Tuesday Prayer: Even If

If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” 

Daniel 3:17-18, NASB

YHWH Adonai, You are the great and mighty God; the God who saves us and in whom is found compassion, mercy, justice, and forgiveness. Whether our lives are filled with difficulty or ease, You are good, for You are unchanging even in the midst of a world in constant flux. Our opinion of You has no effect on the reality of You, our God, nor do our feelings towards you make any difference in who You are. Thank You for Your solidity in an unstable world. 

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Psalm 62:2

Today, we thank You for the many times You have rescued us from some disaster or kept us safe from some evil scheme. However, Lord, we also recognize that You do not always protect us in this world. Sometimes, terrible things happen. Sometimes there is sickness, terror, pain, sorrow, torment, and death.

Faith in You does not guarantee us a pain-free life. If anything, faith in You prepares us to take up our crosses, daily choosing to die to ourselves and follow You. Choosing faith in Christ means choosing to participate in His suffering, but also to participate in His ultimate exaltation. Choosing to follow Jesus also means declaring open war on the enemy of our souls, opening us up to a greater scale of attack from his forces as he seeks to destroy and discourage us. 

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

Mark 8:34-35

Knowing this, we choose You anyway, Lord. You are able to rescue us from any danger, yet even if You do not, we will serve You. Our choice to give our lives to You is not based on what You do for us but on the fact that You are who You are. The King of kings; the Prince of peace; the Mighty God; the Beginning and the End; the Holy One. We serve You because You are our God and because we love You, and no scheme of hell nor pain of life can ever tear that away. 

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

And so it is that we praise You for saving us from ultimate and eternal disaster through the sacrifice of Jesus. Thank You that You chose to draw us to Him, to enable our hearts to trust in Him. Without Jesus, we would be doomed to the futility of our own poor choices now and eternal suffering, but in Christ, we are renewed and redeemed to be useful to You once more and promised eternal life in Your presence.  

Use us, Lord, as You see fit. Give us an eternal hunger for You and for Your word, and pierce our hearts with sorrow for those who suffer in this world without the eternal hope we have in You. May this tenderness compel us to share Your truth boldly with others, pleading on our knees in intercession on their behalf that You might see fit to draw them to saving faith as well, amen. 

Tuesday Prayer: Love for Man

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

John 13:34-35

God who is Love, today we come before Your throne of grace humbled and contrite in heart. We are more grateful than words can express that You have chosen to open our eyes to the greatest Love of all; the Love of the Almighty expressed in the ultimate atoning sacrifice. By Your sacrificial love, all our crimes are forgiven and taken away as far as the east is from the west. 

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalms 103:11-12

Yet even with so great an example of humility and sacrificial love as Jesus demonstrated His life and death, even though the cost of our own sin is uncountable, we are prone to forgetfulness when it comes to extending that same love and forgiveness to other people. What a short-sighted and selfish people we are! Open our hearts more to understand the depth and breadth of Your love. Fill us with it so that we may love others just as selflessly as You love us.

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’

Matthew 18:32-33

And Lord, please change our vision so that we do not interpret the actions and motives of others only by how they affect us or make us feel. Instead, help us see others as You do. For those who are unsaved, remind us that we, too, were once lost, deceived, and living in active rebellion to the Living God. Show us how to view others with humility, understanding that only by Your grace are we saved and that they, too, may be saved by Your grace. 

Shape us into a compassionate people, believing the best intentions of others no matter how they hurt us and willing to forgive no matter how deep the wound. Keep us mindful of the cost of the Cross and of the hurts we’ve inflicted on others and on You so that we can keep our own attitudes in proper perspective.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:7

Thank You for allowing us to be covered in the righteousness of Your Son, Jesus, for without His covering, we would be laid bare in our shame and filthy in our sin.

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 5:21

And Lord, make us to especially love our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are not actively living in love with each other, we have no draw to those on the outside of the church. Let us live out Jesus’s words and show the world we belong to Him by the love we have for each other. 

May it be, also, that we love others enough to tell them the truth about You, even if it is a difficult truth for them to hear. If any should die apart from Christ, may it never be because we neglected share the news of Jesus Christ with them. It is for Your glory and in His name we ask for this great overflow of compassion in our hearts and actions, amen. 

Hurt by Church? Me too. Let’s Chat.

My turn first.

It’s true. I have been hurt by church – even hurt by a church whose stated purpose is to provide a safe place to connect to God for those who have been hurt by church. A trifle ironic, you might say, and you’d be right.

However, I’m not here to drag the leadership of this church through the mud. There will be no character assassination attempts, no ranting or railing against the injustice of it all. In fact, there will be a shocking deficit of details about my experience.

What I want most to express is this: I am glad it happened.

No, you didn’t misread. I have a genuine, heartfelt, sincere sense of glee and relish because I have been  hurt by church. Sorry if that isn’t what you expected to hear. Yet bear with me and hear me out…

I admit I wasn’t always glad about it. To the contrary, there were years in which I was downright bitter about the thing. I was in pain. I was angry. I licked my wounds and sulked. I threw a huge pity party and invited me, myself, and I, and we sat around and placated one another’s tender little ol’ feelings.

Basically, I hopped on the crazy train without even looking at the itinerary first. And I have to say I didn’t really like where it left me when the time came to disembark.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:11

Yeah, there I was, alone and lacking the proper attire in a wasteland echoing with the sounds of my  sniveling self-pity with naught to eat but the acrid fruit of my own sharp tongue.

“Today also my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.
Job 23:2

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Proverbs 18:21

Not fun. Still, I am truthfully glad it happened. Not because it hurt, but because God uses all things – pain and pleasure alike – to shape His people for eternity. Maybe especially pain.

The thing is, God did not leave me to whine forever in that wasteland. Oh He let me endure it for a bit. Gave me my head, saw how far I would run astray from the Master I love. He allowed me the natural consequences of my sullen response to pain.

But He didn’t leave me because the wasteland was nothing more than a pit stop down the broad path which leads to destruction. And destruction was something I was embracing while I nursed my hurts as if they were dear, beloved friends.

Meanwhile, I was allowing something foolish like hurt feelings to build walls between me and my actual dear, beloved friends.

The stupid part is, I knew better.

In the logical part of my brain, I knew the decision which wounded me was made at a time when we were all worn thin, church leadership and laymen alike.

It was a difficult season in our church’s history, and each one of us was exerting an enormous amount of energy just to keep our heads above water and make each Sunday happen. And I also knew the decision had not been made as a personal slight.

I knew that. Yet for some reason, my pride still felt a sting and I allowed it grow. And fester.

But my Father is good. He knows when I have had enough of my own way, and He is faithful to bring me back to the narrow path by His side. And to be honest, that part hurt, too.

… He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:10-11

My God disciplined me for my own good, so I can share in something better than approval from man, or praise, or whatever it was I felt robbed of at the time. I can share in His holiness. 

Wow. Seriously, wow.

But I have to tell you, the discipline part hurt. Maybe even more than the original wound.

Because of my bitterness, I was forced to take an honest look at myself. I was compelled to assess the situation, what I knew to be true about it, and continue in God’s word.

Then once I had reconciled reality with my faulty perception, it was time to slay the monster. But it wouldn’t die.

Each time I believed it dead and moved on, the vile thing would pop its ugly head back up in a new location. Despite my best efforts at extraction, a root of bitterness coiled around my heart and continued to send new shoots piercing through my words at most inconvenient times.

It was humbling. It was horrible. And frankly, as a woman who spends so much time with her Father in His Word and in conversation throughout the days, it was embarrassing.

But it was also good.

You see, God used that one event, that one perceived slight to show me something I had overlooked. He used it to expose my selfish tendencies, my desire for approval, my propensity to “accidentally” allow my left hand a peek or two at what my right hand was doing.

He used it to expose my pride. My tendency to harbor bitterness. My inflated self-importance. And more.

But in exposing these things, He also began a long and painful work of removing them. And He prompted me to do something I can hope will be the proverbial stake through the monster’s heart.

He prompted me to confess my bitterness to two friends who in some ways represent the church I write of because they are the pastor and his wife. But as I said before, they are also my friends. And I confessed to them the bitterness I wanted gone from my life,  knowing they would accept my confession and pray for me.

It was humbling, sure, but it was also liberating. By confessing, the ugly monster no longer lurked in the depths of my heart but was brought out into the sunshine where it can wither and die. May this be the final nail in its coffin.

And so, in being hurt by church, I was able to discover and address my own junk.

There is no church on earth where people will not, from time to time, hurt one another. We are all selfish at heart. We can all be thoughtless. We respond to one another out of fatigue or pain or a myriad of other problems. And not a single one of us can read the minds and hearts of others, and so we never know if what we say or do might inflict some unintentional wound.

But my friends, that’s the inherent beauty in the church. It’s called sanctification, and it means dealing both with our own hideous monsters and with the hideous monsters of others. It’s how we learn to confess, to forgive, to grow in Christ. To become more like Him in His holiness and humility.

I am thankful for friends I can confess my sin to who will listen and hear my heart then pray for me. And I pray the stupid rift caused by bitterness will truly be healed.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
James 5:16a

And I’m even more thankful for a God who loves me enough to show me the nasty bits breeding beneath the surface of my soul, then rip them out before they squeeze the life from my heart and relationships.

So what has God wrought in you through times of being hurt, by church or otherwise?

Useful Suffering

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
(Romans 5:3-5)

There is nothing quite like being a parent to highlight certain Scriptures with excruciating clarity.

Since Ash Wednesday, I’ve been reading and re-reading in the book of Romans, going through a couple of chapters over my breakfast and diving into a smaller portion for closer study when the meal has been consumed.

My weekend reading focused on chapters 9 and 10, which a read through a handful of times. I broke today’s fast with eggs scrambled with kale, onion, and red bell pepper along with a side of Romans 11, the previous two chapters still fresh on my mind. Then over coffee, I turned to Romans 5 for examination.

And I saw a horrifying glimpse of the grief our Creator feels over the rebellion of His creation. His children.

I saw it because I recognized a tiny sliver of His grief in Paul’s impassioned words from Romans 9:2-3:

…I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

And I recognized it because now that my own little brood have begun trying their wings, I share a human-sized portion of the same unceasing anguish, not only for my brothers, but for my children.

If I could trade my salvation for the assurance of each of theirs, I would do it without a second thought. Now with our oldest counting down the months until legal adulthood, I am more certain of this than ever before.

There is definitely anguish in my heart as I watch him stumble into a trap lined with acceptance but secular to its purposeless core. Only weeks after I’d bragged on what a delight he has become, he has seemed to turn a darker corner and morphed into the stereotypical rude, withdrawn teenager.

And the people who have his heart are not my brothers and sisters in Christ as before. I do not even know where they come from, but he is more connected with them than with any portion of the Body of Christ at present. This is a source of terrible grief for me.

And yet, I know there will truly be no greater joy for me than if I live to see him and his sisters walk in the Truth.

For now, however, I pray. I watch. I search the Word for wisdom and guidance. And I pray even more.

Through it all, I also rejoice in this season of parental suffering because, while it is intensely frightening and painful to watch my firstborn dancing around a fire which threatens to consume him, I know this form of suffering, too, brings endurance.

Endurance in prayer, greater hope in the faithfulness of my Lord.

But it also because this heartache helps me to understand with greater poignancy the never-failing, never-ceasing capacity for forgiveness and love held by my Father’s many times shattered heart. And also because through this anguish, I begin to better understand His keen joy when even one lost child is found and begins to walk in truth.

Lord, forgive me the hurts I have inflicted on You by my rebellion and untrusting ways. I never knew what pain was until now. Please guide my children to You. May they become Your children more truly than ever they were mine, and we rejoice together to someday see them walk in Your Truth.  

 

Just a Prayer

 For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah.
(Psalms 62:5-8)

Gracious Redeemer, You are the only One who can restore the wreckage of humanity caused by sin. You, Lord, restore our brokenness when we humbly seek and submit to Your ways. Thank You for coming into our terrible mess and bringing hope and for setting us free from slavery to sin. Thank You for providing in Your Son an example to emulate and a goal to strive for and for Your Spirit who provides guidance for the willing heart.

Lord, break our hearts afresh today for our sin and restore in us a proper awe and reverence for You! Restore to us the joy of our salvation this day and continue to do so in the days to come – a great flood of joy in You which will spill out on everyone in our path..

This day, we also ask for Your help in bringing our hearts to obedience. We confess that we are stubborn and often rebel against Your grace. We put higher priorities on the things of this world – things that will soon pass away – than we do on You and on Your Kingdom.

Forgive us, Lord. Help us to overcome our unbelief. Increase our love for You so that obedience to You is of utmost importance in our everyday lives and is evidenced by the way we live each day. Guide our priorities and show us the way they should be ordered, and teach our hearts obedience to Your ordained order.

Please also help our families. Heal broken hearts and restore damaged relationships and shattered trust. Crush our hearts for our sin towards our husbands, wives, parents, children, siblings, or anyone else and prod us to confess with humility and seek forgiveness.

Where we have been hurt, remind us of how we have grieved You, the God who is Love, and help us to extend to others the forgiveness You have already shown to us. Redeem our relationships in all aspects, Lord, and mold us into a people for Your pleasure and purposes, amen.