Tuesday Prayer: Goals

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:13-14)

Lord, You are our Portion and our very great Reward. In You, we have the greatest good which ever can be – the love and attention of the King of kings!

Forgive us for those times when You offer us the riches of Your mercy and grace and we choose instead to squander our attentions on trinkets. You are the Goal; You are the Prize for which we run our race. Remind us this day and all our days of the incredible and imperishable value of a loving relationship with the very Creator of all that is!

As we press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, please continue to work in us daily. Grow us in grace, in wisdom, and in knowledge of You. Open our eyes to see beyond the few years we spend here on earth to the vastness of eternity. Realign our perspective to keep eternity in focus. As Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, show us how to walk in this world not as unwise, but in wisdom, redeeming the time because the days are evil.

Let us redeem each moment indeed and use it for Your glory rather than squander it on ourselves. Wherever we find ourselves – at home, with our families, with friends, at work, or at play – guide us in taking every thought captive to obey Christ.

Help us to move continually closer to You, pressing on and pressing in through every trial and triumph, growing in trust as we grow in our understanding of how You truly work all things for the good of those who love You. Because of this, give us the grace to be truly thankful in all circumstances, knowing and trusting each one is the will of God in Christ for us.

Oh how we love You, Lord! Increase our trust, increase our passion for Your Kingdom and Your Word. Teach our hearts to love You more each day, now and forevermore, amen.

120503_1423Prayer based on various Scriptures including the following: Psalm 119:57, Genesis 15:1, Ephesians 1:18, Philippians 3:13-14, Ephesians 5:15-16, Romans 8:28, 2 Corinthians 10:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, et al)

Wholly Holy

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
(Romans 12:1)

We humans have a rather silly tendency to compartmentalize our lives.

It would be wonderfully convenient if this tendency were limited to unbelievers; if, for example, we could point our collective finger and laugh at science as it grapples with where the platypus fits into the man-made categories of the animal kingdom. Then we could offer a smug smile when a whole new category is created to house this beast.

But in an honest moment, most of us have to admit that we compartmentalize, too.

We tend to have tidy little sectors of life which we believe do not affect one another. On one hand – our sacred places – we can agree that lying is evil and shake our heads in horror at the appalling falsehoods some government official or celebrity is caught in. A bare minute later, we participate in a little white lie of our own: dishonest reporting for a homeschool year in which the actual days of school fell dismally short of the state-mandated attendance requirement, or a decision to keep the wrong change from some transaction because the balance is in our favor.

Then there’s our holy side again at church on Sunday as we lift our voice to a praise song, one hand raised and tears running down our cheeks. Come next Friday night, we lift the same voice to quite a different song with lyrics that belittle the marriage relationship. Or we lower our voices to a friend as we tear our spouses apart in slander.

We can have a smug criticism for the corruption within Hollywood and yet funnel our dollars into movies and shows which aren’t “that bad,” thus we fund the very corruption we condemn.

My goodness, we really are a ridiculous spectacle when we stop to think of it! But of course, there’s grace to cover all that. No need to worry. Right?

Well, actually…

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
(Romans 6:1-2)

In truth, there is no partition between what we say and do inside our worship gatherings and what we say and do in our workweek or our weekend labors or entertainments. If Christ has redeemed us, He has done so completely.  We are either all His – or not.

This is not to say we will never stumble. But it is to say we will, by the Spirit of God, be brutally honest with ourselves and not call our conscious choices “stumbles.”

We will not divide up the arena of our lives so that one does not bleed into another. To believe we can even do such a thing is to believe a grave lie.

Instead, we can walk in naked honesty before God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can recognize that we are whole beings, and that one part affects the whole. All is sacred for those who are in Christ. All is secular for those who are not.

For those outside, we do not rage but weep. For our fellows on the inside, we are firm against sin but forgiving in love because we have been forgiven in love.

We set our faces against sin everywhere it lurks: in our own hearts, in our families, in the Church. We recognize our ability to choose and hold one another accountable to choose Truth.

Recognizing that we who are in Christ no longer belong to ourselves but to Him, we present our entire being to the Lord Our Righteousness for His good pleasure.  Then, together, we rejoice in His Kingdom and His righteousness now and forevermore!

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
(Romans 6:12-13)

… You are not your own, for you were bought with a price…
(1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a)

Tuesday Prayer: Ambassadorship

… in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…
(1 Peter 3:15)

O Lord Our Righteousness, Your name truly is Holy – the Name above all other names. It is only by Your grace that we share in the righteousness of Your Son and not by anything we have done. This gift – Your righteousness – is a gift we could never earn even if we were given thousands of years to try. It is by Your hand and by the obedience of Your Son alone that we are given a chance to clothe ourselves in His righteousness and be called by His name.

As the world around us seems to spin out of control in a downward spiral of rage, argumentativeness, name-calling, and finger-pointing, remind us who we are in Christ. May we bear His name well in all we do, allowing His righteousness to guide our words, our thoughts, our entertainments, and all decisions whether small or large. Let us be good ambassadors and show us what it means to be always prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in us.  May we never forget to do so with gentleness and respect.

Keep our consciences clean, Lord, and forgive us when we have entered wrongly into debates with unbelievers and answered hostility and arrogance with more of the same. Though our intentions may be good, we too often get tripped up by our emotions and simply fuel the raging fire of panic and anger.

Instead, when we speak with those who do not know You, remind us that we were once blind, poor, and fatally sick in our sin before You saved us. The people who rage and fume, the people who seem to be at war against Your Church are not actually our enemy. They are deceived and pawns in the hands of the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

With that in mind, help us to keep our sharpest discipline and judgement on the inside, directed at our own hearts and churches, just as Jesus had the sharpest words for the religious leaders of His time. When it comes to those outside the Church, let us share with them our genuine joy in the Good News of our own rescue.

Lord, teach us to walk so closely with You that every single response which falls from our lips is seasoned by Your Word and guided by Your wisdom. Help us not to become frantic or fearful as the darkness closes in but remind us that Jesus warned us it would happen. And yet, no matter how dark the world becomes – and it has been dark since the first man and woman sinned – our King is still the Light of the world. There is no darkness which can overcome You.

So help us to trust You, Lord. Guide us to peace and confidence in Christ, speaking the Gospel from a place of genuine trust and absolute conviction that Your word will do what You send it to do. You are faithful, Lord, and You will bring to completion Your own perfect plan. We can rest in that, cooperating with You as Your people and not falling into the mistake of blending with the culture around us.  Teach us to be proper ambassadors for You, appealing on behalf of Christ, “Be reconciled with God!”

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

Reflections on the Heart of God

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
(3 John 1:4)

A couple of weeks ago, I shared some of my heartache as I cope with a child who appears to be walking away from the Lord. But the story doesn’t end there. With the Lord, it never will which is just one of the many perks associated with belonging to an infinite yet personal God.

There is a strange and wonderful beauty associated with being a parent. I am convinced few other experiences rival it in bringing a peculiar depth and breadth of understanding and insight into my Father’s breathtaking love.

For you see, I do not only have a single child. I have three – or rather, I have at least three if you count several non-biological but equally beloved children I treasure and adore.  But for today, I will stick with the three I birthed and raised as a full-time mom until a year ago.

Lest you think my brain is only occupied with gloomy “what-ifs,” I thought it prudent to share some of the more exciting goings-on at this season of my life. My son may concern me by seeming apathetic to God, but my girls are really just starting to bloom in their faith.

It is astonishing, really. The older of the sisters just got back from a month of volunteer work, home only for part of each weekend. She served kids in the kitchen and cleaned up after them for two of those weeks, and for the other two she was a day camp counselor and helped in kitchen during her time off.  What’s more, she LOVED the whole experience and thoroughly enjoyed spending time in the Word and prayer with other young ladies.

The youngest has also been growing in Truth.  She, too, has been enjoying her time in the Word. During the spring, she saw a notification in a church newsletter about a summer mission trip to New Orleans. Turning to me with eyes shining with a delight every parent loves to see, she said in an awed tone that she could afford to pay for it and had been praying for just such a chance.

And there you have it. Between the somewhat melancholy musings of one morning and the singular satisfaction behind today’s meditations lies the whole spectrum of parental sentiment.

As my emotions run from a knife-edge of longing through to a joy so keen the tears well up as if the two were one emotion, I begin to see my God with a whole new level of wonder. He, too, pines for the one errant sheep even as He rejoices over the 99 who have never been lost or have strayed from safety and returned.

And if my emotional spectrum is broad, His is infinitely wider and deeper.

There must be no end to His grief for those who reject Him, for then He must watch in agony as they march jauntily to eternal destruction. Indeed, He alone understands the totality of their doom and thus understands the deepest reaches of grief.

But His joy and rejoicing are endless for those who choose to trust Him; whose trust and worship are not diminished by persecution or hardship. For these will come through difficult seasons victorious, still proclaiming the good news of the Son of God who conquered death to set us free from captivity so sin.

These are the ones who are more than conquerors through Christ – conquering not armies but the seething evil of our own depravity. These are not left to walk the dark valley alone but have the Lord of Hosts to walk with them and so can find joy in the midst of suffering.

And these – like me – can find a shared grief for a straggling sheep and yet have peace that the Most High will bring His plans to success in the end.

…For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

(2 Thessalonians 3:2b-5)

Oh what a wonder! Oh what a God we serve! I thank You, my King, that You have lit the fire of Your Spirit in the hearts of my girls and I pray my son, too, will be caught up in You until we are all consumed by zeal for Your Kingdom. Make my heart and the hearts of my family faithful to You, amen.  

Tuesday Prayer for the Family of God

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Father to the fatherless and Creator of the family, we praise You for the ways You work. Because we are Your children and You love us, You discipline us when we err and welcome us back when we turn to You in repentance. You are astonishingly patient with us and so give us an example of how we ought to be with one another.

For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
John 13:15-17

Oh how we love You and the Word of Truth! Teach our mouths and hearts to rejoice in Your Truth daily and use it to change us for Your glory. Increase in us love for You, zeal for Your Kingdom, desire for Your Word, fervency in prayer, humility to accept responsibility for our sin, and willingness to repent and cooperate with You. You are the God who sanctifies us. Let us not be at war with Your Spirit or with each other but with the evil one alone.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
Ephesians 6:12-13

Today we also pray for wayward children whether they are our peers and fellow children of God or our own physical or spiritual children and grandchildren. Our hearts long to see each of these walk in a right relationship to You. Lord, please, draw the prodigals among us back to You. Only You can pierce a stony heart; pierce theirs. Your Word is clear that none can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him. Draw them, Lord. We plead with You to add their names to the Lamb’s book of life even as we joyfully anticipate the celebration of their salvation.

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
James 1:14-15

Please also change us. In times when we face temptation, remind us that You always provide a way out so we have no excuse to fall but for our own evil desires. Help us to hold ourselves and one another accountable as ambassadors for Your eternal Kingdom. When one among us does succumb to temptation, guide us in how to restore such a one lovingly but without minimizing the deplorable nature of sin.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Galatians 6:1

Knowing that we are so prone to pride, we ask for You to guide us in every circumstance and give us the correct measure of grace and truth. Teach us to genuinely forgive as we have been forgiven and to stand firm on the Gospel – even in places where it seems a bizarre contrast to our world. Remind us that we serve a Kingdom which is not of this world and give us the courage to stand. It is in the mighty name of Jesus and for His glory we pray, amen.

Tuesday Prayer

Somewhat erratically, I have posted a prayer for the Church. Many of these have sprung from prayers for my own local church body, but nearly all are applicable for the wider Church – the Body of Christ which exists worldwide and transcends differences in complexion, language, geography, or any other. So why not post them here? 

Why not, indeed… Let’s shoot for weekly and see what we get. 

Light of the world, You are the only source of true wisdom, revelation, and love. There is no dark side to Your inclinations nor any taint in your purity. You are good and holy and just, compassionate in Your dealings with us and patient to the extreme.

We worship You not only for the incredible works You have done but for who You are. Our God. Our King. You are enough. Your grace is sufficient for us.

Lord, as you know, we live in an age where even reality is called into question – as if there can be multiple realities based on nothing more substantial than the fluctuating mood of capricious beings such as we. In such times, You are the firm foundation which does not change; the solid Rock to which we can cling as the cultural storm rages around us.

But Lord, You are so much more besides.

You are also our Strength so that in You we do not merely cling to a dubious existence, barely getting through. Instead and by Your power at work in and through us, we are more than conquerors, able to thrive even in adversity and live out our trust in You day by day. Because of our salvation, we can even feel joy despite pain and loss.

Your Holy Spirit who gives us the strength to love the unlovely and to forgive those who hurt us in unforgivable ways – because we know we have been loved and forgiven so much more by You.

It is You, also, who gives us the boldness to stand firm on the Word of Truth even when the very idea of absolute truth is unpopular. Not because we are an argumentative and hateful people, Lord. May You forgive us if and when we are!  But instead, by Your Spirit we are a people who love others enough tell them the truth and to answer rejection and even persecution with forgiveness because we realize it is You they are rejecting, not us. And again, You are enough for us.

And we thank You, Lord. We praise Your name for the many prayers You have already answered and the many more You will answer. We thank You for the lost who are saved and for our loved ones whom You will save in time. We praise You for the healing of broken families and for families You will heal in the future as Your Spirit works in hearts and lives.

We honor You for setting us free from sin and we choose to live as an example to others, daily dying to ourselves so we might live for You.

We long to see Your Kingdom come and Your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven, and so we set ourselves to faithful diligence in doing our part to see it done.

We recognize to fully engage our world with the Good News of salvation from sin, we must first engage it within ourselves. Before we lead others to the Gospel, we must believe it enough to live in continual humility, accepting responsibility for our sins and repenting fully – not once only but as a practice in cooperation with You for our sanctification.

And as a body, we hold one another accountable within our church local churches, loving one another with such a balance of grace and truth that our oddity stands out to the world as clearly as a city on a hill in a full blaze of electric lights in the dark of night.

Light of the world, let Your light shine in us as a beacon of hope for the disillusioned, the miscreant, the prodigal, and all who are deceived and lost so they may find their way home to You, amen.

A Hope on Both Sides of the Grave

… in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…
1 Peter 3:15-16

The modern mind is impatient. Furiously so.

We live at a frenetic pace in today’s world – a thing James Gleick calls “hurry sickness” in his book, Faster.  And in this world with a glut of information and a deficit of time, we often hurry without purpose, going nowhere faster than ever before. We take in more data in an hour than we can process in a week.

This acceleration of tempo has infiltrated the church and affected our views on the promises of God. Too many of us have become consumers of the 5-minute devotional or the single-verse meme, taking nibbles on the Bread of Life here and there throughout our week and hoping it will somehow counteract the vast measures of cultural junk food we absorb. Too often, we expect microwave answers to slow-cooker problems.

When I was an atheist, I would point to some calamity or cancer or sexual abuse as evidence that Christianity “didn’t work.” I believed if there was such a thing as a loving God, He wouldn’t allow such things.  In my ignorance, I supposed God existed for our earthly good – kind of like a jolly old man giving out candy to children without concern for their long-term nutrition.

And if our entire existence were summed up in the eighty-odd years of mortality, this would be a just argument. As Paul once wrote, if Christ was not raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins.

So many people, believers and unbelievers alike, struggle with the fact of continued suffering and death. If we believe God’s promises, why do we not always see them borne out? Why, when we pray for healing, do we see even more sickness? Where is this plan to prosper and not to harm us we see in memes on social media?

The answer is simple. A happy, healthy life on earth is not the goal.

Healing is great, but sometimes pain drives us closer to God in areas which we would never voluntarily venture. Sometimes it takes a great evil done to us to see the monstrous evil within our own hearts. Hardship can remind us of the fleeting nature of possessions and lay bare the illusion of control.

In my walk with the Lord, I’ve asked such questions. In the dark of my own inner night, I’ve wrestled with God in a desperation to understand painful experiences. And through the struggle, He revealed my impatience to me.

Take Abraham…

Genesis 15 tells of Abraham, a man to whom God made a sweeping double promise: he would possess a huge swath of land and his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. In actuality, the first glimpse of this promise was given to Abraham at age 75, as Genesis 12:2-4 tells us. It was reiterated in chapter 15 and revisited in chapter 17 when our man was 99 – a lapse of 24 years since the original promise of “a great nation” from his line.

Somewhere in those decades, Abraham made a choice to believe God despite his childless state.

And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6

Of course, if we read on in Genesis, we find one part of the promise fulfilled in his son, Isaac – a miraculous birth since his wife was well past her child-bearing years. Still, Abraham died owning naught but the tomb his wife, Sarah, and eventually he, himself, were buried in.

Did God fail to keep His promise?  Our impatience tempts us to reply, “Yes.”

But the truth is, God never backs out on His promises. It’s just that too often we assume the promises are meant for us right now.

We disdain posterity, preferring miraculous healing instead of patient and faithful endurance. We crave a bold delivery from difficulty instead of the testimony of trust in the midst of trial.

Though Abraham did not live to see it, his descendants did eventually possess the promised land – at least until they fell into disobedience. And that part was their choice, not God’s plan.

The core of the matter, the point of real hope is this: If I feel God has not kept a promise in my time, it’s a sign I need to broaden my scope.

God’s promises are not about me living a cushy existence with my every whim granted. It doesn’t mean I won’t experience suffering, hardship, and loss.

What it does mean is that I will experience them with purpose. And whether I like it or not, that purpose is His glory. His, not mine.

The promise I trust in – my hope – is despite the grave. It is not in health or wealth or politics or gain. It is in God Himself. Eternity in the presence of His glory. Pleasures forevermore at His right hand.  It is also hope for now – in His power made evident by my constant weakness.

In Christ, both life and death are redeemed, for to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Friend, if you find yourself hopeless, take time from the press of urgency to wrestle with Him.

How do you find hope in the midst of hardship? Feel free to share!