I Forgot to Pray for Us

I watched a video this week that shook me up. In a U.S. city two years ago, a group of Christians, wearing “Jesus” tee shirts and carrying signs about judgment and the lake of fire marched through cordoned-off streets during a Muslim festival.

Their presence provoked some of the festival’s attendees. It didn’t take long for the scene to turn nasty. The video showed the Christians being pelted with trash, eggs, even bits of concrete. And they were called filthy names. That disturbed me. But what disturbed me even more were the sign-carrying Christians who shouted out to festival goers: “Go home!”

In the past few months, like never before, I’ve prayed for the troubling events in our world. Especially for conflicts around the world involving Muslims, Christians, and Jews. I’ve prayed for God to transform the hearts of people who treat others with violence, cruelty, and hate. I’ve asked for mercy for the innocent people who are being persecuted. I’ve prayed, even, for God to bring justice to the cruelest of the evil doers.

But after seeing this video, I started praying for another group of people—I started praying for us.

How does God want us to respond when our Christian freedoms are threatened? When Christians around the world are being killed? When we, even in our “safe” home towns, start to see signs of opposition and persecution? Do we march? Threaten lawsuits? Warn of hell-fire judgment? Do we try to eliminate our enemies—if not by actually killing them, by trying to make them “go home”?

I tried to imagine what Jesus would do in a scene like I saw on the video. But I honestly couldn’t imagine Him there. I could imagine Him sitting with a foreign outcast by a well, telling her about life-giving water. I could see Him restraining His zealous disciples who wanted to call down fire to burn up an enemy town. But I could not picture Him angrily shouting at His foreign-born neighbors to “Go home!”

Dallas Willard taught me to ask the question, “What would Jesus do, if He were me?” It’s a better question than “What would Jesus do?” because Jesus was a young male Jew living in 1st-century Judea. He also happened to be the Son of God. I, on the other hand, am a middle-aged American woman living in the 21st-century. What Jesus would do is obviously different from what I can do. However, Jesus lives in me and wants to live through me. His life is now lived out through us, His church. So, what would Jesus do if He were one of us living in these troubling days?

It will probably take a while for that answer to fully come. But there are some things I think I can safely say.  If Jesus were walking in my shoes He would . . .

  • pray for people who hate Him and persecute Him. He would not pray for their destruction. Because God is not willing that anyone should perish, Jesus would pray for the salvation of His enemies.
  • love His enemies. He’d give patient and reasonable responses to hateful words. He would forgive 70 times 7 times. He would offer tireless acts of kindness and self-giving compassion even (especially?) to people who didn’t deserve or appreciate them.
  • welcome strangers and outcasts.
  • live each day intentionally and sacrificially to bring glory to God.
  • trust God and not be afraid.

The troubling events in our world today require a response from us. We can’t sit back passively, safe in our bubble, and think that it will not affect us. But we also can’t react out of fear, hate, self-protection, or revenge. None of those ways honor God. None have any chance of causing people to turn from darkness and come into the light.

I didn’t enjoy that video, but I’m grateful I saw it. God used it to direct me to pray in for people I hadn’t thought to pray for in the context of the crisis our world is in. He called me to pray for me, to pray for us. And here, in a nutshell, is my prayer: “Revive us, oh Lord!”

 

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Putting the “Personal” Back in My Relationship

It’s alarming to me how many spiritual leaders insist that the only way God speaks today is through Scripture. I heard that again this past weekend, and I can’t stop thinking about it. So I was trying to put some thoughts down about it because I think it’s critical to our relationship with God. But because I don’t like bringing up subjects that are sure to stir up controversy, the words were hard in coming.

Then this morning I saw that a Facebook friend of mine, author Chris Tiegreen, had just blogged about the same subject. He’s as concerned about it as I am. In his words,

Some Christians are “deeply concerned” when they come across someone who says they get “direct revelation” from God. To the contrary, I’m deeply concerned when Christians say they can’t.

That’s how I feel, too. So, encouraged by Chris’s words, here goes.

What Are They Worried About?

I understand, I think, why some people worry about the idea of God speaking personally to people. Inevitably, whenever the subject comes up, they mention the person who said he “heard” God tell him to leave his wife and marry his secretary. That proverbial man is the warning to us all: If we open ourselves up to personal guidance from God we are bound to wind up in gross sin.

But that’s not at all what I’m talking about! That man did not need specific personal guidance. If he wanted to know whether he should remain married or not all he had to do was look in the Bible. The Bible speaks very specifically to the subjects of divorce and adultery. God gave general revelation on that topic, and He hasn’t changed.

But the Bible does not speak about which Compassion child I should sponsor or what treatment I should pursue for my messed-up foot.

In fact, a lot of the things I need to His help with aren’t specifically addressed by Scripture. Things like

  • Which home group should I join at church? Or should I volunteer in a ministry instead?
  • My heart is stirred by a couple of major crises going on in the world right now. I’d like to help financially. What organization should I give to?
  • I expect to have some free time this weekend. Should I spend it working on projects or hanging out with people?
  • A friend is going through a hard time. How can I encourage her?
  • I have several projects I’m juggling at work. Which one should I tackle next? And how should I go about it?
  • An important conversation is coming up later this week. What should I say? Not say?

The Bible has general guidelines for some of these issues, obviously. For example, in an important conversation I should speak truth and I should be gracious. But exactly what should I say? The Bible doesn’t tell me that.

Put the “Personal” Back In “Relationship”

But the Bible does tell me I shouldn’t lean on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). If the Bible is the only means I have of hearing from God and it doesn’t address the specific situation I am dealing with, what other choice do I have? I can lean on my own understanding or I can lean on someone else’s, but if I’m not getting it from God, that scares me!

There’s another part this that may be even more important, however. Not being able to hear God speak personally to me takes the “personal” right out of “Personal Relationship with God.” How can it be personal if God doesn’t address the specific cries of my heart? Or if He can’t interject something specific that I need to hear? Chris says it well:

If we depend on [general revelation] to the exclusion of a personal conversation with God, we’re cultivating a relationship with principles rather than a relationship with him.

I used to live that way—I felt like I had a personal relationship with my Bible, but not with its Author. Since I’ve taken God at His word—that His sheep do hear His voice (John 10:27), that the Spirit helps me to pray (Romans 8:26-27), that the God gives wisdom when I ask (James 1:5-6), that the Spirit teaches me everything I need to know (1 John 2:27)—my life with God has become much more intimate and personal. I spend far less time trying to figure out what His will for me is and far more time simply enjoying His company as we do life together.

And that is what I wish for everyone. In fact, I believe it is every Christian’s birthright. What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Disturbing Words of Jesus

Sometimes Jesus says things that disturb me. In fact, I’m sometimes hurt by some of the things He says. Even though He said them 2,000 years ago, I’m pretty sure that if I had been there back then, He would have said them to me. And I probably would have been offended.

Here’s an example. Jesus’s disciples tried to heal the boy suffering from epilepsy. But they couldn’t. When Jesus arrived on the scene, He minced no words. “ ‘You unbelieving generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me’ ” (Mark 9:19).

Ouch! Every time I read those words I cringe. Jesus seems so frustrated. Exasperated, even.

When I put myself in the disciples’ place, I feel ashamed, right along with them. Lots of my prayers seem to go unanswered. I often fall short of the mountain-moving faith He seems to expect.

It used to be that when I came upon troublesome passages like this one, I would quickly move on. It was uncomfortable to stay with those feelings, so I would read further until I came to something that was a bit softer and more encouraging. But in recent years, God has encouraged me to dialogue with Him about Scriptures that disturb me. It is in these dialogues that He shows me things about Himself that I never would discover any other way.

So when I read this upsetting passage a few weeks ago, I told God how it bothered me. I told Him that I felt ashamed. I knew that I would not do any better than the disciples had, and I could hardly bear to have Him so irritated with me. But what was I to do?

I sensed God leading me to re-read the passage. As I did, something stood out to me that I’d never noticed before. When the disciples could not heal the boy, it seems that they moved on. From all indications, they left the man and his son alone in their desperation.

Vividly, God brought to mind a healing service my late husband asked me to take him to years ago. My husband was wheelchair-bound and profoundly disabled by multiple sclerosis. A traveling minister advertised special services at a local church. He claimed to have prayed for many people and seen them healed. My husband hoped that God might work through this minister to heal him, too.

At the end of the service, hundreds of people thronged forward to be prayed for. My husband patiently waited his turn. Finally, the minister came to my husband. He asked him a question or two, then commanded him to “Rise up and walk!” Just like that.

A couple of men nearby helped to hoist my husband to his feet. But his legs could not hold him and he crumpled back into his chair. By then, the minister had already moved on to the next person. He left my husband and me alone to sort out our disappointment and hurt.

Even greater than the disappointment I felt, however, was the anger. I was furious with the minister. Did he have any clue about what he had just done to our hearts when he prayed, failed to heal, and glibly moved on?

As God brought back that painful memory, the gospel passage made complete sense to me. Those disciples didn’t stay with the man and his son. When they couldn’t heal, they just moved on. They could have said, “We can’t seem to heal your boy, but we know that Jesus can. We’ll wait with you until He comes. He can help. Don’t be discouraged!” But they didn’t.

I’d always thought that Jesus was frustrated because the disciples couldn’t heal the boy. And that seemed unfair because how could they if God didn’t give them the healing power?

But what if Jesus was upset because the disciples abandoned the man and his son? Instead of giving them hope, they just moved on. They didn’t assure the man that Jesus cared and would help—they just left him even more desperate than they’d been when he first came.

And I realized that I do that, too. It’s easy to pray for things once or twice. If God answers right away, it’s wonderful. But what about when I pray for desperate people and nothing changes? I may pray for a few days, weeks, or even months, but when God doesn’t seem to be acting, my faith wanes. It’s all too easy to move on to other people’s prayer needs.

Perhaps that is what Jesus got so indignant about. After all, He never abandons us. He walks through valleys, floods, and fires with us. He never leaves us without hope. Even if He doesn’t answer now, He assures us that He will answer one day.

Now when I read this passage, I see it in a new light. Instead of feeling rebuked, I feel exhorted: Stay with people, Cynthia. Pray through with them. Don’t give up when the answers don’t come right away. Encourage My people: “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come” (Isaiah 35:4).

False Economy

I love my life. It’s just that’s there’s so much of it sometimes!

And when there’s so much life going on all at once, sometimes I make it all happen by economizing on the amount of time I spend with God. I rationalize that I can talk to Him while I’m showering or making my lunch or driving to work. I’ll be able to get more done that way—right?

Not really.

That had been my strategy this past week. I’ve had early morning meetings, full days at work, followed by evening meetings. Sandwiched in between have been phone calls, appointments, emails, personal projects, and deadlines. Add to the mix decisions I need to make and a fair amount of emotional stress, and you can probably guess why I was not sleeping very well. Sure, I was still praying—but I was always rushed. So it’s no surprise that I was feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Coping by abbreviating my time with God really wasn’t cutting it.

This morning I got up at 5, ready to hit the floor running again. I was about to put on my gym clothes and head out the door when the Spirit of God stopped me. How about spending the time with Me instead?

I wasn’t sure I heard Him right at first. I mean, usually I’m the one looking for any excuse not to work out. So wouldn’t God want to support my efforts at staying in shape? But He spoke to my heart again. If you go to the gym now, I will only get a few minutes with you later on. We need more time, child. I want more time with you. You need more time with Me.

It’s as if God had just excused me from gym class! I was surprised, but relieved. My morning was not going to be one more huge adrenaline rush. So I made coffee and headed for my cozy prayer spot with my favorite pen, journal, and Bible.

I began by pouring out my soul to God—I journaled everything that had been preoccupying my mind and pressing on my heart. Then I sat silently for a bit, inviting God to speak into what I’d shared. I sensed Him responding to a couple of the things I’d shared with Him. He was silent about others, but that didn’t matter because I’d done what I needed to do—I’d shifted the weight of my concerns from my own shoulders to His.

Then I read my Bible for a while—and He spoke to me some more. At the end of the time—which flew by—I felt lighter, refreshed, strengthened and equipped to face another busy day. I was amazed that I’d spent two full hours with God. And I still had enough time to get ready for my day!

I remembered what Martin Luther is famously quoted as saying: “Work, work, from morning until late at night. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.”

I’ve often wondered how Luther could do that. How could I possibly afford to spend hours praying when there’s so much that needs to be done? But maybe the better question really is, How can I possibly afford not to spend the time praying if there’s so much I need God’s help to do? I guess maybe “saving” time by scrimping on prayer is no savings at all—it’s just false economy.