When Should We Pray? Too Late!

I keep seeing it.  Someone calls us out.  All of us.  Our prayer lives are not what God intended.   We all shake our heads.  It’s sad.  We are sad.  It’s not that we choose failure specifically… it just keeps turning out that way.

We see how bad we need to fix it. In our hearts we want to fix it. And yet we go to our heads to try and fix it. Logically, we will attempt to put plans into action when it makes the most sense. When I’m healthy. When I have more time. When I finish this class. When I fix other issues.  We let the brain try and fix a fault that lies in our hearts and souls.

This is not God helping us to better our spiritual life, this is THE devil actively destroying our relationship with God.   To concoct a plan that implements any form of waiting is in direct contradiction to the call to pray without ceasing.  Time and time again, I see this.  It’s a two part answer from two different enemies at odds with one another.  (part 1), “I need to fix this!” This is the good and Godly part  (part 2 comes immediately after without pause and usually in the same sentence), “as soon as I get back on my feet.”

I’m going to pray better tomorrow after I get some rest.

I’m going to pray more once I get the job with fewer hours.

I’m going to spend quiet time with God once I get a bigger house.

I’m going to be more obedient once the kids move out.

I’m going to start reading more during the summer.

I’m going to pray more earnestly when its not so crowded.

I’ll pray deeper once I get healthier, I can pray when I go running.

Do you see what we do?  We take the will of the Father and the will of the enemy and merge them into a single thought.  This is how the devil works.  We see the truth in the will to do right and we think we are being good sons and daughters.  Rarely do we realize we carry out the will of the enemy in our tasks.  His will (that of the enemies) is that we wait.  Postpone.  Prolong.  See if we can get distracted.  Forget.  Get busy doing other things. 

The issue?  It’s the timing.  There is only one time we should attempt to fix our relationship with God, which greatly includes fixing our prayer life. Rather than try and pick a less than perfect word, allow me an example.

Last week I received a bill from my doctor.  This has happened before.  I recognized the envelope.  I paid him in full, up front.  Yet another bill has come.  It’s an injustice.  At best, they are letting me pay for their accounting errors.  At worst, they are a fraudulent and crooked organization.  I didn’t care which it was.  I was not going to let them do this to me!  Who do they think they are dealing with!!???

I tore open the envelope and jerked the thrice folded and neatly perforated paperwork out.   Just undoing one fold was all I needed to get the full story.  This was indeed another errant bill against my favor.  One hand clinched the bill while the other had already started dialing billing services.  A young lady answered the phone and this is when I noticed the envelope was just settling down on the counter from when I ripped it open and flung it out of the way.

Ok, maybe I can’t dial THAT fast, but you get the image?  Like a cartoon I felt capable of reaching through the phone cord and smacking someone across the back of their head.  I felt like I could still see a faint outline of myself as I made my way in from the mailbox.  I was that fast.  This issue was urgent.  It was dire.  It was all about me!!!!

And this continues the pattern I’ve seen before.   When it affects me, I manage to blur the lines of priority a bit.  I’ve learned to take care of myself very well.  Or my loved ones.  I can justify giving them priority over everything.  Everything.  Sadly, that sometimes includes our God.

I believe most of us.  Quite honestly, all of us… need to start attacking our prayer life the same way I attacked that errant bill.  And with the same concern and urgency.  But it needs to be all about Him!!!!

When we let Satan have access to our priority structure, we will never be able to get our relationship together with God.  When we can see His schemes and attempts to keep us apart, our priorities can be realigned.  What could be more important than spending a moment with the Father right now?  The brain doesn’t understand, ‘now’.  The enemy has too much access to that space.  ‘Now’ is a term of the soul.  It’s immediate, and yet its deeply routed into eternal.

When should we pray?  When should we read?  When should we repair that relationship with God?  Drop to your knees and be speaking to the Father before your legs hit the ground.  That is when.  Not just now… super-now!  Faster than that even.  Am I being too silly, or too demanding?  Not really.  You see, every moment you ponder your next move, adds more red text to the statements above.  When you drop to pray and include God in your next decision, you yank the reigns out of the enemies hand (while hopefully leaving a bit of a mark) 😉

If you think, “I really do need to start…” you have already let the enemy in.  If your next thought is, “God and Father in Heaven…” you have already boxed the enemy out.

How about a little nudge…

[God and Father in Heaven, I need You.  Oh how deep and how wide do I need You.  I desire a relationship with You.  A very true, meaningful, and reciprocated journey that You and I will walk together…. ]

Keep it going (and if possible, don’t stop until we reach the throne of God).

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I’ll stop the world and nag for you!

Luke 18 tells the story of a whiny, annoying, tattletale.  The woman is seeking justice so I assume she recounts her entire story including names and locations with grisly details abounding.

This, of course, is from the point of view of the ruler who had to hear her testimony day after day.  Because the scriptures tell us she kept coming back, we can assume he told her, “no”, more than once.

After all, he did not care what she, or even God, thought about his ruling decisions.  But something happened.  An M. Night Shyamalan style plot twist occurred.  The ruler grew tired of the repetition.  He thought, ‘can I afford more enemies’?  And for the most selfish reasons afforded to him, he chose to answer her plea…. eventually.

You don’t have to ponder for long what the moral is here.  The Bible follows with it bluntly.  If an evil, selfish ruler will grant your requests, how much more so would a loving Father?  And if you combine this scripture with my very favorite, “Pray without ceasing.”  You get a pretty good picture of what prayer life is supposed to look like.

Don’t stop praying.  God does not tire of the monotony.  He has an entirely different perspective than that.  His children are sharing with Him what is most important to them.  Those who have children will understand that its in our nature to jump from one fad to the next.  So when the kids break down the door after a long school day and shout out their most current, favorite thing in the world… veteran moms and dads will wait it out and see just how precious this new interest is.  Sometimes it lasts only a day.  Some can be interested for a few weeks before tossing it out for the next big thing.

Praying for the same thing every day lets God know where you are vested.  It’s a conversation with your Father.  He doesn’t answer out of frustration, or even pity.  When He answers a prayer, its out of love.  I imagine the dialogue is not like that of the evil ruler who gave in selfishly to protect his own time and interests.  I believe its more like:

‘You have wanted this for a long time.  You have shown to be faithful.  It pleases me to do this for you’.

Many will point out that God does not need our prayers to do His will.  Some will argue our prayers are ineffective against the plans of our Lord.  While I feel that contradicts scriptures in several ways, perhaps its better to try and look at it a different way.

Suppose we decide to go skydiving today.  When we jump out of the plane, our abilities really have nothing to do with the experience.  In fact, anyone can go skydiving.  The plane takes us up to a height that allows the jump, and the parachute allows us to safely return to the ground.  So when we say, “I’m going skydiving!”, we are really just taking a ride.  The true power is everywhere but within us.

Even as it is, we still have to make the choice to skydive.  We still have to get ready that day and get to and on the plane.  Most importantly… we have to be willing to and decide to jump.  Those are our actions even if we need the plane and the chute to make everything else happen.

And if we choose not to jump… perhaps someone else will.  But they will be the ones in the embrace of the chute.  They will be the ones climbing into the warmth of the sky.  They will be the ones experiencing the presence of adventure.  We will have missed out on the whole experience.  Perhaps the parachute opens anyway?  But its a chute meant for everyone… and only a few chose it.

When we pray, the power comes from God, but we have to act out some faith and time on our end.  God designed prayer for us to be along for the ride.  So it can take us to wonderful places and allow us to experience fantastic things.  Will the world keep moving without us asking God for it to?  Most likely.  But, He desires our communion with Him.  And He has proven on more than one occasion to alter His plans for those that love Him and pray accordingly.

Never stop praying.  Pray for miracles.  Pray for healing.  Pray for rain.  Pray for insight.  Pray for tacos.  God desires to hear from you… and every single day at that.  Is your aunt still sick?  Pray again.  Still?  Pray again.  This isn’t questioning God, His will or His power.  It’s communicating your constant desires to your creator.  My cats tell me every single day they are hungry in the morning, lonely in the afternoon, and frisky in the evening.  Without fail, they make their case known plainly.  Does it bother me?  Not at all, I’m happy they know I’m the one to come to for such things.

Now imagine a loving, daddy anxious to hear what is on your heart.  Even if He’s heard it a million times… He wants to hear it once more, every day, as long as that is what consumes your heart.  Someone you know need prayer?  Stop your world and pray for them.  Pray the way God created you and prayer to work together.  Never ceasing, never withholding, always giving God the glory, faithfully that He intends to use that power as He promised, when you ask.

 

Judge or Sinner? Pick a Side

There really isn’t a third group.  Jesus ate with sinners.  He spoke to those that followed Him (fishermen, children, diseased, depressed, hopeless).  They took one glance at this man and followed Him.  Then there were the religious elite, the pharisees.  He often rebuked them as their judgement was in error and had no place in a gospel built on love and forgiveness.

So where is the third group?  Where is the group we all think we belong in?  Where would we be sitting if Jesus walked into the mall today and there we are?  Most of us admit we have sinned at one time way back when, but we really dislike the connotation of ‘sinner’.  The pharisees were far worse.  Hypocrites, self righteous, pious.  We don’t want to be lumped in with them… but we certainly don’t find ourselves at the tax collector’s table either.

So who are we?  Maybe we could argue we fit in the middle?  That almost sounds like being lukewarm, which promises we will be spat out of grace should that be the case.  I can tell you who you are, but you may not like it.  It’s both good news and bad.  Lets start with the bad.

You are the sinner.  We all are.  We are human.  We have fallen.  We have a diabolical enemy with an army of demons that literally want to drag us to Hell fighting over our souls.  We make mistakes, we goof, and sometimes we just plain choose to do dumb things.  We are actively sinners.  All of us.  The pharisees are simply the group of us that lives in denial.

So, the good news?  We are the ones Jesus came to save.  We would find Him at our table.  He would come into our home.  He will heal us.  He will free us.  He will forgive us.  He will lift us up and allow us to join with Him in the place He has prepared for His children.

Two groups of people.  One followed Him, touched Him in faith, carried their sick to Him, washed His feet.  Sinners, all of them.  The other group nailed Him to the cross because they felt superior to Him and those He came to save.  They also feared Him.  Jesus came to us in our mess.  He meets us where we are.  He did it before and it cost His life.  He does it still.

Why did the pharisees hate Him?  He came to save us.  Our group.  The little guy.  They thought he belonged at the cool table.  But He choose the outcast, the lonely, the forgotten.  The pharisees pass judgement and then claim they are holier than any other.  Do you recall the simple scripture that addresses judgement?  Here it is in all its tricky, complicated, pieces for us to sort out and argue over… “Do not judge.”.

Sounds like a wonderful test to me.  Which group do you belong?  Whose sins are you worried about?  Yours?  Or those of another?   Does Jesus live in your home?  Or do you grind your teeth at the thought of others worshiping Him?  Those people who do it all wrong.  They meet on the wrong day, they sing the wrong songs, they interpret God’s word differently than you.  How dare they enjoy His presence… His blessing… His gift!

The good news about being in the ‘sinners’ group is that we have each other.  All of us, in it together, needing grace, knowing what stumbling is like, knowing what shame feels like, knowing what judgement feels like.  And as we yearn to be more like Jesus, we can sense what forgiveness feels like as we embrace each other, sinners all the same, and love each other the way He taught us to.  There is simply no room for judgement.  We do not wish to be judged and we do not judge.

What replaces judgement?  Prayer.  We pray for each other.  We pray for the pharisees.  We pray for our enemies, for those who wrong us.  We pray for those who need grace, love, healing, and hope.  We do life together.  Helping each other.  We embrace the words spoken as Jesus prepared to return to heaven.  “let them be one”.  We unite in our sin (not as a badge of honor, but as a common ground of understanding).  And much more so, we unite in our need for grace and humility.

I’m not proud of my sin, but I love those traveling with me who withhold judgement.  We have a common enemy that would use that against us if we let him.  Something great happens when we accept what group we are in.  It’s not giving up… we always strive to improve and make God proud every chance we can.  But knowing our place disarms the enemy.  He can’t hold our past hostage over us any longer.  When we know our place, we know we are forgiven.

When we know our place, we know we are loved and the lies of the enemy sounds as hypocritical as the judgement cast down from those told to not judge.  We all need forgiveness.  Some of us need to forgive.  Some of us need to invite God into our mess.  He will come.  Just as you are.  Just where you are.  One of Satan’s biggest lies is that we have to meet some criteria to be worthy of forgiveness.  What a tremendous lie that is!

Don’t be that monkey in the middle who thinks that only the other two sides get to play.  Jump out and claim your place at the sinners table filled with grace, love, forgiveness, hope, eternal promises, and have a seat next to our heavenly brother, Jesus.  He has been waiting for you.

Wassup God! [High Five]

College was fun.  I remember days when walking across the campus I felt like I knew almost everyone.  I went to a small school and most of us enjoyed large friendship circles.  The manner in which we greeted varied from person to person.  Hugs, handshakes, high fives, shouts from too far away, running up and scaring the unsuspecting person, waving, etc.

The greeting depended on the person and the mood.  With most people, they would ask, “how was your weekend?”.  And the general consensus is that they didn’t really want to know but it would be rude not to ask.  So the universal answer was, “fine, how was yours?”.  They too were obligated to answer in one positive or up beat word and move on.

The exception were your true friends.  These were much rarer.  When asked how your weekend was, you could freely answer… and then some.  And we would often joke about the silly social structure where everyone asked but most didn’t care.  My friends and I decided that, just for fun, we would unload all of our deepest, darkest, most terrifying secrets, hopes and dreams on the next person to insincerely ask.

We never did… but we laughed out loud every time someone brought it up.  “hey!  how was your weekend?”… “sit down, this will take a while… you don’t have any plans, right?  Where should I start…”  Can you imagine?  😉

How do we greet God?  Public prayers are interesting.  It seems a very popular opening is the “Dear God…”.  Which to me, sounds like a letter.  And the last time I used “Dear anything” in a letter the contents were equivalent of a “to whom it may concern” document.

It just doesn’t seem right, if I’m addressing my friend, I would not say, “dear friend”  as an opening.  I usually just call them by name.  Then we get the formal prayers.  “Almighty God in Heaven….”  Nothing wrong with that either.  But how natural feeling is that?  Do we greet anyone else with a name, descriptor AND location?

My starting point of choice is, “Father”.  But if I’m honest with myself, that stands out too.  I don’t call my father on earth, ‘father’… I call him dad.  Most times, I just start talking and don’t really call anyone anything.

The point is that I think its a good exercise to think about our relationship with God.  In short, have you prepared enough during the good and restful times, that you can communicate properly during the desperate and painful times?  Do you struggle sometimes to address Him at all?  Perhaps nothing important is going on?  Maybe you feel like you bug Him too much?  You have already asked for this once before?

The quick Bible reference for today is, “pray without ceasing”.  I’m going to take that literally.  Your next sentence to God shouldn’t start with a long proclamation and greeting… because you should have been talking to him just a few minutes ago.  Building God up is part of any good prayer, but I hope you get the point in that we should always have the phone off hook (so to speak).

I was talking to my wife on the phone.  She put me on hold when someone else called and when she came back to me… we just kept talking.  She didn’t have to identify herself again or undergo any assumed pleasantries.  Is God different?  Allow me to share one way that I approach God when things are not going well…

I throw myself at God.  Not because I need to.  Not because I deduce it logically.  But, because it is the only option my body, mind, and soul instinctually know.

Red light and danger signs with alarms start going off… what is our instinct when that happens?  I need safety.  I need comfort.  I need love.  I need compassion.  I need someone that understands my side… my perspective.

I leap straight up and into His arms and do not let go.

This is like falling to your knees, crying or laughing…  You don’t plan on it, you respond to the momentum in your heart.

Do you know what God does when you jump into His arms?  He holds you tight and protects you.  (2 Samuel 22: 3-4).   When you shout God’s name, there is never the chance of an awkward moment where He doesn’t hear you but everyone else does.   When you approach with an arm up in the air… He won’t leave you hanging.  That is right.  I firmly believe God is a high fiving type of Lord.  Sacrilegious?  Not according to the Bible.

We are made in the image of God.  Our traits come from Him.  His joy is in us.  He went to great lengths to save us.  Maybe a high five is too specific.  Perhaps He will have a secret handshake involving the chicken wing or a 3 pointer fade away?  Silly?  I think its silly to think that God loves us enough to give up His Son and then wouldn’t physically and visibly welcome us to the Kingdom with an expression of affection.

In all seriousness, I think the high fives and other expressions will come later.  When I first meet my Lord, I believe we are going to hug.  We are going to shed tears.  He is going to claim that I was worth it, and I am going to thank Him and praise Him.

God is God and He deserves reverence.  God is also Jesus.  Man.  And He understands weddings.  He attends parties.  He laughs.  He loves.  He has joy.  How is your relationship with Him?  I’m not at all asking anyone to drop the reverence from their relationship… but I also think that we are family.  Our God Father and Jesus Brother know us on an intimate and personal level.  Lets get to know them.  Lets speak to them with love.

Lets speak to them often.  Consistently.  Thoroughly.  Without ceasing.  Talk to God about your dreams, your sins, your life.  Praise Him for who He is and what He has done.  And then… talk about basketball.  Talk about boys.  Talk about women.  Discuss politics.  Facebook Him.  Tweet Him.  Instagram with Him.  He is most certainly a rare and good friend worthy of your full story.

‘A Mighty God Seeks Weak Prayers’ – The Devil.

If your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God. – ‘The Circle Maker’

Consider a few scenarios:

Someone in a wheelchair approaches and asks if you could open a door for them.  No problem, right?  Most of us would be happy to.  What if a healthy adult man stopped short of the door and asked for the same help?

What if a child asked for help tying their shoes?  No problem, right?  What if they keep asking when they are 16 years old?

How about when a beggar asks for money?  While this may not be as black and white of an issue, lets contrast that to someone who clearly doesn’t need money.  If the man on the street corner wore a suit, held a briefcase, cell phone attached to one hip and designer sunglasses snugly donned across the bridge of his nose.  Would you give your money to the second man?

We don’t mind helping people who can’t help themselves.  In fact, for many of us, we enjoy helping them.  But all that changes when people ask for things they can do for themselves.  Consider your prayers to God.  The almighty God.  The maker of the world.  The creator of mankind.  The superior being who allowed His Son to die on the cross.  God.  You have His attention.  You have approached His throne and He allows you to ask for your heart’s desire.  What would you ask?

Perhaps lets look at it from another direction.  What miracles did Jesus perform?  Were any of them trivial?  Did Jesus change deserved test scores?  Did He snap His fingers and change His clothes?  Did money grow from trees?  Jesus didn’t conjure up mediocrity.  He didn’t see fit to perform underwhelming miracles.  No flying and no light shows.  Jesus fed, healed, restored, resurrected, and created faith with hope.  He did the impossible.  At least for us.

We don’t have that power.  But God does.  My favorite conversation between God and man in our Bible can be found in Genesis 18:  16 – 33.  God informs Abraham that He is going to destroy the evil and corrupt towns of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Abraham asks God, essentially, if He thought this through:  “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  What if there are fifty righteous people in the city?”  God agrees to spare the entire city if only 50 good people are found.  But Abraham doesn’t stop.  He wants to know how specific God is being.  ‘what if only 45 righteous are found…. would you kill all those people for just being 5 short?’  6 times, Abraham asks God to reduce the number down to 10.

And God agrees that if only 10 righteous people are found, that He will spare the entire city.  Abraham approached God, spoke boldly, and changed the thoughts of our maker.  This is how we should pray.  We are to pray with faith.  Faith isn’t found in the easy or the common.  Faith is born in the impossible.  Faith is knowing God can make things happen that His creation isn’t capable of doing.  When you combine creation’s faith with the creator’s love… impossible happens.

There are many reasons why prayers go unanswered.  Asking God for something that He already blessed you with the ability to obtain is one of them.  Look at our examples in the Bible.  Consider Abraham.  Remember Jesus, His son, with whom He was pleased!  Pray big!  Pray bold!  The fight isn’t over yet.  The war for souls wages on.  God is listening.  What would you ask of Him?

Praying to God with Time and Solitude

I started falling asleep to the tv in high school.  With the right volume and show running in the background, I could finally clear my mind and find rest.  With marriage came improvisation.  Now I sleep with earbuds and find it much more difficult to doze off.  When I do sleep, it’s not restful.

I’ve noticed my new stressful sleep is often linked to whatever I’m listening to. There is something happening psychologically when the sound is shot directly into the ear.  It’s like it’s bypassing layers of filters and getting implemented into my subconscience.  It’s become enough of an issue that I’ve tried to remove them and just fall asleep without any artificial aid.

Now I struggle with the lesser of two evils.  A chance that my favorite shows will help provoke stress induced panic attacks… or face the deafening quiet and my ever-wandering, also wakened mind?

The quiet is loud.  I hear every breath, every squeak and creak of the house.  Some nights I’d swear I could hear the cats blinking.  The heat kicks in. The bed cracks, the house settles, the ice falls in the freezer, it’s like a riotous prison!

Worse is that I have no control of my mind.  It wanders into ludicrous places leaving me captive to further pondering when I should be watching sheep jumping fences with cartoon Z’s over their heads.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Why is this so difficult?  To simply stop.  To stop being a receiver for all the world wants to feed into us?  God wants to speak to us, to feed us Godly things, but how often do we truly give Him the platform to do so?

When I was very young, before the crux of a tv to fend with, I would pray as I lay in bed and would often fall asleep talking to God.  I remember explaining to a Sunday school teacher, when learning about confession, that I was such a horrible person that I couldn’t finish talking to my Savior without falling asleep.  I felt real guilt that I didn’t finish and assumed I really let God down.

I still remember the man’s response.  “Don’t you think it pleases God that He was the last thought on your mind as you fell asleep?  Don’t you think He knows you were trying and actually communicating?  For many husbands and wives, their favorite time of day is to crawl into bed at night and talk until they fall asleep.  If anything, I would say you are doing it right.  The Bible says to pray without ceasing… and going up until the dreams kick in is pretty much following that to the letter.”

But I’ve saturated my senses with decades of noise.  I need noise to block out other noises.  The lack of sound is more audio than I can bear… or so I am deceived into believing.  How devilishly tricky!  Such a simple thing.  But look at the magnitude of what it costs.  Precious moments with the only thing worthy of my time.

The Bible speaks a bit about prayer.  It mentions solitude and private. There is a reason.  Imagine trying to take a written exam on a plane that is crashing… weird and silly, right?  Also impossible.  I think this is close to what we do when we try to fit God in over the tv, radio, tablet, computer, internet, smart phone, and any other manner of distraction we throw into our lives.  It’s simply not possible to do.  Way too many bumps, spirals, swerves… and of course the unfortunate crash at the end.

Communicating with God can happen in quick bursts, in thought, surrounding your entire day.  That shouldn’t change.  But GROWING in God, living IN Him, emblazoning His name on your life… that requires real prayer.  Biblical prayer.  Worn knees.  Teary eyes.  Devoted time.  Sincere and uninterrupted talks with time specifically included for listening.  And here is the part I think we most will cringe at if you allow your self conscience unassisted access to you true and unfiltered habits… frequency.  Is this just something you do around Christmas and Easter?  Is this more of a once a month thing?  Do you think corporate prayer covers this?

No one in history has had more justification to exempt Himself from private prayer time than Jesus.  And let me explain what I mean by that.  He was actively doing His Father’s will.  He was followed by thousands and healing them and saving them.  He was DOING the task at hand (in mid-sacrifice mode). Nothing was more criticle to US than seeing this man.  So it might be excusable for Him to say, ‘do as I say and not as I do… I’m here for you, once I’m gone, you should pray better’.  And yet, with such a massive and important, and time bound mission, He still separated Himself and prayed (Just like He wants us to do).  It wasn’t that we weren’t worth His time… it’s because we were worth His prayers.

So let’s use this as an example of how frequently we should specifically set aside private time to pray and listen to God.  To follow scripture and to put it simply, this should be the most important thing we do in our lives.  And… the closer we want to be to God, the more we need to do this.  It almost sounds like a paradox, but it isn’t.  The more stressed we are, the more we need to pray.  The busier we get, the more time we need to set aside to pray.  The more angry, the more sad, the louder life gets… prayer isn’t meant to be another bullet point on the list… it’s what makes the list doable.

Nothing makes me happier than when people stop what they are doing to pray over something.  I had lunch with an amazing friend the other day and he did this.  He could have asked me to pray later and I would have agreed and maybe even remembered to. But instead, He put God where He belongs.  Front and center. It’s important.  Prayer is important.  And when you see prayer and use prayer as a gift from God, then the scripture to pray without ceasing is no longer a command we follow… it’s who we are.  We belong to Christ and we pray forever!  We don’t fit God into our schedule… we live out God’s schedule.

One Question: Pass / Fail

Lets call this an exercise.  It might sound like I’m getting political, but I promise it’ll barely scrape the surface before I get back on topic.  And the topic is a single question test to help you understand where you stand spiritually.  It’s not meant as anything other than a personal self assessment in one key area of faith.

Jesus, our intercessor, is often seen as standing at the gates of Heaven.  He will, as promised, vouch for those who have received His gift of salvation.  The Bible calls it, among other things, the separation of grains from weeds.

Before we get going, I’d like to ask you to think of 2 names.  See, I’m not even going to mention them.  These 2 figures have been in political news non stop for months and likely won’t be left out of the news for the foreseeable future.  Most likely one of the two names brings up feelings of unhappiness.  In many people, the feelings are much stronger.  If I’m to believe social media, both of these people are absolutely hated by the opposing party.  If you aren’t wrapped up in the political turmoil then pick your current enemy number 1.

Some of us, get so agitated at the mere mention of the name, we probably already forgot what we are doing.  So all I want you to do is to think about those 2 people for a minute.  Got a good image?  All set on their character, beliefs, motives, and class?  Good.

Now, lets pretend for a moment that Jesus pulls you aside at the gates of Heaven.  He has a task for you.  Those 2 people are right behind you in line.  In your ear, He whispers the following:

I have already paid for their sins.  On the cross I endured absence from my Father while I took on the whole burden of all sin.  I was sacrificed and now is the time to deem people entrance or deny, forever, access to the Father.  I know how horrible time away from God is and it forced me to cry out in anguish for all to hear.  To be away from God is to be forsaken.  Lost.  Alone.  Horribly and wretchedly doomed.  I will not share their secrets or their sins, nor their accomplishments.  You only have the knowledge you have brought into death.  What sentence would you pass on to these 2 people?  Should they be allowed to praise God forever, or weep for eternity?  Should I forsake them?

And thus begins your test.  Knowing only what social media or biased media has provided you, are you ready to condemn others to an eternity of Hell?  Are your sins lesser?  Is God unable or incapable of forgiving?

I’ll remind you of a single scripture before you are asked to answer.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:31-32

Can you do it?  Can you pass judgement on these people?  Can your conscience bear the weight of eternal consequences?  I praise God every day that I am not a judge (in earthly or heavenly matters).  Passing out penalty is not something I envy.  Although it is much needed, I could not be the one to decide when a price should be paid.  Thankfully, the Bible makes it easy.  Forgive debts.  Forgive crimes against us.  Forgive each other.

This doesn’t mean to let people ruin the world with chaos.  This means that we are free from the burden of consequences when we forgive those who wrong us.  This affectively makes it “their” problem.  To not forgive is to hold on.  Picture Ebenezer Scrooge hoarding receipts, demanding payments, double checking the locks on all of his money…  Its a task to hold grudges.  Its a burden.  When you forgive, both parties become free.

OK, no more preaching.  It’s time to answer… Did you learn anything about yourself?

Was it hard to give grace to someone like this?

Did you find feelings of hatred stir up inside?

If you found that your emotions don’t exactly line up with the many, many verses in the Bible about forgiveness and judgement, then you are in the right place.  You are able to see the difference which will allow you to change your behavior.  The Christ-Like servant does not publicly hate or judge.  Instead, we pray.  If you believe, as the Bible tells us, that no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace, then you must also believe that everyone is worth praying for.

The bottom line is are you are a hater or a pray-er?  Who do you choose to be today?

Prayer Life. What does that mean?

I pray when I fly

If I’m honest, I’m scared. It’s the one time I don’t have control…

And too many variables can go wrong. There are the extreme possibilities: terrorism, hijacking, explosive devices, and all manner of ideas that those who wish harm on innocents might concoct. But there are plenty of much more normal occurrences that can happen. Weather could be worse than predicted. Electronics can malfunction, mechanical failure can occur, human error, oversight, or judgement could cause an innumerable amount of issues, the inflight movie could be Indiana Jones 4.

I don’t have control. I don’t have the physical abilities to combat multiple armed enemies. I don’t have the technical skills to repair a damaged plane. I don’t have the engineering skills or the forensics abilities, or the foresight, or any of the myriad of needed experiences to assist when something may not go according to plan. Flying has proven to be very safe… until the news reminds us that there are exceptions to many rules in life.

So I do the only thing I can do. Yield to God. I pray. I ask for safety. I pray for those around me. I pray for the pilot, the mechanics, the flight attendants, the baggage handlers, the ticket takers. Each of them a potential hole in the security and safety of my flight… and each of them a possible hero of the day.

But prayer leads to reflection. Not knowing the entirety of each intricate detail of God’s will, I pray for myself as well. This plane will either land and I’ll continue my life (hopefully a better servant for God) or it will fall and I’ll see God momentarily (hopefully having pleased God with my life lived). A bit grim perhaps, but prayer leads us places. When we really open and pray honestly… it can lead us to many places.

I pray often during the flight. If I manage to get distracted from my quiet time with God, it doesn’t take long for some turbulence to hit, or to hear a creak, squeak or moan from the plane itself. Even the fasten seat belt sign coming on can jerk me back into prayer mode.

And all the while, I’m thinking the same thing you probably are. What a sissy! Look at everyone else enjoying the flight. Read a book, talk to someone, take a nap. This tiny fear has fully consumed me. And I go running right into my Daddy’s arms so he can make it all OK, just like a little child. Because God is our Father. He kisses the booboos, and protects us from the dark just as any Father would. And what parent doesn’t love it when the kids come to them, putting their faith in them, their trust?

This is the relationship God wants with us. To go to Him. To acknowledge He is in control. To have faith in Him. To trust in Him. To bring our fears to Him. To hide behind Him as both our authoritative father and our loving and protecting parent. But once our feet hit the ground we can’t seem to let go of the controls. Once we feel safe, as soon as we get into familiar territory, or after the fog clears, then we are ready to go at it all alone again.

Flying may get us from point A to point B, but prayer really takes us places. And when we have the strength to let go of the controls, we realize that the real fear isn’t in not having control. The real fear is what we will do with it. Running to God isn’t the weakness. Not letting go… that is the coward in us refusing to stand behind a bigger God. God wants us to pray when we are scared. Even more importantly, God wants us to pray when we aren’t afraid.

What if we offered up to God something we aren’t scared to do? Driving to work, eating lunch, mowing the lawn, time with friends and family. What if we handed EVERY moment over to God, and not just the ones we can’t do anything about anyway? What if God was not only our Father, but also our friend? And in that, we humbly share our lives with Him. But most importantly, allow Him to guide us, knowing He is in control when we let go. What if we asked Him into our lives and trusted Him in ALL things. I can answer that broadly. There would be NOTHING to fear.

I guess that is irony that what keeps us afraid is our inability to let go of our fears. But it takes a pretty deep relationship with God to understand how He works in our lives and how He responds to our faith in Him. He isn’t a genie that grants soccer wins, admonishes money, or flashes fancy clothes on us. He is a parent that loves His children and wants them to love Him back. No one feels love when the child returns with their hand out. My prayer on the plane… That was for me. The journey begins when prayer naturally exists in our lives just as we breath and sleep.