The closer His embrace

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He has chosen not to heal me,
but to hold me.
The more intense the pain,
the closer His embrace.
-Joni Eareckson Tada, A Place of Healing:
Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering,
Pain, and God’s Sovereignty

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Praying Palms Down

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Answer me when I call to you,
my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
—Psalm 4:1

Today I’d like to talk about prayer—specific prayer, that is. The kind of prayer about painful or stressful situations that brings us to our knees. We pray and we pray, and then we pray even more … waiting for an answer from God.

As we pray, we often lift up our hands up in a symbolic gesture as we give our problem to the Lord. I know what I’m talking about because I used to do this very thing.

One day, however, I had a realization that has completely changed my prayer life. It occurred to me that when I pray with my palms facing up—toward the ceiling (or sky)—I can quickly and easily close my fingers into a fist and mentally and emotionally take back that situation or trouble.

I have a tendency to do that, you know, take back something I’ve been praying about and have supposedly handed over to the Lord, just because I might be able to somehow take care of it myself.

Does this sound anything like you?

I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.  —Psalm 17:6

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Since I am a very visual person, I thought about praying for specific things palms down, with hands facing the floor so that I could drop my prayer request at Jesus’ feet. To me, giving up that situation palms down tells me that once I’ve let go of it that way, it’s gone. There’s no chance for me to pull it back.

I’m not saying that everything I pray for in this way gets answered exactly as I would like, but what it does is enable me to allow God to do His work—not only in the particular situation for which I prayed but also on and through me. Sometimes I get in God’s way too much and don’t give Him enough room.

When I pray in this manner, I feel a real peace come over me. The kind of peace that lets me know that I don’t have to worry about the problem, because:

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?
—Luke 12:25

and

Do not be anxious about anything,
but in every situation,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
present your requests to God.
—Philippians 4:6

Beloved, this is my prayer for all of us: that we will always remember to pray palms down.

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Happy Father’s Day to the “Really” Fathers

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Father’s Day can be joyful and full of love and happy memories. You probably had a father who showed his love for you in many ways, every single day. These are the fathers who selflessly spent time with us and encouraged us.

Some of us may have grown up without a father, or a series of events took our father away from us. Possibly we had a father who caused us harm or didn’t love us.

And then there are those of us who were adopted by “really” fathers. That’s what this sweet Father’s Day video is about. In it Levi and Lia tell the story of their journey from fatherless to fatherfull.

Beloved, there is a Father who cares for and loves each one of us with a love that cannot be understood. This is so difficult for us to believe, and yet it is true. God loves us with an unending love that never fades. Hold onto that when you’re tempted to feel “less than” or down about your upbringing.

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Being Thankful for What We Do NOT Have

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Rejoice always;
praying without ceasing;
in everything give thanks;
for this is God’s will for you
in Christ Jesus.
—1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Lately I’ve been pondering the concept of thankfulness. Often when I thank God for all the blessings in my life, I have also thanked Him for what He has not given me or allowed in my life. Have you ever prayed like this?

Okaaay, I can hear most of you saying. The rest are thinking, wait … what? are you serious?

Yes, I am very serious. I thank God for things I don’t have, that He has not allowed in my life. I’m not just talking about more serious illnesses than those I live with every day or cataclysmic events such as tornadoes and hurricanes. I’m referring to things like more money, maybe more (and more stylish) clothes or a bigger house. How about straight hair instead of the naturally curly mop I was born with? Or writing talent so spectacular that publishers come after me instead of the other way around?

It seems to me that the more we want, well… the more we want, like some vicious cycle. Contentment with what we have now is admittedly difficult because human nature always yearns for more. And yet, I’m wondering if allowing ourselves to feel this kind of contentment will result in that inner peace that is so illusive.

And isn’t that something to be utterly thankful for?

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Peace, mercy and love be yours in abundance. —Jude 1:2

Peace. Mercy. Love. These are what can be ours in abundance. And from personal experience, reminding myself that I have these things usually leads to my feeling happy and contented with what I have in the here and now.

Beloved, how about you? Have you learned to be thankful for certain things you do not have?

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Characteristics of Peacemakers, Part 2

The other day I shared Part 1 of John MacArthur’s Characteristics of Peacemakers devotional series from his Grace to You site. This is Part 2. 

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Characteristics of Peacemakers, Part 2

“‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’” (Matthew 5:9).

Continuing from yesterday, let’s look at two more characteristics of peacemakers.

First, a peacemaker helps others make peace with others. Once you see your duty as a peacemaker in the world, you’ll be looking for ways to build bridges between people and God and then to build them between persons.

By definition, a bridge can’t be one-sided. It must extend between two sides or it can never function. And once built, it continues to need support on both sides or it will collapse. In any relationship our first responsibility is to see that our own side has a solid base. But we also have the responsibility to help the one on the other side build his base. Both must be built on righteousness and truth or the bridge will not stand.

Often the first step in the process is to confront others about their sin, which is the supreme barrier to peace (Matt. 18:15–17). Such confrontation usually causes turmoil, yet the way of righteousness is the only way to peace. Sin that is not dealt with is sin that will disrupt and destroy peace.

Finally, a peacemaker finds a point of agreement. God’s truth and righteousness must never be compromised or weakened. But we are to contend without being contentious, to disagree without being disagreeable, and to confront without being abusive. The peacemaker should speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).

When you hunger and thirst for holiness in your own life, you’ll have a passionate desire to see those virtues in the lives of others. That’s a true peacemaker.

Ask Yourself

If the desire for peacemaking is missing from your heart, it points to a deeper problem—that your love for others is not what it should be. Would you say this might be true of you? What are the usual symptoms of a heart that’s grown at least somewhat cold toward others?

From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008. Used by permission of Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL 60610,www.moodypublishers.com.

 

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Characteristics of Peacemakers, Part 1

John MacArthur’s Grace to You site is one of my favorites. There is such a wealth of good Biblical information there that I’ve often lost track of time as I read one great sermon after another. This was last Friday’s daily Bible reading, which I subscribe to via email. 

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Characteristics of Peacemakers, Part 1

“‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’” (Matthew 5:9).

The apostle tells us that “God has called us to peace” (1 Cor. 7:15), that He “reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18). The ministry of reconciliation is peacemaking. Those whom God has called to peace He also calls to make peace.

Today and tomorrow we’re going to look at four things that characterize a peacemaker. First, he is one who has made peace with God. Before we came to Christ, God was at war with us. Whatever we may have thought consciously about God, our hearts were against Him. But “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10). God reconciled us to Himself through the work of Christ on the cross. Our battle with God ended and our peace with Him began. And because we have been given God’s peace, we are called to share God’s peace with others (Eph. 6:15).

Second, a peacemaker leads others to make peace with God. Christians are a body of sinners cleansed by Jesus Christ and commissioned to carry His gospel to the rest of the world. Once freed from the shackles of sin, a Christian doesn’t look down on his fellow sinners; he or she realizes they are beggars who have been fed and are now called to help feed others. Our purpose is to preach “peace through Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:36). To lead a sinner to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is the most peacemaking act a believer can perform. That’s your ministry as an ambassador of Christ.

Ask Yourself

Have you ever thought about this before—that you are “called” to the ministry of peacemaking? How does that change your responsibilities as you go through the day? How does it affect the obligation you feel when others continue in stirring up discord and disharmony?

From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008. Used by permission of Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL 60610,www.moodypublishers.com.

 

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Prayer When I’m Overwhelmed

 

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Many of us are struggling with so much these days. Health problems. Financial troubles. Maybe the need of a job or a place to live. Perhaps our children are not living as they ought to be. Or it may be that we have no idea where our next meal will come from.

I hope you will be blessed by this devotional that I wrote for the anthology titled Anytime Prayers for Everyday People. This particular devotional was included in the section titled Prayers of Supplication. 

 

When I’m overwhelmed by cares . . .

I will relieve your shoulder of its burden;
I will free your hands from their heavy tasks. 
—Psalm 81:6 NLT

 

When the cares of my heart are many,
thy consolations cheer my soul. 

—Psalm 94:19 RSV

 

Cast your cares on the LORD 
and he will sustain you. 
—Psalm 55:22

 

The LORD lifts the burdens of those bent beneath their loads. 
—Psalm 146:8 NLT

 

Let him have all your worries and cares, for he is 
always thinking about you and watching everything
that concerns you. 

—1 Peter 5:7 TLB

 

. . . I will pray.

Precious Lord,

From my window, I see children playing in the yard next door, soaking up the warm air and bright sunshine. I still remember those carefree childhood days, filled with simple pleasures—but that seems so far away now. Instead I feel as though I’m buried under a flood of cares: bills to pay, personality conflicts at work, family disagreements.

My life seems to be buried under an avalanche of responsibilities to be met and problems to be solved. My cares cover me like a cloak, blocking the sunshine from my dreary heart.

Help me lift my head, Lord. Fill me up with Your Spirit. Help me to throw off my cloak of sadness and let in the sunshine of Your love.

As an act of faith, I close my eyes and reach out to You—the Giver and Sustainer of life. I release my cares to You, one by one, piling them high at Your feet. The disappointment at work, the unexpected car repair, my aching joints, and on and on and on . . . until every burden is transferred from my shoulders to Yours.

Thank You for being my Burden-Bearer.

Amen.

Tell God all that is in your heart,
as one unloads one’s heart, 
its pleasures and pains, to a dear friend. 
Tell Him your troubles, that He may comfort you. 
—Francois Fenelon

 [From Anytime Prayers for Everyday People. Copyright © 2006 Bordon-Winters LLC]

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Joy Inexpressible

As I wrote in JOY and FAITH earlier this week, I will be writing about JOY and FAITH during 2015. I am purposely capitalizing those two words, and if you want to think of it as my shouting them, that’s exactly right! How can we feel true JOY or FAITH without thinking of them in such a huge way that we want to shout it out to the world?

Today I’d like to share with you another of Pat Knight’s devotionals. She has written about JOY many times in her writing career, and I always appreciate what the Holy Spirit has given her to share about this important subject.

Joy Inexpressible

By Patricia Knight

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 Joy!

What a small word for such a giant effect it creates in others and us. “Joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8) is how our Guidebook, the Bible, assumes is the attitude and method of every Christian. Joy is dynamic and ready to do its work. Joy can flow out from one person to another or it can rush in to fill a life.

The exchange of wedding vows, the birth of a child, the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord of one’s life are times when joy knows no bounds. It overflows, gushes, whirls, either causing an action or a reaction. We cannot ignore joy. And, who would want to disregard such an important emotion?

The times we remember best in our lives are the joyous occasions, those that offer us great delight and gladness of heart.

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“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy” (Psalms 126:3). “Filled with joy” is not a phrase I hear used often, but it sure does sound like a good idea to be infused, saturated, slathered with a good dose of joy. Imagine the result if we were all living joy-filled lives. I rarely hear about it, though I have heard of the opposite—”to be filled with anger.” I can even envision that anger at work, as a person’s face reddens and his voice and actions become irrational. As Christians, we are commanded to have joy. There’s no preference of when to have or when to share it. Joy must be an integral part of our being, with instant preparedness for sharing.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:4-7). Notice how joy, thanksgiving, and prayer have all been interlocked in this command. For us to have joy, we need to be thankful. If we follow God’s command to give thanks in all things, we will be joyful people. If we have joy in our own lives, then we yearn to give it away. Living in perpetual communication with our Lord, our supply will never be depleted.

“Let your gentleness be known to all.” God means all-inclusive, no matter to whom, in whatever conditions and circumstances we find ourselves, and for all reasons. The word “all” can be a little tricky. It is a small, three-letter word that can easily be ignored. It isn’t a difficult word to understand, but applying its meaning to our everyday life presents a challenge. In my personal life, I have struggled with expressing joy and thanks for constant pain. There doesn’t seem to be a purpose to it. That’s when God asks me to be thankful and trust Him enough to be joyful regardless of my life’s circumstances. I have to acknowledge that before the pain enters my body, God has approved it and because it is part of His plan for my life, I can thank Him that His will is being done and be joyful in His decisions for my life.

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“The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will overtake them and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 51:11).  To be “overtaken by joy”? That is what God says. What would result if all of us took a new approach to joy? I suggest that we all begin a new day with an abundant, heaped-to-the-top-and-running-over package of joy.

Perhaps that sounds a little fantastic, not really credible. If God is in charge, and He tells us that “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27), then being overtaken with joy is possible. I want to be overtaken with joy so that there is no room for conflicting negative emotions. Nothing can quench the joy. If it were God’s wish that we be completely consumed with joy, then why do we find ourselves moping about at times, bemoaning our situation? God may wonder too. If He has given the instruction, He will also give the strength and power to accomplish what He has commanded.

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity,
but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline”

(2 Timothy 1:7).

God not only fills us with joy but also adds a sweet fragrance to that joy.

“But thanks be to God,
who also leads us in triumphal procession in Christ
and through us spreads everywhere
the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.
For we are to God the aroma of Christ
among those who are being saved
and those who are perishing”

(2 Corinthians 2: 14,15).

“The fragrance of the knowledge of Him.” Now, that should cause us to smile. So much revenue is spent on cosmetics, many for the purpose of erasing deep frown lines that have formed over the years. Smiling takes substantially fewer muscles than frowning. Did you ever practice smiling in front of a mirror? It provides a light-hearted experience, putting a smile on your face, and one in your heart.

There are some extremely expensive fragrances on the market for which both women and men pay lofty amounts. As aromatic as these may be, there is no sweeter fragrance than that emitted by Jesus. We “are to God the aroma of Christ” among people being won to Him. What a privilege and a responsibility! We need not think we have to spread His joy alone. God manufactures it and gives it to us, the most expensive fragrance in the world, bought with the highest sacrifice in heaven and on earth. Then, God will help us distribute it to the destitute in heart. The source is readily available, renewable, and inexhaustible.

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Joy is one of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). In a long line of attributes, joy is second in line, snuggling right up close with love. We are told to have joy, ALWAYS! Have we been neglecting something important in our lives? We need possession of the immediate joy that sparks a flame of excitement plus the persistent joy that produces a daily expression of happiness and thanksgiving.

Worship flows naturally out of a thankful, joyful heart.

Praise, song and love all emerge from a heart previously primed with joy.

When we are consumed with joy, there is no room for negativism. As we are caught up in serving God and men with a happy heart, we are celebrating God and the joy He places there for us. When we share with others, our joy multiplies and carries with it a sweet aroma. People are encouraged.

Phil2-14-sm--AMPWe are commanded to do everything without complaining or grumbling (Philippians 2:14). I have never learned how to express joy while complaining, nor do I believe God intends for us to combine the two.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:12). Choices are made from the attitudes we form. No matter how negative our lives appear, no one can force us to match it with a negative attitude. Even though we tend to blame others for our problems, we as Christians are to rise above our circumstances. We choose our responses. We also choose joy. Though joy is free flowing and available, we have to embrace it for our personal life style for it to become an effective tool for us. An outpouring of our inner joyfulness is our gift to others.

In my earlier career, I worked at a medical facility where a friend of mine was later hired in the social services department. Martha was the most effervescent, enthusiastic and happy woman I had ever met. She possessed a beautiful smile and used it unsparingly, with a deep, engaging laugh. Other workers were aloof toward her and later shared with me that they didn’t trust Martha and were suspicious of her. They reasoned that she was too happy and smiled too much. I am still shocked by their logic. The unhappy, insecure workers were not going to befriend a newcomer who embodied joy and confidence. Studies have proven the power of a positive attitude in achieving the healing and recovery process. Martha understood the benefit of permeating her life and profession with joy.

Each day we have a predetermined amount of energy. When our supply of energy is used positively and creatively, we contribute to the joy in our lives and in the lives of others. If we look for laughter and sunshine wherever we go, we are able to increase the joy that we discover. Joy shared is multiplied. Joy restrained is limited. God commands that we prioritize joy. Look for the brilliance in the early morning sunrise, the diamonds bouncing off the rippling water, and the crystals radiating from newly fallen snow. Then, store those scenes in your mental imagery and share that beautiful joy with someone else when the opportunity arises.


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“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs.
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise;
give thanks to Him and praise His name”
(Psalm 100: 1, 2, 4).

That same compelling joy will gladden your own heart and travel far and wide to affect the lives of others.

…..

Pat, you are one of the most joyful people I have ever met and I am so blessed to have you in my life. Thank you so much for allowing me to share this wonderful and joyful devotional! 

 

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A Son is Given

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For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders. 
And he will be called    
Wonderful Counselor,  

Mighty God, 

Everlasting Father, 

Prince of Peace.  

Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. 
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, 
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness 
from that time on and forever. 
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. 
—Isaiah 9:6-7

 

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