Gifts are for Using (Prayer Devotional for the week of November 8, 2015)

My little brother and I fell in love with a pair of soft & cuddly plush puppets at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo one year when we were young. They were puppies, and if you held them in the crook of your arm, it looked realistic (in our imaginations, that is!). I liked the brown one, and he wanted the black one. Our parents surprised us with the pups as a gift, and we played make-believe games with those puppets for years. I still have mine to this day.

 

Think about some of the favorite gifts you have received in your life. The gifts that come to my mind are things that I wore, used, consumed, or played with. I can’t think of any gift that I ever left in its wrapping paper, unopened. The simple act of accepting a gift involves action.

 

The Bible says that God has equipped each of us, as believers in Christ, with spiritual gifts (see Ephesians 4:7, Romans 12:6a, 1 Peter 4:10). These aren’t just things to keep tucked away for a rainy day; we should be putting them into practice. 1 Corinthians 12:7 (NLT) says, “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.” Some gifts are to be used within the church, while others are for sharing with unbelievers, as well. None of the gifts are just for our own enjoyment, and none are intended to be hidden away.

 

Later in that same chapter, Paul uses the human body as an example of how our gifts are supposed to work in tandem with each other. It wouldn’t do much good if all of us were eyeballs, would it? We often talk in church-ese about being “the hands and feet of Jesus,” but if no one serves in a behind-the-scenes role as the brain or heart, then the hands and feet can’t get very far.

 

If you have never taken a spiritual gifts inventory, then it’s a useful (and perhaps revealing!) exercise. Confession: I used to feel put out that I always score high in Administration, because that sounded awfully dull. But then, God opened doors of opportunity for me to lead and serve in different capacities that were a good fit for me, and I was able to use my gifts in ways I hadn’t realized before. I encourage you to be open to however the Lord has equipped you, and give back to him by way of service to your church family and community.

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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?

 

How long, O Lord? (Prayer Devotional for the week of September 6, 2015)

As I was getting close to finishing grad school, I remember the idea of writing my dissertation being very daunting. How do you just sit down and write 100+ pages? One of the best pieces of advice that I received during that time was: You don’t. You write a chapter, or a section of a chapter, or sometimes just a paragraph. You divvy up the project into bite-sized chunks to make it more manageable.

 

Sometimes, though, I would write and write and write, then look at my page count and realize it had barely budged. I would strum my fingers on the keyboard and ask myself, “How much longer will this take? How will I ever finish? I have so many people rooting for me; what if I fail?” Looking back in hindsight, of course, I’d like to tell that worrywart that she’s going to rock her dissertation; she’s going to graduate on schedule; and, she’ll even get a job offer of her dreams before it’s all said & done. 🙂

 

We’re only human, and it can be difficult to look beyond our current challenges and see the big picture in the future. If it makes us feel any better, we aren’t alone in our fretting. At least eight times in the book of Psalms (depending on the translation), the writer cried out, “How long?” to the Lord. King David would often beg God through poetry and song to spare his life when he was being pursued by his enemies, or forgive him when he felt God’s wrath hot on his neck for his sins. As I read the Psalms, I picture David cowering in a secret cave, scribbling his prayers by a campfire.

 

Do you realize that the same God who answered David’s prayers also listens to ours?

 

Is there something you are dealing with right now that you keep wondering how long until it is resolved? Don’t hesitate to take your concerns to the Lord, but don’t just dump them in prayer and then walk away. Spend time quietly listening for God to impress upon your heart what he might want you doing while you wait for the answer. Perhaps you are in a challenging situation at work, home, school, etc., and he wants to use you to be a witness to a specific person. Maybe your trial is a test of character, not a punishment. Whatever the situation, trust God to handle the details; you just be willing to listen and serve.