Faith

The Gift of a Life Well-Lived

First Brush With Death

I was five years old the first time I lost someone I loved. I don’t remember a lot. What I do remember is my grandfather being so cold and shaking.

I ran to get him blankets, but he was shivering so hard, I could hear his false teeth clacking together. I remember running behind a chair in the living room to pray. The chair was striped and velvety; the carpet was thick and cream colored. That was 39 years ago, yet those small details stand out in sharp relief.

I don’t remember my mom telling me my grandfather had died. I just remember looking at my grandfather in the casket and thinking it wasn’t him. All that made my grandfather him was gone: the big, booming laugh; the infectious smile; the twinkle in his eye.

My cousin picked me up and put my face up close to my grandfather’s. He smelled strange and I was scared. I spent the rest of the viewing hours out in the lobby with my Grandma Craig, tapping my patent leather shoes on the flagstone floor.

For over a year, I waited for my grandfather to come back. I kept imagining that he would burst into our house, laughing and saying it was all a joke. I was well into first grade when I finally believe he was really gone.

The Bewilderment of Grief

The next time I lost someone I loved, I was 25 and expecting my first child. As an adult, my experience was far different than when my grandfather died. Grandma Craig – the one who had sat with me in the lobby – was gone.

I remember feeling bewildered. How was I suppose to walk through this? How do you grieve? What does that even look like? Could you be happy about a coming baby and also be sad about the death of someone you loved at the same time?

Since that time, I’ve lost my other grandmother, a few friends, my brother and just recently my father. Even though I am not new to the grieving process, every single time, I still feel that strange bewilderment. How do you do grief?

Every grief is like a trip with a familiar destination, but each time, you travel by a different route.

Grieving Death is Different Than Grieving Tragedy

My brother died only two years ago, so that grief is still fresh and that road is still familiar. I thought I had a handle on this grief process, but grieving my father has been completely different.

With my dad, it felt like the ending of a fully told story. He battled cancer for four years, and I honestly thought he was going to die last year. I truly believe God answered my prayer for more time with him. I don’t know why He chose to answer that prayer since I know others have prayed it and not gotten the same answer. I am just unendingly thankful that He did.

Although I miss my dad terribly, God made it very clear to me that my dad had reached the last page of his story. Even though I didn’t want it to be the end and I didn’t want to close the book on his life, my dad’s life was one that was well-lived and finished well.

At his funeral, as people shared what my dad meant to them, I could see the far reaching ripples that his love of Jesus and his faithful service to Him had created.

It is hard to know that my dad’s story is done, but at the same time, there is a peace and a comfort in knowing someone has run their course well and finished the race. I grieve, but there is a softer edge to this grief.

My brother, on the other hand, took his own life. Instead of coming to the last chapter in his life, I felt as if someone had ripped it out of my hands mid-read. His death left a lot of what ifs and if onlys that still bother me some days.

My brother was intelligent, handsome and outgoing. He never met a stranger, and he honestly talked himself into an untold number of jobs that he really wasn’t qualified for at all. He had so much potential.

His death laid waste to it all before it was time.

It is the difference between a life well-lived and one stolen by mental illness.

It was the difference between the natural cycle of life and tragedy.

The Importance of Finishing Well

I am 44 years old. According to statistics, I’m truly middle-aged. Half of my life is over, and hopefully, if I am not felled by cancer or heart disease or some other disease, half of my life stretches before me.

Maybe it is because of my recent losses.

Maybe it is because of my age.

Maybe it is because I am facing a new season very soon, as my youngest will be a high school senior next year, but I am impressed more and more that I want to finish well.

I want to live my life fully with the right priorities. It’s so easy to get off track and to get caught up in things that really don’t matter, especially in the light of eternity.

I get it – the house isn’t going to clean itself and the groceries aren’t going to travel from the shelves to your fridge on their own. But I don’t want to be so busy doing all my to dos that I forget to really live life.

Choosing To Let Go of the Good

As 2017 slowly ticks down and a new year looms with all its newness and possibilities, I’m trying to slow down, to really listen to what God wants from me this year.

He has very clearly told me to write. I’ve felt it pressed into my heart and whispered in my ear. The thing is, when we say yes to what God calls us to do, we have to say no to a lot of other things – even good things.

What that means in my life is really looking at everything I am involved in and deciding what may be good but isn’t best.

I love Arabah Joy’s blog. Tacked up on the wall next to my desk is a quote from her.

You can’t do all the good things people ask you to do if you want to do the one thing God is calling you to do.

I made that quote into a cute printable and tacked it up by my desk, and yet, I’ve spent a lot of 2017 doing things that are good, but not best. That is going to change in 2018.

Why? Because I want to finish well. I want to reach the end of my life and see “The End,” not chapters I never got around to experiencing because I was too busy doing all the things rather than THE THING God has called me to.

What about you? Are there things you feel called to, but you’ve let busyness or other people’s expectations keep you from?

I’d love to hear about it!

True Love – It’s Not What You Think!

The Anniversary That Wasn’t

This past week, it would have been my parents 54th anniversary. But instead of doing something fun with my dad this past Thursday, my mom spent her anniversary with me at Panera Bread.

With my dad’s death, my mom lost part of herself. How can you not when you’ve lived with someone for 54 years? When you’ve shared life in its ups and down, its joys and griefs, its beauty and ugliness?

 

An Example of a Good Marriage

When you are a kid, you don’t really think about your parents’ marriage, unless it is profoundly unhappy in some way. As a kid, I was oblivious. Sure, my parents fought at times, but I never wondered if they’d stay together.

There was never a doubt they were a couple – not just parents or partners – but two halves of a whole.

Heck, they went on dates before date nights were trendy.

They each had a role, but one was not more important than the other.

My dad led our home with a sweetness of spirit that never took advantage of his leadership role. He was never “the boss” of my mom. They worked together, and my dad listened to what my mom had to say. He recognized her uncanny accuracy and insight about people.

My mom always supported my dad as the family leader, but that didn’t mean that she silently sat in the background or just nodded yes to whatever my dad said. Instead, she pushed and challenged him in all the best ways. I think my dad would honestly say that he would not have been the man he was without my mom.

They served God together. I don’t remember a time when my parents weren’t serving together in some capacity at our church. My dad was a gifted teacher, and my mother is the most organized person you’ll ever meet. She can put an event together with one hand tied behind her back, blindfolded. (I did not inherit this gift, by the way).

They made friends and fellowshipped together. Throughout the years, our home was full of people coming for dinner or holidays or get togethers. My parents were never content to be spectators in life. They were full participants, and they participated not as individuals, but as a couple.

A New Season

So, when my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary rolled around, we celebrated with a big party. People came who hadn’t seen my parents in years. Friends came and shared what my parents meant to them. There was laughter and fun and even a few tears. It was one of those perfect days.

A week later, my dad got a call from the doctor, and just like that, their lives changed. 

Suddenly, their lives consisted of doctors’ appointments two hours away and drugs with long, unpronounceable names and lab results.

And while my parents had shown me what a good marriage looks like over their first 50 years, the last four years showed me what true love REALLY is – not the fizzy, false picture that Hollywood puts out there, but the deep, steady kind of love that says, “I’m always going to be here.” 

My mom never missed one of my dad’s doctor’s appointments – no matter how she felt or how tired she was – even when that meant 12 hour days multiple times a week.

My mom put her legendary organizational skills to work keeping track of the paperwork that goes along with cancer treatments, especially when the VA is involved.

My mom counted out pills and made sure my dad took them on schedule. When taking a pill meant my dad couldn’t eat for a certain amount of time, my mom didn’t eat either.

Three different times, my dad got sick enough that he needed to be in a wheelchair. My mom, who is petite and almost 80 years old, didn’t complain. She just found a lighter wheelchair so she could get it in and out of the trunk herself.

Love Through the Valley

During the last few months of my dad’s life, my mom’s role as caregiver became more challenging and certainly more exhausting.

Instead of just using a wheelchair when they were out and about, it became necessary for my dad to use the wheelchair in the house. My mom wheeled him wherever he wanted to go, whenever he wanted to go.

Everytime my dad got up, my mom had to help him. She would grip his hands. Usually it took about three tries, and on the third, my dad would get to his feet. Then my parents would kiss and smile at each other.

My dad didn’t sleep well, and got up multiple times every night, moving from recliner to bed and back again. My mom went with him. Every. Single. Time. 

By the end, she slept with one hand on his shoulder, afraid he’d wake disorientated and try to get up by himself and fall.

True Love in Real Time

True love is about loving someone more than yourself. Watching my mom care for my dad, I saw what true love was up close and personal.

As giddy, young couples, we say our wedding vows, “In sickness and in health, until death do us part,” but in the excitement and joy of starting a new life together, the idea of sickness and death seems far away. We don’t really think about what it means to walk that out.

What that means is walking through cancer with your husband, caring for him even when you are exhausted yourself.

It means dragging out the wheelchair and getting your very sick husband in the car to go get ice cream because that’s what makes him happy when you really would rather collapse on the couch.

It means walking through the valley of the shadow of death holding his hand, so he doesn’t have to make the journey alone.

It means staying by his side even when you’d rather not watch death coming closer and closer.

True love can be warm and fizzy and sweet, but it can also be hard and tiring and challenging. My parents taught me that whatever form it takes, it’s always beautiful.

Blessings, Rosanne

A Terrible Beauty

Yesterday, September 6, my dad passed from this life into the next and I wasn’t there to see him take that final step. His breathing changed and my mom texted me to tell me to come right away, but he slipped away very quickly.

I’ll be honest – that really bothers me. Since my dad went into the hospital early Saturday morning, I’ve sat in his hospital room a lot. Although he slipped into a deep sleep on Sunday and hasn’t been responsive since Sunday evening, I feel like I have been part of his journey as he was crossing from life to death. It makes me sad to have missed when he took that final step from life into eternity.

My mom said it was a peaceful step. He gave a small smile, breathed out and was gone.

I just wish I had been there to see it. 

As I sat by my dad’s bed these past four days, I’ve been struck by what a struggle it is, both to enter this world and to leave it. Even if the person is ready to go, there is a fight they have to wage for the soul to let go of this physical body.

My dad, for the most part, seemed peaceful and pain free. His breathing was heavy and labored at times, but for the most part, he just slept. At times, it was hard to watch, and I prayed that God would take him home sooner than later.

The nurses said he could probably hear us, so I would talk to him. We played music for him. We held his hands and rubbed his feet. We wanted him to know that even though he had to make this last journey himself, we would be there to keep him company.

As I watched him, I kept wondering what he was thinking and feeling. I kept wondering what was going on for him. Really. Was he scared? Was he uncomfortable? Did he really hear us? Did he wish he could tell us anything? Could he sense Jesus in a special way?

Death is something that has alternately fascinated and terrified people since Adam and Eve bit into that apple. There are many mythologies that have sprung up around that journey from life to death. A lot of those stories picture the person going on that journey over water.

As my dad worked to leave this life, in my mind, I pictured it as a journey over rough waters. That’s probably because I was reading in Luke 8 on Monday, and it was the story of the great storm. The disciples were terrified – which is saying a lot since they were seasoned fishermen – and Jesus was a sleep in the boat.

The disciples always get a lot of flack for their lack of faith, but I have to think my response would have been the same. If you’re honest, yours probably would have been, too. They were fishermen. They knew those waters, and they knew when a storm was deadly.

And Jesus seemed to be unaware of the peril everyone was in.

It felt a lot like we were journeying over stormy seas this week. It felt a lot like Jesus was a bit unaware, as we wondered why God didn’t just take my dad instead of having him work so hard to leave this life.

But just like Jesus knew and was in complete control of every wave and gust of wind on that boat, He was right there in that hospital room, this whole week.

Death has a terrible beauty about it for a believer. It’s hard to lose someone you love, and I know it was hard for my dad to leave us. He worried about my mom, and he was disappointed not to see Brody graduate from high school. At the same time, he was going to be in the presence of God – no more pain or sorrow or treatments or sickness.

My dad is now whole, and more alive than he ever was on this earth. 

I know I wished I could help my dad in some way this week, but I could only be present – a spectator in his final fight.

Jesus was more than a spectator. He was there, right in the boat, with my dad as he crossed that last stormy stretch. He was there, not to wait on the shores to welcome him, but to be right there with him until the boat bumped into the shoreline, to hold his hand as my dad stepped off the boat and onto that heavenly shore. My dad was never alone and neither were we. 

I have no idea what it is like when we take our final breath, but in my mind’s eye, I see waves calming. I see a boat bumping into a shore line.

And there’s a crowd.

As Jesus helps my dad off the boat and onto shore, my brother is waving his arms, whole and healed. My parents’ dear friend Ruthie who passed away a few weeks ago, has a huge smile on her face, eyes shining. Friends and family are there to welcome him into his real home.

I have no idea why I wasn’t able to be with my dad in those final moments, but I trust that Jesus is always in control. I was able to sit with him and talk with him the night before. I got to paint that picture of the crowd waiting for him on that shoreline. I got to assure him he didn’t have to worry about my mom, that we’d take good care of her. I got to tell him I loved him and he was the best dad ever. I have to trust that was enough.

Death is terrible, but it’s beautiful, too, because no matter what our crossing is like, Jesus leads us all the way to the shore. And we know, my dad’s life is just beginning with joy and celebration.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

Psalms 116:15

Blessings, Rosanne

On Waiting for Death

When my brother died, death roared in like a freight train, knocking us all over in its wake. It came so fast and furious, we hardly knew what had hit us, until a couple weeks into the experience.

Now death has come on soft feet, gliding into the room, standing off in the shadows – quiet and patient. 

It’s not that we didn’t expect this to happen to my dad. Eventually. He’s been battling cancer – multiple myeloma to be exact – for almost four years now.

It’s just that you are never really ready. You hope and you pray for the next treatment to work, to give him more good days and weeks and months. You hold your breath as you check lab numbers you didn’t even know existed before cancer got its sharp claws into your loved one.

The thing is, I thought I was going to lose my dad last summer. His numbers spiked, and he was hospitalized for a month.

I remember praying and asking, begging really, God for another year with my dad. I remember telling God how I was not ready to lose my dad yet. I reminded God of Hezekiah and how God gave him more years.

And God answered my prayers.

I can’t tell you how thankful I am for that. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have that extra year, to have the opportunity to be intentional about spending time with my parents. I know sometimes you aren’t that fortunate.

I’ve lived out when you aren’t that fortunate.

Of course, I hoped I’d have more than a year. I know my dad really, really wants to see my youngest son graduate from high school.

But I had this feeling, deep in my heart, that I’d get my year but probably not much more. I wish I could say how I knew that. I just did.

Even as I saw my dad starting to decline, and I started praying again, it was almost as if I felt God put His fingers gently on my lips to hush me.

My prayers became different.

I started to pray for God’s perfect timing in my dad’s life. I’ve been reading the Gospels this spring and summer, and it’s been interesting and eye opening. All those stories I heard separately in Sunday school have taken on a new, richer meaning when seen together.

And one thing I have been seeing as I read through the Gospels is Jesus both cared deeply for the people in front of Him, but He also never lost sight of eternity and that this world is but a shadow of the glory which is to come.

The sickness of people’s souls mattered much more to Him than their physical illnesses and infirmities. Yes, He healed them. Yes, He had compassion on them. He even wept for them.

But, Jesus never lost sight of what was truly important – eternity and where those souls were spending it.

So, as I’ve prayed (and let’s be honest, cried), I’ve found myself praying for God’s will, not my desire to keep my dad close to me. I’ve found myself opening both my hands and telling God that I trust Him with my dad’s every breath, and I believe that God is so good and so gracious as to orchestrate exactly when his last breath will be.

As I’ve prayed, I’ve been at peace with the fact that God has the bigger picture that I can never see from my human perspective.

As I prayed, God brought to mind a woman I interviewed several years ago who was a glass artist. She would take the sheets of glass and precisely cut them out. While the pieces themselves were beautiful, it was impossible to tell what their final shape would be just from the individual pieces. She’d carefully solder them to an iron frame.

From the back side, it didn’t look like much. You were very aware of each individual piece of glass, but the big picture was lost. However, when you turned it over. Wow! The beauty of that piece of art when all those little pieces were put together was breathtaking.

It was even more awe-inspiring when the light shone through it.

More and more, I’m realizing that my sight is limited to the individual pieces. And even though those individual pieces can be beautiful by themselves, it’s only when they are fitted into the big picture that they find their true meaning and shine to their fullest beauty. So, all I can do is trust God to places those pieces into His grand masterpiece.

It won’t be until God’s glory shines through that I will see and be amazed at the plan God had all along.

I’m not going to lie. Watching my dad diminish physically has been and is hard. Watching as death quietly waits in the wings, drawing ever closer on those soft feet is difficult. Watching the man who used to toss me in the air and walk across the pool on his hands and seemed like an invincible hero hardly able to lift his glass to his mouth is heartbreaking.

But I know that as I and my mom keep this vigil, we’re not alone. And neither is my dad. God is right there. My dad is safely tucked into His loving arms. He is carrying my dad these last difficult steps, and He is holding him oh so close to his heart.

I am reminded that as hard as things are today, we serve a good, loving God who is just waiting for our eternal homecoming to reveal the true, glorious masterpiece He’s made of of each of our lives.

 

This song by Chris Tomlin reminded me of this truth. I’ll leave it here for you to enjoy.

All the Way My Savior Leads Me by Chris Tomlin

 

Blessings, Rosanne

What Are You Filling Your Mind With?

Kipper is a Great Teacher (in more ways than one!)

This is my dog Kipper. Anyone who knows me in real life, knows that I am pretty attached to my dog. He’s not just a pet. He’s part of the family.

When we brought Kipper into our home when he was just 12 weeks old, my goal was that he would be able to go everywhere with us. To do that, though, he had to be well-behaved and well-trained. So, I started right to work.

One of the first things I taught Kipper was to get into the car. After all, car rides were a vital part of going wherever we went. It wasn’t until a few weeks into the training that I realized my puppy was training me and not the other way around!

You see, Kipper just LOVES food, so, when I was working with him on the command “up” so he’d jump into the car (or really any elevated surface – within reason), he stealthily taught me to give him the treat (or more than one) first. When it finally dawned on me that I was being played by a 5-month-old puppy, I changed things up. (As you can see, that face was kind of hard to say no to!)

Anxiety Isn’t Always Obvious

I’ve found that anxiety can be just as stealth as Kipper trying to get a treat. Fear tends to come at you head-on, but anxiety is a sneakier beast. It seems to creep up and settle in without me even being aware. Just like Kipper, anxiety can start to get me to follow its lead without me even realizing it.

Today I was reading in Psalms 27 (when I am in between studies,  I pick a Psalm that corresponds with the date). Psalms 27 is all about overcoming fear. Not surprisingly, it’s one of my favorite Psalms, and I have verses underlined and notes jotted in the margins.

One such note stood out to me today – God’s presence combats fear.

And it’s true. Shining the truth of God’s Word can expose the fears and anxieties that have started training your mind into certain ways of thinking and believing.

It’s Not Surprising When We Struggle With Our Calling

As many of you know, I am a writer. I’ve struggled with what that calling means and how to go about it and even if it is a “real” calling. This year, my word has been contend, and one of the things I have been contending for is what it really means to be a daughter of God Almighty.

As I’ve stepped into this fight (because, make no mistake, that is what it is – a fight), I’ve realized that the enemy has zero desire for me or anyone else to fully realize their identity in Christ! I’ve had to repent and mourn wasted time. I’ve become bold in my prayers about fulfilling my calling to write. I’ve also asked God to show me where and how I am being blocked or sidetracked.

God is always faithful to answer our prayers, and HE showed me how much anxiety had crept in regards to my calling. From the anxiety of trying to learn marketing to the anxiety of finding the time (I swear, if I spent half the time writing that I did worrying about finding the time to write, I’d probably have a whole series of books done by now!), worry had blanketed nearly everything to do with my writing.

In my mind, writing and anxiety had become linked. Instead of the joy I’ve always felt when creating new worlds with words, I found it had become something heavy and burdensome.

What Is Your Mind Stocked With?

As I read Psalms 27 this morning, I found myself heading over to a few other favorite verses that deal with anxiety. One is Psalms 34:4 which says, “I sought the Lord and HE answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”  There was the theme of seeking out God’s presence to combat fear.

Then I flipped over to my life verses (and yes, I get the irony!) in Philippians 4:6-8. Again, we are told to seek God in prayer and supplication with every anxious thought we have. We are also told what to focus on our minds on too: things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute; things that are excellent and praiseworthy. That’s what we are supposed to dwell on.

Being the nerd that I am, I looked up the original meaning of dwell, and it wasn’t what I thought it would be . It actually means to number or take inventory. It has this idea of very deliberate recounting.

I realized, as I prayed and meditated on these Scriptures, that I had allowed so much anxiety to creep into my mind and set up residence over my writing. And the battle had nothing to do with how much time I had or how busy I was or anything else. It had everything to do with what I was inventorying in my mind – which were all the obstacles and challenges.

Once again, I had allowed the “I can’ts” to stock my mental shelves. 

In the coming weeks, I’ll be praying that God reveals all the ways I can’t is inadvertently training me. I have a feeling I might be surprised at how often I dance it its tune.

What anxieties creep into your life if you’re not careful? I’d love to hear about them!

Prayer Requires Persistence

Persistence is Modeled in the Bible

I was reading through Draw the Circle: 40 Day Prayer Challenge, and the reading for the day was the story of the persistent widow.

In Luke 18:1, Jesus shares a parable of how a widow comes before a judge with bad character. At first he ignores her, but the widow just won’t be ignored. She persists until the judge finally gives her her request.

“For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection; otherwise, by continually coming she will wear me out.” Luke 18: 4, 5.

Jesus goes on to say that if a wicked judge would grant this widow’s request, then how much more will God – who is perfectly good- answer our prayers when we persist.

Persistence Often Doesn’t Come Easily

I don’t know about you, but persistence in prayer is not something that comes naturally to me. It feels, well, almost like I’m being rude or something. Like I’m somehow pestering God by coming to Him over and over with the same request.

Yet, God invites us to pray about things, not just once, but repeatedly. When we come to Him in prayer, it isn’t an easy thing. (You can read about how prayer might be simple but it isn’t easy HERE).

Why Should We Persist in Prayer?

As I was thinking about this post and what we can learn about persistence in prayer, the one thing that I kept circling back around to was why? Why would God want us to pray for the same thing over and over again?

The thing is, prayer isn’t just about getting answers. It’s about changing us and molding us to God’s will in our lives. I don’t know about you, but have you ever prayed for something over a period time. And as time went on, you found your prayer changing until in the end, your request barely resembled those first prayers?

God invites us to petition Him because the more we bring something to God, the more His light shines on whatever it is and the more we lay our own agenda down.

The bottom line is prayer changes us and it changes our relationship to God. 

How Do We Know When NOT to Persist?

So, how do we know that God wants us to stop praying about something – that He has answered us?

I think we have a good example in Paul. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul says he prayed three times for God to remove a thorn in his flesh. We don’t know what this thorn was, but some speculate it had to do with his eyes. Nobody knows for sure though.

It was after this third time that God specifically told Paul He wasn’t removing that thorn and the reason why. Only after God spoke to him did Paul stop praying.

What does this mean for us?

I think it means that means a few things for us. The first thing is that, sometimes, when we think God hasn’t answered, it’s not because He is saying no. It’s actually that He hasn’t answered at all.

The second thing is I believe a lot of the powerlessness in prayer is not because prayer doesn’t have power. But it is because of a lack of persistence on our part.

The third thing is that we need to persistently pray about something until God gives us an answer or He specifically tells us to stop.

Finally, we need to pray with an open heart and mind. Maybe God is trying to change our perspective or get us to submit to His will and not insist on our own way. Prayer is powerful – not just in what it accomplished out in the world, but in what it accomplishes in us.

Do you struggle with praying persistently? I’d love to hear about it!

Prayer Is Hard And That’s Okay

Do You Find it Hard to Pray?

Maybe it’s just me, but have you ever noticed that when you start to pray, your focus tends to desert you? Suddenly, your mind wanders to your to do list or what you’re having for dinner or that disagreement you had with your child. Instead of praying, you find yourself worrying or planning your day or, in my case, off in lala land.

Turns out, there’s a reason for that. I noticed that Paul, in the famous passage in Ephesians 6, tells the believers of Ephesus to put on their spiritual armor before he tells them to pray. They have to strap on truth, put on their helmet of salvation, buckle on the breastplate of righteousness and slip into their shoes of the Gospel of peace. They have to get their shield of faith ready because the enemy is sure to start shooting fiery darts, and their swords can’t be just lying around somewhere. That sword has to be in their hands.

In Colossians 4:12, Paul tells the Colossians that Epaphras was “laboring earnestly in his prayers for you.” That word laboring actually means “to contend with adversaries or fight.”

Do You Have the Wrong Idea About Prayer?

Prayer isn’t easy. It’s hard work because the enemy knows there is great power in prayer. He doesn’t want you to actually pray and experience that power. That means, he’ll use whatever means he can to keep you from spending time in prayer.

In many ways, prayer is a form of spiritual fighting. So, it’s really no wonder that it seems to be something believers talk about way more than they actually do.

Am I the only person who has been to a prayer meeting where half the time was spent talking and not praying?

Even our churches, which Jesus said were to be houses of prayer, often teach more about prayer than they do actually praying.

I think the problem is that we have confused the simplicity of prayer with ease in prayer. Because of that confusion, we have not prepared ourselves for the work it takes to carve out a powerful prayer life.

Learning Vs. Applying

This year, I really wanted to focus on what it means to truly be God’s child. There is a passage in 2 Timothy 3:5-7.

Today, we have the blessing of  having so many resources and information. But there is a danger in having all that knowledge at our fingertips. The danger is we keep learning rather than start applying.

Don’t Give Up

Because we expect prayer to be easy, we get discouraged about our prayer lives. We quit almost before we begin, or we resort to shallow, short prayers. We let the busyness in our lives become an excuse to not pray.

And then we wonder why we don’t see any spiritual power in our lives.

This post isn’t about being legalistic or judgmental about prayer. It’s meant as encouragement. Yes, prayer is hard, and it’s not just you that struggles. But can I encourage you to keep at it? We have the opportunity to approach God’s throne any day at any time. God invites us into intimacy with Him.

It’s time to suit up and start fighting on your knees. God will meet you on the battlefield!

 

 

 

The Importance of Prayer

Who I Am Lies In Who God Is

This year, I have been praying that God would show me what it truly means to be His child. It’s always interesting to me how God answers my prayers. It’s never in the way that I expect!

First, He led me to a book about who He is. (You can read my review of The Real God HERE). I initially thought I would be reading and learning about who I am in Christ. Instead, God first led me to who HE is. You’d think after all these years as a believer, I would have realized that it never starts with me.

It Starts With Prayer

The second thing God led me to was about prayer. It seemed everything I heard or read had something to do with the power of prayer. I’m a little slow on the uptake. Eventually, though, it dawned on me that I can’t ever access the full power of being a believer unless I fully commit myself to the practice of prayer.

So, then I started asking God to teach me to pray. Again, He was so good to lead me to various sources. One of those was Draw the Circle for 40 Days by Mark Batterson and Storm by Jim Cymbala. (reviews of both these books will be coming soon!) In both of these books, the authors hit on prayer as not just something to cross off your spiritual to do list. Instead, it is a crucial part of living out the Christian life.

Prayer Comes With a Learning Curve

While I’ve always believed in the importance of prayer – and I’ve done several studies myself and taught others – I still tend to default into the thinking of prayer as the “last resort.” I want to change that into thinking of it as the first line of defense.

For me, studying the Scriptures comes more naturally. As a word-nerd, that probably isn’t surprising. I often find my quiet time heavy on Bible study and lighter on the prayer portion.

I also think as modern Americans we have a view of prayer that isn’t very Biblical. Yes, we are supposed to pray for the everyday stuff, but the prayers in the New Testament often focused on spiritual growth and understanding – not just on the current physical need of the believers.

Excited to Learn More

In light of the importance of prayer, I have decided to do an indepth study on the prayers in the New Testament. What did Jesus pray about? How did He pray? What did Paul and the other apostles pray about? Where did they pray and when?

I’m ridiculously to see what I God is going to teach me, and I can’t wait to share it with you guys!

So, what place does prayer have in your life? Do you feel like you need to learn more or is it something that comes easily for you? I’d love to hear about it!

Missing Jesus

Seeing Something New in a Familiar Story

I’ve been reading through the book of John lately, and today I came to the familiar story of Lazarus. Maybe because Easter is only a few days away or maybe because I’ve taken the time to mark the timeline as I’ve been reading, but it just hit me that this miracle happens not that long before Jesus’ crucifixion.

The other thing I never noticed was that this miracle – arguably the biggest miracle Jesus ever did during His ministry – was also the catalyst that convinced the Jewish leaders they had to get rid of Him.

The story of Lazarus is found in John 11 (and also in Luke 16). The story is a familiar one. Lazarus falls sick, and his sisters, Mary and Martha, send for Jesus. However, Jesus doesn’t hurry to heal Lazarus. Instead, He waits. He waits long enough for Lazarus to die and be buried for four days.

The sisters and the surrounding crowd don’t understand this. Jesus had proven He could heal people, so why didn’t He come sooner? This was especially confusing, as Jesus was less than a day’s journey away when He first got the news Lazarus was sick.

Worth the Wait

So why wait? By waiting, Jesus proved without a shadow of a doubt He had authority over life and death. By raising Lazarus from the dead after four days, Jesus didn’t simply reanimate a lifeless body. Jesus actually reversed the decaying process. When Jesus called Lazarus forth from the tomb, there was no question about what happened. Lazarus had been dead for four days. As Martha said, when that stone was rolled away, an awful stench of decay probably rolled on out of there, too.

Predictably, this miracle caused many of those there to believe that Jesus really was the Christ. Suddenly, all Jesus’ claims of being God’s Son didn’t seem so farfetched after all.

Not Everyone Responds to Miracles With Belief

But I found it really interesting that not everyone had this reaction. In John 11: 46 it says, “But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done.” Instead of believing, they started broadcasting the news to the Pharisees. It was no secret they were Jesus’ greatest critics.

I have no idea why this group of people did this. Maybe they were confused and were seeking answers. Maybe they just wanted to add a little fuel to the current flame of conflict. Maybe they just wanted to see what would happen.

Whatever the reason, this news caused the Pharisees and chief priests to get really worried. I found it also interesting what these men were worried about.

Instead of Seeing Hope, the Pharisees Saw a Threat

In the Old Testament, there were a series of miracles or signs that the coming Messiah would do. Jesus had done many of them. Now, He had done one of the last remaining signs – raising a man from the dead.

You would think the most religious men around would have recognized Jesus as the Messiah and been overjoyed. Instead, they miss Jesus and only see what His presence could take from them: their place and their nation.

Instead of seeing Jesus as a Savior, they saw Him as a threat.

The very things that should have given the Pharisees reason to believe, caused them to turn on Jesus. John 11:53 says, “So, from that day on they together planned to kill Him.”

What’s Causing You to Miss Jesus?

Despite all their knowledge and training, the Pharisees totally missed the Messiah in their midst. It is so easy to be astonished that the Pharisees and chief priests, men who were supposed to be the most spiritual of anyone, didn’t recognize that the Messiah had come.

But, we often do the same thing. We get so hung up on our knowledge and training, our denominations and our politics, our desire to prove we are right, that we miss Jesus in our midst. We don’t recognize Him because we are looking for someone altogether different – a god of our own making, not the one we find in the Bible at all.

As Easter weekend approaches, we all need to ask ourselves the same question Jesus asked Peter. Who do you say that Jesus is? The answer will determine how you live your life.

I hope you have a blessed Easter and truly experience Jesus in your midst.

 

 

 

God Can Work Through Anyone

Do you really believe God is in control?

I know, we all SAY that we believe that, but do we really? If the past election season is any indication, the answer to that would have to be a resounding no.

I am 44 years old, and I have never seen so many people descend into hysteria and ugly behavior like I did during and after the 2016 election. Sure, I’d seen people upset before about the outcome of an election, and let’s face it, there have been some pretty ugly presidential campaigns in the past where feelings ran high.

When Anxiety is Contagious

But 2016 was different. I found myself becoming fearful and anxious. There was a feeling of desperation that seemed to hang over everyone like some awful spiritual smog.

I found myself coming again and again to Psalms 146.

I wish now, I had been reading through the stories of the kings. During this time, the nation of Israel had split, with two of the 12 tribes becoming Judah and the rest becoming Israel. There was no love lost between the now split kingdom, and they often fought each other, spilling blood and destroying the land which God had given them all.

The leadership under which the people found themselves was lacking, too. Judah had a few good kings, but while many started out well, they tended not to end well for a variety of reasons. (You can read about King Joash, King Amaziah and King Uzziah to find out more).

A Kingdom Without Hope

Israel’s track record wasn’t any better and was actually much worse. All their kings seemed to have the phrase “he did evil in the sight of the Lord” after their introductions to the throne.

Things seemed pretty grim and the hope that anything would change seemed dim. The glory days of King David and King Solomon seemed very distant. I’m sure a lot of the Jewish people wondered where God was, and even more of them had lost sight of God all together. They were too busy bowing down to false idols.

But tucked into 2 Kings 14 between the stories of two of Judah’s kings, Amaziah and Uzziah, we find a nugget of hope and evidence that despite the bad leadership and the people’s sinful ways, God was still on the throne and still sovereign.

God Steps Into the Void

In 2 Kings 14:23, it says, “In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam, the son of Joash king of Israel (2 different Joashes here) became king in Samaria and reigned forty-one years.”

Jeroboam was no different than his predecessors and has the same tag line after his intro  – that he did evil in the sight of the Lord. And yet, the following verses are not about his destruction or the further destruction of Israel. Check out what it says instead.

“He restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which He spoke through Hiss ervant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath-hepher. For the Lord saw the affliction of Israel which was very bitter for there was neither bond or free now was there any helper for Israel. The Lord did not say that He would blot out the name of Israel from under the heavens, but He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.” 2 Kings 15:25-27

While I’m sure God would have preferred to work through a king that followed Him, He had promised not to wipe out Israel. The Israelites were doing a good job of trying to wipe themselves out, but God was still in control. While things seemed hopeless and the king seemed less than ideal, God still used Jeroboam to accomplish His purposes.

In Proverbs 21:1 it says, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LordHe turns it wherever He wishes.”

God is Bigger Than Circumstances

No matter what circumstances look like and no matter what human has attained apparent control, no person can thwart the will of God. As believers, we can trust in God’s sovereignty and His goodness. No matter how much evidence seems to point to the contrary, God can use anyone to do His will  – even the unwilling or the wicked.

I don’t know about you, but that truth eases a lot of my anxiety. While life can feel out of control, God is always in control.

How about you? Have you been feeling anxious or helpless at the state of current affairs? Take heart because there is no safer place than in the palm of God’s hand.

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