So Easy, a Child Could Do It

Actually, my title is misleading. When it comes to prayer, children much more often seem to “get it” better than adults do. When it comes to prayer, we would probably be more accurate to say, “So easy, an adult can do it.” But I’m only a few sentences in and I’m swerving off topic already. Let me get to my point.

This summer my church’s prayer ministry is teaching a series on prayer in children’s church. We’re teaching the kids everything from the basics (prayer equals relationship with God, the Lord’s Prayer, and intercession), to more advanced (for adults anyhow—maybe not for children!) concepts like listening prayer, perseverance, and inner-healing prayer. I’ve been amazed and encouraged by how easily some of these kids put into practice what they are learning—with faith, earnestness, vulnerability and boldness, no less!

Take, for instance, the little girl who has been praying for a long time about a friend who is mean to her. She told me that at first all she asked God to do was to “make her nicer.” But as she persisted in prayer, she started to realize some things. She realized that other little girl might be nicer if she knew Jesus! So she started praying that her friend would come to know Jesus. But then she realized that her friend might not even have heard very much about Jesus, so she started praying that she would read the Bible so she could get to know Jesus.

Over time, as she persevered in prayer and let God reshape her prayers, her prayers became more mature and others-focused. She told me her prayers are not so “greedy” any more.

It took me many years to learn that persevering in prayer does not mean praying the same (often self-focused) request over and over, day in and day out. Now I realize that part of God’s work is to shape me and my prayers into conformity with His character and plans. I do that by listening to Him, asking questions, listening some more, and hanging in there, even when God seems to be taking a long time. But this little girl already almost intuitively understands these critical truths.

So I have a thought: What if, after we’re done teaching the prayer series to the kids in children’s church, they come and teach the adults to pray in the adult service? Maybe they could make it simple enough that even we adults could do it!

 

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Foul Play

The enemy plays unfair. He tempts you with a thought, and then condemns you for having it! I’ve been the target of that cruel strategy far too often—as most of us probably have. We know that God says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” But somehow it’s seems easier to believe Satan’s accusation, “You are nothing but a sinner. Always have been always will be. You’ll never change, you’ll never overcome your sin. So why bother trying?”

When Satan goes after me like that, even if I don’t actually give in to the temptation, I usually spiral into a slump of defeat and disgrace. I feel so much shame that I can barely eke out much more of a prayer than, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” If I’m not very careful, I can get stuck there.

However, contrary to what the deceiver tries to convince us of, temptation does not equal sin. Tempting thoughts do not equal sinful actions. They can lead there, obviously, but temptation on its own is not sin. So I am getting pretty fed up with the enemy raking God’s children over the coals for being tempted.

But here’s the thing: if it were up to us to overcome sin and temptation, we could never do it. The enemy’s temptations are powerful and cunning. He’s both smarter and stronger than we are. So when he says that we will never change (and a thousand variations on that theme), in a sense, he’s right. We won’t—certainly not on our own feeble steam. However, and this is a huge however—it is Christ’s resurrection power at work in us that transforms us. And it is Jesus’ blood that delivers us. We do not save ourselves, we do not heal ourselves, we do not change ourselves—God does it all.

Today, the Holy Spirit directed me to some Scriptures that I can take up as my shield of faith whenever the enemy lobs his arrows at me. They all have the same theme—it is God in me that does the work, not me. I belong to Him, He is invested in me, and He will not let me fall to the evil one. Here they are:

  • “The Lord will fulfill [his purpose] for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever–do not abandon the works of your hands” (Psalm 138:8).
  • “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8).
  • ” I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6).
  • “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13).

These verses help me to believe that when the enemy goes at me with those below-the-belt accusations, I don’t have to prove or justify anything. I don’t have to show him how much progress I’ve made in sanctification. Instead, I can stand up to him on the basis of what God’s Word says. I can remind myself—and him—that I’m counting on God to do for me what He says He will do.

What Scriptures do you pray and use when the enemy tries to take you out?

Mercy Everywhere

The fires I wrote about last week are now 80 percent contained and, though still burning, no longer pose immediate threat to my city. However, 32, 000 people were evacuated from their homes, 346 homes and a number of businesses burned to the ground, hundreds of people remain displaced, and our city grieves.

I personally was not involved in the fire, but that does not mean I was not affected. Just about everybody I have talked to knows someone who lost their home. It will take the better part of a year before many of them are able to find or build a new place to call “home,” and it will take many years, probably decades, before the natural beauty of the west side of Colorado Springs returns. And I doubt any of us will ever forget the horror of seeing fire jump over the ridge and burn down into the residential parts of town. (To see an incredible five-day, time-lapse video of the fire, go to  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBA7eHY022k)

Everywhere I go, people talk about the fire. Everybody has a story. But here is the most amazing thing—terrifying and horrible as last week was, for the most part, people are grateful. In the grocery store, the chiropractor’s office, even the editorial page of our local newspaper, people are talking about God’s mercy. This fire was terrible—no way about it—but, as one friend put it, “God was all over it.”

If you read my blog last week, you know that my overriding prayer was, “Lord, have mercy.” And He has answered that prayer. Here are just a few examples:

  • Overwhelming hospitality. People opened their homes to evacuated friends, family, and sometimes to strangers.
  • Neighborly kindness. Some people had only 30 minutes or less to evacuate. Can you imagine? But people rushed to help. My musician friend who is out of the country didn’t have to worry about her harp because when her friends learned her house was in danger, they went and removed her instrument for her. My artist friend had another friend show up with his van to take his paintings to safety. My animal-loving friends found refuge in other friends’ homes, along with their cats, dogs, birds, fish, and rabbits.
  • Churches, businesses, and other organizations opened their doors to evacuees, offering food, water, hygiene supplies, and other necessities.
  • Firefighters showed (and continue to show as they still battle the blazes) incredible courage, selflessness, quick-thinking, and untiring dedication to save 80 percent of the homes and thousands of acres of woodland in the path of the fire.
  • Some people were astounded to find their houses intact while homes on either side of theirs burned to the ground.
  • On the other hand, people who did lose their homes—like the newlyweds in my church—overflowed with gratitude for the ways God had protected them, provided for them, and given them peace in the midst of the loss.
  • Some people are experiencing God’s mercy in the tremendous outpouring of caring people who are helping in myriad ways. As one friend said, “Going through this is restoring my ability to see goodness in people.”
  • Others are experiencing God’s mercy as they see their faith remain intact or even grow in spite of fear and loss. The day after the firestorm, when many people feared that their homes had been lost, I was astounded by the incredible faith people were showing. On Facebook, Scriptures and prayers and worship videos were being shared like crazy. I saw no fist-shaking there, but rather, incredible trust in God, no matter what.
  • I’ve attended three worship services since the worst day of the fire, and all of them were amazing. It seems that pain and loss either draw us closer to God or distance us from Him. What I noticed was that this trial is drawing people closer to God. It has been amazing to worship with so many hurting people who, like Job, seem to be saying, The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). And to hear them sing, sincerely, “God is good. All the time.”
  • Even the opinion page editor of my local newspaper—not a believer as far as I know—was seeing God in the crisis, urging people to pray for God to use this catastrophe to bring our community together.
  • People from all over the nation prayed for Colorado Springs and have expressed incredible concern and support for us; we feel loved.

Our city isn’t through this trial by any means. The fires aren’t even out yet, and many people can’t go back to their homes, or have no homes to go back to. So I’ll still be praying “Lord, have mercy” for many days to come. But I wanted to let those of you who have prayed for us that God is indeed answering our prayers. His mercies are new every morning; great is His faithfulness (Lam. 3:23).

Lord, Have Mercy

While fires raged in my beautiful city of Colorado Springs yesterday, I was at my late husband’s mother’s funeral in New York State. In the Orthodox tradition, the 90-minute service included many chanted prayers and Scripture readings. By far the most frequently sung words were, “Lord, have mercy.” They were chanted in hauntingly beautiful tones that resonated in my heart for the rest of the day and into the night.

Late last night I watched in disbelief as Internet media sources showed real-time scenes of familiar Colorado Springs neighborhoods—places where I had shared meals, laughter, tears, and friendship—burn in the inferno. It’s hard to be 2,000 miles away from friends when tragedy hits, so I called a friend who is in a (currently) safe neighborhood not far from mine. We prayed for many things—especially friends we love who had evacuated and were likely to lose their homes—but the prayer that repeated most in my heart and spirit was “Lord, have mercy.”

We did ask God for rain, for a shift in the winds, a lowering of the unseasonably high temperatures, stamina, courage, protection, and resources for fire fighters. We prayed spiritual protection. And we prayed for the faith of our friends who were in the direct path of the flames—asking God to strengthen the hearts and faith of these dear ones who are living such a nightmare.

But the prayer that made the most sense to me was, “Lord, have mercy.”  I encourage my own heart with the facts that God is merciful, He is good. He is loving. He is kind. He is strong. He is Lord. And so to His mercy I appeal—not for what I or my city deserves, not for what I think is the best way to “fix” this terrible situation—but for what He as a good and loving God gives. So I continue to sing that prayer in my heart to the Lord and wait on Him.

Please pray for God to have mercy on Colorado Springs—for the sake of His name and the love of His people.

Listening to God for Others

I visited a friend’s church this past weekend and was blessed. Literally. What I mean is, my friend wanted me to meet her pastor and his wife, so she introduced me after the service. After the usual exchange of greetings, Pastor Mike asked if he, Cindy his wife, and my friend could bless me. Well, I’m never one to pass up an opportunity to be blessed, so of course I said yes.

The three of them laid hands on me then Mike began. “Lord, we’d like to bless Cynthia today. Is there anything You want to say to her through us?” They waited silently. After a minute or two, Cindy, the pastor’s wife, spoke. She had had seen a picture of me tending my garden. I was looking carefully to see if any of the seeds I’d planted were growing. God wanted me to know, she said, that they were indeed growing. That they would bloom, multiply, and bear lots of fruit. She also shared a scripture that the Holy Spirit had brought to mind.

Then Pastor Mike spoke. He had seen a different picture, but it had a similar meaning: The things I have been praying and working for are happening—even if I cannot see them yet. He said the enemy wanted to discourage me so I’d give up, but I must hang onto hope.

Finally, my friend spoke. While Cindy had been speaking, she had heard from the Lord that the seeds I’d planted in one specific situation—one very near to my heart for which I’ve been praying for years—were growing and would bear fruit.

Well, I probably don’t need to say how much these encouraging words bolstered my hope. Each picture, verse, and word resonated with me—these were all things the Lord had been saying to me already. But what wonderful confirmation to hear them from people I didn’t even know!

But wait, it gets better. That afternoon I got as surprise phone call. Casually, the caller told me something my heart has been waiting to hear for years. What he shared showed me that my friend had heard right—the situation so near to my heart that I’ve been praying about for so long—God is working! Big time! I think I smiled for hours after hanging up.

I have to admit that even though I’m a huge proponent of listening prayer, I don’t often use it to bless others. But after being on the receiving end of such powerful ministry, I think I’d like to change that! How about the rest of you? Do you listen to God and bless others with what He shares? I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

Giving God the Desires of HIS Heart

I often hear folks asking God for the things He promises—provision, peace, health, and safety, and the like. I do it myself, and why not?  I’m His child, and He is a good Father, so He gladly concerns Himself with the things that concern me. So if the issue on my heart is something I know that He does and wants to do, then I generally ask Him to do it.

But there is another side to praying according to God’s will: As much as God loves to take care of us, it’s not all about us. God intended prayer to be a two-way conversation. At its best, relationship with God is a mutual, reciprocal friendship. If I take time to listen, God confides His heart in me. He actually invites me to concern myself with what concerns Him. As I get to know God better and better, I care more and more about things He wants—the “His kingdom and righteousness” types of things (Matthew 6:33). Here are some Scripture promises that illustrate what I’m talking about.

“Those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18).

And this one: “You will know that I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed” (Isaiah 49:23).

Here’s another one: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).

Or here’s one I read this morning: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).

God has shown me how these expressions of His heart apply to specific situations around me—at work, at church, in my relationships, and in my own deepening relationship with Him. These promises express His heart. As I start to pray and lean into His desires, I express love for Him and bring Him joy, just as when He answers my provision-safety-peace prayers, I feel loved and cared for. It’s all part of genuine friendship with God.

I know I haven’t even scratched the surface of promises that express God’s heart. I’d love to hear from you: What God-centered promises are a part of your conversations with God these days?