Positive Fixation

There can be a thousand things right in the world, but if there’s one thing wrong, you can count on me to notice it. I want to be more cup-half-full, though, so I’ve been praying for a while that God would teach me to see things from His perspective. And I think He gave me a clue to that today.

It came from a verse that’s very familiar to me. After telling the Philippians not to worry about anything but to pray about everything (with thanksgiving!), Paul offers some practical advice: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (4:8, NLT).

Usually when I read that passage I sum it up in two words—“think positive”—and move on. But frankly, that approach to Philippians 4:8 hasn’t brought much transformation.

However, when I read that verse today, a brand-new thought came to me: Instead of summing it all up into one impossible-seeming command—think positive—what if I were to do exactly what it said? What if I were to fix my thoughts, even fixate on, everything I can think of that is true—what if I were to list these things, meditate on them, enjoy them, and thank God for them? And then move onto things that are honorable, and so on? It would take a while, but just think about how much good stuff would fill my mind?

So I tried it. I wrote down all the attributes Paul mentioned, then asked God, “What have I experienced or who have I been with this recently that demonstrates this quality?

“Who or what has been true, faithful, sincere, or genuine?

“Who or what has been honorable, deserving of respect?

“Who or what has been right, just, moral, or ethical?

“Who or what has been pure, single-minded, untainted?

“Who or what has been lovely, beautiful, delightful, inspiring love and affection?

“Who or what has been admirable, worthy of esteem or approval?”

As I spent a half-hour or so reflecting and praying on these questions, memories of recent encounters, events, and experiences started to surface. I thought of a friend who has gone through a string of difficulties, but who remains solid and steady as a rock. I remembered the snow-glazed ponderosa pine trees in my front yard, the rosy-pink sunrise on Pikes Peak this morning, the beautiful music I heard at a chamber orchestra concert Sunday. I recalled an article I read recently about a Christian newly elected as head of state in a Latin American country. I smiled at the recollection of a friend’s daughter who, for her own birthday, did as many random acts of kindness as she was years old.

I thought of a woman I don’t know very well who wrote me a sweet email of encouragement earlier this week. A guy I work with who is utterly dependable and always goes the extra mile. I remembered a difficult situation that had been handled with grace and truth and savored the good fruit that is coming from it. I thought of a ministry that is on the frontlines offering hope and tangible help to the people of the Philippines who lost everything in the typhoon. I thought of friends who could be thinking of retiring but instead have sold their house and are about to move to India to plant churches among unreached people there. I thought of a recent worship service that brought hundreds of people into God’s presence. Of the Compassion student I sponsor who is studying social work so she can offer hope to the poorest of the poor in her country.

Gradually, the stream of memories slowed down to a trickle, and I was left awash in a feeling of peace and thankfulness. Are there still things that are broken in the world? Sure there are. But God is here. He, who embodies everything true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable, fills our world. In the wisdom and beauty of creation, in the kindness and generosity of His people, there are plenty of things that are excellent and worthy of praise. So, Father, indeed, help me to think on these things!


Prayers on a 20th Birhtday

My Compassion* student turns 20 tomorrow. I’ve never met her, but I feel a lot of affection for her. I wish I could pick up the phone or at least email, but I cannot (those are the rules!). Thankfully, I can pray for her. But I don’t even have personal prayer requests from her because I’ve only sponsored her for a few months and it takes a while to get correspondence going.

So, this morning I asked God for help. True to His word, He helped me know what to pray (Romans 8:26). I know many of you sponsor children through Compassion and other relief organizations, so I share these ideas and prayers with you in case you want to use them as you pray for your special kids.

  • Loving Creator, You knew M before she was born. You created her and wrote every one of her days in Your book before one of them came to be. Let her know how special she is, and how much You love her (Psalm 139:16).
  • Compassionate Father, make M a woman after Your own heart (Acts 13:22).
  • Wise God, Give M wisdom, knowledge and understanding of all kinds of learning (Daniel 1:17).
  • Holy Spirit, remind M to fan into flame the spiritual gifts You have given her (2 Timothy 1:6).
  • Good Shepherd, protect M from the evil one’s schemes of fear, discouragement, and defeat. Remind her that she can do all things through You and Your strength. (2 Corinthians 2:11, Philippians 4:13).
  • Lord Jesus, You have good plans for M. Please fulfill every single one of Your purposes for her (Psalm 138:8)!
  • Master, give M favor with You and with people (Luke 2:52). But help her always to obey You rather than people (Acts 5:29).
  • Generous God, give M a generous heart and supply all her needs according to Your limitless riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:18-19).
  • Jehovah-Rapha, please keep M healthy and cause her to prosper—body, soul, and spirit (3 John 2).
  • King of kings, rule over M’s nation. Cause her nation’s leaders to govern in ways that allow her and all the believers there to live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity (1 Timothy 2:2).  
  • Lord Jesus Christ, help everyone in M’s household to believe in You! Bring salvation to all of them! (Acts 16:31).
  • Ever-Present One, may M always know that You are with her. May she never feel alone. (Hebrews 13:5).

I know I’ll be praying these prayers for M long after her birthday. But somehow knowing that the God who knows her inside and out actually showed me how to pray for her helps me feel closer to her—and to Him. I hope she can feel it, too!

* For more information on child and student sponsorship through Compassion, go to http://www.compassion.com/sponsor_a_child/default.htm

Call on the Name of the Lord

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus’ name recently. Or more accurately, His names. That’s partly because I was studying in Philippians where Paul describes how God has given Jesus a name that is “above every other name,” a name at the mention of which every knee will bow one day (2:9-10). And also because I happened to be around some people who used Jesus’ name carelessly, and it hurt my heart.

So I got to thinking, What is it about His name? Why is it so special? After all, His name is the only name “under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). His name causes demons to flee (Acts 16:18). And Jesus’ name gives us authority in prayer (John 14:13-14, 16:23-24).  

Clearly, Jesus’ name is not a magical incantation. God is not obligated to respond, genie-like, just because we speak His Son’s name out loud. No, I think it’s a lot different than that.

Back in college when I was dating the man I would one day marry, I was kind of obsessed with his name. I would doodle it all over the place—on notebooks, home work papers, book covers. I enjoyed putting my first name with his last name, just to see what that might look and feel like. And if I overheard someone else say his name, my heart skipped a beat. I was in love. And David’s name was precious to me. It represented who he was to me.

I think it’s a little bit like that with Jesus, too. Except He has a lot of names that are really special. Each one represents a different aspect of who He is, and who He is to me. Some examples:

  • Good Shepherd represents His care for me and for all His sheep. He carries wounded lambs next to His heart. He goes after lost ones. He rescues ones in danger. He leads them to green pastures and still waters. He lays down His life for them.
  • Emmanuel represents His presence. “God with us.” He never leaves us, never forsakes us. We are never alone, never left to rattle around the universe all by ourselves.
  • Redeemer represents His incredible ability to take anything that is broken, damaged, or soiled and turn it into something beautiful and good. He starts by redeeming our very lives from the pit of eternal hopelessness. And from there, He does one redeeming act after another, turning around what the enemy meant for evil into something good.
  • Bread of Life represents the ways He nourishes and sustains. He truly satisfies the hunger of our souls.
  • Prince of Peace represents His ability to calm any storm, to bring rest to overwhelmed and exhausted souls.

The names of Jesus that are most meaningful to me vary from season to season. The ones I just listed are ones I am enjoying in this season. But there are many others. Here are a few more: Lion of Judah, Living Water, Gate, Rose of Sharon, Light of the World, Way, Truth, and Life, Word of God, Savior, Cornerstone, Messiah, the Christ, Son of God, Son of Man, Lamb of God, Great High Priest, Lord, Faithful and True, King of kings and Lord of lords. And there are many more than those, even!

When I’m talking to Him about something or someone, I sometimes like to consider what it is I’m praying about and what name of His best corresponds to that need. For instance, as I pray for people in the Philippines who lost so much in the devastating typhoon last week, I address Jesus as Redeemer. I ask Him to turn use this tragedy for good, to redeem all the pain and bring beauty from ashes.*

Other times, when I need words for a challenging encounter, I may address Him as Word of God. If I am praying for someone who seems to have lost their way, I might choose the name Good Shepherd. If I’m interceding for a government situation, I might call on Him as King of kings and Lord of lords.

For me, it’s not as much about invoking power (although His name is powerful!) as it is about drawing near to His heart. Calling on Jesus’ name is an opportunity for me to ponder more deeply who He is to me and who He wants to be for those I pray for.

What is your favorite name for Jesus? How does using His name affect the way you pray? I’d love to hear from you!

* For other ideas about how to pray for people in the aftermath of the typhoon, go to https://cynthiaprayblog.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/lord-have-mercy-again/

No Excuses (Lessons from Leviticus)

Leviticus isn’t my favorite book of the Bible. Big surprise, right? But I read it again a month or so ago, and was surprised by how it affected me this time.

I think when I’ve read it in the past, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to sort through which laws apply to me and which ones don’t. (e.g. I can wear polyester-cotton blends, right? [See 19:19.] It’s just stuff like lying and stealing that’s not-okay today, right Lord? [See 19:11.])

This time as I read, I tried to think about what it would be like to be an Israelite living in the time when there was no doubt about it: every law in Leviticus had to be followed or else there was a price to pay (usually by a lamb or goat or bull, but sometimes by the sinner him- or herself to the tune of excommunication or execution).

It wasn’t just wearing blended fibers that worried me. It was also stuff like eating fat (3:17), failing to testify against wrong-doing I’d witnessed (5:1), touching an unclean animal (5:2), letting my hair go (10:6), not standing in the presence of the elderly (19:32), and working on the Sabbath (23:3). I would read the laws and think, “Oh dear, I’m guilty of that one. And that one. And that one, too. Gosh, I would need a large herd of goats to keep up with all the sinning I’m doing!” And that was just Leviticus! When I added in all the commands from the New Testament (e.g. forgive as I’ve been forgiven, love my enemies, give to everyone who asks, turn the other cheek, only speak words that build up, etc. etc.)  I realized that I was in really big trouble.

By reading Leviticus this time with a “no excuses” approach, I saw very clearly how far short I fall of God’s righteous standards. If the point of Leviticus is to establish God’s holiness and my sin, it does a good job of it.

Fortunately for me, I have also been studying Romans this year. I’m only up to chapter 5, but my main takeaway so far is, “Yup, you’re a sinner. And the sooner you own up to that and stop trying to justify or excuse yourself, the sooner you can receive God’s mercy and kindness.”

I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been a Christian all of my adult life. I know that I’m a sinner, and I know that apart from God’s mercy and Jesus’ sacrificial death on my behalf, I have no hope. That’s the very essence of salvation. There’s nothing new there.

I guess the “news” is what God is showing me about how to respond to my sin. In these decades of walking with God, I still struggle with sin. I want to be further along than I am. Yes, I know God has forgiven me. I know my eternal destiny is secure. But I feel like I ought to have made more progress by now. And when I see that I haven’t, I have this nasty habit of shaming and condemning myself. But God is teaching me a different way, and it involves prayer.

Before when I would read all the ways I had fallen short, I’d feel discouraged and defeated. I’d wonder when I’d ever get it right—as if that were the goal. But now I’m finally starting to understand that the goal isn’t really “getting it right.” The goal is trusting in God’s mercy, in Jesus’ forgiveness, and in the Holy Spirit’s help.

So now when Scripture convicts me, I am starting to respond with hopeful prayers instead of despair. For instance, when I don’t love as I should, I can pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

When words blurt out of my mouth that shouldn’t even be thought, let alone spoken, I can pray “Create in me a clean heart, oh God!”

When I fret instead of resting in God, I can pray, “Open my heart to trust in Your love.”

And when I read Leviticus with its myriad ways to mess up, I can pray, “Thank You God for rescuing me from the law of sin and death!”

My focus is shifting from me the sinner to God, my Savior, Helper, and Friend. And that is a welcome shift indeed!