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

The Very Best Christian Books 2013

Here are some great last-minute gift ideas in case you missed the Evangelical Christian Press Association Book Awards:

ECPA Book of the Year finalists

I was deeply humbled to be a Finalist for the New Author award for Cradle My Heart, Finding God’s Love after Abortion. The ECPA was also generous to provide a free ebook Sampler of all the finalists. I am working my way through the list!

My two wish list picks are Love Does by Bob Goff and Glorious Ruin by Tullian Tchividjian. First I have to work my way through a great addition to my reference shelf and deeper study: David Gushee’s The Sacredness of Human Life.

What book made an impact on your heart this year? As you browse this list, what’s your top pick?

Leave a comment and we’ll enter your name in a drawing for the book from one of my favorite author interviews on Cradle My Heart Radio this year, Julie Ziglar Norman’s Growing up Ziglar.

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.

When Love Sees You

Sometimes it’s hard to picture God’s love for me–for everyone–when I look around and see needs that run so deep.

This video really helps.

I don’t know that the mental image I have of Jesus necessarily matches with the actor cast to play the part here, but I do know that every healing miracle told in the gospels is true. These are historic events we can trace through time.

Jesus was a healer without equal–the one Great Magician Who Turned the Water into Wine (as Van Morrison noted in his song, These are the Days). Jesus was also a Master Storyteller–drawing characters so vivid they seem real to us. His stories sometimes deter us from realizing that the history is not just a story. Jesus gave sight to the blind and he raised people from the dead. See which other historical healings you can detect as you watch.

When Love Sees You by Mac Powell

This depiction of the life and ministry of Jesus reminds me that I can only love because God first loved me. It’s so encouraging for me to know that we just aren’t in a position to see ourselves as God sees us. Often times that means that I am underestimating the  ways that I fall short of God’s ideal. But even after something so harrowing as deep sins like abortion (or the challenge to forgive the ones who sinned against you by causing it), God still sees us as the object of his love.

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?


 

Thorns on my desk

Can you find the Bible on my desk?!!?

                   

I sat down at my desk to write last Monday morning. I’m working on a talk about growing in joy for the annual convention of the LCEF (held at Gaylord in Nashville November 19-21). I have a shelf full of Bibles that I use when I write, but I also have a favorite Bible with great cross-referencing and other features I rely on.

I ran off to church Sunday without my Bible, and I knew I would find it on my desk.

It’s there alright, along with everything else that represents my heart’s desire in the last few days. There are a couple of boxes of greeting cards–I sent some just to stay in touch with dear friends I’ve neglected to call. There are travel itineraries for an upcoming journey in December–my husband’s talent for long-range planning on display. You may notice my jewelry–flung off after I returned home for a fundraising banquet last night. I serve the organization and it was an all-day affair. The computer screen dominates the desk, of course and often draws my attention away from my Bible, she said with elegant understatement! Although, let’s don’t blame the computer, because just out of view a new stack is forming on the left–built on an unfinished sudoku from the Saturday paper.
Those papers in front of the computer screen are very important. A friend shared wisdom about goals vs. desires, and how our wishes for others can destroy our relationships if we let those wishes set an agenda and become a goal.

So where is God’s Word in this snapshot of my world?

If you look carefully, you can see the gilt pages of my Bible under the stack of papers behind the boxes of greeting cards and to the left of the screen.

Jesus warned that people can have the seed of faith planted in them, but then the cares of this world choke it out. I’m grateful that I did have a time of devotion to the Scriptures first thing this morning before I sat down to work. But this picture is a pretty accurate display of the place I’ve given God’s Word in my heart in the last 24 hours.

Here’s Jesus’ Parable of the Sower in Mark 4:3-9 and His explanation in Mark 4:14-20
Mark 4:3-9 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the aircame and devoured it. Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away.And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Mark 4:14-20 “The sower sows the word. And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts. These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble. Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”
New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

A man at our prison Bible study shared wisdom you may have heard before, “The Bible will keep you from sin, but it’s also true that sin will keep you from your Bible!” Lord, please help me so that the cares of this world and the desires for other things stay in their proper perspective this weekend and always.