(Un)Answered Prayers

When you wonder if God is listening…

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” ~ John 11:32

prayer-on-my-knees4

I’m probably not the only one who has experienced asking God to step in and provide wisdom or rescue from a situation only to have it, not only worsen, but fall apart completely. We wonder why was God silent, why didn’t He offer insight or direction, or why He delayed and let it completely crumble when He was perfectly capable of saving it.

But what if God’s apparent no in that moment was because of a future yes? What if God is sometimes intentionally silent – such as His deliberate delay in saving Lazarus – so He can let whatever it is “die” in order to beautifully resurrect it? What if what we deem most important, what we are desperately trying to resuscitate, is far removed from God’s best, so He allows it to pass away?

In the waiting, we may grow disillusioned and confuse His silence with disinterest. After the loss, we might sulk rather like spoiled children who didn’t get their own way, or even blame God for the calamity. But God is a God of love, and He can’t act against His nature. He is quite content to hold back the good from us in order to proffer His best. He’s got the big picture, we only see a pixel. In the meantime, though it grieves Him (see John 11:35), he can handle our disappointment, our tears of loss and frustration, while He works the miraculous.

What appears indifference is actually an incredibly loving act.

What appears distant unconcern is actually the tip of a blessing for His greater purposes.

You see, it’s in the waiting where the miraculous work of God occurs – both within and without. During the delay, we wrestle, we persevere through the trial, we grow in faith and Christ-like character. Bystanders are witness to His work – and resulting recipients of it – as we share our story and offer comfort to fellow sojourners. All the while, God forms the wreckage into a spectacle of His love and greatness.

He offers this exchange:

To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” 

~Isaiah 61:3

The next time you find yourself in the middle of an unanswered prayer, or facing a loss, trust that God is working it for good and His glory. It didn’t slip past His peripheral  view, nor became lost in processing. Trust that though it may not appear it, though it may not unfold the way you asked, His delay always means greater good; He loves you too much to give you everything you ask for, because not everything you think you want is His best for you. In the end, He hears it all. And though perhaps not how you expected, they’re really all answered prayers.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
   As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

~ Isaiah 55:8-9

I bless you with increased trust that God has your life in His care and is intricately involved in every aspect.

Absolutely Perfect

“As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him” Psalm 18:30

field-of-flowers

I have spent a greater portion of my life than I care to admit trying to be perfect. Sounds ridiculous when I write it down, but I confess I have. But the Bible tells us “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is proven. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.(2 Samuel 22:31) So what am I doing?

Perfectionism seems to be the mandate of modern society. We strive to be the perfect spouse, parent, employee, to have perfectly white teeth, a perfect yard, perfect children, a perfect life…the list goes on. But unfortunately it’s like chasing the wind because we’re striving in the midst of a fallen world. Nothing here will ever be perfect. And it’s not meant to be. This is not our home.

Every so often, things in our lives seem almost perfect, but then something comes along to snatch our Utopia away. Whether an unkind word, an unwell infant, an unruly teenager, an unexpected death, or our own failure to do or not do something – nothing is ever perfect. But once in our eternal home, everything will be perfect. “…there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4).

Perhaps our perfection problem is due to our focus. Maybe we’ve been spending too much time and resources trying to perfect the here and now, attempting to polish ourselves in our own strength. But if we would hone in on God, sit at His feet, and ponder more eternal things, it’s possible that we wouldn’t worry so much about making everything quite so idyllic.

Maybe, we need to focus more heavily on the heavenly, and less on the here and now. Maybe, just maybe, if we took off our earthly spectacles, and donned our God glasses, things would look a little different. Perfection isn’t the problem. Perspective is.

Next time you are tempted to get discouraged about how imperfect this world is, how seemingly imperfect you (or those around you) are, remember that this is not your home, you are just passing through. Then, lift up your head to heaven, have a sniff of its sweet fragrance, and pour it over the next person you meet.

Today, I bless you with entering into the sweet fragrance of God’s love, to know your worth and value in Him, and to rest in His perfect love for you.

 

12 Ways to Grow Deeper in Your Faith

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. ~ Jesus

roots

A young mom recently asked me, “How can I do some deep work with God?”

What a beautiful question! I picture God smiling ear-to-ear over His kids who are seeking a climb-up-on-His-lap kind of intimacy.

I mentioned some ways to grow closer to God, such as setting time aside each day to read His word, prayer, and keeping a prayer journal, but thought it deserved a more thoughtful answer. Below are some of the specific ways that have helped me enrich my relationship with the Lord. I write them here as an encouragement to you.

  1. Read and study the Bible. Approach God’s word expectantly. What I mean by this is when you sit down to read the Bible, expect to hear from God. If a verse stands out to you, write it in a prayer journal or underline it in your Bible. Memorization also helps to hide His word in your heart for future use and timely encouragement.
  2. Pray.  Both the fall-on-your-knees and cry out to God kind, and the breath-by-breath throughout the day kind. Pray away from the crowds – just you and God, but also with other faithful, believers who expect God hears and answers in miraculous ways.
  3. Keep a prayer journal. I use my prayer journal to write prayers to God. In it I tell Him about what I’m struggling with, significant requests, and verses that stand out to me. It is amazing to look back and see God’s faithfulness documented and dated.
  4. Listen. Be still long enough to hear God’s hallowed in-between reply. The whisper in your spirit from His. The knowingness that God passed by and you didn’t miss the exhale of His Spirit releasing reassurance, peace, or a drop of deeper understanding. Let His voice be the loudest in your life.
  5. Praise.  Tell God how much you love Him. Be mindful of His many attributes. Speak, sing, dance, play, paint, or write your exclamations of praise – your worship to Him. Use your gifting for His glory. Your joyful offering pleases God and fortifies faith.
  6. Go to church. “Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25) Go to church to hear God’s word, to be encouraged, to meet with His saints and worship together. Meet regularly with other believers outside of the church walls too. Hear their victory stories, pray for them in their struggles, and love them.
  7. Choose/Practice forgiveness. “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:15) Jesus did it, so must we. It is a choice; a determined effort. It’s hard, they may not deserve it, but doing so frees us to live in the fullness of love and abundance Jesus died to give us.
  8. Be thankful. Don’t forget to thank God for ALL He has allowed in your life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. All of it is being used to form you into Christ-likeness. Nothing  is wasted. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor 3:18) Even in the middle of the largest battle, we can choose thankfulness, and even in the midst of the most mundane moments we can be thankful.
  9. Choose joy. It can be found in the most heartbreaking, painful situations or can be chosen in the monotony of the day-to-day. Joy that isn’t based on circumstances but is rooted in faith that, no matter what, the God of the universe has “got” this and everything else. Choosing joy changes the atmosphere both within and without.
  10. Find a mentor/Be a mentor. Walk alongside a trusted someone who is a little further on in their journey than you. Learn from them, hear their stories, be encouraged by their triumphs and failures. Do the same for another newer or younger believer. We were not meant to walk alone.
  11. Serve and care for those in need. “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” (James 1:27) Some sacrifice and inconvenience will be required, and you will be reminded that it’s not all about you, but your time and care will be priceless and of eternal value.
  12. Persevere. No matter the hardships, the fiery trials, the repeated mess-ups, the hurt, harm and misunderstandings, do not let anything or anyone come between you and God. Don’t let the truth of how precious and loved by God you are be stolen from you. You will, at times, be a partaker in Christ’s sufferings (see 1 Peter 4:12-14), but stay the course to end and great will be your reward (see Matthew 5:10-12).

I bless you as you do some deep work with God. 

Great Things

He does great things past finding out. ~ Job 9:10

This past weekend, a home school group I work with put on a production of Robin Hood. Like all plays, there are people who work tirelessly in the background to make the magic of theatre happen. I think especially of the stagehands dressed in black, who move silently between the stage and backstage to make sure everything makes it to where it needs to be. If they are good at what they do, no one ever sees them, they merely see the results of what they’ve done: a chair moved onstage here, a tree shifted there.

 

The above verse reminds me that God is always working behind-the-scenes in our lives, whether we notice it or not. It is amazing to think that God is doing “great things” beyond our wisdom and understanding, and sometimes even beyond our ever knowing. Incredibly, He doesn’t do this because of anything we’ve done, He does it because He loves us – a dear Father ensuring all the pieces of our lives are moved appropriately in and out at just the right moment; a loving Dad performing innumerable kindnesses for us, many of which we will never be aware of this side of heaven.

 

If we do happen to recognize His grace, this verse notes we may not be privy to just how He accomplished it. We may never see how He stirred a heart, calmed a storm, thwarted a calamity, or allowed so many other seemingly coincidental events. But, if we do, we are ever grateful.

 

Yet there are times the “great things” He does don’t appear all that great, and it’s challenging to be thankful for what He allowed. But with a smidgen of faith and a mite of courage, we can believe for what we cannot see and know that God is good, even when the shifting and shuffling around of things in our lives may not feel good.

 

Be encouraged. You are intimately loved and cared for by the God of the universe. He doesn’t miss the smallest detail, He is never surprised, never forgets, and there is nothing beyond His understanding and wisdom. Look for the “great things”, the “grace things” He has positioned in your life – even the challenges are disguised blessings – and thank Him for all He has done.

 

Be blessed to see the great things God has done, and is doing, in your life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still Room

“Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” ~ Jesus

The day after Christmas, my lifelong friend’s father passed away. Hearing the tributes at this man’s funeral made me consider what a well-lived life looks like and reminded me that our time here is limited.

So much of our lives can be spent on achievements – the gaining of accolades and things, yet it’s the unremarkable, ordinary bits that have a way of squeezing to the forefront, while the larger become the lesser and blur into the background.

We each leave an impression; our own individual indent on our patch of time here on earth. The things we do are meaningful – even the smallest of them. Surprisingly, the most mundane, everyday bits are perhaps most memorable – the parts lived in-between the “big stuff” instead of that which we might consider the main or most prominent events.

The echo that remained in the wake of this father’s last days wasn’t the accumulation of treasures and trophies, degrees or diverse portfolios. Resonating most powerfully was the very ordinary way in which this man lived his life and how a final decision altered his eternity.

It appears the achievements of a life well-lived are not actually the “achievements” at all. Paradoxically, greatness may resonate most fully through quiet kindnesses, a hand held out to the needy, a listening ear, or simple silence – the countless breaths between the fanfare.

I was also reminded of how, as long as you have breath, it’s never too late to find God.

This same father wondered why he had let go of God at the age of fifteen, and if it was too late for him. He had spent fifty-nine years away from God, but grasped hold of the Father two short days before he died.

See…even if, in the last cluster of moments, we wonder for half a heartbeat if there is still room in heaven for us, still a hope, still a chance to return from a lifelong detour, even then God’s offer still stands, even then His embrace is fully enfolding, even then heaven assured.

This father found, not unlike the thief on the cross an arm’s length or two from Jesus, that heaven is secured by a simple, repentant cry, “Is there still room for me?” or, “Remember me when you come in Your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)

There is always room enough for you and me under heaven’s canopy.

May you experience an extraordinary life in Christ.

An Invitation to Love

We love because He first loved us. ~ 1 John 4:19

It started long before you or I was born – before humanity ever existed – this love that swings the door wide to invite us in.

It is a vulnerable baby in a manger. A mercy-filled man with dusty feet. A Saviour with arms extended on a cross. God’s Son, sent to suffer for our sin and die in our place, showing how He loves us.

Then comes the weighty realization of what this love offer means: we matter. The creator of the created offering a way back – a way out – from our sin. We are forgiven. We are free. We are made new. The Lover loves us – enough to live to die.

It is a grand invitation and it changes everything.

We learn to love Him back. It takes a lifetime and perhaps even eternity.

But there we are, reaching back to the outstretched arms, our fragile faith turning to the One who can turn it into so much more.

Here we pile our tears, sorrow, disillusionment, cynicism, all the battered debris of our lives, and exchange it for joy, peace, hope, love, and thankfulness – the very washing of our souls as we are repeatedly made new.

Then we learn to love others. It takes a lifetime. Perhaps even an eternity.

But we learn to love not for what they can do for us, say to us, or give to us. We learn to love in spite of what they do to us, say to us, or give us. Because Jesus said, “Love others as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)

And love begins to look an awful lot like the cross – the very laying down of your life for another.

It looks like repeated forgiveness and grace.

And that love-learning continues while we begin to live unoffended and unafraid.

We begin to reflect the Lover with a bold love that ravages the darkness, scatters the enemy, and provokes peace; a transforming love that welcomes the beggar or the boastful, the beautiful or the battered, the weary and the worried; a rescuing and restorative love that fights for freedom and rebuilds the waste places.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13

I bless you that you receive God’s love-offer and extend it to others.

 

Freedom Fighters

Perfect love expels all fear. ~ 1 John 4:18

We are a fearful people. We think we are safe if we just follow the rules. We build elaborate structures to fortify our faith, effectively placing God in a tidy box, like a cosmic cause and effect that believes, “If we do this, then that.” But this is merely a fearful attempt to control a God that we do not fully understand nor trust. We may even conclude that if we simply play by God’s rules and get them all right, He will keep us from all harm and “bless” us. The trouble is we can’t get them all right.

God is infinitely larger than our constructed confines and faith much more complex. We cry for order, easy answers, and straight lines. But life is messy, confusing, and full of detours. We don’t always get what we deem we deserve. Often, we receive the opposite. We misunderstand that God’s blessings are rarely in the form of a neatly wrapped gift.

The religious leaders in Jesus’ time were meticulous rule keepers. They were so taken by rules – and the power of wielding them – that they added more rules. With their Saviour in their midst, they missed the One who came to save them. They overlooked relationship in favour of rules.

But God is more interested with intimacy than rule following.

The rich young ruler, after asking Jesus what else (besides keeping all the rules) he needed to do to inherit eternal life, went away despondent because he had hoped for another rule to follow. Instead, Jesus felt love for him and points him to the one thing that was keeping his heart from His Saviour. Sadly, the “ruler” missed the very thing his heart and soul most needed. He passed up his freedom and future in favour of riches and the rule-ridden order of the now.

Because it’s much easier – even safer – to keep rules than relationships.

It’s easier to declare one deserves what they got and let them wallow in their pit, than to reach out a recovering hand and love – even when it makes no sense.

It’s much simpler and more satisfying to judge others when we have a rule book to follow than, as Jesus did, to walk into the messiness of relationships, travel alongside pain, disparity, poverty, or amid the fresh stench of repeated sin.

No, that takes fearlessness forged by God’s love.

It’s easier to throw fear stones than to be willing to lay down your life for another or take the hit on their behalf.

It’s simpler to choose bitterness than the kind of deep, soul-searing love that Jesus exhibited which declared forgiveness while being nailed to a tree in order to secure that love from now into eternity.

It’s much more manageable to keep people in line with rules that exact control and order than to fearlessly love no matter the cost.

But God is love. And He invites us to the divine feast.

Man’s rules limit God’s love, crowd out grace, mask mercy, and are, at best, mere behavior modification, when God would give us an entire heart transplant. Rules make us a slave, whereas God’s love makes us fearless and free.

Jesus came to teach us that it’s not about rules but relationship. Not about striving for salvation but accepting an invitation and resting in undeserved, unearned grace. Not about working to be loved, but learning to listen to the Lover. Because “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38)

We need to give up fearful control of our own lives – and of others – and replace it with love. “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” (1 John 4:18)

Fear crowded out makes space to effectively hear God’s voice. Fear removed leaves breathing space for God’s Spirit. Once freed of fearful control, God can become the author of your – and others’ – life stories. Your best penmanship will not come close to the love story God desires to write through your life. Release your grip and let God take hold.

__________________________________________

Is it possible that God’s kingdom is a good deal more spacious, free and joy-filled than we permit? In our feverish rule maintenance, we find ourselves rebuilding walls around ourselves or others to keep things neat, tidy and manageable. Our pristine, white-washed constructs are the very obstructions Jesus tore down by His death and resurrection alongside other walls like guilt, shame, rejection, hate, jealousy, and everything unlovely – from these Christ freed us. And God yearns for us to live secure in His love and the freedom from bondage He died to secure.

In what ways are you confining God, yourself, or others and bridling the freedom of Christ? I bless you that you might live in greater freedom in Christ.