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Pray and Watch

By |2024-04-29T02:33:15-04:00April 29th, 2024|

When fighting spiritual battles, believers in Jesus should take prayer seriously. A Florida woman found out how dangerous it can be, however, to practice it unwisely. When she prayed, she closed her eyes. But while driving one day and praying (with eyes shut!), she failed to stop at a stop sign, flew through an intersection and went offroad into a homeowner’s yard. She then tried unsuccessfully to back off the lawn. Though not injured, she was given a police citation for reckless driving and property damage. This prayer warrior missed a key part of Ephesians 6:18: be alert.

As part of the whole armor of God in Ephesians 6, the apostle Paul includes two final pieces. First, we should fight spiritual battles with prayer. This means praying in the Spirit—relying on His power. Also, resting in His guidance and responding to His promptings—praying all kinds of prayers on all occasions (v. 18). Second, Paul encouraged us to “be alert.” Spiritual alertness can aid us in being prepared for Jesus and His return (Mark 13:33), gaining victory over temptation (Mark 14:38), and interceding for other believers (Ephesians 6:18).

As we fight spiritual battles daily, let’s permeate our lives with a “pray and watch” approach—combating evil powers and piercing the darkness with the light of Christ.

“Help My Unbelief!”

By |2024-02-28T09:46:12-05:00February 28th, 2024|

“Where is my faith?—even deep down, right in, there is nothing but emptiness & darkness. . . . If there be God, please forgive me.”

The author of those words might surprise you: Mother Teresa. Beloved and renowned as a tireless servant of the poor in Calcutta, India, Mother Teresa quietly waged a desperate war for her faith over five decades. After her 1997 death, that struggle came to light when portions of her journal were published in the book Come Be My Light.

What do we do with our doubts or feelings of God’s absence? Those moments may plague some believers more than others. But many faithful believers in Jesus may, at some point in their lives, experience moments or seasons of such doubts.

I’m thankful that Scripture has given us a beautiful, paradoxical prayer that expresses both faith and the lack thereof. In Mark 9, Jesus encounters a father whose son has been demonically tormented since childhood (v. 21). When Jesus says that the man must have faith (“Everything is possible for one who believes” v. 23), the man responds, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (v. 24).

This honest, heartfelt plea invites those of us who struggle with doubt to give it to God, trusting that He can fortify our faith and hold on to us firmly amid the deepest, darkest valleys we will ever traverse.  

Sweet Sleep

By |2024-02-26T01:33:15-05:00February 26th, 2024|

Bad memories and accusing messages flooded Sal’s mind. Sleep eluded him as fear filled his heart and sweat covered his skin. It was the night before his baptism, and he couldn’t stop the onslaught of dark thoughts. Sal had received salvation in Jesus and knew that his sins had been forgiven, but the spiritual battle continued. It’s then that his wife took his hand and prayed for him. Moments later, peace replaced the fear in Sal’s heart. He got up and wrote the words he would share prior to being baptized—something he hadn’t been able to do. After that, he experienced sweet sleep.

King David also knew what a restless night felt like. Fleeing from his son Absalom who wanted to steal his throne (2 Samuel 15:1–17:29), he knew that “tens of thousands [assailed him] on every side” (Psalm 3:6). David moaned, “How many are my foes!” (v. 1). Though fear and doubt could have won out, he called out to God, his “shield” (v. 3). Later, he found that he could “lie down and sleep . . . because the Lord sustains [him]” (v. 5).

When fears and struggles grip our mind and rest is replaced by restlessness, hope is found as we pray to God. While we might not experience immediate sweet sleep as Sal and David did, in “peace [we can] lie down and . . . dwell in safety” (4:8). For God is with us and He’ll be our rest.

God’s Wise Purposes

By |2024-02-20T01:33:16-05:00February 20th, 2024|

The United Kingdom brims with history. Everywhere you go, you see plaques honoring historic figures or commemorating sites where important events occurred. But one such sign exemplifies the droll British sense of humor. On a weathered plaque outside a bed and breakfast in Sandwich, England, a message reads, “On this site, Sept. 5, 1782 nothing happened.”  

Sometimes it seems to us that nothing is happening regarding our prayers. We pray and pray, bringing our petitions to our Father with expectation that He will respond—right now. The psalmist David expressed such frustration when he prayed, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). We can easily echo those same thoughts: How long, Lord, before you respond?  

However, our God is not only perfect in His wisdom but also in His timing. David was able to say, “I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (v. 5). Ecclesiastes 3:11 reminds us, “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time.” The word beautiful means “appropriate” or “a source of delight.” God may not always respond to our prayers when we’d like Him to, but He is always working out His wise purposes. We can take heart that when He does answer, it will be right and good and beautiful.

Prompted to Pray

By |2024-02-19T01:33:09-05:00February 19th, 2024|

A co-worker once told me that her prayer life had improved because of our manager. I was impressed, thinking that our difficult leader had shared some spiritual nuggets with her and influenced her prayer life. I was wrong—sort of. My co-worker and friend went on to explain: “Every time I see him coming, I start praying.” Her prayer life had improved because she prayed more before each conversation with him. She knew she needed God’s help in her challenging work relationship with her manager and she called out to Him more because of it.

My co-worker’s practice of praying during tough times and interactions is something I’ve adopted. It’s also a biblical practice found in 1 Thessalonians when Paul reminds the believers in Jesus to “pray continually . . . give thanks in all circumstances” (5:17–18). No matter what we face, prayer is always the best practice. It keeps us connected with God and invites His Spirit to direct us (Galatians 5:16) rather than having us rely on our human inclinations. This helps us “live in peace with each other” (1 Thessalonians 5:13) even when we face conflicts.

As God helps us, we can rejoice in Him, pray about everything, and give thanks often. And those things will help us live in even greater harmony with our brothers and sisters in Jesus.

Love through Prayer

By |2023-11-10T01:33:29-05:00November 10th, 2023|

For years, John had been somewhat of an irritant at church. He was bad-tempered, demanding, and often rude. He complained constantly about not being “served” well, and about volunteers and staff not doing their job. He was, honestly, hard to love.

So when I heard that he’d been diagnosed with cancer, I found it difficult to pray for him. Memories of his harsh words and unpleasant character filled my mind. But remembering Jesus’ call to love, I was drawn to say a simple prayer for John each day. A few days later, I found myself beginning to think a bit less often about his unlikeable qualities. He must be really hurting, I thought. Perhaps he’s feeling really lost now.

Prayer, I realize, opens ourselves, our feelings, and our relationships with others to God, allowing Him to enter and bring His perspective into it all. The act of submitting our will and feelings to Him in prayer allows the Holy Spirit to change our hearts, slowly but surely. No wonder Jesus’ call to love our enemies is bound up tightly with a call to prayer: “Pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28).

I have to admit, I still struggle to think well of John. But with the Spirit’s help, I’m learning to see him through God’s eyes and heart—as a person to be forgiven and loved.

 

First on the List

By |2023-10-19T02:33:07-04:00October 19th, 2023|

The morning commenced like a track meet. I practically jumped out of bed, launching into the teeth of the day’s deadlines. Get the kids to school. Check. Get to work. Check. I blasted full throttle into writing my “To Do” list, in which personal and professional tasks tumbled together in an avalanche-like litany:

“ . . . 13. Edit article. 14. Clean office. 15. Strategic team planning. 16. Write tech blog. 17. Clean basement. 18. Pray.”

By the time I got to number eighteen, I’d remembered that I needed God’s help. But I’d gotten that far before it even occurred to me that I was going at it alone, trying to manufacture my own momentum.

Jesus knew. He knew our days would crash one into another, a sea of ceaseless urgency. So He instructs, “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

It’s natural to hear Jesus’ words as a command. And they are. But there’s more here—an invitation. In Matthew 6, Jesus invites us to exchange the world’s frantic anxiety (vv. 25–32) for a life of trust, day by day. God, by His grace, helps us all of our days—even when we get to number eighteen on our list before we remember to see life from His perspective.

How can we turn to God first each day? On stressful days, what helps you trust Jesus with things demanding your immediate attention?

Quiet, Please

By |2023-07-29T02:33:20-04:00July 29th, 2023|

Green Bank, West Virginia, is a tiny community in the rugged US Appalachian Mountains of the USA. The town resembles dozens of other small towns in the area—with one major exception. None of the 142 residents have access to the internet. This total disconnect isn’t a technology boycott or a desire to get back to a simpler lifestyle. The absence of Wi-Fi access or cellular phone towers is because of the Green Bank Observatory, whose telescope is constantly trained on the sky. To prevent interference with the leading-edge technology of the observatory, local officials do not allow citizens to use high-tech communication devices. As a result, Green Bank is one of the most technologically quiet places in North America.

Sometimes quiet is the best environment for moving forward—especially in our relationship with God. Jesus Himself modeled this by retreating to quiet, secluded places to talk with His Father. In Luke 5:16 we read, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Perhaps the key word there is often. This was Christ’s regular practice, and it sets the perfect example for us. If the Creator of the universe was this aware of His dependence upon His Father, how much more do we need Him!

Retreating to a quiet place to be refreshed in God’s presence equips us to go forward in His renewing strength. Where can you find such a place today?

Remember in Prayer

By |2023-07-23T02:33:27-04:00July 23rd, 2023|

Malcolm Cloutt was named a 2021 Maundy Money honoree by Queen Elizabeth II, an annual service award given to British men and women. Cloutt, who was one hundred years old at the time of the recognition, was honored for having given out one thousand Bibles during his lifetime. Cloutt has kept a record of everyone who’s received a Bible and prays for them regularly.

Cloutt’s faithfulness in prayer is a powerful example of the kind of love we find throughout Paul’s writings in the New Testament. Paul often assured the recipients of his letters that he was regularly praying for them. To his friend Philemon he wrote, “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers” (Philemon 1:4). In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers” (2 Timothy 1:3). To the church in Rome, Paul emphasized that he remembered them in prayer “constantly” and “at all times” (Romans 1:9–10).

While we might not have a thousand people to pray for like Malcolm, intentional prayer for those we know is powerful because God responds to our prayers. When prompted and empowered by His Spirit to pray for a specific individual, I’ve found a simple prayer calendar can be a useful tool. Dividing names into a daily or weekly calendar helps me be faithful to pray. What a beautiful demonstration of love when we remember others in prayer.

Room for Silence

By |2023-07-21T02:33:16-04:00July 21st, 2023|

If you like peace and quiet, there’s a room in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that you’ll love. It absorbs 99.99 percent of all sound! The world-famous anechoic (echo-free) chamber of the Orfield Laboratories has been called the “quietest place on earth.” People who want to experience this soundless space are required to sit down to avoid getting disoriented by the lack of noise, and no one has ever been able to spend more than forty-five minutes in the room.

Few of us need that much silence. Yet we do sometimes long for a little quiet in a loud and busy world. Even the news we watch and the social media we ingest bring a kind of clamorous “noise” that competes for our attention. So much of it is infused with words and images that stir up negative emotions. Immersing ourselves in it can easily drown out the voice of God.

When the prophet Elijah went to meet God on the mountain of Horeb, he didn’t find Him in the loud, destructive wind or in the earthquake or in the fire (1 Kings 19:11–12). It wasn’t until Elijah heard a “gentle whisper” that he covered his face and ventured out of the cave to meet with “the Lord God Almighty” (vv. 12–14).

Your spirit may well be craving quiet but—even more so—it may be yearning to hear the voice of God. Find room for silence in your life so you’ll never miss God’s “gentle whisper” (v. 12).

 

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