Want What You’ve Got! (weekend)

Image

Wait for it…Fruits and vegetables

 

 

I know. Me, too. I hate to wait.

In the past week I have waited to fall asleep (for hours – not cool), waited for my son to board a plane (and for the line at TSA – always a trip), waited at the DMV (yup – did that, too), waited at the dealership while my oil was changed (gotta love that waiting room coffee), waited for my son to finish soccer practice (late – again)…

Hurry up and wait. Some days this could be my personal motto.

Patience is a virtue. Really? I’ve heard this before, too, but mostly from my children’s snarky lips when they perceive that I’m not being patient.

Patience is also a fruit. A fruit of the Spirit. He gives this juicy fruit in the company of eight other varieties – qualities and attitudes that, no matter how hard we try to display them, are only attainable when we are ready to receive them.

Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-Control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

As impatient children, we tire of waiting on God. When will He answer? When will He move? When will our rescue come?

The Psalmist feels our pain as he cries out: “I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened.” Psalm 40:1 (The Message)

In the meantime – in the waiting – what are we to do?

While waiting to fall asleep, I decided that maybe there were prayers to be prayed and conversations to be had with God, so we talked first and then I slept.

While waiting at the airport, I sat beside my son and we hung out – we talked and I watched him play a video game.

While waiting at the DMV with my son, we giggled about the order in which the customer numbers were displayed on the call-board – is there any rhyme or reason to that system?

While waiting for my car to be serviced, I read a book and brought work to do – I came prepared to fill the time.

While waiting in the car for soccer practice to end, I thanked God for coaches who love their sport and like their players enough to let practice run long. And I talked to my Mom on the phone.

Praying. Talking. Sitting beside. Watching. Giggling. Reading. Working. Thanking.

Waiting.

Want What You’ve Got this weekend, even if you have to wait for it. Munch that tasty Spirit-fruit and trust the Gardener to give you more as it ripens and is ready to eat.

But don’t just sit there watching fruit ripen… Hurry up and LIVE!

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Want What You’ve Got! (help)

Help

Help (Photo credit: Hil)

When I walked out of the travel agency, I felt a wave of relief and excitement about my family’s upcoming European vacation. You may wonder how one could feel anything but excitement about traveling abroad, but days earlier as I sat eagerly at the computer to create an awesome itinerary for this once-in-a-lifetime family trip, excitement quickly turned to anxiety and in a matter of minutes, I was overwhelmed.

Sometimes there are simply too many options. Even with a clear window of time and one pre-selected destination, I found myself tangled in the World Wide Web – frozen by a seemingly infinite number of possibilities.

Travel agents aren’t exactly en vogue anymore, but it was abundantly clear that what I needed most of all – in order to insure the success of this family investment – was help.

When it comes to housekeeping, I can use all of the help I can get. Every couple of weeks I write a check for the young mom who helps me keep my house clean. If you know me at all by now, you know that hanging around the house isn’t really my thing, which makes housekeeping something of a four-letter-word in my world. By seeking help in the areas that challenge me the most, I am freed up to provide help in the ways I am uniquely equipped to do. This check that I write is part of the help I can give and in turn, I am blessed by the help I receive.

Paul talks about this as being part of God’s plan (the helping-one-another-part, not necessarily related to keeping house):

Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can’t. The heart regulates the hands. This isn’t so others can take it easy while you sweat it out. No, you’re shoulder to shoulder with them all the way, your surplus matching their deficit, their surplus matching your deficit. In the end you come out even. As it is written, nothing left over to the one with the most, nothing lacking to the one with the least.” 2 Corinthians 11b-14 (the Message)

My deficits are many and include travel planning and housecleaning, but God has given me plenty of things that others need. Your deficits are an opportunity for me to invest my plenty in ways that make us both better people and faithful stewards of what has been entrusted to us.

According to author Ann Lamott, help is one of the three essential prayers (Help, Thanks, Wow copyright 2012 by Ann Lamott, Riverside Books):

“We say, Help, this is really all too much, or I am going slowly crazy, or I can’t do this, or I can’t stop doing this, or I can’t feel anything. Or, Help, he is going to leave me, or I have no life, or I hate the one I’ve created, or I forgot to have a life, or I forgot to pay attention as it scrolled by. Or even, Help, I hate her so much, and one of my parents is dying – or will never die. Unfortunately, we haven’t even gotten to the big-ticket items yet: cancer, financial ruin, lost children, incontinence.”

On any given day, our prayers for help cover a lot of ground. As I sit here this morning, already I have asked God for help in at least a dozen situations pertaining to my life and those I love. And I believe He hears our cries for help! But here’s the rub…

God answers our prayers. Yup, that’s the rub.

God answers our prayers, but instead of zapping us with holy help in a cloud of fire and mystery and miracle, the help that comes from the Lord almost always comes through people. This messes with those of us whose pride and privacy issues serve to keep others at arm’s length.

We post no trespassing signs around our lives and pray that God would help us with our needs… And then we wonder what’s taking Him so long.

What’s wrong with this picture? Today some of us need to Want What We’ve Got – which may very well be a need for help. Until we are willing to receive God’s help through people, or to be God’s help to people, we won’t be positioned to receive the answers to our prayers that God is eager and ready to give.

Daily Questions: Have you been crying Help and then waiting for lightning to strike? How might God be trying to answer your prayers through the people around you? Are you willing to let your need be known so that God can rally His troops? If you are equipped to be the answer to someone’s prayers, are you paying attention to the needs of those around you? Will you act to meet those needs when God calls?

Want What You’ve Got! (papasan)

papasanI have wanted a papasan chair for as long as I can remember. It sounds silly (maybe shallow) – I know. I have a house full of chairs and couches and cushions, but there is just something irresistibly inviting about a papasan seat.

I’ve always been able to dismiss the thought of purchasing a papasan by simply looking at the price tag. While not costly in the world of furniture, I just haven’t been able to justify the buy. After all, this would be my chair! And isn’t it ridiculous for an adult to buy a chair that she has no intention of sharing?

Weeks ago I nearly tripped over a papasan frame while second-hand shopping. This particular store doesn’t tag their items, but when I was given the opportunity to buy it for $10, I simply couldn’t resist. I took my prize home and hung it in the garage until I could earn enough points on my credit card for a soft, cuddly cushion from Pier I. Almost two months after squeezing the generous frame into my little car, I sat down in my very own papasan chair for the very first time.

I don’t sit down much. With work commitments and family activities and church functions and errands to run, it’s extremely rare for me to stop moving long enough to sit during the day. But the first time that I sat in my papasan chair, which is tucked into the limited space between my bed and my bookshelf, I covered up with a scandalously soft blanket given to me by a friend and I closed my eyes. And fell asleep.

Do you have a place where you can go to simply rest ?

As ridiculous as it sounds, when I sit in just about any other chair in my house, I am unable to rest. I see the piles of laundry to be washed and folded. I see the books I should be reading for the groups I’m leading this week. I see the computer where dozens of emails wait to be read and responded to. Rarely am I able to sit for more than a few minutes before my to-do list trumps my need for silence, and reflection turns into production once again.

Each time I take a break from my driven, scheduled way of life to sit quietly in my chair, I can’t help but Want What I’ve Got.

Would you believe that Jesus advised His followers to find their own papasan chairs?

Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” (Matthew 6:6 The Message)

When I sit still in my papasan chair, bringing only myself (and my blankie) before God, shift happens. Some days it takes longer than others, but eventually my self-centered thoughts are replaced by the comforting presence of the One whose grace I most desperately need and whose gifts I am most thankful for.

Today, why not curl up somewhere cozy and be your quirky self in the presence of God? Make Him your focus so that grace may abound!

Daily Questions: Look around your house today – is there a place where you can minimize distractions and take time out to be still as you get to know God? What would it take for shift to happen for you? Want the space you’ve got by redeeming a nook or a cranny! Some folks I know have a Grace-Space in their homes where family members can go and not be interrupted – a chair or a corner where a Bible or a blanket or a candle are kept for use in quiet moments of reflection and prayer.

The Pentecost Prayer Marathon (a PINK Tuesday post)

Prayers

Image by Xerones via Flickr

A number of years ago, in the midst of a season of unprecedented awareness of the power and presence of the Spirit of God, I gathered a group of women together for what became known as the Pentecost Prayer Marathon.

A marathon, as you may well know, is an endurance race that measures out to be 26.22 miles long. It has quite a history, the marathon, going back to the Battle of Marathon and the Greek soldier Pheidippides – a messenger who ran the distance from the fabled battleground to Athens in order to proclaim their victory over the enemy (in a battle which he himself had also fought). A feat which he did, as the story goes, without stopping until his pronouncement had been heard (at which time he fell down and died).

More than 500 marathons are run every year. Athletes prepare for months for this race which, for many, emerges as a defining moment of glory and achievement in a lifetime of athletic endeavors. I’m not really sure where the connection between 26.22 miles of road and a miraculous outpouring of Spirit-presence came from, but I began to wonder about what it is that drives a person to such a strenuous undertaking as the running of a marathon. I began to marvel at the dedication and intense preparation of marathon runners. I pondered the fruit of such an athletic commitment – maybe a medal? Certainly feelings of self-satisfaction!

But I am not an athlete.

No matter how hard I try, I just can’t imagine enduring the pain and maintaining the focus and discipline needed in order to run this kind of race (as much as I admire those who can and DO)!

On the other hand, I CAN appreciate the value of the LENGTH of the marathon. Yes, it is long. But it also has an END. A finish line.

I find that people (myself included) often function better with deadlines. Can you relate? When I diet, I am a maniac at following the rules! I almost NEVER cheat, because I can see the results AND I know there is an END – a goal – in sight. When faced with a huge project (say, writing curriculum for a retreat), I ALWAYS do better work as the deadline looms larger. There’s a date when this work must be presented, and the closer that event is, the more efficient I am at staying focused on it.

Anything I want to do better CAN be done better if I assign a goal or deadline to it!

This may drive one person to successfully finish a marathon, another to lose those last five pounds, and yet another to finish a project that has been pending since 1992.

Can the same be true about PRAYER? Can I be more effective and focused in prayer if I designate a sort of ‘finish line’ for it?

My hope is that you will find, as I have year in and year out, that the answer is an absolute YES! Herein lies your invitation, then, to join me in my annual marathon – my PRAYER Marathon – purposely connected to the memory of the Spirit-bath Jesus’ disciples and followers received when His promised Friend arrived on the scene, thousands of years ago.

Be mindful, though, that this marathon of prayer isn’t about ME. It isn’t about what I can do, what I think I need, or what I think is important to God. This Prayer Marathon is about the power unleashed in the lives of believers when the Holy Spirit is given room to breathe His mystery and comfort and momentum into the very lives of those who seek Him. Today.

So… here’s how it works! The Prayer Marathon begins on Saturday, May 26th at 8:00pm. It ends at 10:12pm on Sunday, May 27th (the day we celebrate Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit). In case you missed the connection, the Prayer Marathon lasts for a total of 26.2 hours.

For the sake of focus, there are four stations to pass through during the Prayer Marathon. Each one is designed to help us focus on a particular area of prayer/need. Designated times are just suggestions here, so don’t get too legalistic about them! Simply use them as a guide and allow God to move you through the Marathon to the finish line – the celebration of the arrival of His Presence with us!

Prayer Station #1: 8pm on Sat. May 26th

Focus your prayers on preparing your heart to receive all that God wants to pour out in YOU! Seek scriptures that connect the work of God in His people. Include times of confession in these early prayers. Invite God to move in your heart. Ask Him to show you what a life of discipline and focus on the things He cares about might look like. Ask Him to surprise you as the Marathon unfolds!

Prayer Station #2: Dawn on Sunday morning, May 27th

Intercede on behalf of those in your family, your church and your community. Make a list of those whose needs are greater than the resources you have to meet them. Take your time and ‘download’ any/all prayer concerns or requests you might have on behalf of those you know and those you love.

Prayer Station #3: Sunset on Sunday evening, May 27th

Intercede on behalf of those in our culture, our nation and our world. Bring to God your concerns for the people who live near and far, in familiar and unfamiliar places. Use a map or globe as a tool for your prayers! Consult websites for agencies like International Justice Mission, World Vision or Wycliffe Bible Translators. Identify specific places and people groups whose issues and needs tug at your heart, and lift them up in prayer. Light a candle on their behalf. Let your prayers shine light into their darkness as only God can.

Prayer Station #4: 10:12pm on Sunday evening, May 27th

REJOICE! Revel in the faithfulness of the God whose Spirit is ever-present in THIS DAY. In THIS MOMENT! Thank Him for His promises and celebrate His presence! Take note of what this Marathon has brought your way, taking time to write down your impressions and His responses to your cries. Ask yourself: what is the ‘medal’ He wants to lay across your shoulders, now that you’ve completed this Prayer Marathon? Is it a fresh awareness? A clearer vision? A deeper passion? Pay attention to the fruit of your commitment!

If you choose to pray this marathon with me, I invite you to pray these words from Habakkuk throughout the journey. Because the rushing wind and tongues of flame didn’t just come and then go. The Spirit of God is moving still, and something in me says that this is what our prayer should be…

“Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known.” -Habakkuk 3:2a

Street Corner Dance-Off L4L.26

a human directional holding a sign for Cingular

The WORD

“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites! They love to stand up and pray in the houses of worship and on the street corners, so that everyone will see them. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6 (Good News Translation)

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” (New Living Translation)

The slightly disturbing cultural phenomenon of human billboards runs rampant in my town. Each day as I make the trek from home to work and school, I pass at least one person on the side of the road, holding up a sign for a local business. The sight is so commonplace that I hardly even notice them anymore, but there was this one day…

I could see him in the distance – the male Statue of Liberty – waving at passing cars and holding up his ‘tax time’ sign. Nothing new – he’s been there since February. I drove past as I normally do, probably grinning at him ever so slightly, feeling badly as he stood there in the not-yet-springtime chill.

Twenty minutes later, on my way back home, I approached the same area and noticed another human billboard on the opposite side of the road. This one was directly across from the torch-bearing guy in the green dress, only he wasn’t exactly costumed. His sign was propped up next to him and he had a Michael Jackson-esque hat on his head, sunglasses on his face, and headphones on his ears. He wasn’t dressed for the weather, but this isn’t what made him stand out. In an effort to attract more attention than his counterpart across the street, this guy was singing at the top of his lungs (I could hear him as I drove by, windows rolled up) and dancing as if to save his life.

I looked over to the Statue as I drove past. No longer was he waving benignly at the disinterested drivers – now HE was dancing his stately heart out and looking directly at the rockstar across the road. It was a competition now – a street corner dance-off!

I laughed out loud all the way home.

The APP

Jesus knew that even in the church, people like to put on a show. You can act surprised, but I know you know what I’m talking about. You’ve seen the spiritual version of the street corner dance-off take place in God’s house, drawing attention to the outwardly pious at the risk of bringing glory and praise to people rather than to our Father.

Matthew Henry’s commentary on this text points out that Jesus teaches us to pay attention to at least three things when we think about how we pray:

  • Place
  • Posture
  • Pride

The hypocrites Jesus refers to here have chosen the street corner for their prayer demonstrations. Maximum exposure for maximum recognition. While this may be the best course of action for drumming up business during a slow season, Jesus makes it very clear that God isn’t impressed with human billboards when it comes to prayer. The second glance these showmen get from passers-by is their pay-off. God Himself is going to drive right on by.

Standing is, of course, a legitimate and acceptable posture of prayer – was for Jesus, is for us today. What Jesus notices, though, about these public pray-ers is that their posture conveys a sort of self-importance and ill-placed confidence in themselves rather than the reverent humility which is becoming of a follower of God. Yes – we can stand as we address our Father in prayer. We can also kneel. We can bow. We can even pray with eyes wide open and mouth closed shut while walking down the street.

If the point of prayer is to connect our hearts with God’s, we would do well to be mindful of what our posture communicates to GOD as we address Him through our prayers.

Jesus knows that there are times when what we do for Him and His Kingdom will be visible to the people in the world around us. Is He saying we shouldn’t pray in public? No. But what Jesus is saying is that our public prayers ought to be a reflection of our private life of prayer with God. When our roots of relationship with the Father run deep, there is no need or desire to trivialize the holy by making a spectacle of our words and actions. To pray publicly in the context of Christian community is one thing, but to love doing it is something else altogether.

As Matthew Henry says, ‘they love to pray there. They did not love prayer for its own sake, but they loved it when it gave them an opportunity of making themselves noticed.’ And being noticed for their prayers led to pesky issues of pride in these street corner performers of Jesus’ day.

Think costumed, sign-bearing, dancing roadside billboards…

And run away.

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A Legacy of ACTION L4L.30

The WORDHealthy_feet

“Jesus Prays For His Disciples: ‘I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.’” John 17:6-10 (New International Version)

There is practically no part of the Gospels more revealing of the heart and mission of Jesus than this prayer for His followers, as found in John chapter 17. As has been our Lenten discipline, let’s hear these words of Jesus again, through the paraphrase of The Message:

“I spelled out your character in detail to the men and women you gave me. They were yours in the first place; then you gave them to me, and they have now done what you said. They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that everything you gave me is firsthand from you, for the message you gave me, I gave them, and they took it and were convinced that I came from you. They believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I’m not praying for the God-rejecting world but for those you gave me, for they are yours by right. Everything mine is yours, and yours mine, and my life is on display in them.”

The APP

The forty days of Lent are nearly over.

Tomorrow we remember the words Jesus spoke over His last supper with friends.

On Friday we will commemorate the sacrificial death of our Savior, Jesus.

And on this day we complete our Literal 4 Lent adventure, looking forward to the resurrection celebration that is about to explode onto the scene, in our churches and in our hearts, come Sunday.

Jesus has provided the perfect words of summary for us in this prayer poured out on behalf of those whose lives had blossomed in concert with His own years of ministry on the earth. As Jesus speaks to His Father on behalf of His students, we can’t help but catch a glimpse of the legacy being left behind. A legacy marked by words like:

Revealed. Obeyed. Now they know. Gave and accepted. Knew with certainty. Believed. Done what you said. Firsthand. Convinced.

All of these are ways the Messiah chose to describe His work with His disciples to His Father. And all of these words indicate Jesus’ pleasure at the responses and activity of those who were closest to Him.

Not only is Jesus saying that His followers finally ‘got it,’ leaving His words as an endorsement of their future ministry in the world, but He is summing up His own work as well. And in the summary we find a legacy worth embracing, continuing, and one day, leaving behind – just as Jesus did.

This legacy of Jesus is not a legacy of opinions, ideas or bullet points.

Jesus didn’t just leave behind for His followers a legacy of good memories and amazing stories, to be told and re-told for generations to come.

Jesus didn’t pass along material items of worth, to be guarded and regarded as treasure throughout the centuries.

No, Jesus’ legacy to us is a legacy of ACTION. A legacy of revelation and obedience, knowing and accepting, giving and believing, convincing and DOING.

This prayer of Jesus reveals that He knew full well He had completed His mission. He did what He was sent to do.

His mission was to prepare us to complete OURS.

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The Sacred Discipline of Stubbornness L4L.22

Hand on her hip

Image by quinn.anya via Flickr

The WORD

‘One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”’ Luke 18:1-8 (New Living Translation)

It almost sounds as if Jesus is coaching us to be persistent to the point of annoying when it comes to our prayers for justice…

‘Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, “There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: ‘My rights are being violated. Protect me!’ He never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on he said to himself, ‘I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. But because this widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice – otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black and blue by her pounding.’”

Then the Master said, “Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?”’ (The Message)

Now, there’s a weighty question… How much of that kind of persistent, stubborn faith will Jesus find on the earth when He returns?

The APP

During this Lenten season we have made a concentrated effort to take Jesus’ teaching literally. This isn’t always how we read the words of Jesus – for the purpose of actually doing what He says – and this is one of those texts that is easy to pay lip service to, but not so easy to put into practice.

First of all, I have to admit that I have a hard time comparing our righteous God to a sleazy judge. They have nothing in common! The judge in Jesus’ story is cold, hard-hearted and uncaring. The only reason he even gives the widow a second glance is because she won’t get off his back; her unrelenting pleas getting underneath his skin to the point that he would do anything to shut her up!

This story makes me squirm a bit, but maybe that’s the point.

Maybe I’m squirming because this idea of God-as-Judge is one that stretches my understanding of who God is and what that consequently says about me.

Maybe I’m squirming because I’ve been bugged to the point of annoyance by people who, like the widow, just won’t back off or let go.

Maybe I’m squirming because, if I understand what Jesus is saying here, I don’t qualify as one who has persistent faith if that faith is measured by my relentlessness in prayer for the relief and justice of others.

I haven’t fully developed the sacred discipline of stubbornness.

In fact, I still see stubbornness of any kind as a character flaw.

And I’m so self-focused! When I do pray consistently for something that I’m passionate about, how many times is that a passion for justice to be rendered or for people to be released from the tyranny of their enemies?

There is an organization I’ve recently become more aware of that is seemingly built upon these very words of Jesus. International Justice Mission ‘seeks to make public justice systems work for victims of abuse and oppression who urgently need the protection of the law.’  This is their mission. They are a non-sectarian Christian organization staffed with lawyers and advocates and prayer warriors whose hearts are in a constant posture of prayer on behalf of those whose lives are consumed by others.

Sex trafficking. Forced labor slavery. Illegal property seizure. Police brutality. Sexual violence.

Justice for the victims of these criminal activities is the mission of IJM. But it isn’t just the organization’s mission that has captured my attention today: it’s the people who work there.

‘In preparation for the day ahead, IJM employees begin work with 30 minutes of silence and solitude. Then, at 11:00 a.m., employees gather daily to pray corporately for the needs of our clients and the work we are seeking to accomplish.’

Every day. Every employee. An entire organization of faith-filled believers who are developing the sacred discipline of stubbornness.

Not only do they pray for the justice of others, but they follow up those prayers with feet on the pavement – entering courtrooms, approaching judges and relentlessly pursuing the protection of the widows and the children and the elderly and the outcast. Using every legal means available by which to achieve justice for the least of these. Enabled by a just and righteous God who has promised to stick up for them and not to drag His holy feet.

Jesus says that we should pray consistently and never, ever give up on God. Why? Because God comes to our rescue. Quickly.

Our faithful, stubborn prayers do not fall on deaf ears.

We need to jump all over that promise, my friends!

It could literally change our lives.

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A Mind-Blowing Promise L4L.18

Praying handsThe WORD

Jesus answered, “I assure you that if you believe and do not doubt, you will be able to do what I have done to this fig tree. And not only this, but you will even be able to say to this hill, ‘Get up and throw yourself in the sea,’ and it will. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Matthew 21:21-22 (The Good News Translation)

Jesus is speaking to His disciples, who are dumbfounded by Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree and the speed at which it withered up at His words. This band of imperfect followers, though rarely speechless, had to be living in a constant state of the mind-just-blown.

Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.” (New Living Translation)

I’ve got to come clean with you today. I’ve been avoiding this text on our Literal 4 Lent adventure. Like the disciples who were daily witnesses to the wonders and signs of their Rabbi, this text has always blown my mind. It seems, at first glance, too good to be true.

If Jesus meant what He said on that day, why in the world are our churches filled with mousy Christians whose prayers seem to fall to the ground rather than receive the holy audience Jesus promises here?

If Jesus was serious, and yet our prayers continually fail to birth Spirit activity, where is the breakdown? Where is the disconnect?

Where are the answers we’ve been waiting for?

The APP

Chuck Smith, in his commentary on this scene from Jesus’ ministry, calls this “a very broad promise for prayer.”  He goes on to remind us that Jesus’ audience beside the withered fig tree was not the general population, not the crowds, not the 5,000. Jesus’ listeners were His inner circle, His students, His disciples. And we know what Jesus says about what it takes to be His disciple, right?

“Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

Smith goes on to say that “the purpose of prayer isn’t really to get my will done; the purpose of prayer is to get God’s will done. And that person who is a disciple, the person who has denied himself to take up his cross to follow Jesus Christ, is more concerned in God’s will, than he is his own will. And that man has power in prayer and this promise is for that man. It’s not a general promise to anybody.”

Which leads us to ask ourselves today: Am I that man?

The one who has walked away from self? The one who seeks no higher goal than to see God’s will and work be done here on earth – among the salt of the earth – as in heaven? Have I so totally sold out to the Gospel that my own selfish desires have been crucified on the cross I now haul around on my back?

Do I have a literal faith in the power of God and in the reality of every one of His great promises?

If we can be totally honest with ourselves, we may very well have to say ‘no’ to those questions. If our own comfort and agendas drive our prayer life, we can rest today in the knowledge of what it’s going to take for our prayers to result in God-action. We know what our APP is today if we want to be His disciples.

But what if I’m feeling like I AM that man? What if I do believe that God can do what He says He can do, and that every promise in His Word is absolutely, positively TRUE? What if, in spite of that believing, I still don’t see trees shrivel up and die at my command? What’s up with THAT?

It’s one thing to believe. It’s quite another to pray believing prayers.

It’s one thing to have faith. It’s quite another to faithfully pray, especially for things that we know God desires.

Why would we need to pray those kinds of prayers? Won’t God do His will without our asking? Isn’t He going to do what He’s going to do, with or without my involvement?

If this is you, I feel like Jesus is reaching out to you today because He really wants you to ask. He wants you to pray. He wants you to want to engage in conversation with Him about the holy. About what makes His heart beat. About what makes His heart break.

Prayer, for our God, isn’t a means to an end – a way to get what we want, even if what we truly want is in line with His will.

Prayer is where we connect with His heart and plug into His powerful Spirit.

Prayer is where sparks fly and relationship happens.

Prayer is where minds are blown and the Good News takes on flesh and walks right out the door, into our very own homes.

Into our very own lives.

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Smith, Chuck. “Matthew 20-22.” The Word for Today. Blue Letter Bible. 1 Jun 2005. 2011. 7 Apr 2011.
<http:// www.blueletterbible.org/commentaries/comm_view.cfm?
AuthorID=1&contentID=7126&commInfo=25&topic=Matthew&
ar=Mat_21_22 >

					

Can You Keep a Secret? L4L.16

BEST FRIENDS

Image by JohnGoode via Flickr

The WORD

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-6 (New International Version)

Try reading this text again, this time replacing the word ‘hypocrite’ with ‘pretender.’

This word ‘hypocrite can also be translated as ‘stage player’ or ‘actor.’

It’s almost as if Jesus is grooming a team of covert operatives for the Kingdom! By teaching His followers to give in secret and pray in secret, the appropriate follow-up question from this text appears to be,

“Can YOU keep a secret?”

The APP

There’s a troubling little word that surfaces in religious circles and is often seen as a negative: Piety.

Wikipedia defines piety in these terms:

‘Piety can be either genuine, in that it springs from spiritual piety, or false, in that it is an attempt to exhibit the signs of piety for their own sake, or for some other reason, (such as propitiation or public esteem).’

What Jesus is describing to His listeners in Matthew 6 is the false kind of piety that is staged by someone who seeks public recognition for what ought to be a private expression of faithful commitment between Father and child. When they put themselves and their deeds on display, Jesus tells us that these thespians are rewarded with the attention they seek. What they fail to receive, however, is the reward of a God who is looking for secret-keepers, not exhibitionists, to participate in the work of His Kingdom.

Now, it’s important to note that the secret-keeping Jesus is advocating here is NOT a secret society kind of hush-hush that makes insiders and outsiders in a cliquish sort of way. Rather, it’s as if Jesus is asking whether our personal connection with God Himself is, well… real.

Really real.

Are we doing what we do for God only, or for what we stand to gain from appearing to be connected with Him?

It’s also as if Jesus is asking “Can you keep a secret” – not FROM ME, but WITH ME?

Is there anything quite as intimate as a secret shared? Whether between BFF’s (ask your daughter what that means), lovers or close family friends, a secret shared between us has the power to knit our lives together in ways that nothing else really can.

In this context, what if prayers were like pillow talk? Those quiet, intensely intimate discussions shared in private places, beyond the meddling eyes of the watching world. Maybe this is what Jesus meant by praying behind closed doors.

When we are in love or so connected to another that we find ourselves doing everything in light of that relationship, the most important thing for me to do is to make you happy! When what matters to YOU matters to me SO MUCH that I want nothing more than to see you have your heart’s desire, I’ve figured out what it means to practice secret giving. No one else needs to see what I’m doing. In fact, no one else will probably understand the value of what I’m doing! Only you. I do it all for you.

The question, “Can you keep a secret?” has implications for those of us who seek to live off-stage in a world full of performers. The way we answer this question answers a host of other questions as well; questions like:

Can I trust you?

Is our relationship as valued in your eyes as it is in mine?

Can I show myself to you? Can I reveal more of myself to you?

Do you value what I value?

Do I matter to you?

Quite literally, may our answer to these questions be a resounding “YES” today!

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