prayer Posts

When Bike Meets Car

There’s an old adage among cyclists: “There are two types of riders; those who’ve crashed and those who are going to.” The longer you ride, the more likely this is realized. I’ve been in a few crashes. While in a large peloton, I went down hard at mile 48 (in the “Hotter than Hell 100”, in Wichita Falls). Miraculously, I didn’t break any bones, though I ended up with the worst road rash I’ve ever had. I finished the race, but later discovered my bike was totaled with a cracked frame. My helmet was cracked as well.

I had never been hit by a car, until a few weeks ago. And when bike meets car, there is no contest. Thankfully, I was not going fast nor was the car, but it was enough to take me down quick and the result was a fractured fibula and three broken bones in my ankle. I’m in week three of a long recovery. Six to eight weeks of no weight-bearing activity and ten weeks before I can drive. I will then be in therapy to strengthen the atrophied muscles, then six months to a year before I’m 100 percent.

But enough with “lesser things”. There’s a much bigger story here, and it’s the story we all find ourselves in. When bike meets car happens on a daily basis for all of us. When expectations meet reality is a daily challenge. When our hopes and dreams are shattered like my right ankle, what do you do? When joy and sorrow collide, how do you worship God? I’ve been holding on to and revisiting Romans 8:28-29. Read it again carefully:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:28-29

Here’s what I’m learning:

  1. God has a bigger plan than ours and it is great and glorious. We often read verse 28 without verse 29 and the two are inseparable. All things work together and it seems most of “all things” are bad But God works bad things into good things. Only He can do that, showing Himself sovereign, all-powerful, and loving. The key is to notice His purpose toward which He’s working all things. His purpose is for us to be “conformed into the image of His Son”. If we have joined Him in that purpose, then we have given our lives over to whatever He deems necessary to see that purpose fulfilled. We are not our own. We have truly become the clay in the Potter’s hands. We are liquid; He is the Cast. We are soft and pliable; He is the Mold. In short, we are the created and He is the Creator. He is God and we are not.
  2. God is big enough for our questions and bigger than our disbelief. When we initially face the trauma of a life disrupted, we are shocked and surprised that things will no longer go along the track we had laid out for ourselves. We need time to adjust to the new plan, regardless of how dark or hopeless it seems initially. In the early phase of a life interrupted, all we have are questions. God is big enough for all of our questions, even if they come to Him out of anger and disbelief. Sometimes we want to crawl into His lap other times we want to beat His chest. He’s big enough for both and our angst does not phase Him for a moment.
  3. Sometimes you can only hold on to what you already know. Even in our shock and change of plans we can trust the God of our experience – the God of the Bible. He is faithful and true and does not change. Clearly, if you have walked with Him closely prior to this sudden change of direction, you are quicker to trust that He is in control and has your best intentions in mind. You’ve seen it before. You know that He is true. If you have not, this phase can be brutal and will set the course of which way you will go from here. This is when you must turn to Scripture and to those who will speak the truth about God to you. Knowing who He is, we know that when you can’t see His hand we can trust His heart. He is at work. Almost always we see, looking back, how He was at work during hard times. The goal of the disciple is to see this gap between moments of suffering and complete trust condensed into real time. We really can trust Him in the moment of suffering and pain. This is worship.
  4. We cannot dictate to God what we want as conditions for our obedience. Our role is to trust and obey. His job is to place us in situations and circumstances by which we are conformed into the image of Jesus. This is His great and glorious plan for us. And the more we trust that it is best to be like Jesus, the more we are ready to embrace whatever comes our way in life. In the end (if you live long enough), you realize you do not control what comes at you in life anyway. You only control your response to it all. And it is comforting to know that “all things” come to us first, through the loving hands of our Father.
  5. Our role is worship, through obedience; His role is to conform us into the image of His Son. I’ve learned it really is possible to worship Him, even through writhing pain and severe suffering. Job, who serves as the constant example of worship through suffering, taught us that there is something better than getting all of your answers. He got something better than answers. He got God. Through worship we get God Himself and discover that He really is enough. As we worship Him through obedience (trusting that He is good, loving and kind), we become more and more like His Son.
  6. The Spirit speaks to us when we quiet all of our intellectual questions and get alone with Him and listen. When we are debilitated (physically, mentally, or emotionally) we find ourselves quiet and sometimes alone. Pain is humbling and sets us on our backs before God. It forces us to “be still” (literally, to “let our hands hang down”) and know that He is God (Psalm 48:10). At some point we must stop asking questions and choose to listen to His Spirit speak. He does so through His Word, so we must stop listening to our souls and start speaking to our souls. And what we speak must be the truth. His Word is truth. When we slow down to listen to Him, He speaks. When we don’t, He doesn’t. Pain forces us to stop working and to stop talking and He speaks to us in quiet solitude.
  7. God uses loving people as instruments of hope and healing. We cannot make it through pain and suffering alone. I do not know where I would be right now without the loving care and patient presence of my wife. Stacy has been by me to serve me in every way. In the midst of so much in her own life, she has shown me what unconditional love looks like. Apart from the Spirit’s presence in my life, she has been the single greatest gift in this time of suffering. Indeed, the Spirit has done His work in larger part through her. I’m not used to being on the receiving end of care and it is difficult and humbling. It is also a glory to God to see my loving wife as the tangible hands and feet of Jesus. Miraculous really. I have also been blessed by the outpouring of love from my amazing church family. From our preschoolers to the eldest among us, the love of Jesus expressed, has given me hope and kept me going. There is nothing like the local church. Do not neglect the power and purpose of being devoted to the Body of Christ. Love one another. Serve each other in love. This is the church at its best.

So when bike meets car life is turned upside down, at least for a while. I’m told I will be back to normal some day. I know others who do not have that hope. The true heroes are those (mostly older friends) who have gone through much worse than me and have no hope to improve, but continue to worship God fervently. These are the ones who have learned what I’m seeking to embrace with all my heart. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ and we know that “in all these things” He is at work to conform us into the image of His Son – all for our good and all to the praise of His glorious grace.

What a good God He is to us.

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Grace changes everything.

Many give up on the fight for purity because of past failures or habitual sin. This is precisely where Satan wants us to land. My counsel to young men has always been, “The good guys fight”, meaning that you’re either in the fight or you’ve given up the fight. Even “good” men (and women) battle sexual lust and temptation. Sexual sin is Satan’s easiest door to shame. In John 4, a Samaritan woman encounters Jesus and it transforms her, from a life of shame to forgiveness. This story exposes a kind of shame that defines many of us because of past sins, driven by on-going misplaced affections. Shame is a step beyond blame.

  • Blame says, “I’ve done wrong and I deserve to be punished.”
  • Shame says, “I am wrong and I cannot change. I can’t overcome my past, my mistakes, my failures.” I am who I am. Shame leads hopelessness and despair.

How do we move from shame to forgiveness? Like the woman at the well, when we realize that we are fully known and completely loved, our lives are changed. In his book, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” To be known fully and loved completely is the greatest truth you’ll ever know.

1. God knows you fully. (vv. 1-15) Like this woman, God knows where you are and He’s gone completely out of His way to come to you, to find you. Like her, we seek diversions, a rerouting of the truth about ourselves. We guide our conversations, in an attempt to avoid the truth, so no one will truly come to know us. Many of us go through our lives like this. Are you fully known? Your greatest need is to be fully known. God knows everything about you. Psalm 139 says He knows when you get up and when you lie down. He knows what you’ll say before you say it. You can’t go anywhere and be away from His presence. He formed you in your mother’s womb. Wherever you are, He knows where you are right now. He’s pursuing you.

2. God loves you completely. (vv. 16-26) She was thirsty for love and clearly, she sought to satisfy this thirst through relationships with men. She thought that what she needed most would be found in the next man, a better relationship, the next love, in someone who would finally love her. We are all thirsty. We’re all craving love. He alone satisfies. And before we do write this off as a third-person story, don’t miss this: We all have lovers. Call them idols, other gods, false identities- we all have them. Who are you sleeping with? Jesus seeks to provide for you the one thing that He knows you actually need. The only thing that can quench this soulful thirst of the human heart is the love of God. What we need is what Thomas Chalmers, the Scottish minister, called, “the explosive power of a new affection.” Her problem is ours; it’s love out of order, disordered love, misplaced affections. Disordered love is when good things become God things. Misplaced affections need to be replaced by the far greater power of the affection of God, of the Gospel- what He has done for us in Christ. She needed what you need today, what I need: to be fully known and fully loved. What you need is a greater satisfaction in Him, the explosive power of a new affection. This is a life-changing reality: God knows you fully and He still loves you completely.

We see another sexual sinner in John 8, the woman caught in adultery. The woman turns to Jesus condemned by the law and the religious leaders. And after He silences those who wanted to stone her to death (by telling them, “If any of you are without sin, then let him case the first stone.” He then says one of the most amazing statements of grace (of the Gospel) in the Bible:

“Neither do I condemn you. From now on go and sin no more.” John 8:11

Notice the order of His words: You are not condemned by me, but forgiven – fully known and completely loved- let my love transform you and NOW, go and sin no more. Let my love compel you to holiness. Let my grace propel you into a life of obedience!” Most of us would say the opposite – “Get your act together, then I will no longer condemn you.” God’s acceptance of you is the power that liberates you toward obedience, not the reward of liberating yourself. We obey God, not to gain His approval but because we already have it (in Christ). Listen: God is not mad at you.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

Sex is not the answer, it is however, an expression of the question. Another person is not the answer. More money is not the answer. A better job is not the answer. A new and improved you is not the answer. These things, these pursuits, these thirsts point you to the question. And they are designed to point you to the Answer. It’s why you can’t stop working. It’s why you’re never satisfied. It’s why you’re anxious. It’s why you can’t rest. Your restless soul is not the answer but it IS an expression of the question. And the ultimate question is: Can I be fully known and fully loved? YES, and His…

3. Grace changes everything. (vv. 27-42) She leaves her water jar (I love this detail). The greatest need in her life had been met- she realized that she is fully known and completely loved. This is the foundation upon which you can build your entire life, because circumstances cannot touch that. She had a new identity, a new resolve, a new motivation, and a new purpose, and a new message. She had no need for a jar that would slow her down. She has a new, relentless urgency, a new purpose altogether.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

You are totally loved, fully forgiven, and completely accepted by God. His grace changes everything. Now, as a portrait of His grace, live to the praise of His glorious grace.

What is Prayer?

One day (in Luke 11) Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked Him a question. These were, essentially, Jewish boys who had grown up learning the Torah, reciting the Shema, and all their lives they had been taught to pray certain prayers, specifically three times a day. On this day, they heard Jesus pray and simply hearing Him pray prompted them to then ask the question: “Can you teach us how to do that!?” Clearly He was praying in a way that they were not. What they heard from Him was something new, something different. This is significant- as they followed Jesus every day, they saw something in His life- and they knew it was driven by prayer. They heard Him pray to a God that He called “Father”- with such intimacy, such humility, such confidence and power- that they asked Him to teach them how to pray just like that.

Maybe you’ve never asked Jesus to teach you how to pray. Maybe you have never asked anyone to teach you how to pray. How do we learn how to pray? We learn from others around us and, primarily, we have learned to pray (or not pray) from our parents.

Read Matthew 6:5-13 What is it that keeps us from praying as we should? We don’t feel that we need to pray, we feel that we should pray. Is it a lack of knowledge or we don’t know how to pray? Is it a lack of faith- or belief – that God actually answers prayer- that prayer really does change things? I think that’s the problem for many of us. Have we become so distracted by technology- focused on our televisions, our smart phones, tablets, and computers that we can’t even focus enough to get quiet before the Lord? I think for some that is the case. Years ago I was challenged as a young minister, from a pastor who said, “the one thing you must do is this: You must ruthlessly eliminate noise/hurry from your life- spend time daily, with God in prayer.”

What is prayer?

Jesus said that God knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8). So this begs a huge question, doesn’t it? Why pray at all? If you have come to the point where you’re asking that question, then you are on the verge of a great breakthrough in your life regarding prayer! Perhaps after all, prayer is not first and foremost about asking God for things. For many of us, prayer has been one big adventure in missing the point. What if prayer has little to do with me and is actually all about God? This is what Jesus taught us.

Prayer is communion with God, adoring Him for who He is and imploring Him for what He gives.

Prayer is paying attention to God- to Who He is, what He’s done, and what He wants to do through me. Now, we’ve intentionally chosen words here that we don’t use- powerful words that get to the heart of prayer:

  • Adore – to love, honor, and respect (someone) deeply; to worship, venerate; to take great pleasure in (something or someone).
  • Implore – to ask or beg for (something) in a very serious or emotional way; to beg someone earnestly or desperately to do something. 

Jesus says, when you come before God, don’t forget you come before a loving Father. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.” 1 John 3:1

Prayer is communion with God, adoring Him for who He is. The first part of The Lord’s prayer is all about adoring Him for who He is. Like everything else in life, it’s all about God’s glory.

Three petitions

  • His name – the name (in Hebrew) encompasses the complete person. “Hallowed”- HOLY, treated with the highest honor. He’s set apart. Do you struggle to adore God? Then meditate on Jesus- who HE is and all that He has done for you.

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Hebrews 1:3

  • His kingdom The presence of God’s kingdom refers to the reign of Christ in our hearts and lives as believers, and to the reigning presence of Christ in His Body, the Church. Disciples who follow Jesus every day, will increasingly reflect Christ’s love, obey His commands, honor Him and proclaim the Gospel- the Good News of the kingdom. Part of adoring Him for who He is leads us to cry out for Him to come reign on earth as He does in heaven. This is in line with the promise in John 15 to give us whatever we ask in the context of spiritual fruit.

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” John 15:7-8 As you Adore God for His glory, ask, plead, implore Him to bring His kingdom to His church, in His city and in His world. Ask in the name of Jesus for Him to bear fruit through you- advancing His kingdom on earth.

  • His will You know how to get what you’re praying for? You determine what

God’s will is and then you ask for it! This is why the WORD of God is so important. This is why the community of faith is so important. If you pray “in His name”, according to His name, His character, His person- your prayers will be answered 100% of the time. This is why Oswald Chambers, wrote: “To say that, ‘prayer changes things’ is not as close to the truth as saying, ‘Prayer changes me…” and then, by His power He changes things thought me. Prayer changes the way you look at things, approach things, desire things. David Platt said, “It is true that the purposes of God are unchanging. It is also true that the plan of God is unfolding.” And He’s chosen us to accomplish His plans.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you.” John 15:16

Think about how revolutionary Jesus’ teaching is here: If you first approach prayer with your mind and heart set on WHO God is, spend some time adoring Him, praising Him for the fact that He is hallowed, holy, He is God. Adore Him – now implore Him. You see how that changes everything? You’re now going to pray in accordance with His character and His will, “in His name”. This unlocks the power of extraordinary prayer – prayer as it is meant to be. Prayer as Jesus, our Savior, has taught us.

 

 

 

The Silence of God – Andrew Peterson

It’s enough to drive a man crazy; it’ll break a man’s faith

It’s enough to make him wonder if he’s ever been sane

When he’s bleating for comfort from thy staff and thy rod

And the heaven’s only answer is the silence of God.

 

It’ll shake a man’s timbers when he loses his heart

When he has to remember what broke him apart

This yoke may be easy, but the burden is not

When the crying fields are frozen by the silence of God.

 

And if a man’s got to listen to the voices of the mob

Who are reeling in the throes of all the happiness they’ve got

When they tell you all their troubles have been nailed up to that cross

Then what about the times when even followers get lost?

‘Cause we all get lost sometimes…

 

There’s a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll

In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold

And He’s kneeling in the garden, as silent as a stone

All His friends are sleeping and He’s weeping all alone

 

And the man of all sorrows, He never forgot

What sorrow is carried by the hearts that He bought

So when the questions dissolve in to the silence of God

The aching may remain, but the breaking does not

The aching may remain, but the breaking does not

In the Holy, Lonesome echo of the silence of God.  

 

Why Lent?

lent word-1Growing up I didn’t know much about Lent. To me, it was simply a strange “Catholic” practice. Through the years, I’ve gained a broader understanding of the Body of Christ through the study of Church history and I’ve experienced a deeper expression of prayer and worship through a broader Christian heritage. Most Protestants think of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season as a “Catholic thing” or even a “pagan” holiday of some sort. The season of Lent appeared after the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) though some have noted that our earliest known reference of the practice was Ireneus (an early church father who died in 202 A.D.). With so many biblical precedents, it seems that the church would have seized upon the idea of fasting for forty days prior to that. But the early history of Lent is interesting and complex. Even the etymology of the word takes different paths. Known as Tessarakosti in Greek and Quadragesima in Latin, for “the Forty,” it was later referred to as “Lenten” which comes from an Old English word “lencten” meaning “Springtime” or “Spring.” This was derived from a West Germanic word that means “long-days,” because of the approaching Spring, or vernal equinox – literally, “equal night” and equal day. All of this to say, what it’s called has a long, winding history and it has been a long-standing practice of the Church. Understandably, many equate the practice of Lent, or Ash Wednesday, with the debauchery of Mardi Gras and, therefore, want to run as far away from it as possible. But is there something redemptive about this ancient practice that could actually bring us into a deeper walk with Jesus all the way to Resurrection Sunday? Why Lent? And even more, why Lent among believers who have not had the practice as part of their spiritual history? As noted, it is a part of our history and I believe there’s something here to be restored.

What we’ve sought to do is strip the Lenten season of anything that is not biblical or does not bring our mind’s attention and heart’s affection to Jesus. Instead, maintain a simple and clear focus of prayer, repentance, and personal sacrifice. I’ve heard many sermons on Christ’s instructions to pray as He says, “When you pray…” pray like this.  But He also says, “When you fast…” fast like this (Matthew 6:16). He doesn’t say “if” you fast, but “when.” Jesus expected His followers to pray, and at times, fast as a regular part of our spiritual pattern of worship. Could it be that we (in the U.S. in particular) could learn a few things about restraint, about giving up so much of what we want and dying to our selfish need for more? I am certain that prayer and fasting is greatly needed among believers, particularly in the affluent West.

What many have written off as a strange practice (ashes on the forehead, giving up certain foods, etc.) we’ve sought to recapture in its purest biblical sense. It is true that “Ash Wednesday” or “Lent” are not in the Bible. (Of course, neither are Christmas Eve services, Good Friday services, Advent, and so much of what others of us would call “normal.”) You don’t see “Easter Sunday” in the Bible either, because every Sunday is Easter Sunday – or better, Resurrection Sunday for the believer.

“Lent” may not be in the Bible but focused seasons of sacrifice, confession, and repentance clearly are. In the church I grew up in we rushed to Easter Sunday without any preparation of the heart before God. I’ve learned much from the larger Body of Christ as it relates to the spiritual disciplines of solitude, prayer, and fasting. The Lenten or Easter Season should be a focused time of confession and repentance from “Ash Wednesday” to Easter Sunday. Forty Days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday – minus the Sundays leading up to Easter – because the early believers would not fast on Sundays. Later many would go from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday (forty days later). Maundy comes from “mandatum” meaning “mandate” or “command.” Jesus said, “A new commandment (mandatum nuevum) I give to you” (John 13:34). So the Lenten season is a period of intentional prayer and fasting (with a focus on confession, restraint, sacrifice, and repentance). Why forty days? Forty days shows up throughout the Bible – the flood, the spies in Canaan, the Israelites in the wilderness, days before Samson’s deliverance, Goliath taunting Saul’s army, Elijah fleeing Jezebel, days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and on and on. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus (Luke 4:1-2) all fasted for forty days. Forty is not an arbitrary number.

Some practice the placing of ashes on foreheads or wrists signifying the start of a season of confession and repentance. The ashes remind the worshipper of his/her mortality, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19) as well as the need to repent of sin in one’s life. It was common for Jews and early believers to mourn the loss of a loved one with “sackcloth and ashes.” Ashes were also a sign of brokenness and repentance of sin. Confession of sin, however, is a private thing between you and God and is not something to be paraded around and seen by everyone.

The practice of fasting is the act of the will through which the follower of Jesus puts forth spiritual control over the flesh (through sacrifice – i.e. not eating, or some other form of self-denial) with a view to a more personal and powerful experience with God in prayer. Fasting involves giving up but is much more about receiving.  You give up in order to receive. You die in order to live. The essence of fasting and renewed commitment to Jesus is summed up in Philippians 1:21, “For me, to live is Christ and die is gain.” During this season of restraint, Christ is experienced as more than enough for us in every way. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work” (John 4:34). During a fast He becomes our “food.” The will of God becomes your sustenance.

Come walk to the cross with the Lord Jesus this Easter season as never before. Let the prayer of David be yours.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10