On All Occasions: Holding on, While Letting Go: Traversing discouragement

On All Occasions: Holding on, While Letting Go: Traversing discouragement
I am free to let go of things for the sake of making the supremacy of God's worth known. John Piper

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What's Love Got to Do with the Adam Lanza's of this World?

I may take some flak for this, but what if someone in Adam Lanza’s shy world had reached out to him? We may never know all the facts of his life and relationships. Perhaps we will even hear stories of individuals who reached out to him, who expressed kindness and acceptance. Jean Vanier, reminds us that, “the way of the heart implies a choice. We can choose to take this path and treat people as people and not just as machines.” So we can look at a person not just in the role we see them serve. For example looking beyond the role of a teacher, grocery clerk, or a socially isolated classmate to looking at the person, which means we understand they have a heart, that they may have difficult relationships, and that they need our “understanding and kindness.” This implies that we have something to give in our circles of influences, those places where we encounter others. We can choose to stay uninvolved and self-focused, or through intentional awareness we can offer kindness and acceptance.

Vanier goes on to say, “our hearts can become hard like stone or tender like flesh. We have to create situations where our hearts can be fortified and nourished. In this way, we can be more sensitive to others, to their needs, their cries, their inner pain, their tenderness, and their gifts of love.” I wonder if Adam ever experienced such compassion? What gifts of love were never expressed towards him, and therefore, never manifested in him? It is easy to hate him now, to call him a monster. We simply cannot fathom beyond the realm of evil what could initiate such a horribly tragic crime. I realize I’m taking a lot of license in perceiving the heart, the pain, and the needs of Adam and others like him. I am not writing to debate evil vs. mental illness, or that a life of personal pain negates the call for justice. I am writing about love.

You and I have the daily opportunity to live a life of love. “Mature” love puts its trust in God and can therefore stand in a place outside of belonging. It can discern when to take risks that bring life and “meet people who have been excluded” Vanier. What brings life to another person?
We bring life when:

  • our hearts are open to others who may be weak or in need.
  • we humbly serve others, when we listen to their story, and when we see them through God's eyes.
  • we see gifts in others and see what unites us.
Do you recall the story of a woman who was going through some tough times only to find herself hostage to a man fleeing from the authorities? Fearing for her own life, this woman found the courage and the then faint story of hope to share the gospel. From her own place of pain she reached out to her captive’s pain. She listened to his story, a life in which he never experienced love. She saw a heart desperate to be loved and in need of the hope of the Father’s love. Not only did her captive give his life to Christ, she was freed and renewed her faith in God. This is the power of love!

September 1st is highlighted as Random Acts of Kindness Day. We know the importance of kindness. We understand our need for kindness. While the day reminds us to be kind, to pay it forward, let’s also live a daily life of love. Let’s live a life that is aware of the needs of others, that consistently reaches out to others in the pace of our everyday lives and circles of our influence. As we practice awareness let’s also add the power of Christ’s sacrifice by practicing Random Acts of Prayer.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What Would You Do? (WWYD?)

We’ve often heard the question asked, “What would Jesus do?” (WWJD?) It’s a question we ask ourselves, and one another from time to time when we are seeking Jesus’ example of living on mission, and relating to others. Our recent local and national elections have reminded me of how polarized our politics are, and of how that polarization carries over into religion, and the view many not-yet believers have of Christianity. Jesus made a distinction between the religious practices of the Pharisees, and His example of going to sinners and the sick, to the oppressors and the oppressed, and to the lepers and the outcasts in society.

I got to thinking...what would you [and I] do, (WWYD?) if Jesus was visible in the flesh? Like the apostle Thomas, would it matter if we could see Jesus, and touch His hands? When in His visible presence, would we behave or respond differently to the world around us? Would we identify the hypocrisy that not-yet believers find so evident in us? 

I actually considered ordering a life-sized cardboard cutout of Jesus as an experiment, and taking it with me so that I could have a visual reminder that Jesus is always here with me. In the busyness of life, I think we often need to remind ourselves of the constant implications of faith. Imagine, taking Jesus to church…would He have our attention? Would we stumble over one another in our efforts to serve, to give, to spend time at His feet? How would our love be different; our priorities; our gratitude; and our willingness to sacrifice? 

Are you and I practicing a religion, or are we following Jesus? What would YOU do, (WWYD?)? Practice His presence. Spend time with your Savior. Welcome the Holy Spirit. Take Him with you wherever you go…Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Heb. 11:1

Monday, December 3, 2012

Living Faith

Have you ever gone through a famine or lean times in your prayer life? I know I have, even recently. It’s often said that we can become disconnected from Jesus when things are going well and we are in a place of false independence. However for me more recently, I found myself battle weary. Sometimes it seems like the enemy is winning; like the warriors are few and any ground won is quickly lost. For the past nine years I have been on a spiritual journey desperate to see the glory of Jesus among believers in the Church and not-yet believers within our community.  

That desperation led me to many things. It inspired me to be an advocate for prayer in the lives of believers; it led me to question and examine culture both within the church and those to whom we have been sent; and it compelled me to evaluate my role “to seek and save the lost,” and to look for ways to do so by thinking outside the box. I even went back to school to obtain a degree thinking that reaching out relationally would require knowledge that I lacked. The truth is, all we need is Jesus and this is no trivial truth. It is The Truth!

We have been redeemed! We have the love of Jesus in us and His example of love and sacrifice to guide and transform us into His likeness. Though we continue to be sanctified, He remains with us. I am weak, I struggle with short-sightedness, my focus gets off course, and I’m inpatient and try to do a lot in my own strength. But, Jesus not only said we could do this, He sent us, each and every one of His children! That’s me and that’s you, we’ve been sent into our workplaces, neighborhoods, and our many activities as ambassadors.  

Have you ever planted a seed and witnessed it take root as faith in another individual? I have twice, but that was more than twenty years ago. What happened? For me the answer to that question is that I’ve been busy. Busy working for and serving in the church, going to school, raising a family, basically doing good things. However, very little of my time has been intentionally focused on developing natural relationships with the not-yet believers that have come and gone in my life. What’s with that? I still think of a woman I met during one of my last classes. We hit it off, we had coffee together, and then I got a job…I never invested in that friendship.

E.M. Bounds said, “When faith ceases to pray, it ceases to live.” To be on mission, to reach the people Jesus loves and the people He has placed in our paths, you and I must have a living faith. With faith, nothing is impossible. Faith that comes by prayer removes obstacles in our lives and the lives of others, and enables the power of Christ to work through us.

The pastor of Reality Church, Britt Merrick sums it up like this, “We know that ‘the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. Our plot of ground is our present culture—where Satan sets up camp. Our weapon to defend that ground is prayer.” Let’s be people of living faith, let’s be people of prayer. The power of Christ is waiting for us to join with Him. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sharing Our Faith through Prayer

Recently during a prayer huddle before services, our pastor asked if anyone had a prayer need. Everyone looked around the circle with shrugged shoulders, me included, until one person shared about a hospitalized infant. I have often wondered why so many believers find it difficult to share prayer needs with others, especially a personal prayer need?

Yet, prayer is an essential part of our worship. I have to say it again, prayer is worshiping God! It is our sacrifice on the altar, a pleasing aroma. It is our fellowship offering, our thanksgiving offering, and our sin offering. It is how God makes himself known to us and to a watching world. It is how he brings glory to himself, in the demonstration of his provision by His power, strength, and love… "so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen” 1 Peter 4:11

Every prayer offered in faith and according to God’s will is an opportunity for God to be glorified, every prayer. If we viewed prayer as an act of worship would we be more inclined to pray? If we understood that God wants to reveal Himself in a “God-sized” way, would we be more likely to trust Him for the really “big things,” rather than rely on our own human strength, and safe and sane plans?

I realize that for more sensitive matters, not all settings are conducive to sharing, but I think we too often struggle with this, even in the church community, among our friends and in our small groups. If we are not careful, we risk by default our own “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. A policy where we fail to “ask” God for his provision thereby, losing an opportunity to “tell” of His glory.

Here are a few reasons we may fail to ask God, or share our need with others:
  • Our independent nature views dependence on God as weak or needy. Therefore, we stigmatize prayer, only those who are weak need prayer. (the irony)
  • We are full of pride - we “say, I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing…” Rev. 3:17
  •  We are self-focused - we fear that others will judge us as somehow less spiritual.
  •  We are self-seeking - we pray only when we have a need, not for kingdom purposes and may even forget to thank God.
  • We lack faith - faith in God’s provision, and confidence in his love for us.
  • We are untrained or undisciplined - we don’t know how because it is not modeled for us, or we lack spiritual motivation.
  • Lack of intimacy with God - we see God as distant and have not experienced Him as our Abba Father.

Perhaps you can identify with some of these even if by omission? The point is, when needs remain unexpressed and the act of prayer remains out of public practice we risk living powerless lives, lacking an expression of faith that pleases and glorifies God.

The following are some ways believers can share their faith through prayer: 

  • Keep a prayer journal, being watchful and documenting God’s answers. Make note of spiritual markers and tell others about God’s faithfulness. These will become your “God Stories,” to be shared with others. (Ps 78:4; 105:2; 107:22)
  • Increase your comfort level, share with a trusted person or group both your requests and God’s answers. (Matt 18:20)
  • Look for opportunities to pray for an unchurched friend or neighbor who shares a struggle and then ask if you can pray for them, preferably on the spot. Keep praying and follow up. (1 Peter 3:15)
  • Ask God to increase your faith and reveal Himself, His ways, and His purposes. (Eph 3:16-21)
  • Spend quality time in private prayer, both listening to the Holy Spirit and offering praise and worship to God. (Ps 26:8; 27:4)
  • Increase your knowledge and experience by joining with a prayer partner or study group. (Ps 53:4)
  •  As leaders, demonstrate your dependence on God with transparency, asking for prayer and quickly moving to prayer in your ministry among people. Celebrate with others God’s provision. (John 15:5; Isaiah 63:7; Eph 6:18-20)
  • As individuals, parents and leaders, don’t dismiss “burning bush” or “Red Sea” opportunities to trust and obey God in God-sized kingdom work. Invite others to join with you in prayer. Share your praises corporately. (Ps 40: 9-10; Prov 30:4; Eph 1:18-20)
  •  Finally, ask God to provide opportunities for you to share your faith, and be prepared “ to give the reason for the hope that you have…” 1 Peter 3:15

Ultimately, the depth of our prayer life is in direct proportion to the depth of our relationship with God. Asking, and trusting in Him is an act of faith. When we share our personal encounters with a living God, today's world takes note. He alone is the reason for the hope that we have. When it comes to time spent in prayer, I like to apply this quote, “Generosity is giving more than you can and pride is taking less than you need.” Kahlil Gibran.