Pray without ceasing

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Prayer is one of those things I struggle with.  I didn't grow up in a home that loved God, I didn't come to have a relationship with Him until I was an adult.  I don't have a problem talking with Him about things: "watch over us and keep us safe while we travel to_________," "guide me today to make the decisions that will honor You," "help me to control my words today so that they are a blessing to others and not a tool for the devil," etc.  I have the day to day conversations and I love that I can approach Him intimately like this. (Ephesians 3:12, Hebrews 4:16)

Recently my small group Bible study began a prolonged group prayer.  God laid it on our hearts to join together and set aside a day every week to intentionally pray for our family and friends who don't have a relationship with Jesus.  That isn't to say that we haven't been praying for our own family members often, but we are trusting God when he says that when two or more of us agree on something it will be done by our Father. (Matthew 18:19)  While we realize that God will not take away the free will of those we are praying for and force them to surrender to Him, we also realize that our prayers can open doors, protect them from the devil's deceit, and soften their hearts to accept God's gift of salvation...but this can sometimes be a long process.  This is where I struggle.

Intellectually I realize that God hears and answers prayer. (Psalm 65:2, Proverbs 15:29, Psalm 66:19-20, Mark 11:24, Matthew 21:22) But emotionally there are times that I question and doubt.  I love my family members, and I want them to feel the overwhelming love that God has for them; I want them to understand the acceptance and comfort and joy that comes from a relationship with Him - and I want it NOW.  We have been praying for months.  I wish I had a dramatic story for you about how one of the people we prayed for had a revelation and heart change, I don't.  That disheartens me sometimes.  But God is good and I know that He hears and is doing His part.

We have seen some of our loved ones step closer to God.  We have seen Him reveal Himself in miraculous ways, especially AFTER being challenged ("The only way this will work is if God does it!").  We have seen His hand of protection.  I know that He is orchestrating things in such a way that the hearts of those we love are being touched by His loving kindness.  So, while I may struggle with His timing, I continue to pray without ceasing.  After all, Augustine's mother prayed for him to know God for 32 years before he finally accepted Jesus' gift.  And Augustine went on to spend the next 44 years of his life in service, becoming one of the most influential writers concerning God since the apostles.  Who knows what God has in store for those we are praying for now!

got works?



To love God is to put His Will above your own selfish desires. You realize that this life and everything it has to offer is nothing compared to the life Jesus died for to give you. And in return you want to  tell everyone about Him and His sacrifices. You want to be like Christ.

And in order to do so, you have to step out of your comfort zone. You're going to have to go to places and do things you don't want to. (He never claimed it would be easy to follow Him) (Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23) you're going to have to teach; you're going to have to serve; you're going to have to love. You're going to have to be a leader to all of those around you- lead by example. They've seen enough hypocrisy in Christianity. You can't tell them how Great Jesus Was/Is, without showing them. Hands down, Jesus Is our High Leader. Yet, He was an outcast; homeless and poor. To even His friends, who knew He was the Messiah, He was a servant. (Mark 10:42-45; John 13:3-17) [And considering He also knew they would all betray, deny and dessert Him, He still served them.] We, too, will have to 'lower' ourselves to serve. [Matthew 23:12; Mark 9:35; Luke 14:11; Philippians 2:3-11; 1 Peter 5:6] but when we really think about it, teaching and leading is serving. We're teaching others for their benefit. We're showing them God's love to help them. [service: work that is done for others; the performance of work or duties for a superior…]

This is God's Will for you; for all of us. We're His servants. (John 12:26; 1 Corinthians 4:1-2; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Timothy 2:15) We each have our own individual work to do for Him; a calling so to speak. (Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 12:4; 1 Corinthians 1:26-27; Ephesians 4:1-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; 2 Peter 1:10) Have you figured out what yours is yet? Maybe it's to join an overseas mission; or assist at a homeless shelter; or teach a Bible study; or write a blog; or take dinner to your neighbors; or maybe it's just to honor your spouse so they see God through you. Nothing is too great or too small to be done for Him. (Luke 1:37) It may seem overwhelming to think He's trusting you with His children; telling His story. But don't worry, he's got your back. (Hebrews 13:5) He's not going to call you to do anything He won't equip you with tools to help you with. (Philippians 4:19) (And don't fret too much over the possibilities, because the chances of Him sending you on an overseas mission without 'training' you first at home isn't likely.) The only prerequisite He asks of you is to be willing, with an obedient heart. (Isaiah 1:19) We have to be open for the grand possibilities of His Own mission: to save the world (again); at whatever the cost be to us.

Are you seeking His will for you? Are you asking Him to show you? There’s a whole world out there that needs you; that needs Him… What are you waiting for?

Consider Your Ways


Ever had one of those days where every thing just seems to go wrong?  Your alarm doesn't go off, the coffee filter falls over and you end up with a carafe full of grounds (gasp!), can't find the car keys and when you finally do you realize that you are out of gas.  And that is just the beginning of the day!  I admit, I have had a few days like this this past week, and on those days it isn't easy staying true to Ephesians 4:29.  In my personal study time this week, God showed me something that made me step back and reevaluate.

I was reading Haggai, and I also must admit that I had to look up who this prophet was.  Apparently he was prophesying during a time in Jewish history that should have been wonderful for them.  They had been given a decree from the king, Cyrus, allowing them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.  All of the things that had been stolen from the temple had be promised to them upon its completion and the king agreed to finance the rebuilding.  What a sweet deal, right?

Only it came with some issues.  The retuning Jews were excited to be home again.  They set about building their homes, clearing their fields, building storehouses, etc.  They were going about their lives and taking care of their earthly business.  Haggai comes along and points out some truths that people had been overlooking.  God had opened the door for their return so they could rebuild the temple.  The temple is special, this is where God dwelt, where He could be close with His people.  Only His people were more concerned with doing their own thing than what they should have been doing.  Haggai tells them, "You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes." (Haggai 1:6) And it hit me....

We aren't much different.  Oh, it is easy to read these stories in the Bible and shake our head in disbelief about how they are again not doing what they are supposed to.  To wonder how they seem to miss what seems so obvious to us as the reader.  But if you had to step back and read your own life story, don't you think you might have the same thoughts?  Now I'm not going to say that every time you don't get that raise at work, or your coffee gets some grounds in it that it is because you aren't following through on God's will, but I will say, perhaps you should stop and take a moment to consider the possibility.

You, yes YOU, have a purpose in God's plan.  Just as the Jews were called back to Jerusalem to build a place for God to dwell, you have a mission to create an inviting place for God to dwell - your heart.  As you work on cleaning out the debris, laying a good foundation, and building according to God's plans He will reveal more and more to you about what He is calling you to do.  And when you veer away, when you become more consumed with building earthly things rather than spiritual, you are in effect walking away from His blessings.  When you walk away, things start to fall apart...

So when things start to fall apart, consider your ways.... are you spending time in His word?  Are you spending time talking with Him?  Are you listening for Him?  Are you about His business?  If you can answer yes to these, then keep on the path you are on.  Push through the obstacles and know that they can only make you stronger.  But if you answered no, perhaps He is trying to reach you and help you to see the truth.

"Be strong ... declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts."  ~Haggai 2:3

Faith In Action



To say that you have faith is good. To show that you have faith is better. The truth is, believing in God doesn’t necessarily make you a good Christian. Even the devil believes in God! (James 2:19). It’s a little humbling (and terrifying) to think that believing in God makes you no better than the devil. But that’s the reality. Granted, the devil may be acting against God intentionally, but your inactions for God is in essences an action against Him. No action is an action. Not speaking is speaking.

“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?” (James 2:14) James continues with asking how that (no actions) can save anyone… And isn’t that one of our true callings as Christians? To teach/show/love others? (Commandment number two- right after commandment number one: love God). (Matthew 22:38-39, Mark 12:30-31) If we really believe that God is Who He says He Is, then shouldn’t we want to shout it from the roof tops? Shouldn’t we want to show others? What it boils down to is- if you truly have faith, (if you truly love God with all of your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength) you will want to do

There are too many people in the Bible to mention that acted on their faith (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Paul…) (There’s even an entire chapter of Hebrews (Hebrews 11) devoted to ‘great examples of faith’, and they all acted…- read it- they all start out with ‘It was by faith that (insert name) that [verb] (verb: word indicating action or state)… Abraham: you know the story. He left his home without knowing where he was going, and then lived there like a foreigner- all by faith. (Genesis 15:6) James shows that Abraham was shown to be ‘right with God’ for what he did. Paul shows that Abraham was shown to be ‘right with God’ because of his faith. Did you catch that? The verses don’t contradict each other- they complement each other: Abraham was counted ‘righteous’ for what he did because he believed. (It’s probably good to note that our actions will not determine our salvation- but our faith will (this is an entirely separate message): (Romans 3:28)).

It’s also important to reiterate that not taking action, is in itself, taking action. By not helping God (aka not doing for Him), you are hurting Him (aka doing for the devil) (John 8:44). Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees because they followed the law (they tithed) BUT they didn’t follow the ‘important aspects of the law’: justice, mercy and faith. (Okay, so you don’t think you’re as ‘important’ as a Pharisee was back then… do you think you’re more important than a fig tree?) (Matthew 21:19, Mark 11:13-14) The fig tree looked good; it had promise to be fruitful, but upon closer inspection, it was inactive (hadn’t produced fruit). WE are the symbolic fig tree. We choose to produce fruit, or be dormant. Jesus cursed the fig tree for not producing fruit. And we’re more important than the actual fig tree…(if we’re more valuable to Him than birds (Matthew 6:26), we’re more valuable to Him than a fig tree).

Ephesians 2:8-10: summation: God saved you (by His Grace) because you believed; you are saved—not because of anything you did—but because He loves us and created us (we are His masterpiece)—therefore we can do the ‘good things He planned for us’. We believe, therefore we act. Faith without deeds is useless (James 2:17, James 2:20) “Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.” (James 2:26). That’s a bit pungent… or is it? This life is for God; not us. When we truly have faith and love God (commandment #1), then [verb] we will love [verb] others. And that is action. (Galatians 5:6)

 

The inmost places


We eat a lot of apples in my house.  They are a quick treat, portable, and yummy.  My youngest daughter particularly enjoys Golden Delicious apples thanks to her discovery that they were originally discovered in our home state.  As for me, as long as they are crispy, crunchy and juicy - I'm good.  

Because we eat so many of them I am very particular about picking them out at the store.  I look for apples that are well shaped.  I check for signs of bruising, I squeeze to ensure they are firm and not mushy.  And then I bring home what appears to be the perfect selection of apples.  But sometimes, I cut into one and discover this:
image from www.reddit.com

What I had thought was going to be a sweet treat was actually rotting from the inside out.  I'll be honest, I don't really know what causes this in fruit.  But I do know that fruit isn't the only thing that can appear beautiful on the outside and yet be full of decay on the inside.  Mark 7:21-23 tells us that the things that are evil - pride, foolishness, covetousness, deceit etc - come from within us.  More often than not we don't wear a big sign that announces these things about ourselves.  Instead we bury those things deep within us and try to look beautiful and pure on the outside.  Sometimes we hide the decay in ourselves so well that even we don't even realize it is there.

But God isn't looking at the outside, rather He is searching our heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)  And sometimes He has to cut open the apple to reveal the decay inside.  It isn't a pleasant process.  We often call them trials or hard times.  Now don't think I am saying ALL trials are a result of decay in our lives, but I am saying that we need to examine ourselves to see if that might be the cause.  Just because you cut an apple doesn't mean it is rotting inside. :)  

So the next time things get rough, and if you are following Jesus they WILL get rough, (read our post earlier this week for that lesson!) take a few moments in prayer and ask God if perhaps this is an attempt to reveal an aspect of yourself that isn't pleasing to God, a part of yourself that you may not have even realized was there.  Trials have a habit of bringing out the worst in us, actions that we may never have taken or thought otherwise.  Then, if God has revealed this is the case, start working to excise those decayed parts.  But you can't stop with that.  An empty spot begs to be filled.

Fill those parts of yourself with God.  I'll leave you with the same advice Paul gave the Philippians, "brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)  For when we fill ourselves with these things, we crowd out the decay.

Trials & Tribulations



Firstly, if you think that because you’re a Christian you’re not going to face any trial, then you need to reread your Bible and reinform yourself, and possibly/probably rethink being a Christian. Because the Bible makes it clear that because you are a Christian- you will be persecuted—meaning- you will have problems (ie: trials and tribulations). (John 16:33) So we must accept that we will have problems, BUT with Christ, we will overcome them. (1 John 5:4-5)
Now, that being said- we’ve all had trials we’ve had to face. Some horrific, some just tedious; ranging from losing a child, to losing your car keys. Why does God allow these things to happen; or even give them to you? There are multiple reasons He puts these into our lives. One of the biggest, realest reasons is to grow His relationship with you, and in essence grow you in Him. Think about it- when you hit rock bottom, what do you do? You lean on Him. You look to the only place you can—up. You pray; you seek Him; you end up relying on Him, because quite frankly, you have nothing else to lose. And when you finally reach out to Him in your trial, He grasps for your right hand. (Isaiah 41:13) When you have nothing but God, you finally realize that God is all you need. And that’s when things finally start looking up.

Not only should you expect trials, but you should ‘ask’ for them (Luke 9:23-24) and be grateful when they come. (Ephesians 5:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, James 1:2) Seems pretty ridiculous doesn’t it? Almost masochistic. Except, when you recall that Jesus died a horrific death; took the blame for our sins as an innocent man; then it seems honorable and heroic. As a Christian, we should hope to be faced with such persecution to honor our God and Savior. I am absolutely not saying that we should hope to be killed for our religion; I am saying that how we handle our persecution is the hope we have to honor Him. God doesn’t want us to suffer; but He draws us closer when we do. (Psalm 34:18) And isn’t that worth the pain? He’s not saying that He wants you to be grateful and enjoy the pain—He’s saying you should thank Him for whatever this trial is about to show you; because it will show you something. It will show you a sin you’re fighting, but accepting. It will show you where you’re failing at His service. But above all, it will show you His love. The love He has for you that sent His Son to die on a tree. The love He wants from you in return. When thinking of Jesus on the cross, is it really so hard to accept that your ‘mini’ trial is nothing in comparison?

a sign


I admit it, when it comes to messages from God, I'm a billboard kind of gal.  I want God to throw up a BIG ol' sign with step by step directions and a map that shows the final destination as well as all the roads to avoid.  I want rays of light to shine on that billboard as the rest of the world fades to black so that I can't miss it... even if I tried.  Problem is, God seldom works that way.

That isn't to say that He isn't delivering messages to me (or you for that matter), He just doesn't tend to be that showy.  He's been there done that and wrote a book about it.  Sure, He parted the Red Sea, spoke through a burning bush, and even walked around in a superheated furnace and kept 3 guys from being incinerated at the same time and many other BIG displays of His power and might.  And He could definitely do it today if it suited His needs.  But God's plan doesn't include show, it is all about the heart.

God is looking for followers that take the time to get to know Him.  It's kind of like dating (hang with me for a minute).  In a new relationship you get to the person.  You go out of your way to discover what they like and don't like, what makes them happy, and what doesn't.  You pay attention to the little details and make adjustments in your own life to accommodate them.  The relationship deepens and becomes more intimate as you spend more time with them.  You seek them out, think about them when you are apart, you miss them and can't wait to be reunited.  You begin to understand who they really are.  You don't have to ask what they want to do with you for the most part-you already know.  THAT is what God is after with you!

He has already given you all the clues.  What other relationship can you begin where you are given a book that gives you the inside scoop?  But how many of us pick up our Bible on a daily basis and take the time to really learn His character?  That is the first way God sends us messages.  It's a big ol' love note that we let sit on the coffee table and gather dust.  Is it any wonder we don't often get the billboard?

I want to challenge you to get a notebook and a pen before you sit down with your Bible.  Pray and ask God to reveal a part of Himself to you in your reading.  If you ask, He'll show you - I promise! (Deuteronomy 4:29)  And when He does, write it down.  It's your special journal between the two of you. The more you look to discover who He is and what pleases Him, the less time you will spend looking for billboards.  Why? Because you will recognize that He is all around you leaving love notes.  He is in the beautiful sunrise, the lone wildflower poking up from the sidewalk on your path, the perfectly timed word of comfort from a friend that didn't even know you needed it.  He has always been there, leaving these signs for you, you just didn't notice.

Where are You, God?


Wrong question. The fact is- God is in the same place as He always is: with you. If you feel like He’s vanished- you’re the one who left. He promised never to leave you nor forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5) If you feel alone—you better start asking yourself where you wandered off to…and why.

God doesn’t leave us (Deuteronomy 31:8) - not even for a quick milli-second. He takes no rest stops on our journey. We do, though. Sometimes, they’re not just rest stops; sometimes we set up camp and move on in. We tend to veer off the path, or stop short when it’s not quite the destination we thought we were heading… But what if instead of asking where God is… we asked Him “Where do you want me?” or “Why do you have me here?” or even “What am I supposed to do here?” You see, God isn’t a god of silence; He just wants you to ask the right questions. When you’re in the middle of ‘nowhere’ and can’t seem to find Him, look around for His existence. Seek Him, and He will show Himself to you. (Jeremiah 29:13)

Everything little thing God does to and for you is for a reason. (Jeremiah 29:11) There’s a purpose to His will. There’s meaning to His Words. (2 Timothy 3:16) He speaks to you because… He loves you. Instead of trying so hard to refute or refuse His offering, make the easy choice to be excited about His gift to you. Because every little thing He gives you is a gift. (Philippians 4:19) Are you willing to take the time to acknowledge, accept and act on that gift? (Philippians 2:13) Or are you going to ignore His presence and continue to wonder where He is?

Focus

 
Are you hearing from God? I can promise you that He’s speaking…if you’re seeking Him…actually listening… So if you’re not hearing from Him…why not? What is standing between you and Him? What of this world have you refused to let go of? Is it that TV program that’s all the talk at the office? (I mean, who cares if it has ‘adult situations and language’, right?) Or maybe it’s the hours you spend on the phone gossiping with friends or even family? (You need someone to vent to, right?) Or your constant social media links and ‘likes’? (It’s the only way you can stay in touch with people so ‘far away’, right?) Or maybe it’s something as ‘harmless’ as being a great ‘soccer mom’, or ‘June Cleaver’, or ‘employee of the month’… Let’s get real for a moment: ANYTHING that takes your focus and your time off of God is a wedge between the two of you. Yes, God wants you to have entertainment (Psalms 68:3), socialize (Ephesians 4:9-12), be a good mom (Proverbs 31:28), wife (Proverbs 31:10) and employee (Ephesians 6:5-9)…but if you’re doing these things for yourself (and even for others) and not for God, then you’re not doing it for the right reasons. (The right reason being growing an intimate relationship with Him) First and foremost, God wants a relationship with us. (John 14:23) It’s because of His love for us that He gives us entertainment, friends, family, etc. They’re blessings from Him. (James 1:17) (Though I will admit that some days I would hardly call my job a blessing, or my husband… but I digress) (John 10:10-11) (Colossians 3:23)
So I ask you again: Why aren’t you hearing from God? What are you allowing to stand between the two of you? If you sit still for a few minutes, and ask God to show you just some of the things that are keeping you apart, He will tell you. (And then you can say you’ve heard from God!) (1 Corinthians 2:1-16)
That’s really the next part of it, too. Not only do you have to clear your heart and mind of the world’s stuff, you have to be still (Psalm 46:10) long enough to hear Him; and you have to be ready to hear Him. Expect Him to speak to you. (Jeremiah 29:13) (Chances are, it won’t be a blatantly obvious neon-flashing billboard screaming to you, but when you do hear Him, it will be evident it is Him, as if He’s yelling from the Heavens…yes, it will be that blatantly obvious)
And the next cool thing? (Because let’s face it, we serve an Awesome God) (Deuteronomy 10:17) Once you get your heart and mind settled off this world, and focused on God, and you begin hearing Him when you seek (like when you call a friend and they answer), but He’ll begin communicating with you when you’re least expecting it; when you’re not seeking something (like when a friend calls you). (John 16:13-15) It’s because when you put your focus where it belongs- on Him- He reciprocates that focus- on you. You are His child. (1 John 3:1) You are His beloved. (Song of Solomon 6:3) He doesn’t just want to be there for you when you need Him. He wants to just be there for you. To love you. He wants to have an intimate relationship with you. (Leviticus 26:12)
WOW!