Are You Even Listening to Me? (Prayer Devotional for the week of September 13, 2015)

Sometimes I feel like a broken record, except that my kids don’t really have a frame of reference for scratched vinyl albums, so the cliché is lost on them. The point, as many parents will agree, is that I feel like my words go in one ear and out the other. I don’t talk just to hear myself speak, for cryin’ out loud!

 

Sometimes I wonder if God feels the same way about us. He communicates with us through his word, the Bible. He also communicates through messengers, like the sermon on Sunday morning, a worship song on the radio, or a godly friend’s counsel. He communicates through prayer and the nudges of the Holy Spirit on our hearts. Case in point: Have you ever heard a particularly poignant sermon that echoed something that had been on your heart for a while, and then a song came on the radio that was spot-on about what you were dealing with? Lo and behold, you open your Bible later and seemingly coincidentally stumble upon a passage that reiterates everything God has been trying to tell you?

 

God is so patient with us; isn’t he? In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul explains that scripture comes from God’s inspiration, and it is not only useful to teach us, but also to redirect us, point out our mistakes, and build character. All of these things, in turn, work together to equip us to do the work that God calls us to do. Think back to when you started your current job: you might have attended an orientation, gone through training, perhaps even had a mentor. You probably weren’t an expert on Day One; it took time to learn the ropes.

 

Our spiritual journey is not much different. We have ample training opportunities through church and studying the Bible. You can build mentorship connections through Life groups. You can gain on-the-job training by serving in a ministry. Even people who have walked with the Lord for decades will admit that they have much to learn, but each day should find us growing closer and closer to the Lord. Check out Philippians 1:6 – God is in the business of finishing projects, and how wonderful for us that he never throws in the towel!

 

Isaiah 55:11 reminds us that God’s word will not return empty-handed; he speaks to be heard, and he communicates with us in order to bring us into a deeper relationship with himself. Are you listening?

 

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.

Palm Sunday: Rusty Nails

We are having a Life group fair and communion service on Sunday night. All of the Life group leaders were asked to bring finger foods to share, and we’ll have tables set up in the back of the church for people to browse the groups and meet each other. Then, we’ll move to our seats and have communion together. I’ve been looking forward to it, and since my ladies’ group meets at Whataburger one (very early) morning a week, we’re serving Whataburgers cut into pizza-wedge slices with toothpicks. It should be a hit! 🙂

The staff and elders are tag-teaming during the communion service, and I was asked to do the intro for the theme “Rusty Nails,” which we’ll play at the end of the service. There will be a bowl of nails as a prop/visual. It’s a lovely song, and it was completely new to me:

 

I thought I would share with you my notes that I’ll be speaking from. It’s pretty short (isn’t supposed to be a sermon), but hopefully it will be meaningful to people:

I can’t tell you how many times I have naively prayed over the years, “Lord, use me.” From summer youth camps to college Bible studies to women’s retreats to Life groups and mission trips, I always had such good intentions. I wanted to minister to people, to help the hurting and save the lost. I guess what I really wanted was for God to use me in feel-good ways that made me feel needed and appreciated.

Jesus did a lot of feel-good things in his ministry, as well: he healed the blind and lame; he played with children; he fed the hungry; he had an audience anywhere he went. And yet, he knew – oh, so much more fully than I ever have! – what it truly meant to let God use him. When he prayed in the garden before his arrest, Jesus begged his Father to spare him from what he was about to have to do, but then, he relented and offered himself for God’s use.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it: sometimes, life is hard. It can be painful, and it often doesn’t make sense. When we offer Jesus his rightful place as Lord of our lives, it means that we have to make sacrifices in our otherwise self-centered lives. Yet, nothing … nothing that he calls us to do or to be or to give up could ever compare to what he has already done for us.

These nails represent the sin – your and my sin – that he willingly, painfully, sacrificially paid for on our behalf. They also represent the freedom that we experience when we give ourselves fully to him and say to him, “Not what I want, but what you want.”