Feeling hammered by life? You may be right where God wants you to be

You and I are God’s handiwork.

God has given his Word on that in Ephesians 2:10.  When we accept the gift of faith in Jesus Christ as God’s grace toward us, he goes to work to change us. But what does it really mean and how does it work?

This short drama from The Skit Guys brings to life the concept of God working on us as we work out our salvation. If you are worn out from self-improvement that still falls short, self-effort that frustrates, self-help that doesn’t, here is a gift for your weary soul today.

It can be confusing and painful to submit to God’s chisel. But ultimately God’s correction comforts us. He chastens those he loves (Hebrews 12:6). He knows best what we need to be our best. The technical term is sanctification–God making us more like Jesus.

The skit has been around for a few years now, but I just saw it last week at church. It made a deep impression on my heart that has stayed with me through the week. My favorite exhchange is this one:

But God, I’ve let you down.

You don’t let me down. I hold you up.

How about you? Anything make a mark?

Leave a quick comment about what line resonates the most with you today.

[NOTE:  Please be kind. Although I’m linking to the youtube version, I took the step of purchasing before posting. The file is high-quality for playback in churches so I couldn’t upload it.  The workmen are worth their wage for this beautiful depiction portrayal of God’s truth.

God’s Chisel Remastered Video « The Skit Guys.

3 winning ways to pray–and the 1 prayer that cannot fail

Beyond our Miss America prayers

Photo by Brittney Borowski @ Lightstock

Photo by Brittney Borowski @ Lightstock

When my husband Bruce and I answered God’s call to jail and prison ministry, we seldom knew the charges or convictions of the incarcerated men and women we prayed with and for. Our motto was Listen, Listen, Love, Love.

So we were a bit shocked by a spontaneous confession one memorable night inside a county jail. We began our Bible study by asking what had drawn the women to attend the meeting. Mostly standard answers. But then one woman said, “I’m here because I’m a Christian. On the outside, I led a check-cashing ring. We would all go out to different stores at the same time and then later we’d split up the proceeds. I always prayed we wouldn’t get caught.”

Talk about a teachable moment. Without missing a beat, Bruce asked, “So, how’s that working out for you?”

A great discussion followed about prayer. While not an exhaustive list, here are three important things to consider as you offer your prayers:

1. Pray with confidence

Start with praise and thanksgiving for God’s attributes and graces toward us. This sets the stage for a confident hope that we are rightly approaching our holy God because of all that the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ has already accomplished for us (Hebrews 4:16).

Many of us have felt frustrated by a feeling that our prayers were “bouncing off the ceiling.” We’d prefer a bit of chastening or a loud resounding No to a painful and prolonged silence. But we can always pray with the confidence that God answers prayers (John 15:16) offered in the right spirit and with the right approach. And you don’t have to be involved in illegal activity to understand that even when he says, “No,” he always knows best. Sometimes if we are bent on self-destruction God in his goodness may grant us a wrong desire by “giving us over to it.” (Romans 1:24) This doesn’t imply endorsement on God’s part. God allows us free will to choose wrongly, while he also allows the suffering of the natural consequences of sin to teach us that his way is best.

2. Pray with humility

When I was a new believer I joined a prayer circle where a woman asked for prayer for her hair. She suffered alopecia. At the time I thought prayer was reserved For Emergencies Only so I scoffed in my heart. As soon as the thought appeared, though, the Holy Spirit called to mind Jesus’ words in Luke 12,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

I humbled myself. I prayed. Although the woman’s alopecia did not resolve, that faithful group of women prayed earnestly for my needs and I was hired to work in a television news room without a minute of experience as a reporter. God purely provided that job as a result of faithful prayer. I don’t want you to think I am special, or that you are not if your prayer has yet to be answered. But often, God will grant our requests in order to build up the weak faith of one in need. That’s a lesson I will never forget. God cares about everything which concerns us and consumes our attention. Don’t let pride prevent you asking the Lord for the help you need. As one friend says, “I’m quick to ask–there’s no shame in my game.” We all need God’s help and the help of praying friends.

3. Pray with the Spirit

I know and believe God cares about our illness and other passing circumstances, but I also want to go deeper. I want to move beyond the Daily Desperate litany of needs to experience what it is to pray in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18) and in power (2 Cor 10:4-5).

Our template is the Lord’s prayer. Jesus says to mention our personal daily concerns after we have acknowledged the supreme reign and worth of our heavenly Father and faith in the goodness of his plans for us and for our world now and in the age to come. It can seem daunting to muster the sincere compassion needed to pray for the world first and our needs after giving glory to God for his holy rule and reign. Although I have a few differences with the theology of the film Bruce Almighty, this scene portrays the truth that God understands and helps us in our struggle to pray unselfishly.

You can’t fake concern that isn’t in your heart. But somehow the more we pray the deepest needs, the more God comforts us in ways that take our prayers above and beyond the Miss America prayers we’ve all uttered out of a wrong sense of obligation.

So, let’s keep praying.

The more you allow God to quiet your heart, the more you will become aware of the Holy Spirit praying with you and for you (Romans 8:26-27), and so is our great high priest, Jesus Christ the Lord (Hebrews 7:25; 9:24)

Finally, there is one prayer that is guaranteed to be answered Yes by our heavenly Father.

Thy will be done.

Jesus taught us this prayer, and modeled it in his most pivotal prayer moment of prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. To pray asking God for his will to be done in whatever concerns us is to pray with a Spirit-led heart fully confident and humble before God.

May it be so in your prayer life today.

3 hilarious prayer mistakes we all make

Resolved: to grow my roots deeper in prayer in 2014

Whenever I try to learn something significant my mind rebels. It almost becomes comical.

Maybe you’ve experienced this dynamic. I also resolved this year to eat healthy and suddenly junk food jumps out in the break room, drops in at a friend’s house, lands next to me while the healthy food takes the back seat home from the grocery store. Same with my prayers since I resolved to pray in a deeper way. I start on my knees but soon turn to ponder the treetops from the bedroom window, then my eye travels to the decor of the room, and the dust on the dresser. And then . . . chores!

But I’m determined. And so, even though my prayer life seems to have gone downhill a bit due to the renewed focus, I press on. As I do, I sense God’s pattern of first tearing down before he can build up. Phase One of building my prayer life is deconstructing some losing strategies in prayer:

1. Don’t be insincere

My prayer life often stalls because I haven’t acted on God’s direction. Ken Davis learned asking God to “send a sign” about something he already knew to be God’s will is a waste of time or worse. Testing God by asking for a sign may result in a test you never thought you’d be asked to endure. Testing prayer may deliver at your feet the very thing you dread the most. But what about Gideon? He set out a fleece not once, but three times. I see Gideon offering clarifying prayers once God had initiated a specific calling. That’s a good and wise way to pray–especially when God’s direction seems especially counterintuitive or dangerous.

2. Don’t perform

There is no right or wrong formula for prayer, but many of us freeze at the prospect of praying aloud with others. When we simply speak our desire to connect with God, listen, and obey, praying becomes an exercise of grace. Ben Stiller’s character started well when he got pressed to say a blessing before the meal in Meet the Parents. He went off the rails the more he pressured himself for embellishment and eloquence that so clearly eluded him all along. If you get nervous having your prayers overheard, remember prayer is always for an audience of One.

3. Don’t overpray

Jesus said, “Don’t heap up empty phrases.” I know he was talking about rote prayers uttered just for the sake of tradition. But haven’t we as his followers developed some new-but-just-as-empty phrases of our own?! Leave it to Tim Hawkins to skewer us in love on this one. Understand: No request is too small; praying trifles is preferred over indulging a worried heart (see Phil. 4: 4 – 7). I just need to remember to offer my supplications with praise and thanksgiving, not filler words and fluff. (Whooops–I just slipped in a just. Doh! Just did it again).

As God tears down the old, he reminds me again that self-effort in spiritual matters will always leave me frustrated. But Romans 8:20 tells me when God frustrates us, he wants something to die off in order to make way for a new and better hope in our hearts–a hope based in truth and for his glory. God works with us to improve the way we pray. He is willing to teach us to pray.

He cares about our prayers–quality and quantity. He takes our feeble effort and multiplies it for his glory.

So even if, like me, you’re feeling a bit defeated in your prayer life, let’s keep going. The biggest mistake we can make would be not to pray at all.

Next time: 3 winning ways to pray

Inspiration and hope for hurting hearts

If you or someone you know is experiencing grief after abortion, this would make a thoughtful and helpful gift.

Hope in the Mourning Bible

I was honored to write some of the devotions on child loss. Other devotional topics include dealing with suicide, the death of a parent, trauma, the pain of relocation to a foreign country, and more.

How to lose your life–for good

istockphoto © selensergen

istockphoto © selensergen

“My life is OVER!”

How many times have you had that thought? I hope not more than a few times and I hope you were wrong each time.

Drama is good in the movies, in real life not so much.

But I guess each of us knows a moment when we have been devastated by news that seemed to bring our hopes, our plans, our dreams crashing down around our heads. And maybe if you’ve had such a moment, your life as you knew it did in fact come to an end as you were called to sacrifice for the sake of others.

The art of faith is knowing when a crisis is God’s plan and trusting him to bring his goodness to pass through the unexpected, through dire and desperate circumstances.

Listening to Abortion – What helps/What hurts

istockphoto @juliefenton

 

I wasn’t trying to probe into anyone’s past or coax out a confession.

In fact, I was so new to this church that I was reluctant to share something so personal. Yet, when I disclosed an abortion in my past, I heard from several other women in our thirty-member Bible study group who had also lost a child to abortion. Perhaps these women were relieved to hear someone, anyone, bring up the subject at church. Maybe I just seem like a safe person since I mentioned having written a book about spiritual recovery after abortion. But each one eagerly shared her secret with me that day.

And each story was as different as the woman who told it.

Dripping faucet a metaphor for men and abortion

I went to NRB last week and met with some of the most prominent Christian broadcasters from the US and around the world. I had the chance to speak with Kay Arthur and June Hunt, and listen to Chip Ingram and Jack Graham. I’ll tell you a little more about meeting Maxim Maximov in a future post–a little closer to our departure for the mission to Perm, Russia.

But the reason I mention the big players is that I’m still most impressed by a student production called ‘a faucet drips’.

“A short film produced as a senior project at Northwestern College (St. Paul, MN) in Spring 2011. The story follows a young couple through the decision to abort an unplanned pregnancy and examines the results of relational passivity. Director Laura Hoffman. Producer Erin McGregor. Editor Mel Magnuson. Director of Photography Micah Murray. Starring Zach McClellan & Ashley Young.”

This is film is so heartbreakingly real. This is what abortion does to men. Tending to the details of the relationship is his responsibility and yet it seems to be unfolding completely outside his control. The emotional distancing he experiences allows him to tell himself that everything will be all right. Until it is much much too late.

I posted this story when the film was completed last year, and I share it again to offer congratulations to the young filmmakers for the screening at the NRB Showcase.

Please share this with others. Not only do these students deserve a wide audience for this accomplished work, but I haven’t seen any other film which shows the impact of abortion on the average guy who gets caught up in it. I thank God once more that He is the Lord of second chances–infinite chances to do the right thing now–and unmeasurable mercy.

See the heart

We prayed outside an abortion facility in Atlanta today as a joyful act of obedience to God’s call for Day 38 of the 40 Days for Life prayer vigil. I arrived early and joined three women already in prayer. We stood across the street and faced the facility. It was cold and windy and quiet. The sun had not yet come up. As I faced the building something beautiful caught me eye.

                                                          

Do you see the heart in the trees?

It’s a shaky image, I know, but the sky was still so dark that my little Nikon couldn’t capture the shutter speed of the flash without the blur. 

Our  prayers took us to God’s heart as we offered requests for mercy and for healing to all who have participated and those who will participate in abortion. If that’s you–I really hope and pray you see God’s heart today. Here is what He wants you to know:  “Don’t be afraid for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41: 10 Holy Bible, New Living Translation)

If you are suffering after abortion, even if your faith is shaky, keep looking up. See the truth of love pouring out to you from Jesus Christ today, and see the heart of God.

Let’s pray

Please pray with us as God is calling me to pray outside an Atlanta abortion facility tomorrow and Friday, Day 38 and 39 of the worldwide 40 Days for Life prayer vigils.
     
                                                                       

I’m more of an evangelist than an activist, although I thank God for faith champions in the public arena! So, while I have been engaged for ten years in writing and speaking and private prayer for life, until last fall I had not joined the organized prayer effort nor agreed to fast at an appointed time. But I heard God’s call to go and pray at a facility a couple of weeks ago–my first time to stand outside such a place and pray.
 
God ordained a solitary time in this rather unusual location–no sidewalk, parking lot marked no trespassing–no interaction opportunity whatsoever.

A concrete bench nearby beckoned, and I sat down ready to move if asked. Yet no one disturbed me as I gazed at the exterior of the facility and watched the traffic moving in and out. I prayed for the uniformed guard that he would realize what he was protecting, and that he would resign his position. I prayed for his heart and his family. For women arriving to work, I prayed and asked that they would resign their jobs and turn to God for His provision and mercy. I saw women arrive two-by-two walking slowly and resolutely. I prayed that friends would be true friends and offer true help, and I prayed that mothers would change their minds and let their children live. I prayed for all for whom my prayers arrived too late.

I read Lamentations aloud and listened to the sound of our culture echoing ancient Jerusalem in her fall.

I felt overwhelmed as I considered the grief and sorrow which will surely arrive one day for everyone who enters and leaves that place. I had to admit that as I set out for this assignment, I didn’t see what difference an hour of my time would make on that particular day. I just knew God wanted me there. And of course, it changed my heart.

My time in prayer at that place increased the urgency I feel to rescue others from the lifelong consequences of abortion. I thank God that my time in prayer came to an end with rejoicing over Jesus Christ and his tender mercy. Again, I heard his sweet words of welcome to my little one, to all the little ones we reject when he said, “Let the little children come to me….”

So, Lord willing, I will return tomorrow, eager to pray with others this time through.

Lord willing, I will be there, praying.

Will you pray with me?


 

Only one leg but more heart than millions

Parents facing a
difficult  prenatal diagnosis are often advised to abort a child with a 
“poor predicted quality of life.” NCAA wrestling champion Anthony Robles proves the problem might not be
the imperfection of the unborn life–just a faulty ability to predict how much quality each person
is actually capable of bringing into the world with them.

He recently retired from wrestling and launched a new career as a motivational speaker–and one who deserves to be heard. This young man is one of the strongest arguments for the value of every life I’ve ever witnessed. He came into the world in a surprising package—and he’s been surprising people ever since. Sports Illustrated reports his mother cried on the day he was born, when she saw his left leg was missing up to the hip. She said her tears were not shed because he was imperfect, but because she was in shock. She also said that in the years which followed, the doctors have not able to explain what happened to his leg.

He got a prosthetic
leg at age three, but he grew impatient with it when he was seven and
has either used crutches or hopped ever since.

When Anthony was poised on the edge of the 2010 NCAA championship, his mother said of his missing leg, “It’s something that was just meant to be, and now we see it as a blessing.”

The Kansas City Star shared a portion of his message:

“Every soul who comes to Earth with a leg or two at birth must wrestle his opponents knowing it’s not what is, it’s what can be that measures worth. Make it hard, just make it possible, and through pain I’ll not complain. My spirit is unconquerable. Fearless, I will face each foe, for I know I am capable. I don’t care what’s probable, through blood, sweat and tears, I am unstoppable.”

Amen.

Yet every year in the US 92% of babies with a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s syndrome will be aborted. In the UK there is a controversy over whether doctors need to report aborting babies late in a pregnancy because the unborn child is found to have cleft palate. At the center of the debate is whether such a prognosis represents a “serious handicap.” 

I have not walked a mile in their shoes, but I offer this story as a bracing bit of clarity in the eye of the abortion storm. And since I have no idea where Anthony stands on the question of abortion, I certainly don’t want to put words in his mouth.

I just wish every reluctant physician and every shocked and crying parent could meet Anthony and let him teach them how to wrestle with their fears–and win.