Impending Death … and Hope (Prayer Devotional for the week of March 15, 2015)

I received some devastating news this week about an old mentor and kind friend. As things stand now, it looks like she has advanced pancreatic cancer that has spread to her liver. I am terribly sad, and yet I feel a strong sense of peace for her. She loves the Lord, she adores her family, and she cares about her fellow man. She is passionate about justice, and not just the kind that penalizes criminals for wrongdoings, but the kind that rights the wrongs in the world. She is an advocate, a brilliant thinker, and a confidante.

 

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but unless Jesus returns to take us home before then, there is a 100% chance that you will die. How does that make you feel? Does the notion of dying fill you with dread or joy? Like it or not, as James 4:14 and Psalm 103:15-16 point out, our lives are like a mist puffed into the air or a dandelion blowing in the wind – only temporary.

 

While imprisoned for the gospel, Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He had a very matter-of-fact view about death: if he lived, then he had more opportunity to serve the Lord. If he died, then he got to be with Jesus. Win-win!

 

For a long while after my brother died, I had peculiar feelings that could only be described as jealousy. I hesitated to share it, because I didn’t want anyone mistakenly thinking that I was suicidal. It’s just that the more I thought about him being in the very presence of God in heaven, it felt like I got the short end of the stick. I/we were left behind to grieve and cope, to continue living in this broken world of sin and despair and problems, while he was free from such entanglements. How I long to be with Christ!

 

Easter is just around the corner, and it is my absolute favorite holiday. Sure, I love the festivities of Christmas, and I enjoy the spirit of Thanksgiving, but wow – Easter! Easter is a reminder that this world is not our home (Philippians 3:20). Easter is about the resurrection, newness, eternal life, victory, and HOPE.

 

It is with this everlasting hope in my heart that I can say to my sweet friend: Go in peace. Go to Jesus, relish in his presence, and enjoy the reward for your labors. I will always cherish having the opportunity to know you and call you my friend.

When you need an ugly cry (Prayer Devotional for the week of January 19, 2014)

Have you ever experienced an ugly cry? I don’t mean the kind of crying you do because you hit your thumb with a hammer or the dog ate your favorite shoes. I’m talking about the raw, vulnerable kind that leaves your ribs aching because even after the tears stop flowing, your lungs keep heaving. The kind of weeping that makes your nose runny and your eyes puffy.

It ain’t pretty, but sometimes it’s necessary.

Sometimes, the way to begin healing the broken pieces is to acknowledge the ugliness. I find it interesting how, in Matthew 5, Jesus’ blessing to those who are humble comes right after his blessing to those who mourn (verses 4-5). There is a sense of humility when you experience loss. Life keeps marching on, while a piece of your heart is left behind, buried. That’s humbling. When we come face-to-face with the reality that we are incapable of controlling the world around us, it’s humbling.

The good news, friends, is that when those wretched moments hit, God doesn’t want to leave us in a state of despair. Jesus said that he would comfort us when we mourn. I like the way The Message goes on to explain in v. 5 about being humble: “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”

I know what it’s like when the very air around you feels suffocating, and hope seems to have wandered far away. Yet, I also know what God’s inexplicable peace feels like, and I encourage you to not lose sight of hope. Trust and rest in his promises.

Miracle Mercy (Prayer Devotional for the week of December 1, 2013)

It’s no wonder why the holiday season is such a difficult time for those who grieve. Part of it probably relates to the weather: it’s often dreary, cold and dark, and seasonal affective disorder is a real thing. Perhaps a bigger issue, though, is that we’re “supposed” to spend time with loved ones around the holidays, so when they aren’t there, the loss is palpable.

I don’t need a TARDIS or DeLorean to transport me back to that night of racing down the highway nearly five years ago, trying to get to the hospital. The too-familiar fear and restlessness are just under the surface, and when the memories hit me unexpectedly, I catch myself at times staring at nothing, while scenes from that night flash through my mind’s eye like a horror movie that won’t end. He’s supposed to be here, sneaking bites of cornbread dressing before our big family dinner and then arm-wrestling me for the last slice of coconut meringue pie.

But he isn’t. And life goes on. It’s times like this when giving thanks is a deliberate choice, because wallowing in self-pity is a pointless endeavor. When you don’t particularly feel grateful for your lot in life, you have to take initiative to find things for which to be thankful. It’s easy to get bogged down in how we feel and forget that God is still on his throne; he’s still the Lord of the universe. And he still cares for you and me more than we can ever comprehend.

In Psalm 107:2a, the author says to “let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story” (NIV). The poem goes on to describe many of the ways that God intervened in the lives of his people, rescuing and providing for them, even when they rebelled against him. Four different times, the poem says, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (NIV). In another translation, that same passage reads: “So thank God for his marvelous love, for his miracle mercy to the children he loves” (MSG).

Miracle mercy, indeed! Friends, I don’t know what you are going through this holiday season. I hope that you are bubbling over with joy, but in case you are struggling (like I sometimes do), I urge you to make a purposeful effort to thank God for his miracle mercy in your life. Don’t focus only on the hard times; turn your attention to God’s goodness and let his peace soothe your heart.