January 2013


cross and prayingAfter 6 decades of praying, I’ve developed an awareness that the Lord honors and values our prayers far more than we do.  Considering prayer, I often think about my adult children.  They often call me merely to check and see how I’m doing.  No matter what time they call, if I’m able I answer the phone.

As they approached adulthood, I attempted to make them my friends.  It is impossible to express what their friendship and consideration for my well-being means to me.  I don’t always like or agree with their needs or desires.  Yet, I’m going to listen, give advice if they ask for it and help whenever possible.

parent and hildBeing a human, I can hardly imagine the great heart of God as he listens to our prayers.  Whether complaints, concerns, petitions or intercession, God desires to pour into our lives his blessings of grace and mercy.  Therefore, I cannot ever imagine a time that the Lord will say “No” to a plea that comes from the needs and concerns of one of his children.

However, I’m convinced the Lord always responses, “I’m not going to give you what you desire.  In my wisdom, I know that this is not my best for your life.  I’m going to give you something much better.”

James wrote that we have not because we ask not.  That implies to me that God is far more eager to answer our prayers than we are to pray.

Should our prayer life be thoughtful and reasoned?  Of course.  Should we desire God’s best for our family and friends?  Absolutely.  Should we be concerned that this bountiful, loving God will withhold from us any good thing?  Never.  Can we trust him to honor and answer each prayer with the same mercy and grace that poured from Calvary into a world lost in sin? Yes, with certain assurance.

waiting

Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of prayer is when the Lord answers, “Wait.”

We’ve all experienced that waiting time.  Personally, I’m quite ready for my prayers to be answered the day and even the moment I ask.  I’ve prayed for a good friend for more than 25 years to receive the Lord.  Daily, I’ve asked that He bless and help her.  Recently, I paid her a visit and learned that she had received the Lord as her Savior.

joyful peopleI must admit that rather than being overjoyed, my reaction was much more subdued.  I quizzed the Lord about my emotionless reaction.  In my spirit I felt His response, “If I’d done the work more quickly, you would’ve wanted to take credit.  I wanted you to realize that I’m the Savior of her soul, not your prayers.”  Understand this wasn’t a rebuke from the Lord but a simple statement of fact.

The New Testament records an interesting verse. Yet when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days (John 11:6).  

Jesus had received a plea for help from his best friends, Mary and Martha.  Their brother, Lazarus was dying.  Jesus didn’t rush to his bedside to comfort and heal.  He waited.  Oz Hillman wrote,

God often has to delay His work in us in order to accomplish something for His purposes that can be achieved only in the delay. Jesus had to let Lazarus die in order for the miracle that was about to take place to have its full effect. If Jesus had simply healed a sick man, the impact of the miracle would not have been as newsworthy as resurrecting a man who had been dead for four days. This is Jesus’ greatest “public relations act” of His whole ministry. What many do not realize is that the key to the whole story is in the next chapter.

Many people, because they had heard that He had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet Him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after Him!” (John 12:18-19)

The Lord was setting the stage for Jesus’ death and resurrection.  It was only after this great miracle that the Pharisees began to see that the only path to the elimination of Jesus’ influence was his death.  From that moment they purposed in their spirits to destroy Jesus.

God's plaMonths ago, I shared with a young pastor who had been elected to an important office some on the things that I’d learned while serving in a similar position.  He reaction was rejection of my ideas. Then, last week, we again sat at a meeting.  He shared his discouragement and the lack of success he had experienced in his ministry over the past two or three years.  Another more experienced pastor quietly shared what I’d proposed a year ago. The young pastor heard and adopted the plan

After the meeting, the older pastor came to me and whispered, “You said that a year ago; but he couldn’t hear it then.  He had to learn the hard way.”  Then the seasoned minister grinned, “We all have to learn the hard way–our way.”

Delays aren’t merely part of God’s great plan for eternity.  They are also part of his plan for our lives.  Perhaps the hardest to receive–yet most profitable–answer God can give us to our prayers is “wait.”

praying on her kneesPrayer is an eternal mystery that haunts even the most devote warrior in God’s kingdom.  For Frances, prayer was her bread and drink.  She spent her days and nights in supplication to the Lord.  I earnestly believe that it was the prayers of Frances that turned our nation back to the Lord in a great way in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.

Of course there were many others who also prayed and sought God but I experienced first-hand the result of Frances’ ministry.  I sat under her teaching and walked hand in hand with her during her times of struggle.  I also saw her confidence in prayer.  I rejoiced in what God was accomplishing through the hours spend listening, speaking, loving and even wrestling with a holy God.

tent meetingsWhile TV pundents often proclaim that everyone was stoned during those decades, there was an underground movement that consisted of late teens and young adults whose hearts pled for God to change them and our nation.  My husband and I were part that movement–the Jesus Movement.  We led a vibrant and holy group of teenagers whose sole ambition was to find a deep relationship with Jesus.  They gathered under tents and in churches.  They fasted and held all night prayer meetings.

While the focus beamed on the teens and the other young men and women who led this army of teenagers, it was the matrons and masters of prayer–such as Frances–who had plowed the ground, planted the seed and rejoiced in the harvest.  Their battle was hard-fought.  They struggled and wrestled with the enemy of our souls on their knees, weeping, laughing and facing that dreaded enemy with grace, courage and valor. The power of the Holy Spirit never failed them.  The Father’s love always embraced them and assured them that his great destiny would save even the most horrible reprobate.

These prayer warriors didn’t possess the advantages of social media, blogs or the Internet but their prayers had world-wide and lasting effects.  Somehow, Christian leaders from around the world heard about Frances and came to her humble home for prayer.  They delighted in staying in the home of Frances and her husband. eating her food, laughing and enjoying fellowship long into the night.  But they came for prayer–recognizing her vital connection to God that brought success in ministry.

joanFew of us have been given the grace Frances possessed in determined, steadfast prayer.  Yet, all of us can seek God with the grace God has given to us.  Frances died stubbornly, without fanfare.  She resisted death even after her strength and vigor had been long spent.  I asked her oldest daughter, “Why does she struggle, resisting death so strongly?”  She believed that Frances clung to a desire to be on earth when the Lord returned.

Was this woman of God perfect?  No! Was she a warrior who helped to change the world for Christ?  Yes!

puzzleEach year for almost 45 years, our family worked a jigsaw puzzle.  I loved those times and eagerly promoted the tradition by purchasing a new puzzle.

Yesterday, my day off, I once again got out the new puzzle I’d bought and began sorting the pieces.  The progress is a lot slower than in previous years when five of us gathered around the table to casually do the work of fitting the lines and colors into their alotted slots.

This year, as I’ve worked alone, I’ve been able to realize why our family loved The Christmas Puzzle so much.  We are a family of A personalities.  Frank, the head of the household, was AAA.  Therefore, every event progressed into a super personal competition.  Christmas was an especially trying AAA event.  But gathered around that silent but intriguing mass of unorganized pieces, we were all equal.  No one excelled.  Yet, even the youngest child was competent, valued and needed.

working puzzleWe waltzed in and out of the room during the day and evenings, drawn by the table.  We each worked our part without pressure, anger or expectation.  Everyone rejoiced when the other excelled because we knew that each piece neatly fitted into the puzzle made the portion we were working on easier to complete.

Only at the end when all the children competed to see who would put the last piece into the puzzle was there real competition.  All the siblings came to value that last piece; and they each hid an indiviudal piece so that they would be able to put into the puzzle that last prize.  It was a game their super competitive father easily let them win.

Often the jigsaw puzzle is used to explain the Christian life.  Often, we learn about the mysteries of life examining the lessons we learn from completing the puzzle.  For me The Puzzle was never a teaching tool.  It is a pleasant memory of how people should act and react to each other.  Helping, rejoicing in achievement and delighting in the pleasant company of each other.

arm in armOften, as a pastor, minster, helper, coach or mentor, the joy of The Puzzle escapes me.  Drawn by the need of the moment and the hurts of the past, my heart wants to fix people, especially our members who are mentally challenged.  However, usually it isn’t in the act of teaching that the greatest lessons are learned.  It is in delighting in each other and valuing the person that lessons are best transferred.

Through Jesus’ sacrifice, God’s grace is given freely, openly and without any pressure to deserve the gift.  In fact, we cannot ever obtain that most valuable gift of life eternal.  Grace is God’s way of eliminating competition and delighting in ME, not my achievements.

My prayer, as I’ve worked the puzzle alone this year has been that God will work the Puzzle Grace I’ve seen over the years into every part of my life.

7talkingTwo of my good friends are also members of Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  They are going through extremely difficult times. Last night I spent a good deal of time with them.  It was a fun outing; but my purpose was to extend our friendship.  Also, I hoped that they’d be willing to share a brief glimpse with me into their pain.

It happened.  Several off-handed remarks were passed along by both young women.  Mentally, I paused for a few minutes and took note.  I wasn’t able to be alone with one of the women. But after everyone had been taken home; and we were riding alone in the car,  the other one shared openly.

sharingI asked a question, reminding my friend, Lyleth, of the remark she had made.  Lyleth jumped in feet first and shared the painful poison residing in her heart.  I reminded her of God’s promises.  She clinched her lips and shook her head.  Her silence screamed resistance.

C. S. Lewis wrote,  “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (C.S.Lewis, The Problem of Pain.  New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1962, pg 93.)  Explaining God’s love to a person who is mentally challenged is often less complicated than trying to penetrate the heart of a smarty-pajamas who has life figured out.  However, the kind of deep, penetrating grief that these women are experiencing is never easy to explain in logical or Biblical terms.

megaphoneYet, the hardship of pain often leaves us mute and disturbed because of our own inadequacy to understand or embrace deep hurts of the past or present.  Watching the anguish of my friend as she faces what will be the death of all she truly loves, my heart was wrenched because of my inability to reach out and heal.

After I dropped her off, I went Wal-Mart even though it was after 10PM.  I needed to pace and debrief my spirit.  I walked for an hour pushing my cart  in the security of the lighted building, praying and asking God to release my friends from the uncertainly and pain that the future holds for them.

I came home still uneasy, hurting for my friends whose pain will only increase in the months ahead.  However, during the night, God did a wonderful miracle in me.  I was able to release them into His care.  He is the only one who can heal and bring true growth.  His megaphone not only alerts us; but the pain He announces has a wonderful way of teaching, healing and releasing.

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