recently read this quote from Brother Lawrence,

“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God”.

I would offer that what we say in this continual conversation is not always sweet and delightful. In fact, an honest prayer life will always include questions, lament, sorrow, pleading… sometimes even yelling and, often (in my case) ugly crying. But a life of continual conversation with God, regardless of circumstances, is sweet. And it is delightful. Because it is the way we connect the earthly and eternal. The way we can pass through the separating veil during our time on earth.

Beau highlighted Hebrews 13:14 in his sermon: “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”

I am currently participating in a study that focuses on different disciplines that draw us closer to Jesus. The first discipline we studied was prayer. In that study, I read this:

“You feel the ache at the most unexpected moments… It’s the ache of a memory, planted deep in our souls, of a different world-a better, holier, happier world where no illness strikes, no tear falls and death is but an old recollection. It is eternity lodged in each human heart. It is the deep, unquenchable homesickness for God.”

That ache is what reminds us that there is more. That the storms and trials of this life are, indeed, temporary. Beau reminded us of Jesus’ words from John 16:33,

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world!”

Jesus overcame the world so that this world would not be the end of our stories. So that we could say, “This world is not my home”, knowing that the ache within us will one day be forever satisfied.

The ache that proves that God really did “set eternity in the human heart” would be unbearably heavy if there were no way to soothe it. It won’t be fully relieved until we reach our home in Heaven. But prayer is the way the ache is soothed here on earth. God, in His goodness and grace, gave us a way to connect beyond the constraints of this world. That’s prayer.

I have always talked with God fairly easily. But I didn’t begin to understand the deep connection that happens in the spiritual realm when I pray until a few years ago. When I began to understand that my prayers allow my spirit to transcend the earthly and meet God in heavenly realms, it changed my perspective dramatically. And you know what? Brother Lawrence was right. The sweetest and most delightful life is the one that is continually conversing with the One who created it. It is only through connecting with God constantly that we are fully alive, that our spirits can breathe and expand and grow us into all God intends for us to be. Our prayers don’t change God. But praying continually, authentically–it changes us.

How has God changed you as you’ve met Him through prayer? We would love to continue this conversation with you. Please comment with your thoughts and questions!

–Laura

prayer

How Do We Respond to “Unanswered” Prayers?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, 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

Beau talked to us this weekend about how we handle our “unanswered” prayers. I assume that you, like me, can immediately think of more than one situation when God did not respond to the cries of your heart in the ways you thought He would-maybe how you thought He should? When we find ourselves in a moment like this, what do we do?

Beau spoke about our initial reactions. These are the immediate feelings and thoughts that occur when we don’t receive the answer that we hoped or thought we would. As Beau said, these are natural. There is no shame in an initial reaction–be it anger, disappointment, doubt, fear, etc… God gave us our feelings. And, as Ann Voskamp writes,

“Feelings are meant to be fully felt–and then fully surrendered to God”. 

Fully surrendered to God… That’s easier said than done, isn’t it? Especially when…

…our prayers for healing end in the death of someone we love

…we pray for a prodigal child and they seem to move further away from home

…our prayers for a baby end in a diagnosis of infertility

…God leads us away from a calling we believed He gave us

…our prayers for answers end in more questions

…we ask for stability and find ourselves unemployed

…we pray for our marriage and it still falls apart

We could add so much more to this list. We’ve all experienced the heartbreak of unanswered prayers–and if we haven’t, we can be assured that somewhere down the road, we will. Our understanding is limited. Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, nor are our ways His ways. (Isaiah 55:8)  At some point on our journeys, our expectations collide with answers we didn’t expect, answers that feel more like unanswered prayers, and we find ourselves reacting out of our limited understanding. What happens next is up to us. Beau said it this way:

“If our initial reactions are left unattended, they will draw us away from God”.

Our initial reactions are natural. We react in our minds and our hearts without thinking about or choosing those reactions beforehand. But if we are not prepared to handle those reactions, if we don’t know what to do with them, we will discover that those initial reactions can lead to unhealthy responses. And the unhealthy responses, as Beau told us, can impact the way we see God, ourselves and others. They can also impact the way we pray from that point on.

“Initial reactions require intentional responses.”

Beau didn’t give us a list of what those intentional responses should look like. Instead, he took us on a journey through Scripture that reminded us who God is, who He says we are in Him, the way we are instructed to love others and the way God asks us to pray. Intentional responses are always based solidly on the Truth. Reactions are felt–responses are chosen.

In the end, Beau brought us back to Philippians.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  

These verses are so familiar to me but–as only the Holy Spirit can facilitate–they came alive in a whole new way to me through Beau’s teaching. Hang with me here; I promise I will get to my (very mind-blowing) point shortly…

Beau reminded us that these verses begin with “In every situation“. Right away, I see this as a “daily”. An everyday discipline of bringing our prayers and requests before God that becomes a constant conversation that is eventually as natural as breathing. Then we read “with thanksgiving”. Beau said it this way: “A filter of thanksgiving colors everything accordingly”. Beautiful, right? I want to live a life that is colored, experienced, seen through the filter of thanksgiving. But, friends, that’s not the part that blew my mind…

After we are given instruction on how to pray, we read what happens as a result of praying God’s way.

…And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds…

It was when Beau broke down the word “guard” in this passage that I began to see these verses in a more brilliant light. The word in the original Greek [phroureō] means to protect, as you might imagine. But it also means to prevent hostile invasion. We’ll come back to that in a moment… The word is derived from two root words–and this is where it gets really exciting! The words are [pro], meaning before and [horaō], which means to see with the eyes, to see with the mind, to discern clearly. 

You guys. This. Is. Crazy!

So, let’s recap… If we come to God in every circumstance with all of our prayers and requests, and we do so with thanksgiving–then, the peace of God will protect our hearts and minds before we see, before we understand, before we discern clearly. Our hearts and minds can be protected from the hostile invasion of unhealthy responses before we even know how God will answer our prayers. If we begin by praying God’s way, we are guarded in this remarkable way. So that, when our prayers aren’t answered the way we hope, we can fully feel our feelings and then surrender them fully to God, with hearts and minds that were being protected from hostile invasion the moment we began to pray! This is huge. If we are protected before the answer comes, or doesn’t come–or doesn’t come the way we wanted it to–then we are prepared to respond in an intentional, healthy way, standing on the Truth, regardless of what the answer turns out to be. That is beautiful, empowering and so life-giving. Let that peace settle over you…

Beau reminded us, in regard to our “unanswered” prayers that God gives us what we would ask for if we knew what He knows. He concluded with this beautiful poem, written by Corrie Ten Boom:

“Life is but a Weaving” (the Tapestry Poem)

“My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.”

Have you experienced unanswered prayers? Has God responded differently than you thought He should? How would it change your responses if you prayed the way Philippians 4:6-7 tells us to pray? I pray that as we ponder old truths and fresh insights, the Holy Spirit will move in each of us to empower us to choose healthy responses when we find ourselves tempted to question what we know to be true about God, ourselves and others. Blessings to you, friends.

–Laura

(Luanne is in a tropical paradise this week, so you have my thoughts alone–I would love to hear your thoughts and questions! Please interact with me through the comments section so we can continue this conversation! 🙂 )

Imagine a New Way to Pray

We have just embarked on this year’s 21 days of prayer and fasting– this season of  disconnecting from the world in order to connect more deeply with God.

With these 21 days in mind, John challenged us to look closely at Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-19 and to pray this way during our season of prayer and fasting.

“For this reason I kneel ( posture of urgency and distress), before the Father,  from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being (connecting the Eternal with our internal), so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (constant connection to God). And I pray that you, being rooted and established (firmly grounded) in love (the never-ending love of Christ) may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

There is so much in that prayer!! Every word is purposeful and powerful, but my mind keeps dwelling on…being rooted and established IN LOVE may have POWER, together with all the saints, to GRASP how wide and long and high and deep is the LOVE of CHRIST,  and to know THIS LOVE that surpasses knowledge THAT you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 

Three times in one sentence Paul uses the word “love”–three times in one sentence! And his urgent prayer is that we “get it”.  As I flip the words over in my mind the words “power” and “grasp” catch my attention.

The word “power” appears twice in this prayer. Being strengthened in my inner being, AND being able to comprehend His love for us takes power, and my personal power is not going to be sufficient…it is the power of His Holy Spirit that will strengthen me and help me “grasp” the depths of Christ’s love. Am I willing to let the Spirit have access to my whole life, am I willing to let Him unleash His power within me?

The word grasp means to seize and hold firmly, or to get hold of mentally. Paul is praying ON HIS KNEES that we, the followers of Christ (all the saints), will allow the Holy Spirit access to our lives in order that we may grab hold of how loved we are and never let it go. He tells us that this love surpasses knowledge, it is greater than anything earth has to offer, it can’t be explained, only experienced. The result of this power, this grasping, this love,  is that we will be filled with all the fullness of God. That’s a pretty amazing result.

I can’t help but think that Paul is so passionate about this subject, because he had experienced a deeply personal encounter with Christ  (Acts 9) that forever changed his life. He met a loving Savior, he experienced forgiveness, and his life became all about the Kingdom of God from that point on. Persecution couldn’t stop him, prison couldn’t stop him, being slandered couldn’t stop him, shipwrecks couldn’t stop him, snake bites couldn’t stop him, nothing was going to keep him from sharing the love of Jesus-which he had personally experienced- with everyone he encountered. And his desire was for every believer to experience the love of Christ to such a level that they too, WE too, would be unstoppable. Have you experienced His love? I have, and it has forever changed me. Every day of my life I am desperate for Him. He is my treasure. Like Paul, I am passionate that every one experience the depths of God’s love. Oh–don’t miss it!!!  Ask God for His power to strengthen  your inner being, your place of wrestling, through the power of the Holy Spirit so that you can grasp His love!

My heart burns within me as I write these words. Oh that we–the Church–would let the powerful Holy Spirit have His way in us so that we can grasp this love personally, and grasp this love outwardly in order to share it with the people of this world that desperately need to know that they are loved by God. Oh that we would pray to be so deeply in love with God that nothing, nothing, nothing would ever stop us. May we make this prayer our own during these 21 days. And may we dedicate ourselves “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…” Ephesians 3:20 

His power. His love. His mission. His purpose. His heart. His fullness. My prayer. My surrender. He is worth it!

-Luanne

Imagine if we adopted this prayer and prayed it throughout the next 21 days, believing God for every word…

Luanne’s passion screams through the words she wrote, doesn’t it? It is clear that she believes every word and she invites us to believe with her. She invites us to believe enough to pray this prayer that is pregnant with possibility, with the expectation that God will answer. It is an invitation to the abundant life, to the kind of life that is “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”, a life that spills over and brings Glory to God and God alone.

Does your heart burn within you as you read the words of Paul’s prayer? What is your immediate response? Do you believe that you can be empowered this way through the Holy Spirit? Have you experienced this power-the same power that raised Christ from the dead? (Romans 8:11) Do you move throughout your days with the knowledge of the love Jesus has for you? Jesus tells us, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you…” (John 15:9) Just as God loves Jesus… Jesus loves us with a love that big? He says yes, that’s how much He loves us. I can’t begin to fathom the width, length, height and depth of God’s love for Jesus, His Son. Nothing we know in our humanness can compare with a love like that. But I have felt it. I have felt Jesus’ love for me. He has shocked and overwhelmed my heart with His love. He has changed me with His love. He has given me love for others that I couldn’t manufacture on my own. He has loved me with a love that turns my brokenness into beauty. What about you? Have you felt the love of Jesus, have you known it through experiencing Him?

Though I have experienced this wild love of my Savior, I can all too easily forget to live from that place. I can slip back into old lies, old ways and pick up chains His love has freed me from. John told us that the love of Christ produces humility, is found in community and exemplified in solitude. But, sometimes, I can get caught up in the opposites. An attitude of superiority can sneak in. The temptation to compete, to hustle for my worth, can steal the sweetness of community. And the desire to hide, to isolate can overwhelm the practice of solitude. None of those things display the love of Christ and none bring him Glory. I don’t want these things to have any breathing room in my days, in my life. So how can I-how can we-avoid these pitfalls? We can commit to pray this prayer, believing God will answer. We can look beyond the words we can’t quite comprehend and search out the truth in them for ourselves. I want to pray like this, not just during these 21 days, but for as long as I have breath to pray.

Will you join us in praying this prayer? Can you imagine if we each personalized this prayer and prayed it for ourselves and over one another? For the global Church of Jesus? What might our lives look like if we prayed these words and believed fully on the One who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine? I have an idea what we might look like…  a whole lot more like Jesus.

I have made this prayer personal below. Will you take a moment and pray it over yourself today?

 For this reason I kneel before you, Father... I pray that out of your glorious riches you might strengthen me with power through your Spirit in my inner being, so that you may dwell richly in my heart through faith. And I pray that I, being rooted and established in love,  may have power through your Spirit, together with all of your people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep your love is,  and to know, really know in my core, this love that surpasses knowledge—that I might be filled to the measure of all of your fullness. Now to you, My God, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine, according to your power that we believe is at work within us, to you and only you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen!

I can’t wait to see what God will do during this season of prayer. I hope you will all join us!

–Laura

(The link to the sermon that was referenced can be found below. Just scroll down and click on the First Baptist Church of Casper Facebook page.)

pray