A Bold Prayer

Lord, I have heard of your fame;bold prayer little girl and mom
    I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
   in our time make them known;
    in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2; NIV)

The church we recently started attending adopted the above verse as its mission statement. My husband and I participated in an introductory class offered by the church that explains its history and values, and our small table group was asked to discuss our reactions to the Habakkuk verse. The boldness of the prophet prayer, which, in my opinion, borders on audacity, impresses me tremendously. Habakkuk had the nerve to ask God to perform the same types of miracles he performed during the Jews’ captivity in Egypt — bringing pestilence and plagues upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians, freeing the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, parting the sea, and destroying Pharaoh and his army.

I love Habakkuk’s heart! He prayed boldly and confidently to the Lord. The prophet knew what God was capable of, and he wasn’t afraid to ask the Lord to repeat his awesome deeds in the prophet’s day. Habakkuk also knew that all of the glory would be God’s as no human power could possibly take credit for these wonders. And now my church prays for God to again renew his deeds in our time. Sure, maybe thousands of years ago God performed miracles on a monumental scale quite regularly, but in today’s day and age?

The Bible gives us another example of a bold prayer. This popular prayer is often referred to as the Prayer of Jabez:

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. (1 Chronicles 4:10)

“Bless me and enlarge my territory!” Who among us would dare to make such a grand request in the modern day? Jabez could make this bold prayer because he recognized that God wanted to bless him. In addition, Jabez wanted to increase his sphere of influence not only for himself but for God, and he wanted God to be on his side. What about us? Do we recognize that God wants to bless us? Do we pray because we want God to be on our side, and because we want to grow his kingdom?

Scripture clearly demonstrates that God is ready and waiting to hear our prayers and grant our bold requests. As Jesus explained:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:12-14; emphasis mine)

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:21-22: emphasis mine)

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:7-8; emphasis mine)

The Lord encourages us to pray boldly. God wants to be glorified, and it honors God and bears witness to him when our lives produce fruit. Why, then, “since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19) shouldn’t we “come boldly unto the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16; KJV)? We need only to pray in faith, according to God’s will, and in Jesus’s name.

Warrior, if you’re like me, perhaps you haven’t given God the credit he deserves. Maybe you’ve underestimated him, or you haven’t felt worthy of asking for a demonstration of his power. No more! Let’s begin right now to pray boldly and fearlessly! For example, I am going to change my wimpy prayer of “Lord, I’m so tired. Please give me strength to get through this day” to “Lord, I pray for a complete and total healing from Fibromyalgia”. And instead of saying “God, if you see any use for me, please let me help just one person”, I might pray “Lord, use me in a powerful way to serve others and to draw them closer to you”. And rather than simply asking God to protect my family, I will pray that the Lord “rebuke Satan and his minions, and allow nothing but the Spirit of God and the love of God upon them”. See the difference?

My bold prayer for you is that the Lord’s power will be evident in your life, that his answers to your prayers would richly bless you but also give him glory and further his kingdom.

The Lord is proving to me daily that he is more than I could ever dream or understand. Enjoy More Than You Think I Am by Danny Gokey!

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Popcorn Prayers

“God, if you’re real, I need you to show yourself right now!” my dear friend prayed after giving birth to her second stillborn child.

“God, I can’t take this anymore! Please help me!”, I prayed through blinding tears when I was in the depths of depression.

As he tended to his dying father, my husband cried out to God, “Help me, God! Give me strength!”

Though spending lengthy periods of time in prayer and quiet reflection with the Lord are treasured as well as vital to our Christian walk, there are also times when the luxury of time is not available. And sometimes our needs are so great and so immediate that all we can do is cry out to God, begging Him to allow us to experience His presence and his response to our requests at once. Otherwise, we may fear we won’t survive the moment.

popcornI will never forget listening to a sermon by Skip Heitzig when he was Pastor of Ocean Hills Church. He used a term I had never heard before: “popcorn prayer”. These prayers, like a kernel of corn when it is heated and explodes and pops up into the air, are quick prayers we “pop” straight up to the Lord. Popcorn prayers are those prayers we cry out when we are desperate, when words escape us, and in those times we can muster only enough strength or presence of mind to plead “Help! Please help me, Lord!” Oh, if only I had a dollar for every time I prayed a popcorn prayer! I tend to offer popcorn prayers when I’m frightened, when I don’t know what to do, when I have come to the end of my rope with a person or a situation, or when I just can’t stop myself from repeating some destructive behavior.

King David most certainly never heard the term “popcorn prayer”, yet he definitely understood the concept behind it:

Hasten, O God, to save me;
    come quickly, Lord, to help me.

May those who want to take my life
    be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin
    be turned back in disgrace.
May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!”

    turn back because of their shame.
But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who long for your saving help always say,
    “The Lord is great!”

But as for me, I am poor and needy;           
    come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    Lord, do not delay. (Psalm 70)

Notice the terms “hasten”, “come quickly” and “do not delay”. We, like David, experience moments when we are broken and empty, and we beg God to hastily come to our aid. David faced enemies who sought his ruin and wanted to take his life. Though we may not be in danger of murder as David was, we still face any number of enemies during our lifetime, including our number one enemy, Satan, who seeks to destroy us.

In verse 3 of Psalm 70, David asks that those who say “Aha!” to him may “turn back because of their shame”. “Aha!” is something someone might say when they think they are right and you’re wrong, or when they think they’re beating you. When David’s enemies cruelly and haughtily said, “Aha! Aha!” to him, they added insult to injury by reveling in what they were sure was their inevitable victory and David’s certain defeat. Similarly, we may feel that our “enemies” – whether they be actual people as in David’s case, or the enemies of anxiety, depression, health challenges, relationship struggles, loss of a loved one, financial problems, etc. – are metaphorically saying “Aha!” to us. In those situations, we may pray like David that God would confound and frustrate whatever is coming against us.

David asked the Lord not to delay coming to him because he was “poor and needy” (verse 5). When we approach the Lord in brokenness, poverty and neediness, He meets us with mercy. He honors us when we come to Him with a humble heart:

And it will be said:

“Build up, build up, prepare the road!
    Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
For this is what the high and exalted One says—

    he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly

    and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57: 14-15)

Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor. (Proverbs 29:23)

David’s “popcorn prayer” teaches us that even in the midst of our distress, it is still appropriate to praise God. In verse 4, David prayed that all who seek the Lord would “rejoice and be glad in him” and that all who long for His saving help would always say, “The Lord is great!”. David wanted the Lord’s followers to glorify Him in this way. In verse 5, David praised God as his help and his deliverer. I find it difficult to praise God when I am scared, angry or overwhelmed. Nevertheless, finding things to praise Him for (and there is never a shortage!) helps me take my mind off whatever negative emotions are consuming me and re-direct my focus onto Jesus and all He has done.

When Saul sought to kill David, David prayed to God for help and strength. The Lord heard David’s prayer and delivered him from his enemy’s hand. As David recounts:

In my distress, I called to the Lord;
  I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
  My cry came before him, into his ears.

 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me. (Psalm 18:2, 16-19)

Beloved Warrior, when all you can do is cry out to the Lord, rest assured that He will hear you and answer you. His mighty hand will reach down from on high and take hold of you, and He will rescue you from all that is too strong for you.

This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it – the Lord is his name. Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. (Jeremiah 33: 2-3; emphasis mine)

Enjoy “Cry Out to Jesus” – an awesome song by Third Day!

Free Indeed

Some people think joy is something we won’t experience until we get to heaven, but I disagree with this belief. The Lord wants us to experience joy not only in the life to come but in this lifetime as well. He sent His son Jesus to free us, to comfort us and to trade our despair and mourning for praise and gladness:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:1-3; New International Version)

In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus reads verses 1-2 of the above Isaiah Scripture in reference to Himself. He came to bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for captives, and release from darkness for prisoners. Jesus did not say that He would make these things happen after His followers entered heaven, but rather He proclaimed that “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21; emphasis mine).
breakthechain
Though Jesus promises freedom, Christians can still find themselves imprisoned by a multitude of oppressors – addiction, unhealthy relationships, anxiety, etc. For a long time I found myself in a prison of deep depression. In my quest to identify what was preventing me from allowing the Lord to free me from this mental tyrant, I discovered that my depression could in large part be attributed to doing things I don’t want to do that I think I should do.

In all of my extensive research on Fibromyalgia and depression, the best advice I found for rediscovering my own joy was very simply stated in a little book entitled The Bible Cure for Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia. The author, Don Colbert, suggested imagining I only have one year left to live. During that year, what would I choose to do and not do? To make answering this question easier, he recommended grouping my activities into three categories: 1) things I enjoy doing, 2) things I must do, and 3) things that I neither enjoy nor must do. It turned out that so much of my time was devoted to the third category! Colbert advised the reader to “eliminate all of the items from category three”, at least for the near future and preferably for the rest of his/her life.

Of course, we all have responsibilities that we must fulfill. Usually these are healthy activities that fulfill us, keep us accountable and make us contributing members of society. Many of us also sign up for commitments and obligations that are optional and voluntary. It’s these “extra” undertakings that can sap my energy and cause me to become resentful because they take away from the precious little time I have to do the things I enjoy and be with the people in whose company I most delight. Maintaining a balance in my Christian walk is vital.

Taking time to pray before taking on a commitment or doing something solely out of obligation helps me discern which activities the Lord wants me to participate in and which ones I’m motivated to engage in out of pride or a guilty conscience. I rely on the Holy Spirit for direction, and I usually say no when the activity proves to be something I neither want to do nor must do. When I live my life this way, I am at my happiest, I feel good physically (because I’m taking care of myself and not adding stress!), and I have more energy. Conversely, when my calendar is filled with obligations I am irritable, tired and unhappy. But this is not God’s will for me. He doesn’t load me down with a bunch of rules and “should’s”. Instead, Jesus asks me to take on His comparatively light and easy yoke:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus spoke at great length against the hypocrisy and the heavy burden of tradition and laws the Pharisees and teachers of the law of His day put on the people. In Matthew 23, Jesus warned:

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see…” (Matthew 23:2-5a; emphasis mine)

Many people perceive the Christian life as restricting and prohibitive. On the contrary, there is such freedom in following Jesus and surrendering to Him! Our great Partner, the Lord, is always there to share our burdens and do the heavy lifting. We don’t have to do anything to make Him love us. In fact, we can’t do anything to make Him love us because He already does – without condition. He welcomes us with open arms by His grace, and in return we receive the privilege of serving Him as a demonstration of our gratitude for all He is and all He has done.

Beloved warrior, it’s impossible to face and fight our battles effectively if we’re bogged down with the heavy load of legalism, societal expectations and our guilt over what we think we “should” do when it’s not something the Lord specifically calls us to. May we find true freedom in His easy yoke and rest in His unconditional love.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17)

Enjoy this Stephen Curtis Chapman song about the freedom we have in Christ!

Reference: Colbert, Don, M.D. The Bible Cure for Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia. Lake Mary: Siloam, 2000. Print.

Remembering the Sabbath

We have chosen to close on the day most widely recognized as a day of rest, in order to allow our employees and customers more time for worship and family. This has not been an easy decision for Hobby Lobby because we realize that this decision may cost us financially. Yet we also realize that there are things more important than profits. This is a matter of principle for our company owner and officers.
– Hobby Lobby’s response to the question, “Why are you closed on Sundays?

“People appreciate you being consistent with your faith. It’s a silent witness to the Lord when people go into shopping malls, and everyone is bustling, and you see that Chick-fil-A is closed.”
Quote from Chik-fil-A’s founder, S. Truett Cathy, about closing on Sundays.

It’s so easy in today’s busy culture to forget the Sabbath. Even for those of us who go to church on Sunday morning, we often spend the rest of the day tending to our worldly affairs, e.g. shopping, doing chores, catching up on work, etc.

The Lord’s fourth commandment tells us to “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8; New International Version). The Holy Spirit has been convicting me over the last few months about my disregard for the Sabbath and how I treat it just like every other day of the week. In fact, I often look at Sunday afternoons as a time to work, clean the house, do laundry, go grocery shopping, etc. But in Exodus, the Lord commanded the Israelites to:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy”. (Exodus 20:8-11)

Examining the Hebrew meaning of the words in the fourth commandment helps me better understand what I’m to do on the Sabbath. For example, how am I to “remember” it? The word “remember” is the Hebrew zakhor and suggests calling to mind or “actively focusing the mind upon something in the present” (Hebrew for Christians). So the Sabbath is a day for pondering and meditating on the sacred work of God in my life and for reflecting on His holiness. Though celebrating God as Creator of the universe is not limited to the Sabbath, on this day in particular I enjoy all He has created just as on the seventh day the Lord enjoyed all He had created in the first six days of creation.

The word “Sabbath” is connected to the Hebrew shavat, a verb meaning “to cease, desist, rest”, as in God ceased (shavat) His creative activity on the seventh day of creation. Remembering the Sabbath helps us by requiring us to rest from the cares and concerns of this world and to take a break from worldly endeavors. When I don’t stop to take a day off from my “to do” list, I become tired, worn and irritable. On the other hand, it’s amazing how refreshed and rejuvenated I feel after observing just one day of rest!

In addition to remembering the Sabbath, we are tasked with keeping it “holy”. Just what does this mean, and how do we accomplish it? The word “holy” comes from the Hebrew kedushah and means set-apartness or sanctity. Therefore, the Sabbath is a day for the sacred. Appropriate activities include resting, reflecting, worshiping, Bible study, and fellowship with believers.

For further clarification as to acceptable Sabbath activity, we can look to Jesus. It’s clear from the gospels that Jesus observed the Sabbath, and that He advocated preaching on the holy day. Mark 1:21 tells us, “When the Sabbath came, Jesus went in to the synagogue and began to teach.” And again in Mark 6:2, “When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue and many who heard him were amazed”. In Luke 4:16, we learn that Jesus went into the synagogue on the Sabbath “as was his custom”. In other words, even our Savior regularly met with his fellows for the study of God’s word. Scripture also tells us that Jesus advocated acts of mercy (Matthew 12:1-8), healing and serving (Mark 3:1-6) as God-honoring ways to keep the Sabbath holy.

The Lord has instituted His commands for our own good. I so appreciate and love that about Him! He has to save us from ourselves because He knows we have a tendency to go astray and get ourselves in trouble. Americans are especially susceptible to burnout, sickness and stress. We barely allow ourselves 1-2 weeks of vacation per year. We can literally work ourselves to death!

So much about what the Bible teaches is about living counter-culture. Over the last six months or so, I’ve tried to remain mindful to observe the Sabbath. It’s been a challenge for me because I am always seeing and thinking of work that needs to be done! But I don’t clean, do laundry or work for my job on Sundays. I don’t run errands. I spend time with my family, and I try to rest and relax and/or do something that allows me to play. But I am so far from perfect in my practice of honoring the Sabbath! This last Sunday, for example, I completely forgot what day it was, and I went to the grocery store so I could get one of my Monday chores checked off my to-do list. There’s no room for legalism here, however, so I just ask God to help me take the Sabbath as a day to honor Him and to allow Him to restore and rejuvenate me.

Beloved Warriors, we owe it to the Lord and to ourselves to observe a day of rest and reflection. We will be so much more effective for the battle if we take this time each week. As the book of Isaiah tells us, God will honor our efforts to observe the Sabbath:

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:13-14)

On the Sabbath and everyday, we remember that our help comes from Him! Enjoy this song by for King & Country.

References:

“Frequently Asked Questions.“ Hobby Lobby Homepage, Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Web. 18 May 2015.
“The Fourth Commandment.” Hebrew for Christians. Parsons, John J., Web. 15 May 2015.
“The World According to Chik-fil-A Founder Truett Cathy.” The Washington Post, Ohlheiser, A., Web. 18 May 2015.

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

While it may be true that the Lord works in mysterious ways, my experience has been that it is also true there are times God speaks directly to us with a clear and obvious message. Lately it’s become apparent the Lord wants me to address a negative pattern in my life, turn from it and stop repeating it. My morning devotional talked about being a drain on others vs. being a wellspring, I watched a Joel Osteen message about honoring others, and all the while the Holy Spirit has been convicting me about my search for attention from others, their approval and the need to feed my own ego with accolades and conversations that focus on me.

I know I’m not in spiritually fit condition when all I start to think about all day long is me. Gone are the thoughts of praying for others and about what I can do for those in need, and resentment about my service commitments and responsibilities takes over. I am impatient – wherever I go I seem to be in the slowest line or behind the slowest driver, and don’t these people know how important I am and that I need to get somewhere?! It has taken some time for me to come to the realization, but when I finally stopped to ask why I’m so grumpy and irritable, I recognized that I am disconnected from the Father. And I’ve also discovered that, interestingly enough (no coincidences here!), it’s during these times that I’m too “busy” to get to Bible study, I don’t have time to spend with other Christian women, and I cut short my quiet time with God so that I can get started checking off my all-important to-do list.

I can so easily become the center of my own little universe. I cringe at the ugliness within myself when all I think about is me! I see it happening, yet I feel powerless to do anything about it. My sinful nature takes over, and the enemy just loves it! How can I get out of this mindset and stop being so self-centered? After all, God is the only one whose approval I really need and only He can give me the inner peace and truly unconditional love that I so desperately seek out and crave. So what can I do on those days I’m completely self-absorbed and self-consumed? I don’t have the power to remove my own selfishness, but the Holy Spirit does. The first step to adjusting my attitude is confessing my self-centeredness to God and sincerely repenting. Then I present myself to the Father with no holds barred. As the Apostle Paul instructed:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. (New International Version, Romans 12:1; emphasis mine)

When I humbly submit myself to the Potter, He can mold me back into proper shape. Then I will no longer “conform to the pattern of this world” but rather, I will be “transformed by the renewing of [my] mind” (Romans 12:2a). The next step is to fill myself up with spiritual food and water by spending time with God in prayer, in His Word and with other Christians. When I am spiritually nourished, the desire for worldly recognition and acceptance fades away. The Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well sought fulfillment in her relationships with men (she had previously had five husbands and was living with a sixth man when she encountered Jesus), but Jesus explained to her that the spiritual “well” she continually visited would only leave her thirsty again. Only He can offer us the living water that quenches our spiritual thirst:

“…but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

When I feel myself being drawn back into seeking validation from the world, I can run my thoughts and actions by the checklist provided in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. The checklist determines whether what I do and think spring from love: Are my thoughts and actions patient and kind, and not envious, boastful or proud? Do they demonstrate honor to others? Are my thoughts and actions other-centered rather than self-seeking? Am I not easily angered? Am I not keeping a record of wrongs nor delighting in evil but instead rejoicing with the truth? Are my thoughts and behaviors displaying love that always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres? Scripture tells me that I can be the most successful person in the eyes of the world and be fully equipped with tremendous spiritual gifts, yet without love I am nothing: If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Fellow warriors, I don’t know about you, but I definitely do not want to be a clanging cymbal. That is one loud and annoying sound! Instead, I want to gently and humbly shine the light of Jesus and reflect His love onto those I come into contact with. For no matter what I accomplish in this life, the greatest legacy I will leave behind is love. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13).

The Lord Hears YOUR Prayer

Sometimes people find it too difficult to pray during their darkest moments in life. For me, it has been the opposite. I have a long history of depression, and during my last bout of deep depression I clung to the Lord with all of my strength. I was like the woman in the Bible who had been bleeding for 12 years: I thought metaphorically that “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed” (Matthew 9:20-22 NIV). I imagined myself on my knees with my arms wrapped around Jesus’s ankles never letting Him get away from me. He was and is my only hope.

I believe that one of the many positive outcomes of suffering is that we are provided with an opportunity to grow closer with the Father. I have learned during my periods of trial that these are also times for me to examine my beliefs about God and what my relationship with him is based on. Is my love for Him based on who He is rather than what He can give me? Can I, like Job, say “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21b NIV)? Am I all in no matter what the cost?

A pivotal moment in answering these questions came to me as I was sitting alone in my car parked in the garage. I had just returned from the health club where my husband, son and I had gone. My son was going to the kids’ club so that my husband and I could attend a yoga class. We were several minutes late, and the entire yoga studio was filled with mats and people but we tried to squeeze ourselves in. When I tried to squeeze in to a space toward the front of the class, a gentleman in the class told me there was no room. At the same time, the instructor made a point of reminding the class to come a few minutes early. My husband and I left the room, and I was embarrassed and hurt that the folks weren’t gentler with us. But it wasn’t their fault. My depression was just so intense at that point that I was very fragile and sensitive. I told my husband I needed to go to the car, and I barely made it there before I burst into tears. I didn’t want people coming to the gym and seeing a crazy lady crying hysterically in her car, so I made the quick drive home for some privacy.

I pulled into my garage and closed the garage door, turned off the car and sobbed and wailed. I cried out to the Lord in desperation thinking that I was losing my mind. “Where are you?” I pleaded. “Please, I’m begging You!” I prayed. I was convinced that my husband was going to have to take me to a mental institution because I was certain I was having a breakdown. Would God really let me fall apart like this? After crying hysterically for a long time and begging for God’s help and telling Him I really couldn’t do this alone, I finally calmed down somewhat. I knew that I had a choice: Continue to follow Him and trust Him in my deepest despair and pain or try to find relief elsewhere. I affirmed then and there that no matter what, I would be His. There was no other option for me, nowhere else to go. I wanted His way; the way of light, purity, holiness, goodness and love. I embraced the words uttered by Simon Peter after Jesus gave a hard teaching and many of His disciples decided to turn back and stop following Him. Jesus asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”, and Simon Peter responded, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life” (John 6:68 NLT).

I wish I could say that after confirming my commitment to God that day something miraculous happened. But actually all I heard in the darkness of my closed garage was silence. During those times when it seems I’m not getting any response to prayer, it’s easy to think that perhaps God isn’t hearing me. The propensity when He appears to be completely absent is to doubt Him and whether or not He really loves and cares about me. I refer to the book of Daniel for Biblical proof that God not only hears prayer but acts upon them immediately.

The prophet Daniel was dismayed that Jerusalem would be desolated for seventy years according to what he understood from the scriptures, and he pleaded with God through worship, confession and petition. But Daniel was divinely interrupted by the angel Gabriel even before he finished praying:

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill – while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. He instructed me and said to me, ‘Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given’… (Daniel 9:20-23a NIV, emphasis mine).

The book of Isaiah also tells me that God hears our sincere prayers while we are still in the midst of saying them: Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear (Isaiah 65:24 NIV).

When the Biblical patriarch Abraham was nearing the end of his life, he wanted to ensure that his son Isaac would not marry one of the local Canaanite women. So Abraham sent his servant to his native homeland in the Haran district to obtain Isaac a wife from Abraham’s own country and from his own relatives. When the servant arrived in Nahor in the Haran district, he prayed that God would answer Abraham’s prayer for a wife for his son. The servant prayed fervently that he would know who God had chosen to be Isaac’s wife if after she came out to the local spring to draw water the servant would ask for a drink she would not only give him a drink but all of his camels also. Rebekah, the woman who would become Isaac’s wife, went down to the spring “Before he [the servant] had finished praying” and gave both the man and his camels water to drink in fulfillment of the servant’s prayer (Genesis 24:15 NIV).

God’s Word explicitly tells us that not only does He answer prayers, but He answers them while we are in the midst of praying. For Daniel and Abraham, this was obvious. But for those of us who don’t receive such clear and immediate answers to desperate, heartfelt prayers what hope can we hold on to? Sometimes it feels like my prayers are hitting a brick wall and that God has just decided to let me squirm while wondering if I’m ever going to receive a response.

A friend once told me that when I pray, I need to expect in faith for God to respond. My problem on many occasions has been my lack of belief that God will answer my prayer and that He will speak to me. At these times I have to remind myself that God not only created me but that He also died for me, so why would he just drop me on my rear end and leave me here on my own now? I hear from God when I wait for answers to prayer with determination, expectation and anticipation. I can take a lesson from the prophet Habakkuk.

Habakkuk was complaining, as I often do in my prayers (perhaps a better term is “whining”), about the corruption and apostasy of Judah. He wanted to know from God why He wasn’t taking action against so much evil. Though Habakkuk’s prayer was specifically about the violence and injustice taking place in Judah, the tone of incredulity and impatience behind his prayer may be likened to the prayers I so often utter:

How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
But you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
(Habakkuk 1:2-3)

When God responds to Habakkuk and Habakkuk doesn’t like the response he receives (can anyone relate?), the prophet challenges God with more questions about justice thus demonstrating that God can more than handle our questioning of Him and why He allows certain things to happen. The lesson I take from Habakkuk is his determination to wait until he hears a response from the Lord on his complaints:

I will stand at my watch
And station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
And what answer I am to give to this complaint.
(Habakkuk 2:1 NIV)

The image is one of a guard looking out from his tower anxiously awaiting the arrival of a response from the Lord. This is how I am to posture myself when I’ve offered my prayers to God. I must take it on faith that I will receive a response, and even if I don’t like the answer I receive I pray that I will still be able to declare:

Yet I will rejoice in the lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
He enables me to go on the heights.
(Habakkuk 3:18b-19 NIV)

My fellow warriors, I pray that the Lord will richly bless you with His peace and the knowledge and assurance that He does, indeed, hear YOUR prayer.