The Great Outdoors (Prayer devotional for the week of June 29, 2014)

What comes to mind when you think of summer? Even as blazing hot as it is, I still think of the great outdoors—especially anything having to do with water. I spent my summers on swim team and love the water! Playing in sprinklers and drinking straight from the hose, swimming in the lake and pool, collecting shells and rocks at the beach, going canoeing at church camp, having water balloon and squirt gun wars … there are so many fun things to do outside.

There is something about being in and around water that is so soothing, so inviting, so relaxing. Watching waves on the beach or listening to nature sounds at the lake seems to slow down time and re-center our perspectives.

And yet, water can also be unsettling … to the Gulf Coast resident bracing for another hurricane … to the adult at the pool party who never learned to swim … to the tent cities in Haiti during the rainy season.

I’ve often heard that even the poorest in America are far richer than the poor in many other places of the world. It is hard to fathom, but let’s try to think about it. I wouldn’t particularly want to bathe in Lake Waco or the Bosque or Brazos Rivers, but any of those options would be better than a sewage-laden, stagnant gutter. If worse came to worst, I could walk into just about any public building around town and take a non-toxic, free drink from the nearest water fountain. When I turn on the faucets in my house, I expect clear water to come pouring out. We may be under drought conditions, but we still have washing machines, dishwashers, sprinklers, bottled water and swimming pools accessible to us. None of us will die of thirst tomorrow.

Yet, some others will.

So, as you head to the lake/pool/river to celebrate during this holiday weekend, let’s turn our hearts to God in thanksgiving for the blessings of our freedom, to be certain, but also his creation. Take time to thank him for “little” things – like indoor plumbing and the fact that we can worship freely in church today – and lift up those who cannot.
Originally posted July 3, 2011

Pain & Promises (Prayer Devotional for the week of January 26, 2014)

Well-meaning people often tell naïve, new mothers-to-be that after the baby is born, you don’t even remember the pain, because you are so joyful. Those people lie. You do remember the pain.

Is the end result worth it? Absolutely; don’t get me wrong. Seeing that baby’s scrunchy little face and hearing that first cry is worth every bottom-lip-biting, cuss-stifling, abs-ripping hour that preceded it. Childbirth is something truly amazing to experience and witness. However, the joy of birth doesn’t mean that the pain never happened. It doesn’t mean that pain won’t still come.

It’s unfortunate that we can send a similarly messed-up message to the world about Christianity as these new moms are hearing about labor & delivery. John 16:33 (NIV) reminds us: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” God doesn’t promise health, wealth and fame. What he does promise – among other awesome guarantees, like his never-ending love and saving grace – is that he’ll never abandon us to deal with life alone (Hebrews 13:5-6).

In our study of Matthew 5 these past few weeks, we’ve seen time and again how those who stay committed to God through hard times are blessed. I think that sometimes when we (or perhaps it’s just me?) are on a high place, spiritually speaking, we tend to conveniently forget the difficulties that led us there. We don’t want to think about encountering any obstacles on the way down the mountain, either. We just want to think about the happy-go-lucky time that we’re having, in the moment. I like the way The Message paraphrases v. 8: “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.”

When we acknowledge the difficult & painful times but continue to trust God during them, then perhaps we’ll be better poised to appreciate the joyful times even more. Labor may feel unending while it is happening, but eventually there is a blessing to be held. Likewise, our trials may feel overwhelming at the time, but God can bring you out of it even stronger on the other side.