The Lord Gives, Takes away, and Gives Again

There’s a certain aspect of my future that I had always assumed would play out in a generally pleasing way. All signs pointed in that direction. But a week or so ago I got news that could significantly alter that happy dream. And the wind went completely out of my sails.

It was hard for me to pray about my disappointment at first. I knew I needed to, though, so I asked a friend to pray with me. We soon discerned that the reason it was hard for me to pray was because I was angry with God. Deep inside, I felt as if He’d already allowed me to experience enough suffering—in my not-so-humble opinion, I didn’t need this on top of everything else.

I hadn’t realized how upset with Him I was—I’m usually pretty good at stuffing my anger. But when I finally admitted it to myself, then actually said it out loud to Him—with my friend also hearing my confession—my anger evaporated. That’s usually the way it goes when I am upset with God. He always wins, of course, but He allows me to pour out my hurt, and He graciously listens and understands.

But we weren’t done yet. After I’d given up my anger and my heart was calmer, God gently asked me to give up my dream as well.

That was even harder. I had been more invested in that dream than I realized, and releasing it was really painful. But I finally opened my hands, gave the dream to God, and cried myself out. After a while, my friend quietly asked, Abba, what do You want to give Cynthia instead?

I wasn’t expecting that. I was just thinking that the Lord gives and takes away. I hadn’t really expected Him to give me anything to replace what I’d had to give up.

I was curious, though, so I listened to what He might have to say. As I listened, I think I heard Him explain to me that my dream had sprung from a desire that He Himself had planted in me. It was a good and godly desire, He assured me. It’s just that I had assumed that He would meet that desire in a specific way. That may or may not happen. But the desire is still good, and He wants to meet it—at least that’s what He seemed to say.

As I pondered this, new ideas came into my head. New ways of thinking, new things to pursue. Gradually hope came back to my heart and wind flowed back into my sails.

God has more than one way of answering our prayers, and more than one way of fulfilling the longings that He Himself has given us. But it wasn’t until I’d given Him my scenarios for meeting that desire that I was able to see other possibilities.  

Have you ever had to give up your ideas of how God should answer your prayers so that He could meet your longings in His even better way? I’d love to hear about it!

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I Pray for Sinners

Before I go one word further,let me make a disclaimer: I am very aware that I am a sinner, and I very much want other people to pray for me about that. By saying “I pray for sinners,” I am not in any way suggesting that I am above all that! I need prayer very much and anyone who wants to pray about sins they observe in me is most welcome to. In fact, please, please do!

There, now that that’s settled, let me explain. This week I discovered a verse in that I’d never seen before. Well, actually, I’m sure I had seen it before, but I always got so tangled in the thorny second part of the verse that I never noticed it. Here’s the verse:

“If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that” (1 John 5:18).

This time, instead of getting caught in trying to figure out what the sin that leads to death is, I focused on the good news: There are sins that do not lead to death. And if I pray for people who commit those sins, God will give them life!

I have a number of sinners on my prayer list right now. (Well, actually everyone on my prayer list right now is a sinner. That’s not really news, right?) And several of the situations I’m praying about directly involve the painful consequences of sin.

The good news from 1 John is that I can pray for these people and God Word says He will give them life! To someone who sometimes overthinks about the interplay between human free will and God’s sovereignty, this is reason to celebrate. I don’t have to figure all that out—I can simply pray.

“But wait a minute,” I can hear you saying. “What about the ‘sin that leads to death’? How do you know the people you’re praying for aren’t committing that one?”

You know what? I’m not going to worry about that anymore. For one thing, until a person is dead, there is always the possibility that they will repent. And if my prayer encourages God to convict that person so they’ll be quicker to do so, then I will pray! For another thing, I’m not one to judge who is in which category. I lose nothing by praying. But if I misjudge, my failure to pray costs way too much.

And if those aren’t good enough reasons, Moses never fails to inspire me. After the golden calf fiasco recorded in Exodus 32, he didn’t just say, “Well, they’ve committed a sin that leads to death, so I guess there’s no hope; I might as well give up.” No, the Bible says that “Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people” (11-12).

And, isn’t this amazing? God agreed! Verse 14 says, “Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”

So, I’m really glad God brought that verse to my attention this week. I needed that encouragement to pray—with faith and hope—that God will intervene in the lives of people I know who are suffering (or destined to suffer) because of their sin. Lord, give them life! And I know I have blind spots, so please give me life, too!

“All My Life until This Day”

The adage, “One day at a time” always sounded so trite to me. Until God said it to me recently.

I generally come at life from a big-picture, future-oriented perspective. Often that is useful. Sometimes, however—like when I think about getting older—it’s decidedly unhelpful. Whenever I start thinking about possible future scenarios, I fling open the door to a flood of doubts and fears.  Maybe it’s because I already lived up close and personal to long-term sickness, disability, hospice, and death in my 40s when my husband died. I don’t know. But rarely do I picture a Golden Years scenario that looks very hopeful. And such unproductive imaginings leave me with a feeling of dread.

On the anniversary of my husband’s death a couple of weeks ago, I unwittingly opened that door. And then, for days, I dealt with a mostly subconscious current of unpleasant thoughts. Eventually they came to the surface enough that I knew I needed to take them to God.

When I did, He asked me a great question: Haven’t I been faithful to you up to this point?

“Yes, Abba. You have. I am amazed at Your faithfulness to me.”

Then why do you think I would I ever stop being faithful to you?

Indeed. Great question. I couldn’t think of single reason why He would. As I acknowledged that to Him, the Holy Spirit brought to my mind and heart a stream of scriptures. I wrote them down as they came, and with His help, fashioned them into a prayer. Here is what I wrote:

God, You have been my shepherd all my life to this day. Your love never fails. Your goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life so far, and they are not going to stop now, not ever.

 

Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am He. I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and will carry you. I will sustain you and rescue you.

 

 

I trust in You, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hands. The Lord is my inheritance and my cup. You are the one who determines my destiny. Your boundary lines mark out pleasant places for me. Indeed, my inheritance is something beautiful. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Genesis 48:15, Psalm 136:1, Psalm 23:6, Isaiah 46:4, Psalm 31:14-15; Psalm 16:5-6, 11)

When I’d finished, I prayed the prayer back to God. And sat quietly under His wings for a while. Eventually He broke the silence.

If you live one day at a time with Me, you will see day after day after day My never-failing love and faithfulness to you. At the end of each day you can pray that prayer back to Me. After praying it hundreds, maybe thousands of evenings—years from now when you are in fact be old and gray—your life will be a testimony to the truth of My Word to you.

Deep in my heart I knew He was right. I can look back on my life so far—even on the hard times—and see an abundance of grace, redemption, kindness, and mercy. Truly, God has been my Shepherd all my life until this day. So, if can discipline myself to live only one day at a time—and to thank Him for each one of those God-blessed days, then the future holds no fears for me. I’ll need His help to do that, that is for certain, but I’m completely convinced He wants to help me with this.

So, at the close of this day, I thank You God for Your goodness and mercy to me this day. My times are in Your hands. So help me, please, to live one day at a time, fully and confidently in Your presence.

Mood-Swing Prayers

When I think of David as being a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), somehow I get a different impression of him than his psalms sometimes give. I mean, really, would a guy who obviously brought God such pleasure, have the sharp mood swings David had? Shouldn’t one of God’s closest friends be a bit more steady and stable?

You probably want some context.

Recently I’ve been re-reading the Psalms. Instead of reading them one at a time, as I usually have in the past, I’ve been reading five or six at a time. Reading them in the bigger picture has brought some surprises. Such as David’s roller coaster emotions.

David often starts his Psalms full of faith and praise. These psalms reinforce my perception of him as a spiritual giant, rock-solid, perpetually upbeat, utterly steadfast. Like this one:

“Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens” (8:1).

Or this one: “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High” (9:1).

But then I turn the page and start reading the next Psalm and this is what I get: “Why are you so distant, LORD? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (10:1)

How could the spiritual climate change so quickly for David? One minute he’s full of whole-hearted praise for God’s wonderful deeds and the next he accuses God of being distant, hidden, and unavailable.

The same thing happens again a couple of psalms later when David complains, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (13:1)

I think to myself, Who are you and what have you done with the David I thought I knew? I mean, personally my emotions often run hot and cold like that, but David’s?

Thankfully, he comes around, and by Psalm 18, He’s praising God again: “I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (1-2).

I heave a sigh of relief. That’s how I think God’s Man should pray.  

 But wait a minute! I turn a couple of pages and come to this doozy: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” (22:1)  I’m uncomfortable again. It makes me uneasy to think of David (much less Jesus, who quoted this psalm from the cross) feeling so God-forsaken. Can feeling abandoned by God go hand-in-hand with faith?  Those are hard emotions for me to reconcile.

But apparently they weren’t for David, because the very next Psalm—one of the most quoted Psalms ever—has David contentedly praising God again: The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. (Psalm 23:1)

As I’ve pondered the ups and downs of David’s prayer life this past week, I’ve realized that being near to God’s heart must mean something different than I used to think it did. Maybe it’s more about being honest, vulnerable, and humble with God than it is about being steady and upbeat.

That’s reassuring, and definitely a more accessible goal. My prayers may not be a constant stream of mountaintop praise, but they can include my honest emotions. Whatever state I find myself—soaring on the clouds or sinking in a pit—I can go after God’s heart and bring Him pleasure. Maybe that’s why God enjoyed David’s company so much. Which means—isn’t this cool?—that I can be a woman after God’s own heart, mood swings and all.