A Prayer for the Church

God, be with our church, with those who are called by Your name. Help us to realize that You are the most important thing in our lives, and that You and You alone have the power to change people’s hearts. Help us to realize our calling to love the lost, heal the wounded, both in body and in spirit, feed and clothe the poor, encourage the broken-hearted, and in all we do, to guide those around us to You. Let us see beyond the actions, beyond the anger and the hatred and the skepticism of all who reject You; let us see as much as You allow us to of their hearts, that we may know their pain and have only compassion and love for them, as You had love for us. Give us wisdom in dealing with people and with situations in life; only You know what is to come and what is truly best for us. Let us accept Your judgments and Your answers to our prayers, even when that answer is not what we want to hear.

Help us, Lord, to ignore those things that don’t matter that we might live in peace with each other, not striving to outdo each other in any way, but striving only to serve you with all of our hearts, minds, strength, and souls. Teach us humility and contentedness, teach us patience and mercy, teach us faith and love, but first, Lord, give us the courage to pray for these things in earnestness, for we know that You will always answer prayers for things that are in Your will for us. Help us to understand Your ways, that You often teach us love by giving us difficult people to love, that You show us how to be patient by letting us want things immediately. Help us to grow, Father, that we might be closer to You.

For our church, Father, please strengthen our faith. Show us that Your Word is still alive today, that it is not void or outdated or false. Show us our sins, and then show us our hearts that cause us to commit these sins. Most of all, change our hearts that we may seek You first above all things. Help us to be different from the world, let them see that You do change people, and that what we have is something they need. Give us the strength to weather persecution, to not only endure, but to praise You when it comes that we are counted worthy to suffer for Your glory. For it is always, Lord, about Your glory, for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the honor forever.

Let Your will be done in our lives.

Amen.

6 Steps to Changing Your Heart

What I’ve said the last three days sounds nice and easy, doesn’t it? Just change how you look at things and watch your confidence skyrocket. It’d be great if it worked that way. Here’s the bad news: your heart is going to fight you every step of the way on this because it is selfish to the point of self-destruction. It is incorrigibly deceitful and vain. Your heart demands that you worship yourself.

Sound a bit melodramatic? Consider why Adam and Eve fell. They were told they could be like God. They wanted that power and, once the thought was implanted in their mind, they started feeling inadequate. If they could be like God and weren’t, then something was wrong, something they had to fix so they could have what they should have. Their hearts were more concerned about their value than God’s glory.

Ever get angry with God over a traffic light or not finding a parking spot? Have you ever gotten mad at Him at all? If so, then you’ve done the same thing. In fact, if you’ve ever sinned (and you know you have), then you’ve chosen your will over His and so worshiped yourself. All of the things you’ve made gods in your life – money, a job, sex, a relationship, looks, an achievement – are really just means to make you happy. More self worship.

If knowing God and putting aside our pride require changes in our hearts, yet our hearts are so wicked and stubborn, how can we change our hearts? 

Of ourselves, we can’t. We need His help. There are six steps to changing our hearts:

1. Since we can’t do it ourselves, we need to pray for His help. Be open and honest in this prayer. Lay your struggles at His feet. There’s no shame for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1) and besides, He knows everything you’re going through anyway. I’ve never had any prayer answered faster than prayers for God to help me grow.

2. Praise and worship God. This can be through songs that glorify Him or just telling Him how much you love Him and how great He is. It’s not that He needs this; it’s that you need to do this. You were created to give Him glory. When you do, you remember how small you are compared to Him, which magnifies the greatness of His love. To have a true image of God, you must start with an attitude of praise and worship.

3. Focus on all the times He has been there for you. For me, I didn’t know why my life seemed so random. I couldn’t go to the college of my choice, so I went to a different one, where I was put on a floor with a guy who later got me a job in Virginia. When I moved out there, one of my roommates went to a certain church, where another one of the guys threw a Christmas party where I met a girl who…ummm…inspired me to start going to church, where I met friends that help me fall in love with God again. Also, the money I saved enabled me to write for a while and God provided just enough to get me through. You see, God was looking out for me the entire time, even when I was running from Him and angry at Him.

You may be able to look back at your life and have a similar realization or you might be in the midst of something. Either way, God has you, even if you don’t understand why life’s so hard right now, even if you don’t feel He’s anywhere near, and even if you’ve been running. He has you.

4. Develop a fear of God. Proverbs 1:7 says the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. We need to have more fear of God, not that He’ll smite us (even though He has the right to), but in a sense of reverent awe. We don’t compare to Him, not even all of us combined. This rock we live on is a tiny speck compared to the solar system, which is a tiny speck compared to the galaxy, which is a tiny speck compared to the Universe, which is infinitely tiny compared to God, Who created it all with His words. Knowing that God is love without knowing that He is omnipotent leads us to be condescending and flippant. “Yeah, I sinned, but He’ll just forgive me,” or, “Hey, God, do You not care about this light?! I’M LATE FOR WORK and it’s all Your fault!” He is love, but He is also so holy that He sent His own Son to die rather than impugn His righteousness. If He’d forgiven our sins without sacrifice, He could not be holy anymore because He would have gone back on His word. His love without considering His unbending holiness means nothing. He deserves an eternity of praise just for being God, even more so for being a loving, compassionate, and merciful Father.

5. Pray and fellowship with God often. Imagine that two people wanted to get to know you over the next year. One read everything you’d written and everything written about you. The other had meals with you, talked with you daily, and was a good, close friend. Which one do you think knows you, the real you, better at the end of that time? The friend, right?

I don’t discount at all the works of people who make Bible commentaries or who study Scripture and the root words of verses. Those things are instructive and very valuable. But there is no better way to know God than to spend time with Him.

6. See the similarities between a relationship with God and a relationship with other people. If you’re married, was your wedding the day after you met your spouse? Probably not. It takes time to grow a relationship. It won’t be all sunshine and rainbows, especially after the initial week or two of excitement. Sometimes, you may not want to worship God or pray. Do it anyway. Keep working on that relationship. Just as two married people have to keep working on making their marriage strong, so you have to always work on your relationship with God. If you’re not growing closer to Him, you’re drifting away. There is no neutral.

And, as a bonus, 7. Just accept the gifts and relax already. 🙂 

Why You Need to Pray the Prayers You Don’t Want Answered

On Friday, I had a phone interview with an organization I wanted to work for. This morning, God told Leah and I that He didn’t want me taking this position. We’d been praying that if it was  His will, they would offer it; if it wasn’t, they wouldn’t. But then during my prayer time this morning, He just said no. When Leah returned from her prayer walk, I asked her to pray specifically about this and she heard the same. So I removed my name from consideration.

It wasn’t easy. Walking in faith rarely is.

Leah joked a little after that I should take a break from blogging because yesterday I’d written about having more faith and asking God to give us something hard to do, something we can’t do without Him. This morning, we received our answer.

I can’t help but think, “Wouldn’t it be nice if God answered all my prayers so quickly?” If He’d answered all my prayers since we’ve been married, I’d be worth about $100 million more than I am (or, just a few dollars over $100 million in total), have our dream home built in a forested area of Colorado, with no worries in the world. Prayed for money, didn’t happen. Prayed for a job, the one it seems I’d get God tells me not to pursue. Prayed for a challenge, and that’s the one He answers.

Thank God He did.

I’ve said before that we can only build character when we don’t want to. But it’s this character growth that God is really interested in, not because He wants us to be holy on our own, but because we can’t grow this character beyond a certain point without Him. It’s why He’s so quick to answer prayers for growth: because He is so eager for us to know Him better.

Though I have to admit it’s terrifying, though my brain has been yelling at me all morning, overall, I have a sense of peace. Even though I didn’t really want Him to answer my prayer (as evidenced by my fretting a bit when He told me to give up the job opportunity), at least not as much as I wanted Him to answer my other prayers, He did answer my prayer. He is here with me, right now, right where I am and my prayers are getting through.

When I’m praying for things I want for myself, it’s easy to believe that God’s not hearing me. I reason that if I’m living the life He wants me to live, He should answer me, preferably with a strong, quick “Yes, here it is!” I don’t seem to consider that perhaps He has a better plan, a better life. A life with fewer earthly treasures or, at least, a life in which they matter less to me.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a scarier situation, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a situation where I’ve had as much to lose. I don’t know how things will turn out, but I do know that with the growth God has worked in me, I’ve already gained so much more than I risk losing. All because I prayed the prayers I didn’t really want answered.

A Prayer for Our Nation

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Here in the United States, our government is entering the second week of a shutdown. Most government workers are being furloughed. The media seems to place all of the blame on Republicans. We haven’t had a budget approved since 2009. And the people are so frustrated with Congress’ inability to compromise that it has a 10% approval rating, the lowest since polls started being taken.

This is not a political blog. I don’t mention these points above to argue that the blame falls on both parties or to offer up some armchair quarterback solution to a complex problem.

I say this because it is time to pray for our leaders and our nation.

I have not been very good at this lately. I’ve been more inclined to take to facebook or CNN forums or talks with friends and family over our political and economic situation. I’ve debated people with little success in changing their opinions and no success at all in changing our government. Hours have been wasted in thought and conversation when those hours could have been spent productively in prayer.

I don’t mind Christian lobbyist groups (provided they’re not giving the church a bad name by judging others). I applaud strong Christians who want to make a difference as politicians. The most effective thing you can do for your country, no matter which one it is, is to pray for it and its leaders. God sent an angel to kill 185,000 Assyrians in a night in Isaiah 37. He gave Nebuchadnezzar a dream of a statue in Daniel 2, the interpretation of which was a prophecy of kingdoms to follow. He raises up and takes down nations, giving power to whom He will.

When we complain about our government, we complain about God’s decisions. We also go against the Biblical commands to pray for our nation and to trust in Him, regardless of the situation. Perhaps it is time to take a knee instead of taking a stand.

When God is Silent

One of the reasons it can be so easy to fret over life’s situations is we often don’t hear God giving us guidance and reassurance, even though we’re praying for them. As babies, we learned the concept of object permanence: that an object still exists even when we can’t see it anymore. As adults, however, we seem to forget that this applies to God as well.

There are times where God is not silent, but merely quiet, that you must draw closer to Him in order to hear Him. At other times, He is completely silent, and these are the ones that truly frighten us, for our mind wonders what we did wrong, what we’re supposed to do now, and what will become of us.

As with everything He does or allows, though, there is a purpose: to show us our hearts and strengthen our faith. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We must have faith in God even when there is no tangible, incontrovertible proof that He is on our side or even exists. When we require a sign often, it shows a lack of faith in Him to guide us and account for our mistakes in His plan. It shows that we don’t truly think of Him as good, loving, and forgiving enough to take care of us when we’re imperfect. And it shows that we think of Him as a poor Father who would let His children down.

When God is silent, we are to seek Him and stay near so that if He should speak, even in a whisper, we would hear it. Aside from that, provided we are living according to His will and commands as well as we can, we are to assume that we are right where He wants us for the moment. No general would expect his troops to move without giving them a command first; just so, God will not expect you to do something differently without telling you first.

Rest in Him, serve Him, praise Him. It may well be that God is silent because He wants your trust to be in Him, not in the manifestations of His power and goodness.

Eating the Scroll, Part 2

The other side of that verse in Ezekiel 2 is that God sent Ezekiel to warn the Israelites because of their idolatry. They had forsaken God and were worshiping the queen of heaven, inciting God to anger. God, however, was patient with them, sending prophet after prophet to them to warn them of what would happen, that they might return to Him and He could relent.

For years, God held off on His judgment of Israel and Judah. There were a few good kings here and there, but it seems the majority were rotten, leading the people into idolatry. Yet God waited and tried to get them to repent. When they failed enough times, God caused them to be conquered and taken captive.

There are a couple points to this. First, don’t be discouraged that some people who have idols in their lives, such as sex, money, or power, seem to be getting all the lucky breaks. Their day is coming. We shouldn’t rejoice in that, though; we should warn these people of what will happen if they don’t turn to God. Even if their judgment doesn’t come until they die, that judgment is eternal and horrible.

Second, don’t worship idols yourself. In biblical times, they had names like Baal and Ra. In our times, we have subtler versions, but they’re idols all the same. Whether it’s another deity or something you’re just putting your hopes of happiness in, the worship of anything other than God is truly the worship of yourself. Even praying to God without worshiping Him and submitting to Him is worship of yourself.

I have, as I recently mentioned, made an idol of getting my books published. So long as that is the case, I cannot expect God to honor or bless me in my ventures. I have repented, and now I need to get my focus on God and view His work for my life in the right light. Please pray for me if you remember. I’ll be praying for you.