The Story Ends Well

During this Advent season I plan to re-post pieces I’ve written in over the years. I first published this one on December 5, 2012.

“How can You be so content when things are so broken and messy?” I asked the Lord one day last week.

As I was praying that morning, I was picturing myself “seated …with him in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 2:6). Scripture tells me that I am currently there with Him, in these “heavenly realms,” in these “heavenly places”; it encourages me to set my mind “on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2). So, as I prayed, I tried to do that. I tried to be with Him where He is and to see things from His point of view.

His answer was simple: “I know the end from the beginning, Child. You only see what is going on right now, in this moment. But I know how the story turns out. It has a good ending. That is why I can be so content.”

I pondered His words for a few days. Then on Sunday I went to church where we lit the first Advent candle—the candle of Hope.  We sang “O come, O come, Emmanuel , and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.” I thought of the broken situations I am praying about, trying to view them in the context of Emmanuel who will come and make them all right. In the context of God who sees the end from the beginning and tells me it ends well. Hope.

That evening I read in my prayer book (Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible through the Year) the advent prayer for the week: “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope” (Psalm 130:5).

“Okay, Lord, I get it, I think. You are at work. You are redeeming and restoring. That’s what your coming is all about! My part is to wait. And trust. And, instead of letting the darkness take me out, to hope.  So, Jesus, as much as Israel needed  You 2,000 years ago, I need You, we need You! Now!  “Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight!”

And somewhere in my spirit, I heard God’s answer: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Child of Mine. That is how I can be so content. Rest in Me, little one. Wait on Me. Hope in Me. I am coming to you.”

And my soul replied, “Come Lord Jesus!”

We’ll Be Sure to Thank You

A popular prayer sign off at the midweek prayer services I used to attend as a kid went something like this: “We’ll be sure to thank You, God, and give You all the glory.” To my childish mind, it sounded sort of like a spiritual-sounding bribe—basically, God, if You’ll answer the prayer I just prayed, I promise to do some good PR for You. I never knew if people actually fulfilled their part of the bargain or not.

I don’t believe I’ve ever used the phrase in my own prayers. And I hadn’t even thought about it for years, probably decades. But, out of nowhere, it came back to me the other day as I was getting ready for Thanksgiving.

It occurred to me that God had answered tons of my prayers this year. But I hadn’t really paused very long to thank Him. Instead, with maybe just a quick “thanks, God,” I’ve returned my focus to the prayers that I’m still waiting for His response on—the “perseverance required” kinds of prayers.

But God deserves more than that. So I’ve been taking some time to intentionally call to mind all the different ways God has answered prayer this year. For instance, He . . .

. . . worked out a life situation for a friend’s daughter . . . protected me from a really close call while traveling overseas . . . husbanded me countless times when the single life was overwhelming . . . brought anointed partners to do ministry with . . . inspired countless writing projects . . . gave wisdom in decision making . . . put a friend’s son back onto a straight path . . . started a church in a city I care about. . . worked in friends’ marriages . . . revealed Jesus to a refugee family . . . provided meaningful work to an unemployed friend . . . gave me faith to trust Him in a new spiritual challenge . . . sold a co-worker’s home in record time . . .

These are just a few. If I were to make a regular practice of intentionally noticing and acknowledging God for all the prayers of mine He’s answered, I am pretty sure that every day would be Thanksgiving Day. And I imagine doing that would indeed bless Him and give Him glory. And I know it would bless me! So here’s a prayer I hope He will answer:

Father, give me an attentive heart that sees You at work and notices every time You answer. Make me truly grateful. And as I seek to intentionally thank You for the many ways You hear and answer, may You indeed receive all the glory!

 

 

 

 

 

May-God Prayers

Last night I wanted to pray but was uncharacteristically at a loss for words. So I looked up some of the Apostle Paul’s prayers. The ones I am most acquainted with are quite long. I was tired, and I got lost in all the words. They’re great prayers, mind you, but I needed more emotional energy to pray them than was available to me last night.

However, I found some shorter, less familiar ones that really hit the spot. Interestingly, they all started the same way—“May God,” “May the Lord,” “May God Himself,” etc. So I decided to call them May-God Prayers.

As you read through them, you’ll notice that they are all prayers of blessing. They are appropriate to pray for any fellow believer, and many of them would be fitting prayers for nonbelievers as well. I hope you will enjoy praying them as much as I do—and that the people you pray these prayers for will experience God’s blessing. Here they are:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.2 Thessalonians 3:16

Aren’t they good? Feel free to pray them for me, if you like—I would happily receive God’s help and blessing with any of them!

Dare to Pray Like Daniel

I know precisely two people who cast their votes yesterday for presidential candidates they genuinely respect and trust. Judging from what I hear, most everyone else—on both sides of the political fence—held their noses and voted for “the lesser of two evils.”

So what does that mean for us this morning after Election Day? The way I see it, whether you view our President-elect as a greater or a lesser evil, we’re still in a bit of a mess.

But I’m finding hope in the book of Daniel. You remember Daniel—the handsome Jewish teenager exiled in Babylon after Israel collapsed? The guy who survived an encounter with a pride of hungry lions? Well, that same Daniel lived under four incredibly pagan, incredibly powerful kings. Some were more (or less) evil than others; nevertheless, I doubt that we’d hurry to the polls to vote for any of them.

Still, evil as these kings were, Daniel not only survived, he thrived under their leadership. It wasn’t easy. He had to make tough ethical decisions. He faced prejudice and persecution. He was slandered and lied about. Several times he narrowly escaped dying for his beliefs. Nevertheless, Daniel lived to a ripe old age, serving as a top-ranking adviser in each despot’s administration.  And he remained uncompromisingly faithful to God.

I expect I’ll be spending more time with Daniel in the days to come—there’s so much to learn from him. But several things especially stand out to me—things that encourage and challenge me the day after this incredible 2016 election season.

  • Daniel knew who was in control. He didn’t need to do any political maneuvering—he trusted God to call the shots. God changes the political seasons. He puts kings in power. He brings them down. This conviction wasn’t mere words to Daniel—it was his deeply rooted belief. God had Babylon. And, by the way, He has America, too. Listen to Daniel’s prayer on the night of what was supposed to be his execution:

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:20-22).

  • Daniel didn’t rant about those-wicked-people-out-there-in-the-world. Daniel recognized that trouble had come to God’s people because of their own sin. It wasn’t everybody else’s sin that had brought God’s judgment—it was Israel’s own waywardness. So when Daniel prayed, he repented for his sins and the sins of his people. He said nary a word about the sins of the evil empire in which he lived (see Daniel 9).
  • Daniel prayed—a lot. In spite of his public political position, he prayed openly and without apology, three times a day (see Daniel 6:10). The text doesn’t say what he prayed about, except that he gave thanks. But, judging from the type of governments he served in and the type of man Daniel was, it’s probably fair to say that he prayed much for the kings he served and the decisions they made. He probably prayed for the welfare of all the people, and of God’s people specifically. And I expect he prayed for himself, that he would bring honor to God by what he said and did.

There’s much more we can say about Daniel. About his tactfulness of speech, his firmness of conviction, he endurance in hard seasons, his wisdom in times of crisis—but I’ll leave some treasures for you to glean. If you need a little hope for these times, please do check out Daniel. Let us know what you discover!

 

 

 

Seeing With the Heart

I tend to be more task- than people-oriented. It’s not that I don’t value people—I do! I like people. I care about relationships. I want the best for the folks I interact with. It’s just that sometimes getting stuff done is the best way to care for people—at least it seems that way to me. I mean, if nobody does the stuff, then how will bills get paid, meals get made, leaves get raked, and all that?

I can tell—some of you are nodding your heads vigorously because you get it! But others of you just aren’t buying it. It’s okay, I understand. I’m just telling you the way it is for me.

So, when I was meditating on the story of the Good Samaritan recently, I reluctantly had to admit that I identified with the priest and the Levite (see Luke 10:25-37). They walked by the guy who’d been robbed and beaten, but they didn’t stop.

I rationalized that they simply didn’t see him. They were so intent on getting to where they were going so they could do the important thing that needed doing that they didn’t even see him. Surely if they’d seen him, they would have stopped, right? They were just super-focused on their assignment. Focus is a good thing, isn’t it?

But when I attended to the text again, I noticed, grudgingly, that it says they did see him. Only they didn’t stop.

However, the Samaritan, we all know, had a different reaction. “When he saw him,” Luke writes, “he took pity on him.” Some translations say he “felt compassion” for him.

What’s the difference between “seeing” and “seeing with compassion”? I wondered, inviting the Holy Spirit to illuminate the text for me.

It’s the difference between seeing with your head and seeing with your heart, He seemed to reply.

Then open the eyes of my heart, Lord! Help me to see with compassion!

Well, that is a prayer that God apparently likes to answer. It wasn’t but a few hours later that I, intent on a certain task—a very spiritual task, I might add—was interrupted by someone wanting my time. I wanted, oh how I wanted, to cross over to the other side, as it were. But the words of my prayer came back to me. So I stopped what I was doing. I postponed my project and gave my full attention to the one whose need had arrested me.

It was clearly a divine appointment. I wondered how many of those I’ve missed because I have been seeing with eyes of my head instead of eyes of my heart. But as quickly as I started beating myself up over it, God interrupted. You know what, Child? I see you, too. And I see you with compassion.

Oh, dear Father, I prayed. Thank You! Thank You for seeing me with Your heart. Give me Your heart to see others, too!

And I’m pretty sure He will.

In a Besieged City

carcassonneHindsight is great. There is much wisdom to be gained by reflecting on life that has already happened. I find that pondering life’s tougher episodes is especially enlightening. So, in the evening, I sometimes ask God to review the day with me and show me where I missed the mark, where I missed Him, so that when a similar situation comes up in the future, I’ll be more prepared, more present to God, more ready to respond to whatever happens with grace.

Foresight is great, too. In the morning, I like to anticipate my day—whom will I encounter? What tasks will I undertake? What circumstances will threaten my peace or joy? What opportunities will God entrust to me? Where might the enemy seek to cause damage to or through me? By anticipating these and talking them over with God ahead of time, I obviously am more likely to be in step with the Holy Spirit.

However, even when practicing these good spiritual habits, I find that more often than I’d like, I still sometimes myself blindsided in the present. I may enter a situation prayed up and spiritually alert—and still be knocked to the floor by feelings, words, or happenings that I wasn’t ready for.

I don’t have the answer to that difficulty yet. But the Lord did give insight yesterday that I’ll be pondering it for a while. It came from Psalm 31, a psalm of David, who certainly knew better than most of us what it is to be taken out by surprise attacks both from without and within.

After describing enemies and persecutors who lie, plot, shame, and speak contemptuously, David breaks into praise:

Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you,
in the sight of the children of mankind!
In the cover of your presence you hide them
from the plots of men;
you store them in your shelter
from the strife of tongues.

Cool stuff, right? But here is the part that I found most riveting:

Blessed be the LORD,
for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was in a besieged city. (Psalm 31:19-21, emphasis added)

David knew God’s steadfast love while he was under siege. Yes, he knew it before. Yes, he also knew it afterwards. But he knew it “wondrously” even in the middle of the attack.

I’m not there yet. When I’m under attack, I do not find it easy to connect with God’s steadfast love. I don’t find it easy to connect with God, period. But this psalm encourages me. It reminds me that it is possible to know and experience the tender mercy of God, even in the midst of an assault. So that is my prayer.

I’d love to hear from you folks. Have you learned David’s secret? Do you experience God’s steadfast love even when you are in “a besieged city”? I’d love to learn from you.

Intentions of the Heart

I don’t especially enjoy list praying. But I pray lists nonetheless. If I don’t, inevitably something or someone important falls through the cracks. And I don’t want to “sin against the LORD by failing to pray for [the people and concerns God has especially placed on my heart]” (1 Samuel 12:23).

So, especially on weekends when I have a little more time, I pray from a list. My list contains quite a few mainstays—the people and ministries I have committed to pray for. But the list also changes from week to week, depending on what special situations I am aware around the world and in my local church and community.

Anyway, I was praying from this list this past weekend. I got everything covered. But I felt as if I were merely going through the motions. Yes, I loved the people I prayed for. Yes, the matters I interceded about were important. But I felt nothing much except relief that I’d gotten it done.

I felt bad about not being more fervent. I felt as if I should apologize to God for my lack of passion. So I did. He responded by recalling to my mind Romans, 8:26-27:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Thank You, Sweet Spirit, I prayed. Thank You for taking the intentions of my heart and making them into prayers that are acceptable to the Father. Thank You that You don’t hold my weakness against me—instead, You condescend to help me. What a kind God You are.

And then, almost as a P.S., I thought of something I learned only recently. Some streams of the Christian faith have a term they use for specific intercession. They call it “special intention” or “prayers of intention.” How cool is that? God understands our intention—we want for Him to bring His good kingdom into the situations that concern us—but we can only intend. We can’t make any of it happen. In fact, we don’t even know how best to pray. But God sees our intentions. And He works even when our prayers are frail and feeble.