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!

It’s a Lie

Exactly one year ago, my husband, son and I went on vacation for spring break to Yosemite National Park. I had just spent the weekend before the trip in the hospital after going to the emergency room for heart palpitations. After getting an abnormal EKG, the doctors admitted me to the hospital for various cardiac tests. At that time, my fibromyalgia pain was at an all-time high, I battled constant fatigue and I was still recovering from an episode of major depression. I was convinced that Satan was determined to destroy me by whatever means possible, and that he might even succeed.

Needless to say, I desperately needed this vacation! We usually choose national parks or nature-oriented destinations when we travel as they provide a welcome reprieve from the noise and busyness that defines our lives in Orange County. I was looking forward to spending quiet time with God and hopefully receiving some strength, hope and encouragement from Him. And He did not disappoint!

One day on our trip, we hiked a trail to one of Yosemite’s world-famous majestic waterfalls. As we climbed the enormous boulders the mighty falls had transported and smoothed out over time, I enjoyed the thundering crash of the cascades and the refreshing water spray on my face. At that moment, God firmly yet lovingly spoke to my heart: “Don’t you dare ever think the enemy is more powerful than me! Look at all that I’ve created. Only I have the power to make all this. I AM GOD!”

My son, Noah, in Yosemite

My son, Noah, in Yosemite

Somehow I had forgotten the victory that is mine through Christ, and I’d given Satan way too much credit. I had been buying into his lies. Because I was feeling discouraged, Satan saw a perfect opportunity to whisper doubt into my ear about God’s power and authority. It’s not surprising that the enemy lies to us when we’re vulnerable given that the Bible describes Satan as “a liar and the father of lies” (New International Version: John 8:44b). The Apostle Paul understood Satan’s trickery all too well, and he expressed his concern to the church in Corinth about the influence the devil’s lies may have on them:

But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3; emphasis mine)

How can I avoid being duped by Satan, especially during those times my faith is weakest? First, I must put my trust in Jesus for only He is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6; emphasis mine). Next, I put what I’m believing to the acid test: Is it something that gives life or destroys it? If it destroys, it’s from the enemy, but if it gives life it’s from the Lord. As John’s gospel explains, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I [Jesus] have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Then I must heed Paul’s advice to the church in Ephesus:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:10-13; emphasis mine).

Perhaps it’s no coincidence, Valiant Warriors, that the first piece of spiritual armor Paul lists is the belt of truth. Because we are prone to fall prey to Satan’s lies, one of his principal weapons, Christians must “stand firm” with the Lord’s “belt of truth buckled around [our] waist[s]” (Ephesians 6:14a).

If we hold to the truths in God’s word, it’s easier to recognize and reject Satan’s lies. Every lie may be countered by God’s truth. For example, when I see ISIS killing Christians in the Middle East and I’m tempted to believe the bad guys are winning, Scripture offers the following refutation:

Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.”

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.

He rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.
(Psalm 2:1-6; emphasis mine) AND

The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
the purposes of his heart through all generations
. (Psalm 33:10-11)

When I start believing the lie that I’m insignificant, the Bible says that conversely,

You [the LORD] created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth
. (Psalm 139:13-14; emphasis mine)

And when I’m convinced that God doesn’t care about me or my struggles, Scripture reminds me:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 37-39)

The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17)

Warriors, is the enemy trying to get you to believe any of his lies? I pray that God’s truth will enter your hearts, comfort you and give you strength and courage in the battle, that you may stand firm in the knowledge that “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (King James Version: 1 John 4:4).

This awesome song by Mercy Me expresses my sentiments exactly!

The Dilemma of Suffering

Everyone goes through periods of intense suffering, and the temptation for many is to question God about why He allows His children to suffer. Some people will even go as far as to renounce their faith in God because they can’t understand how a good God would permit such trials in their life. Periods of suffering present us with the choice to either walk away from God or to run to Him.

There are times in our lives when it seems like nearly everyone we know is going through a major difficulty. My current prayer list is so long that I told my husband one of the reasons I’m thinking of taking a break from Bible study, or at least moving to a smaller group, is because I just can’t handle any more people and their needs and problems. It’s too much! At present, a friend of mine is suffering dreadfully from metastatic colon cancer, and she re-started aggressive chemotherapy that left her vomiting all the way home from treatment. Another friend’s marriage is falling apart. Yet another friend has struggled with alcoholism for years, and she’s currently back in rehab trying to get sober again after a year fighting breast cancer. I recently learned that a good friend’s son was diagnosed with ADHD, a compulsive disorder and a tic disorder that could lead to alcoholism and depression. A woman in my Bible study group found out that her 19-year-old daughter has Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And this is just a small sampling of the many tragedies occurring in the lives of my friends and loved ones, but you get the point. Life is definitely in session!

Because I look to the Lord for help in understanding with my pea-sized brain what only He can comprehend, and because answers and comfort for life’s most difficult questions and realities are found in Scripture, you may think I’m going to talk about James. “Well”, you may say, “perhaps she’s going to refer to James and encourage us to count it all joy” (James 1:2). Excuse me, count it all what? I don’t think so! Nevertheless, Scripture has helped me change the way I look at suffering and to appreciate the great blessings it brings.

So how can we approach this topic of suffering with the goal of obtaining at least an iota of understanding or at the very least some peace, comfort and consolation about it? The best way I can answer that question, and mind you I’m no expert, is to try and view suffering from God’s perspective. For me, it’s easier to accept suffering when I remind myself that it is accomplishing some purpose, and that purpose primarily is growth in my walk with Jesus. A survey of the Scriptures informs me that suffering is useful for refining us, for allowing us to experience what Christ experienced, and for coming to truly love the Lord without expectation of return.

One comforting aspect of suffering is that is isn’t something we experience in vain. God uses our suffering to accomplish His purposes in us. A period of trial is a time of refining and purifying, a time of burning off the impurities within us and bringing us to maturity. No wonder during difficult times in my life I feel as if my feet are being held to the fire! Scripture often refers to the refining process for the purpose of purifying us:

See, I have refined you, though not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this.
(New International Version Isaiah 48:10-11b)

I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities. (Isaiah 1:25b)

While these verses may not be initially encouraging to us during our time of refining, the Lord may be praised for the end result of the refining process. Note the psalmist’s words:

Praise our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
For you, O God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
(Psalm 66:8-10b)

As the Bible explains, an important process in the technology of refining precious metals was checking for the removal of all impurities by heating metals in a crucible (Psalm 66:10 NIV note). We can liken our suffering to the process of refining as it accomplishes the same goal: God seeks to purify His people in order to make them more Christ-like. We can take comfort in the fact that our suffering is not meaningless; it results in the strengthening and development of our character.

In Romans, Paul identifies the fruitfulness that comes out of suffering: “…but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:3-5).

As our character develops and grows, we are more able to feel compassion for others. And though we may feel like God is distant during our difficult times, He does offer us comfort in our suffering:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

A second benefit of suffering that Scripture often references is that through it we experience a small taste of what Christ encountered in this world. In this way, we draw closer to Him. As Paul the apostle writes in his letter to the Philippians, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).

For me personally, my response to God during a period of suffering is an indication of how deep my faith and trust in God are and how strong my relationship with Him is. It’s an opportunity for me to assess the purity of my love for Him. Am I truly seeking to follow the Lord no matter what? Am I still wanting, in some cases expecting or even demanding, that God fulfill my wish list? Have I given every area of my life over to Him? Periods of trial bring me face-to-face with those tough questions, and in answering them honestly I can pray that God will help me truly love Him without any expectation of return except for the irreplaceable joy that comes from following Him and doing His will to the best of my ability.

I’m coming out of a time of intense trial and suffering from health issues and depression, and I am still in recovery from the whole experience and feeling fragile. But the good news is that I have a better understanding of who I am relative to who He is. My hope is that the experience has made me more right-sized and humble, and that it has left me with a greater sense of selflessness and compassion.

Do I consider suffering “pure joy”? Well, I’m not there yet. But at least I recognize what God may be trying to accomplish in me, and I am honored that He is further developing me for use in His kingdom. My prayer is not that I won’t kick, scream, cry, grieve and otherwise act out in my pain, for that is what makes me human, but that the Lord Jesus would carry me and give me His power in my weakness and that somehow through this process the Father would be glorified.

Reference:
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Fully rev. ed. Kenneth L. Barker, gen. ed.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002. Print.