Thankful in All Things (Prayer Devotional for the week of November 23, 2014)

Something really terrific happened the other day: I found out that my boss recommended me for a raise! Unfortunately, the same day that I learned of the pay increase, my transmission fried. Literally, the fluid smelled smoky and was not the usual pinkish tint. I had noticed that it seemed to be straining a bit, but since I live in the mountains now, I thought it might just be the drastic weather changes, altitude, or whatever. Long story short, the transmission has to be rebuilt.


So, I ask you this: For what should I give thanks?


I’m certainly grateful for the pay raise; that will be a huge help with everyday expenses. I’m thankful that my boss went to bat for me, and I appreciate feeling like a valuable part of the team.


But what about the car? Sure, it’s going to cost a lot of money for the repair, but there are still plenty of things to be thankful for. First and foremost, I’m thankful that I finished paying it off just a couple of months ago, so I don’t have a car note anymore. I’m thankful that on the morning it died, I was able to make it into the parking lot at work. I remember sitting at a red light on the edge of campus praying that it would make it to the lot – and it did!


I’m thankful that although we haven’t gotten to know a whole lot of people here very well yet, one of the new friends from church who I called to see if they had a referral for a mechanic turned out to actually be a mechanic! Who knew?!? (God did!) He took time out of his work day to meet me on campus and make sure my car made it to a reputable transmission repair shop that he trusted.


I think this type of finding-reasons-to-be-thankful is part of what Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 9. The chapter is primarily about giving and financial supporting ministry, but it goes deeper than just writing a check to the church. It’s about having a spirit of thanksgiving for all of our blessings. When we’re thankful for what we have, we are more inclined to give back. What good would it do to kick the tires and shake my fist at the heavens? Instead, when we find ways to be thankful in the midst of our circumstances, it brings honor to God, who is the giver of all good things. (James 1:17)

Discussing Dark Things (Prayer Devotional for the week of August 17, 2014)

Our Lord is an awesome, miracle-working God who loves, heals, saves, and provides for us, yet I also believe that he entrusts us with imagination and knowledge to develop and invent things to make our lives better. Thanks to modern medicine, for example, I feel pretty confident that I can take ibuprofen when I have a headache, and it will go away. Most Christians would not criticize my faith for taking a couple of over-the-counter pills to alleviate minor aches and pains.


Of course, we still pray for healing – and we’ve witnessed God do remarkable things! – yet, cancer patients still go through chemotherapy treatment. We ask God for provision, yet we still take insulin, blood pressure medication, multivitamins, etc. to keep our bodies regulated properly. Why then, when we have access to pastoral and professional counseling, not to mention a wide array of medications, do we often brush off diseases of the heart … or, to call a spade a spade: mental illnesses? Why do we only really talk about dark things when a celebrity dies, yet people all around us are suffering every day from the same problems?


If you want to read about a guy who had a lot to cope with in his adult life, check out 2 Corinthians. In chapter 11:23-27, we learn that Paul was flogged with 39 lashes (the max was 40) on FIVE separate occasions. Can you imagine the rumpled scars on his poor back? And that’s only part of the story: in the first chapter of his letter, Paul explained that things had gotten so bad on one of his journeys that he felt like he’d been sentenced to death row and didn’t even know if he’d make it home alive.


Paul didn’t have the advantage of modern medicine to help manage any anxiety or depression that he may have suffered from, but one thing he tried to do was to surround himself with supportive, godly people. Repeatedly in his letters that we read in the New Testament, Paul recognized various individuals and expressed his appreciation for them or asked others to pass messages of encouragement along to them.


Depression is a monstrous liar, and I can’t pretend to understand it any more so than a naturally skinny person can understand what it’s like to live in my body. We think we know how to “fix” each other, but we don’t truly know what it is like to live in another’s skin. All we can do is support each other. I would submit that it is much more difficult to drown out the lies when you are alone than when you are immersed within a caring community. If you are dealing with issues of the heart, talk to a pastor or life group leader, and let them know what you are suffering. Don’t go it alone; people do want to help.

The Trap of the Here & Now (Prayer Devotional for the week of May 4, 2014)

For what felt like the umpteenth time this year as I bid him goodnight and sent him to bed, he asked, “Are you going to come pat my back?” I sighed and said, “Yes, honey, I always do. I’ll be there in a sec.” Our bedtime routine is just that – a routine. It is very seldom that I don’t go room to room to pat boys’ backs, tuck sheets around them, kiss their faces (then get the kisses wiped off, then kiss them again), and leave doors cracked just-so to keep nighttime fears away. In that moment, though, it was as if I had just walked into the room and overheard myself with fresh awareness. My spirit said: These days won’t last forever. You are just tired and feel like you have repeated yourself a million times today. Of course you will be there. He needs you. And then I thought to myself: Doesn’t he trust me by now? Why does he doubt? Why does he always ask me to come, when he knows that I always do? And my spirit said again: Sooner than you’d like, he’ll quit asking. I had fallen into the trap of the here & now, without even realizing it. Tired and frustrated, I was wishing away precious days. Precious days when he still needs me and believes that I have the power to fix his troubles. Precious days when I still have some say in what he does and where he goes. Precious days that I cannot ever reclaim. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (MSG) reminds us to avoid the trap of the here & now: “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.” These frustrations are small potatoes, y’all. On those days when someone has pushed every, single, cotton-picking button and you are about to blow a fuse … it’s small potatoes. On those days when you feel like nothing you do matters because no one apparently notices or cares … it’s small potatoes. God knows. God cares. You have eternal purpose, and you matter.

Blurry Vision (Prayer Devotional for the week of February 16, 2014)

If you don’t wear glasses, then you may not fully appreciate this example, but I’ll try to explain it. For a reference point, 20/20 means that you can see objects clearly from 20 feet away; this is normal. My uncorrected vision is between 20/800 and 20/900, which means objects that are clear to most people are as blurry to me as if they were almost three football fields away.

To put yourself in my shoes, it’s kind of like snapping a picture on your smartphone and editing it with the “soften” feature on max. The edges become hazy, details fade away, and even colors can blend together. Lacking clear vision throws everything out of whack.

I can relate to the imagery in verses like 2 Corinthians 5:7 (“We live by believing, not by seeing”), because I know first-hand what it’s like to not be able to see well. There are very few places I will venture without my glasses – namely, from my bedroom to the bathroom at night in the dark, since my glasses wouldn’t help then, anyway. I trust that I know the way, because it’s my home and I’ve lived there for years. During my day-to-day life, though, I rely on my glasses, because I need them to function. Without my sight, I would be severely hindered.

Case in point, I absolutely loathe team-building exercises that require you to close your eyes and fall backward (supposedly into the arms of your peers who will catch you) or do other sensory tricks. I prefer to stand on my own two feet and take in my surroundings with my own two eyes. (And, quite frankly, I don’t trust someone who is 120 lbs soaking wet to be strong enough to break my fall!)

And yet, God asks, “Do you trust me?” I know that he’ll catch me, but knowing it and putting it into action are two different things. How tempting it is to rely on my sight when I ought to rely on God … not my eyesight, but sight in the sense that *I* know better than him. Sometimes God’s vision for us is very clear, but at other times, pursuing him means being willing to take a step of faith, because it forces us to trust his guidance. As 1 Corinthians 13:12 reminds us: “Now we see only a dim likeness of things. It is as if we were seeing them in a mirror. But someday we will see clearly. We will see face to face. What I know now is not complete. But someday I will know completely, just as God knows me completely.” Will you trust his vision?

Becoming Transformed (Prayer Devotional for the week of February 9, 2014)

Art appreciation has never been my strong suit, but one of my favorite pieces is a mixed media sculpture called “Born Again” by artist Dean Kermit Allison. The design features a man looking skyward with his back slightly arched and his hands clasped in front of him, as if he’s exerting himself to stay upright. From the waist down to the ground, he is covered in bronze that is peeling off in large patches. His exposed upper body looks like crystal, which provides a stark contrast in light and texture. I have only ever seen a photo of the sculpture, but it still moves me.

The bronze is harsh, rough, and jagged, like sin that has encased us and held us captive. And yet, the crystal-clear beauty of a transformed life is bursting out of the ugliness. Wow. Think for a moment … really let it sink in … about that imagery of what Jesus has done for us.

When we participate in the symbolism of baptism, it is a representation of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection; as though our sin is being washed away like water washes your body. We can scrub ourselves raw in the shower and yet never cleanse what lies beneath the skin. God, on the other hand, sees through your tough exterior; he knows what hides beneath.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIRV) says, “Anyone who believes in Christ is a new creation. The old is gone! The new has come!” Certainly, through his death and resurrection, Jesus has secured salvation for those who believe in him, but that’s not the only thing. Our salvation doesn’t begin the moment we die. It happens right now!

Transformation is a process, but God sees your potential. In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, we are reminded that there is newfound freedom in Christ, and we become more like him as we allow God to change us. Peeling off layer after layer of sin is not usually an easy or painless process, but like the statue I described above, the end result is glorious.