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?

 

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Victory is the Lord’s (Prayer Devotional for the week of August 23, 2015)

We sang a song at church recently with the line, “Every victory is Yours.” It was a proclamation of praise to God for reigning victorious over the enemy, which usually brings imagery to my mind of how the Lord conquered death through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection. Verses like 1 Corinthians 15:57 remind us of his victory over sin and death.

 

This particular day, however, I was distracted by some frustrations that I was having with the kids. A couple of them had gotten into trouble in Sunday School for arguing with each other, which had turned into a shoving match, and then one of them made a mess and didn’t bother to clean it up. I was embarrassed, quite frankly. I just wanted one weekend where we could go to church and I didn’t have to worry about how anyone behaved. I feel like every time one of the kids causes trouble, it’s a reflection on me as a parent. Sometimes I just want to melt into the background and not have negative attention drawn to me.

 

As I sang that song, this prayer-thought occurred to me: “If every victory is Yours, then why do I feel like every setback is my personal failure?”

 

Proverbs 21:31 says that we can prepare ourselves for war, but the verse quickly points to the Lord as the source of battlefield victories. In this situation, I think it means that I should certainly train and discipline my children to be respectful and behave well (prepare them for battle against worldly influences), but when they make poor choices, I shouldn’t automatically take it personally. (That’s a lot easier said than done; is it not?!?)

 

I referenced a verse above from 1 Corinthians 15; the following verse (58) goes on to say, “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (NLT). We face battles every day, and we won’t win all of them. The enemy wants to tear you down, humiliate you and incapacitate you, but don’t quit the fight. Stand firm in the knowledge that we serve a mighty, awesome God, and he is the ultimate victor!

The Hardest Job (Prayer Devotional for the week of May 10, 2015)

My first job (not including babysitting) was working the cash register at a drycleaner. I remember a customer got upset because his jeans were only extra-starched, but not stiff enough to double as drum skins. It was laughable, but that wasn’t the hardest job, by any means. Several years later, I worked as a newspaper reporter, and I once got chewed out by my editor. That job got on my nerves, but even it wasn’t the hardest job.

 

Then, there was the time I had to eat scorpion and dog meat (not in the same meal) at my teaching job in China, or else risk offending the host. That was a little freaky, but certainly not the hardest job I’ve had. There was also the job where a bunch of people got fired, and I eventually left for a much lower paying position just to save my skin (and my sanity). That job took a toll on my emotional health, but even it wasn’t the hardest.

 

For me, the hardest job is parenting. I used to think it was tough when the kids were little and needed constant care and attention, but sometimes it feels even more difficult now that they’re older and can voice their feelings and opinions. I can think of few things more humbling than having a person whose poop you’ve wiped and whose puke you’ve caught with your own shirt tell you that they don’t want you as a parent, or that you’re “so mean” to them, or that you “never” do anything nice for them.

 

Yes, parenting is certainly one of the most delayed-reward jobs on the planet. There are verses like Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20 that we can encourage our children to memorize and put into practice, but Proverbs 22:6 is the epitome of all parenting verses, as it gives us hope that one of these days, we’ll eventually see the fruit from our labors.

 

Some of you are still in the diapering days; others are already enjoying grandparenthood. Some are not parents, but you still have influence over the children in your life. May we be examples for them to emulate our love and respect for God, so that they will take it to heart and … excuse me, I have to go … someone was apparently playing catch with a rock in the backyard and caught it with his face. Sigh.

How long, O Lord? (Prayer Devotional for the week of December 14, 2014)

At least 15 times in the book of Psalms, the author asks a prayer along the lines of, “How long, O Lord?” Sometimes, the psalmist is referring to rescue from his enemies, but other times, he is crying out for God’s attention in his own life – for forgiveness and mercy.   If I’m completely honest, I have prayed numerous “How long, O Lord?” prayers in the years since my two nephew-sons joined my household: How long will their grief manifest in anger? How long until they can understand and manage their emotions in a healthy way? How long will it take for their own tragedies to become tools that will equip them to minister to others? How long until it feels like I’ve done the right things for them as a parent? Those aren’t rote prayers that I recite, but the questions have been on my heart for a long while.   Well, I learned this week that one of them was asked to be desk buddies with a new kid in his class. The new boy had a traumatic situation in utero and suffers from physical and cognitive challenges. He’s in a mainstream class but needs extra help. My son came home positively bubbling over and raving about how excited he was to be asked to help. As I listened to him share and sensed his compassion and kindness toward his new friend, it felt like those prayers that I’ve lifted up for years were coming to fruition.   In the psalms mentioned previously, the author tends to conclude with an account of God’s goodness. In Psalm 35, David writes, “My tongue will proclaim your righteousness, your praises all day long” (NIV). The author of Psalm 79 declares, “Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise” (NIV). Psalm 94 declares, “But the Lord has become my fortress and my God the rock in whom I take refuge” (NIV). After crying out to the Lord for who knows how long about enduring certain trials, the writer remembered to go back to the source with praise.   Each of us has a different faith-journey, and the challenges in my life will look different from the trials in your life. Yet, one thing remains constant: We serve a great and mighty God, and he will never leave you stranded (Deuteronomy 31:6, Matthew 28:20). I also believe that he’s got a big enough lap for his children (that’s you & me!) to climb into his arms and cry out, “How long, O Lord?” when life feels like it is beating us up. I am confident that he can handle our tough questions, but we need to be like the psalmist and lavish him with praise when we witness the answers to those prayers.

[Single] Parents Night

Our church youth leaders hosted a Parents Night event tonight, which was partly a meeting to discuss upcoming activities and partly getting-to-know-each-other time. We split into two smaller groups for Q&A, and I was the only single parent in attendance, which made me the odd man out. It wasn’t as terribly awkward as it could have been, but I still felt a little self-conscious. I knew one of the couples in my group already, which helped me loosen up. Some of the questions were silly, and others were more serious and/or spiritual. It was nice to get to know some other parents and youth leaders better, which was the point of the activity.

I’m really glad I went, but the whole day has brought my single-parent status to the front of my mind, as if it’s tattooed across my forehead.

A dear friend was going through a really tough situation earlier today, and as we talked about it over the phone, she made the comment that I’m stronger than her because I’m independent. (Those weren’t her exact words, but I think it captures the gist of what she said.) I appreciate where she’s coming from, and I realize she meant it as a compliment, but sometimes I think it must be more difficult to be dependent on someone. I don’t really know what that’s like, beyond my growing-up years at home.

I read in the Bible and hear pastors teach about biblical roles in a marriage, and I don’t disagree with the concept, but I have seldom witnessed it firsthand. (That’s not to say that I have no godly marriage examples in my life, but I’m talking about a situation similar to my own, where the wife works outside the home and there are more than a couple of kids in the house.) Truly, I would like to not have to make all of the decisions and pay all of the bills, in addition to other daily chores like cooking, cleaning, sorting mail, grocery shopping, driving kids hither & yon, and household repairs. It’s just that I’ve had to do those things for so long (yes, for the most part, even during my marriage) that I’m not sure what it would be like to have someone to share the load. On the other hand, I want my ideas, opinions, and intellect to be valued in the decision-making process, as well. Being submissive doesn’t mean (or shouldn’t mean, that is) being bossed around.

For example, I heard a preacher on the radio this week who, I suppose, thought he was being funny as he talked about husbands and wives, and he made the comment, “Thank you, ladies, for cleaning up after us.” I thought to myself, “Are you kidding me? Clean up after yourself!” It is not ok for my kids to leave plates & cups sitting on the dining room table. The older three have rotating chores that include loading & unloading the dishwasher. The younger two take turns wiping the table and sweeping the dining room & kitchen floor. Are they still messy? Of course — they’re kids — and I bark at them 24/7, it seems, to pick up after themselves. My house is far from pristine, and I have bad habits that I need to adjust, as well. But to pick up dirty dishes left by a grown man too lazy to take them to the sink?!? I don’t think so.

I don’t recall anywhere in the Bible where it says that a woman should clean up after a man. Some people may think that perhaps I’m too independent for my own good, but if that’s their interpretation of biblical submission, then I may as well stay single forever.