Great is Thy Faithfulness

In today’s world faithfulness is often tied to loyalty and trust. We see many examples of this in stories of a husband or wife who sticks it out through thick and thin, or an employee who does his or her job diligently over a lifetime. But I think these stories, while true, only skim the surface of what faithfulness truly is. It is more deeply tied to devotion. It is a profound sense of knowing and trusting in another. Faithfulness is rooted in a shared past that continually points to the truth. It builds upon itself as time and time again the relationship grows. When we walk faithfully with God on mission we see his promises repeatedly ring true.

At home the topic of faithfulness comes up quite often. My daughter likes to ask for promises because she has figured out that a “maybe” usually means “no”. My wife and I hold each other accountable to the promises made but once in a blue moon we are unable to keep a promise.  This always saddens me but the hard truth is that I will fail my children at some point. I will fail my wife at some point. But it also opens the door to help us teach our daughter about the unfailing promises of God. We are able to look to his word and the instances in our lives where God has kept his promises and remind ourselves and teach our daughter of his goodness and faithfulness. It is also a chance to teach about our faithfulness to God. When we realize how God has blessed us in so many ways we need to focus on being faithful to what he has asked of us.

The faithfulness that Jesus showed to God the Father is unparalleled. Everything that the Father set out for him was accomplished in his lifetime. While modeled perfectly by Jesus, we can fall short because of any number of reasons. We are fearful of what might happen if we are faithful to God’s mission. We can be driven to distraction by pursuits that seem extremely important at the time but have no bearing on the future. We see an example of fear in the parable of the ten minas. A ruler leaves to accept a kingdom and leaves one mina with three different servants. Upon his return one servant has prospered and produced 10 minas from the one. Another has produced 5. But the third one did nothing with his. He simply hid it until his master returned. It works the same way with us. God has given us a purpose and mission. How often do we simply settle for doing the bare minimum with what we have when we have been so greatly blessed?

We see the culmination of Christ’s faithfulness to the Father’s purpose in his prayer to the Father in John 17.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son

may glorify you, since you have given him authority over 

all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, 

and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that 

you gave me to do. ”  John 17: 1-4

This is the faithfulness that is derived from the Holy Spirit. Are we faithfully seeking to accomplish what God would have for us? Are we serving with a deep sense of God’s purpose for us? Are we seeking to reciprocate the faithfulness of God ?

We often attribute faithfulness to a statement. We have faith in God. We have faith in others. But we must always remember that our faith is also in God’s purpose and mission for us. We live out our faith through our actions. Christ was faithful to the work the Father gave him. We should joyfully strive for the same thing.

 

A Peculiar Kindness

Kindness. When we are kind, we do good to one another. We look out for the interests of another. We take care of one another. We protect each other. Jesus was kind. But the reality is that Christian people are not perfect, we are still broken and messy, and kindness is not always evident in our lives. Christians have at times earned a reputation for being rude, arrogant, judgmental and hypocritical. Sometimes, they have deserved that reputation and other times, it seems an unfair accusation. Most of the people I know who are genuinely following Christ desire to live a life of kindness. They desire to leave a legacy of doing good to others. But the world we live in is one marked by a people that struggle with an inherited selfishness and oftentimes we do not live and love the way we want. Paul reminds us of our nature through the lament of Romans 7:15 “I do not understand my own actions for I do not do what I want but I do the very thing I hate.” Often times, I start out my day with the fullest of intentions to show kindness. To my husband, my children, my friends and strangers. But then I get tired. I get hungry. I receive unsettling news. My kindness turns to insult. By the time lunch rolls around I am done with kindness and have moved on to rudeness. But meanness is not a fruit the spirit produces and we cannot just settle for being in a perpetual bad mood. We are called to something higher, something holier. Through the stories of Jesus, we see that he is kind and we know that if Jesus is kind God also is kind.   Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature, according to Hebrews 1:3.

This week we are digging into John 4. It’s a story about the Insider offering kindness to the outsider, better known as Jesus and the woman at the well.

The interaction we read about does not explicitly point out the kindness of Jesus, but rather implies it as we watch the beginnings of a relationship unfold. As I moved through this story, I saw three very specific ways Jesus shows kindness to the Samaritan woman.

First, Jesus speaks to her. He moves towards her. He opens up space for her in his wearisome journey. This woman was not a friend. She was not a follower. She was not a Jew. In fact, for whatever reason, she was likely at the bottom of the social ladder and her only offering was to pull earth’s water to give him a drink. Her life has a cold feel of loneliness. She was alone during the day, she was alone at the well, and probably felt alone in room full of people. And yet Jesus met this woman in her loneliness and bid the risk of a trusting friendship. These two would be the most unlikely of friends. He was a Jew, she was a Samaritan. He was a man, she was a woman. He was a saint, she was a sinner. And yet, an uncommon friendship had started by the kind act of an invitation to conversation. The kindness of Jesus is fluid and bold. It extends from the most privileged and educated social groups all the way to the lowest caste.

Second, in His kindness, Jesus reveals himself to her. Even though Jesus knows that this woman is not yet able to grasp his truth, he tells her that he can offer her living water and that this living water that he offers is the path to eternal life. His kindness is powered by absolute truth. There is no hemming and hawing about what this woman needs to hear. He offers her truth and waits for her to embrace it, to embrace Him.

Third, Jesus sees this woman. He knows of her string of relationships, he knows why she is at the well during the day by herself without a companion in sight, he knows the harsh yoke around her neck and he also knows she is valuable and precious in the sight of his Father, so his kindness pursues her and he continues this offering of himself, of this living water. He sees her and he doesn’t look away.

And last, instead of judgement he offers pardon. This woman comes to the well as a captive to her sin, to own mind, to her life but she leaves a free woman. How does this grace not blow us away? Paul tells us in Romans 2:4 tells us that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. Yes, his kindness has always led me to repentance and through repentance my soul is beckoned to the well that does not run dry.

So what do we do with this kindness of Jesus? After we have experienced the benevolence of Jesus, we have to pour this kindness into others. In the book, Teach Us to Want, Jen Pollock Michel talks about being a have in a have not world. As I think about this idea, I remember how unkind this world can be. I think about how many people have not experienced true Christian kindness. The North American church is changing dramatically and it is not the powerful, culture shaping institution it once was. So Christians are often left baffled on how we can continue to influence the world around us for Christ. Well, start with kindness. Kindness is not complicated. Kindness does not mean we have to be doormats. Kindness is not just being nice. And kindness is not just reserved for those outside of our families.  Sometimes kindness simply offers friendship instead of competition. It offers grace instead of condemnation. It believes in the best qualities in someone instead of looking for the worst parts of them.  Christian kindness is a peculiar kindness.  It is distinct because it is grounded on the truth of Jesus Christ.  It stems from abiding in the love of God.  It is not something we can conjure up on our own and fake, but rather flows from a heart tethered to the One who continually woos us with His kindness.  Let it be said of us that we are a peculiar group.  That we are different.  That the peculiar difference in us, is that we are kind. 

 

Blessings,

Tracy

 

Don’t Pray For Patience – It Might Change You

“Prayer is very dangerous business… For all the benefits it offers of growing closer to God, it carries with it one element of risk: the possibility of change. In prayer we open ourselves to the chance that God will do something with us that we had not intended.”

-Emilie Griffin.

As we wrapped up our time with our small group, it was announced that we would move on to the next fruit, patience, in one week. I didn’t miss this announcement and listened for the response. Maybe a little too quickly, there was a sarcastic chuckle and then I heard it, “Don’t pray for patience. You know what that means!”

But it is in our prayers we sometimes pray for patience. Our busy, get it done, check-it-off-the-list-so-I-can- forget-about-it lives sometimes don’t work that way and we find ourselves praying for patience, usually half-heartedly.  Do you sometimes, like myself, catch your breath before uttering a quick prayer for patience in a difficult circumstance, and in that same breath consider your options? If I do ask for patience, what will God allow to teach me what I ask? And as Emilie Griffin puts it, does “something with me that I had not intended!

It’s difficult isn’t it? Waiting for something?

As a young child, I remember waiting (not very well), for Christmas morning. Sleep was impossible. Constant trips to my parent’s bedroom door every hour were inevitable, asking, “Is it time yet?” It was excruciating, the waiting for that something that was sure to please, that was good, that was anticipated, that for which I had asked. At five years of age, it had never been suggested to pray for patience, not that I would have understood.

Years later, I found myself waiting for a friend to call, to show up, to tell me words I needed to hear. Oh how patient I was for what I thought I wanted. I waited, and waited, and waited. But those words never came. Funny, I don’t remember praying about this particular time for patience at all.

I’d guess we all have stories of waiting for things, for people, and because this is a faith blog, I’ll throw in a story from the Word. These twelve men who had followed the Word, God’s Son, weren’t waiting. They were hiding. Jesus revealed himself to Mary and she had told them, but there was immense doubt. How could it be? Impossible! Jesus, alive? And so He appeared to them, yet one was absent. Jesus had lived with them for three years. He was a man and yet he was more. And one of the twelve who had listened, travelled, and witnessed incredible miracles and evidence of who He was found it hard to believe, even with the others in pressing agreement. Not unless he could see with his eyes and touch with his hands. And in merciful patience, He allowed it. Jesus allowed it. In that moment, salvation came in the form of seeing. And Thomas went on to believe and tell countless others of his encounter with Jesus and maybe how his loving patience was the proof he needed to believe.

It’s our human nature. We have to see, we have to touch, we have to check off our list to see progress, we have to get things done. We have to do. But things take time. People take time, often longer than we are willing to give. But then, this is found:

“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience is salvation.” 2 Peter 3:15

 And my mind jumps to a 92 year old man, restless in bed, missing his love for four years now. We had prayed, we had talked, we had prayed for his soul. His past was haunting – all that he’d done. This is not the man I knew, my grandpa. I see who Jesus sees and Jesus is patient, yet I am not, counting what seem like hours left of his old life. Jesus came in a dream, knocking quietly. The heart shaped knob was turned and salvation came. 92 years of patience. Eternity will not miss him. He is home.

In all our impatience, our desire to be productive, to do and feel accomplished, what do we miss? What friendship? What conversation? What listening? What learning? What presence do we lack?

I’ve been turning the word over in my head and my heart. God is taking me through a season of patience, teaching me what it is and what it is not. Patience is not the absence of doing, but it is the action of being present, of being. It is enduring and abiding, even persistent. It is a remaining in or under. This is what Jesus teaches us through this fruit of the Spirit. This patience teaches us to keep coming back to ask, to give permission to wait and see for ourselves if that’s what it takes, although blessings of faith to those who believe even without seeing.

Friends, “…the Lord’s patience is salvation,” the same fruit of patience that exists for all of us who call Christ Lord and friend. Don’t miss it. Pray for it. Embrace it. There is something God intends to do with us.

 

Peace be with you

John 14:27 NIV

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Mark 4:35-41 NIV

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

What does the fruit of peace mean? Peace with God? Peace of mind? Peace among us? Yes. Yes. And yes. I think it is all of those. But I think if we have the first, the others follow. If we can quiet ourselves enough, if we can still ourselves enough to tap in to the love of God, the sovereignty of God, the magnitude of God’s goodness, we can fully rest in His peace.

We must first make peace with God. We need to come to terms with His place in our life. We have to recognize His love and forgiveness and accept it. This has to happen before we can ever have peace with ourselves.

Shalom, the Peace of God. Peace from a biblical perspective is not just the absence of trouble but it is the deep quiet presence of God in your spirit. It cannot be touched by our circumstances. In fact, it is often an authority over them. That is why it is the peace that passes understanding. It’s hard to wrap our earthly minds around.

How in the midst of chaos, war, ugliness, pain, can we have peace? I think we have to fill ourselves with His promises. Study His life and His love. When we equip ourselves with His goodness from His living word…it is only then even possible to understand the peace He can bring. And then we have to practice it. We have to center ourselves in the heart of Christ when the world is spinning around us.

I have seen His peace lived out in other believers that have gone through tremendous earthly suffering. It is humbling to watch…that peace that makes you weep and draw closer to God. Real peace doesn’t come in the everyday comfort of routine. Real peace is shone when it is challenged. When you are face down in the depths of your pain and can trust God anyhow. When similar situations have people crying out in despair and you are crying Glory to God in the midst of it. That is peace. When we can trust His will for our life. When we are sure about His presence with us. I have seen that peace firsthand.

I have seen peace in the suffering of a pastor and friend that fought cancer and then fought it again. I saw it in his wife’s heart while in the midst of that she lost her siblings over the course of a month. It’s in her love of Jesus and her clinging to Him through it all. It’s in their not knowing the why but trusting the Who.

Peace is in the heart of the 16 year old we love fighting for his life in the hospital while the medication to fight his cancer has taken it’s toll. Peace is in the grace of his parents praising God through this storm and hand in hand with friends around his bed thanking God for the opportunity to witness to others through this. Peace is knowing that God loves him more.

Peace is in the prayer vigils for gun violence and the hearts of police officers hugging and engaging the hurt of the black community. Peace is in the not being afraid of our differences.

I witness peace in the locked arms of my family as we surround my Mamaw’s bedside praying her in to the arm’s of Jesus. Peace is in the knowing heaven waits.

Peace is in the person that struggles with the burden of shame and is haunted by memories but knows that is not how God defines her. Peace is in the knowing she is made for more. Peace is in the letting go of what we can’t control. Peace is in handing the control to our Heavenly Father.

Peace is in the wife that prays for her marriage that the world told her long ago to abandon. It fills her heart even as her husband’s behavior tries to steal it. Peace is in the prayers of people holding space for her.

I’ve seen peace in the fostering and loving of a child that after two years is going back with their parents. Peace is in the trusting God will keep her safe and in the knowing that you are doing what He asks of you…to love even when it is throat grippingly painful. Peace is in her return two days later.

Peace is in my father-in-law with Alzheimer’s that sat staring blankly most days but could sing the spirituals of his youth with the light of Jesus on his face.

Peace is in the cross. Peace is in knowing the celebration is yet to come. Peace is in trusting that whatever I am going through is nothing compared to the fullness of heaven. Peace is in the sovereignty of God.

When we are able to focus on the peace of Jesus, when we have peace with Jesus; peace with others becomes instinctual. We cannot have peace with Him and of Him and not live in peace. External peace is a natural consequence of internal peace. The overflow becomes like a popsicle on an Indiana summer day leaving little drops of peace in our wake. That is peace. In us. With us. Around us. That is the peace of Jesus.

 

~Jen Harris

Joy Eternal

We find happiness in many different things. We can find it in the larger aspects of life ranging from time with family or loved ones, to even work and leisure activities. We may find happiness in the smaller things of day-to-day life, such as a good cup of coffee, or our favorite meal. But the problem with happiness is that it always seems to fade. Sometimes things that once brought us happiness no longer seem to even interest us. We can become bored or even indifferent to something that once made us happy. Happiness is very fluid. And this is one of the main differences between happiness and joy in life. Where as happiness can be manipulated be mood and feelings, joy is much more deeply rooted. Joy comes from an eternal place as a gift from God. We are able to experience joy in the most dire of circumstances. Joy, unlike happiness, cannot be taken away from us because it rests on the truth that we belong to the loving God of all creation.

When the topic of happiness is discussed at our house, it seems to always be tied to the feelings or emotions of the moment. I am enjoying seeing my daughter grow from a preschooler to a kindergartener but there are so many challenges. At times she can be very emotional and sensitive which is something I have had to adapt to. I grew up with a brother and even in my adult working life I have primarily been surrounded by other males, so this is all new to me. Often her happiness depends on what activity she is doing at the moment. But when we speak of joy it is always much more concrete, much more fact. She can find joy in knowing that her mom and dad will always love her. She can find joy in knowing that she is known and loved by God. These are truths that don’t change throughout the day no matter what her mood or actions. When I remind her of this I am usually also reminding myself.

We are blessed with a very clear picture of the joy we receive from God in the story of Jesus sending out the seventy-two disciples in Luke chapter 10. The disciples were sent to the towns ahead of Christ to preach the good news. What intrigues me about the beginning of the story is Christ’s orders to the seventy-two. They were to simply go without taking supplies or worrying about their own needs for the journey, God would supply their needs. I imagine it would have been very easy to complain. This would be very hard for those of us who like to plan out the smallest details of even a short trip. But they trusted God and he provided.

Later, when they returned from their journey we are told in Luke 10:17, “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!”. We begin to see what joy is to followers of Christ. But this is only a part of the joy provided by God.  Jesus rebukes them in verse 20.

“Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this,

that the spirits are subject to you, but

rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20

Our true joy is found in being known by God and living in union on mission with him. This is the joy that cannot be taken away from us. This is joy that is not affected by mood or circumstances. This is joy eternal. 

The story also does not mention that the seventy-two complained. Complaining is one thing that halts the joy we receive from being known by God. When we complain we always take the focus off God and put it on ourselves. Complaining is consistently focused on current circumstances. It is taking the “here and now” approach rather than the long view.  When we focus on God and the eternal we have a much harder time complaining. It is a very hard thing to do, but when we commit to not complaining our joy will increase.

One more view of the eternal joy that we are provided by God lies in the joy Christ has. In Hebrews 12:2 it states:

“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,

who for the joy set before him endured the cross,

despising the shame,

and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

I pray that as we continue in the study of the “fruits of the spirit” that we would experience this joy. That we would seek it knowing its true value. That we would focus on the eternal rather than current circumstances. Rejoice in knowing that you are known and loved by God.

 

 

Because He Bends Down to Listen

Prayer is a profoundly sacred and mysterious topic and it was hard to know which direction to take.  As I examined scripture and read through one of my workbooks from my Way of Life study,  I came across this paragraph. “Our contemporary fixation on tips and techniques has, when it comes to prayer, emphasized methods over mindset, and this has left many of us, when it come to our experience with God, “out in the cold.” Most of our frustration with prayer stems from issues of our mindset toward God….in this session we primarily want to focus our attention on a mindset; that of prayer as relationship with God.”

Lying within those few sentences I found my own frustration in writing this piece. Everything I wrote focused on methods over mindset. I was failing to convey prayer as a loving relationship with God. And without the relationship element, my words rang empty. God is a deeply relational God. He relates to Himself within the mysterious fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  He also relates to His creation. In fact, He values his relationship with His people so much that he calls us friends (John 15:15). This level of personal acquaintance with the God of all creation should stun us. And what is really interesting comes just after this verse where Jesus says “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. The proximity of Jesus making the declaration of friendship to his followers and this invitation to prayer makes me think that the key to asking the Father through prayer is a relationship with Jesus and that if you are in a relationship with Jesus prayer will be a natural outcome of that friendship.

Our verses this week come from Matthew 21:21-22. “And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”  Jesus intended to breathe fresh hope and energy into his disciples with these words but times have changed and imperfect people have gotten a hold of Jesus’ perfect words and these verses have been abused and misused so we need to unlearn a few things before we can really embrace what prayer as a relationship with God might look like. There are many things Jesus is NOT saying in these two verses. But I think it is best summed up by pointing out that Jesus is not talking about praying for desires controlled by the flesh. Romans 8 sets this up clearly. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit….For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” A heart that is constantly pursuing the ways that are in opposition to how God designed creation to work is a heart set against God. And a heart that is pridefully set against God will not be in authentic, deep communion with Him. And a person who is not in a genuine relationship with God cannot approach prayer as a relationship. However, a heart that is set on the Spirit is a heart that desires the things of God and that person can enjoy the gift of praying bold prayers with expectation! A heart set on the spirit enjoys the things of God and that will come through in their prayers. That is not to say we don’t have desires of our own. We absolutely do and we should embrace those things. God sets desires in each of our hearts for a purpose! It is when we idolize or pervert those desires that they become a problem. So how do we pursue a focus on the spirit so that we can enjoy bold prayer as a relationship with God? There are many ways to pursue this prayerful life with God and different people in different seasons will engage with God in different ways. The beauty of this invitation to a prayerful life is that there is no perfect formula or method. We can have a spirit focus by getting to know Him more through His word as we study it, meditate on it and memorize it. We get to know Him more intimately through the faces and stories of those he has put around us we enter into genuine community with others (and gasp…it doesn’t always have to be church people!). We also engage Him more through silence. When we pull away from all of the noise, people and demands around us, we open up space for God to move and speak to us. Certainly this is not an all inclusive list, we could include things like nature, music and work. All of which are gifts God has given us in order to know Him more. As we come to know Him more, our focus becomes more on Him, which will impact our prayers.

I don’t want to make this sound easy, because it really is one of the spiritual disciplines with which most people, myself included, seem to struggle. Prayer often involves waiting which is uncomfortable, unclear and sometimes painful. Our fast paced, productivity centered, highly individualized Western culture is not very conducive to waiting on God through prayer. Our most prominent forms of communication are short, require little thought and are sent with the expectation of instant feedback. But the sacred practice of prayer requires a different heart posture. Waiting on the Lord involves trust, surrender, submission and humility. During these times of waiting (and sometimes these seasons are very dark), we experience a level of self awareness that allows us to see what is in our own hearts and see our need for someone greater who can help us journey through this life. We also experience dry seasons in our spiritual life when praying feels empty. Prayer involves learning to push past those times until we get to the other side of it and can commune with God and share our life with Him in deeper ways then before.

God designed us to be communicators with each other and Him. God is so intentional in listening to our prayers that the Bible describes him as bending down to listen to our prayers. (Psalm 116:2) Because He is so willing to listen, please don’t hold anything back! When we pray with humility of heart and genuine love for God and others, we will be blown away by his power in our life. If your heart is heavy with the burdens of life, bring them to God in prayer. If you are heartbroken over the injustices of this world and long to see the day when all wrongs will be made right, cry out to God in prayer! If you have big dreams, ask God to give you wisdom in it through prayer! Pray for your kids, pray for your marriage, pray for your family. Pray for our country and it’s leaders. Pray for the church all over the world! Pray for the poor and hungry. Pray for lonely and lost. Give thanks and praise to God in prayer for who He is and what He has done. But don’t stop there. The two elements of a prayerful life that are oftentimes overlooked are listening to Him and simply enjoying Him. Just like any relationship, communicating with God is not just God receiving our words but it is also us receiving His words and enjoying his companionship. When forget those two pieces, we miss out on this friendship Jesus is inviting us to enjoy.

Prayer is a gift and it is essential to the Christian’s pilgrimage. My hope for the particular local body at WRCC is that we would be a people of prayer. That we would be a people who move the impossible mountains of our time through prayer. And that we would be a listening people. That we would not foolishly go our own way and assume we know what is best but rather that we would intentionally quiet our hearts so we can hear the voice of the Lord and that we would join Him where He is calling us. Be blessed today as you seek God through prayer. May you hear his voice and enjoy His love.

Blessings,

Tracy

Desperate For Us

It’s just a few feet, a stones throw from his friends, but he falls to the earth. I can imagine his senses are on high alert. He can hear every creature in the bushes; he can feel the dirt beneath his feet, his knees, his hands as he cries out to the one who can save him.

In anguish, in anticipation of what is to come to him.

He knows. And yet he prays, fully man, fully God. He prays to the one who can save him.

“Take this cup from me!”

It is inconceivable what he will do. The lengths he will go in obedience for you and I. It is so real, so raw, the pain begins before the pain begins.

He knows.

And in a desperate moment of humanness, he cries out, “Take this cup from me!” Yet in the same breath, Jesus condemns his plea to the Father; His will be done.

Surrender, obedience.

The Father will stop at nothing until He is reconciled to his creation, once and for all. This is it.

He knows God can take it, this torture, and humiliation, and hell. God can take it. He’s God, He can do anything.

Yet this is it. Jesus has already shown us heaven come to earth. He has already lived among us, teaching us a new way, to love our enemies, to forgive and live generously, with passion and all we have been given. He’s already told us, the kingdom of heaven is within us, walking beside us, so close we can taste it if we want. Our communion with Him.

But this final act of obedience, of complete surrender of body and spirit, this is the final act God requires. He requires it on behalf of a people who still don’t get it. A people who are not desperate for Him the way He is for us – a people who are stubborn, who place their affections in things and in more, always more.

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup…”

But the Father isn’t willing. He isn’t willing to spend one second of now or eternity without His children, His creation, His masterpieces. He watches His Son drink this sin-filled cup of ours and drinks it down to the last drop. The Son, Jesus, beloved of God, learns to obey through his surrender to His Father, our Father.

God, desperate for us? Willing, yes, to witness the death of His perfection, to run with us again; run with us here on this earth and never stop running with us.  He desires it more than we know.

What are you desperate for right now? Is there a cup at your fingertips, so close you can feel it without actually touching? Are you talking to God about it? Are you crying to him about it? How desperate are you?

It’s only a few steps and we’re there, at his feet, in submission to his will, learning the obedience of the Son. His is a love-filled obedience that seeks not only to save us, but restore us with his power, his strength, his courage, his grace. It’s incredibly mysterious, but I think I’m beginning to know it.

I’m desperate for it. I’m surrendering.

“…not my will, but yours be done.”

That we all may be One.

As I lie down, I hear the news from Dallas. No, no, no. First 4 and then 5 police officers killed. Even more injured. 2 civilians. Sniper fire. Peaceful protest. The ache in my chest is deep. The tears come again. This is not the answer.

That very morning I had wept as I read another man shot and killed by the people we trust to protect. Another black man. Two in two days. A sick feeling rises up in the pit of my stomach. That sense of fear and anger bubbles up and settles in my throat. Surely not. My heart hurts thinking of the unrest that is sure to come. What that means for families like mine. What that means for racial tensions in our country. What that means for the police officers honorably serving. What it means for the black community.

I spent half my morning trying to write about it. Trying to find the right combination of words that unify instead of divide. Trying to portray my frustrations and my anger through a grace filled lens. Trying to find the phrasing to capture my heart and pierce through your own. Trying to see Jesus in this space. Come Holy Spirit, Come. Give me the words, I prayed.

I wrestle through the day unable to focus and blotting hot tears. I work hard to find statistics from a neutral enough place that will help you see. Then another act of violence against police…and another…With all my heart I want to write my experience, my emotions, my pain. I want my voice to be heard on this…And I realize then, the only words I can share, are those that point to Christ. His spirit presses in on me, Matthew 5:9 blessed are the peacemakers….

John 17:21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one–as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

Not only was God’s dying wish that we all be One, but He went so far as to say our unity is how the world will come to know Him. Jesus basically says that the world can judge His ministry by how His people love one another, by how we are united. Unity amongst the people of God enables the world to know Jesus. How are we doing at that? Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” Unity literally brings Jesus to earth. This isn’t about looking the same or acting the same or believing the exact same thing. This is about abiding in the Spirit of Christ. This is about mourning with those that mourn; holding space with the hurting. Celebrating with one another, breaking bread together. This is about dying to our own desires so that God’s glory can shine. This is about hurting when a black man dies AND a police officer. This is about grieving with both.  We cannot be reconciled with Christ and not with His people. The first bears fruit to the second.

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“There is an infinite number of rays, all coming from the same sun: a single will, particular for each person. The closer the rays come to the sun, the closer they come to one another. We too…the closer we come to God, by doing the will of God more and more perfectly, the closer we come to one another. Until we are all one.”   

~Chiara Lubich

Our world isn’t in a mess because of any political ideology or separation of Church and State. It’s easy to point a finger at Obama, Trump, guns, police, Black Lives Matter, urban culture, media, or the radical right and the liberal left. It’s much harder to look at our role in it. The world is a mess because we are failing at what Jesus has asked of us. If you want Jesus in your school, be Jesus. If you want Jesus in your neighborhood, be one with your neighbors. Jesus himself is warning that the world will doubt His love, His goodness, His ministry if love and unity aren’t present among His believers. It’s on us, kids. This gets particularly tricky because often the most divisive, unloving actions come from Christians in an effort to ‘speak the truth in the name of Jesus.’ He doesn’t ask for our conformity. He asks for our unity. He asks for our love. Jesus shows up where we are. No one can separate God from me. He is in me. I am in Him. Where I go, He goes. It’s a huge responsibility but it’s also a huge freedom. We don’t have to work so hard to legislate Jesus. He will be where we are if we bring Him…if we live our life according to His will.

The early church was practically obliterated because of deep racial division and oppression. Gentile and Jew. Slave and Free. Rich and Poor. Man and Woman. The church took the lead in unifying every tongue, nation, tribe, race; in the name of Jesus. The cultures remained different. The skin, different. The customs, traditions, different, but One in the love of Christ. One in His love for others. His love for us. His desire for Unity. We can do this. We have done it before and we can do it again. It will take each of us praying for our own heart’s darkness to come to light and for unity amongst us. It will take each of us setting aside our own biases and embracing a life intentionally united.

El-Shaddai, Mighty God, I cry out to you in anguish. I look at the faces of my children and the faces of the men lying dead in our streets and fear grips my gut. I send my husband off to work and wonder what will happen if he gets pulled over. What kind of person will that officer be? I know what kind of man my husband is. But the police officer won’t. What will they assume? God be with them both. Please, Lord, heal our nation. Don’t let us forget. Don’t let us sweep it under the rug. Don’t let us pacify the hurting, but I boldly ask for significant systemic change. I know you are able, Lord God. I ask that injustice by the few be condemned by many so they know there is no place for that here.

Merciful Father, protect our police officers. Encourage them and calm them. Quiet their fears. Bring forgiveness and peace and respect in to the relationship with the black community. Bring forward heroes that put down bitterness and embrace healing. Take the anxiety from their families and bless their service to their communities. Let the light of your son shine bright in the darkness. I pray there is an army of angels asking to be used by you for the sheer purpose of racial reconciliation. Give us courage to do the hard and holy. All powerful God, make the violence stop,

Father God, for the families that have lost loved ones, I plead with you to let your presence be felt in a concrete way. Surround them with love from their community. Give them your strength. Keep their spirits fresh in the mind of others so our continued prayers will carry them. May we mourn with those that mourn. All of those that mourn. Let us love one another well. Let us follow your example.

Abba Father, I call on you to unite your children. Help us to see our humanity. Open our eyes to the struggles of others. Give us your eyes to see the value of their experience. Take our pride away so we believe them. Take away our desire to dismiss other’s feelings and fill us with the grace to affirm. Let us lead with love not fear. Let us listen with the intent of understanding instead of defending our point of view. Help us to shoulder the pain of others. Help us to offer hope over politics. Grace over our need to be right. Love instead of Hate. Provide opportunity instead of blame. Peace over unrest. Settle our souls.

God have mercy on us for the role our history plays in the devastation we see played out in our urban landscapes. Forgive us. Ignite in us a passion for change. A passion for a community that is different than the one we call ours. Unite us as one. Help us to practice grace and mercy and goodness. Help us to celebrate the beauty in our differences. It’s impossible for us to be colorblind Lord, so instead help us to say I see your color and it’s beautiful. I see the God designed differences and I celebrate them. We are all born of your image, Lord, may we believe that to the depths of our spirits. Change our hearts, Heavenly Father. Bring our bias in to the light. Work on it with us. Bring us in to relationship with one another and let the fear fade away. Heal our nation. Heal our hearts…that we all may be One for the Glory or your son Jesus Christ.

~Jen Harris

To be Heard

The sounds my 10 month old son makes are some of my favorite sounds in all the world. His jabbering will some day change into actual words, but for now I am happy to sit and listen and watch. He can tell me so much with his facial expression, but even more so with his eyes. While to me his grunts and repeated sounds can seem cute or funny, I am often reminded that he is taking part in a very deep need for all people. The need to be heard. The need to be known. I hope that he will always want to talk to me throughout all of the challenges that life will throw at him. I hope that he will have a confidence that when he speaks to me I will listen, always seeking to be present with him. It amazes me time and again that we have this same ability, an even stronger relationship with the father in the gift of prayer. We can have confidence that we are heard and known by our loving God who is always present. We simply need to speak.

It seems like a common lament of many Christians can be a lack of prayer life. I often find myself lacking in this at times when the busyness of everyday life seems to take control. You find yourself tired and seeking just a moment to unwind. Sure the dinner and bedtime prayers still happen but the true time spent just being in the presence of God is missed. It can develop into a routine and then we wonder why God may feel distant or we may feel alone. We are not hearing from or being heard by the one who matters most. We see others who seem to have a vibrant prayer life and are thriving in their relationship with the Lord, and we wonder why we don’t have that, when in fact the Father is right there waiting to speak and listen. We know this because we have the example of Jesus and the countless brothers and sisters who have walked with God before us. We can walk with God in this confidence thanking him for hearing us.

In the scriptures, we see Jesus repeatedly make time for prayer. In fact it is with prayer that he approached every facet of his life. He lived and breathed the amazing gift of prayer with the father. Our deep need for prayer should mirror the son. If Christ needed the presence of the father this much, how much more so with us! Christ’s confidence that the father hears our prayers should strengthen our own. We can approach the creator of all things in prayer as Christ did calling him father and be assured that he is listening, that he is present. In the Garden of Gethsemane, shortly before his arrest, torture and eventual crucifixion, Christ prayed to the Father in this way.

And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.

Remove this cup from me.

Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:36

In this beautiful moment, we are given  example of how we should approach prayer. We are seeking our father. We are seeking his ear, his presence, and we have the assurance that he is listening. In the recounting of the raising of Lazarus in John, Jesus once again seeks the Father and cements the confidence that we should have when seeking God in prayer.

“Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you 

always hear me, but I said this on account of the people

standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” John 11:41-42

God always hears us. When we seek him we are heard and known. We seek him as father. When we look at prayer this way the vibrant prayer life we seek becomes more like something we absolutely need. It becomes almost like the air we breath, and we thank God for it.

As my son grows older I look forward to the many conversations and “talks” we will have. I will always try to be there to listen and simply be with him, but sometimes I will fail. I will understand him as much as one human can, but it will always pale in comparison to how God understands him. I look forward to teaching him about prayer, and the one who knows him best, who hears him perfectly. And to this I say to God, thank you for hearing me.

 

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Has prayer become boring?

Prayer is the last resort!  Well, biblically that is incorrect.  But what about you?  If we could just be honest for a second, do we really believe in prayer?  Do we truly think that God is listening or even cares about what you are saying?  When we pray, are our prayers mostly before we eat, when we go to bed, or when we only need something to go our way?

A praying life is one of the hardest and most important things a follower of Christ can do.  So why can it be so difficult?  Here are some reasons that I believe most people struggle to have a dynamic prayer life:

  1. Priorities are out of order.  Jesus demands to be first.  Not last.  Is He getting your leftovers?  When you think about your day, who or what comes first, second, third, and so on?  Jesus wants to spend quality time each and every day.  He wants our best.
  2. Forgot our first love.  It’s easy to get caught up in the same daily/weekly ritual of our Christian faith.  Going through the motions become who we are with Christ.  Don’t you remember the excitement when you began following Jesus?  Remember when you believed He could do everything?  Remember when it was all about Him?  It should still be.
  3. Praying without faith.  Faith is not something we have.  Faith is living out our belief in Christ.  It’s action!  When our prayer life becomes dry, it can lead to questioning our faith and even God himself!  The problem is not our Heavenly Father.  The issue is us when we struggle to be obedient in our walk with Christ.  Our prayers reflect our faith and our faith reflects our prayers!

Maybe these three areas you have struggled with or are struggling with right now.  However, I do believe that we can fight through this.  It takes grinding, hard work, accountability and the willingness to do what is needed to have a dynamic prayer life again or for the first time.  Here are some ways to overcome our prayer struggles:

  1. Vulnerability.  Our relationship with God begins with our heart.  Since we live a busy, tiring, and stress filled life, we often forget about our heart.  We live in denial that everything is ok.  When in reality, our heart is broken.  Stop!  Slow down!  And be completely open and honest with God.  He can take it.  Our Heavenly Father wants you to be real about your sins, hurts, and frustrations along with your excitement, joys, and happiness.  Vulnerability is key.
  2. Confess.  Although this goes along with the last point, confessing our sin is imperative for freedom to occur in your life.  We can’t hide sin from God, but when we try, we are only hurting ourselves.  Confess your sin to Him knowing that Jesus already took that sin upon himself 2000 years ago.  In the words of Elsa in the movie Frozen, “Let it go!  Let it go!”
  3. Others.  When we begin to listen and think of others, our faith begins to move.  Praying for other people, other than yourself, gives us opportunities to work alongside God.  How cool is that?  You get to partner with the Creator of the Universe to be a blessing for other people.
  4. Eliminate Distractions.  Ever notice that it is hard to have conversations with other people in loud places, busy places, and when you are trying to do other things?  Same thing with God.  Find a quiet place that is your holy ground!  Is it on your back porch, next to a body of water, in the woods, on your roof, in your car, etc.?  Find that place and allow no one or nothing into it except the Holy Spirit!

    “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
                                                            (Matthew 6:5-6 NLT)

  5. Fasting.  I’m not saying this has to happen everyday or everytime you are praying.  However, this needs to be some kind of consistent practice with your prayer life!  Why?  Fasting from food or a need to spend time with God helps with the intentionality of our relationship with God!  Fasting will awaken a dry prayer life.
  6. Be Grateful.  Nothing else is better than thanking God for who He is, what He has done, is doing, and what He gave for you and me!  When our Heavenly Father becomes the greatest thing in our life, nothing else can compare to the glory of who He is!  Let Him know that.  He is a jealous God and rightfully so!

So may you pray with intentionality.  May you find excitement in your prayer life again.  May you work hard and do what it takes to reconnect with Christ.  May your prayers be the first and not the last resort.  And may you hold on to these ideas when and if you find yourself struggling to spend time with your Heavenly Father!