Thursday, January 30, 2014

When Deep Prayer Is Needed...

      Today I had a "what if" moment...
       What if the president (any president) of the U.S. gave his State of the Union Address and held a press conference immediately afterwards. Only at this conference, the President's closest friend stood with him at the podium to help the president battle critics.
       And what if the first difficult political football was lobbed at the president's friend - say something major such as homeland security or restructuring the tax system...
     And the president's friend responded with:  Today I want to talk about the real issues.  For example, my lumbago is just terrible; I'm in pain all the time; and I'm allergic to all of the meds that could help me.  Plus, I also have chronic foot pain so just standing up here is a real problem for me right now. These are issues that need to be addressed immediately if not sooner.
     I personally think that would be a little weird and can only imagine what the pundits would say afterwards... Not to mention the American people or even the President himself.
     In Ephesians Paul writes that the Christian is seated with Christ in the Heavenly places.
     I don't really know any more about that than I do about fixing lumbago.
     But a man of prayer, a great missionary statesman in my opinion, wrote a book called  Born for Battle.  In that book Arthur Matthews writes to people who have a deep burden, a great prayer need.  And he tells them that taking our position in the Heavenlies means that we approach prayer from the standpoint of victory.  Too often we approach prayer from an attitude of defeat, from underneath the problem, the heartache, the crisis.  But, um, it's been over 2000 years now since Christ died on the cross and rose out of the grave, kicking the grave clothes off  forever as He went.
    True prayer begins when He draws us to take our stand beside Him in the place of victory - if nothing else, that is what the Heavenly Places means... a place of victory.
    Next, we do the open kimono thing, as I once heard a pastor say - we open up the hidden places of our past, the secret sins, the failures, the recent mistakes - we lay it all open before Him with Whom we have to do.  (And it's really okay to do that! He already knows everything  anyway- we just need to get it out and let Him deal with it.  We need to be healed because it doesn't work so well to go into battle still licking our wounds from the past... Kind of leaves us vulnerable to the enemy of our souls...)
    We also need to be saturated in the word of God.  Not just the parts we like... We need to be familiar with all of it.  So we can't just take the first 34 verses of Hebrews 11 and charge into battle, ignoring the last six verses of the chapter. As Arthur Matthews says, we need the WHOLE counsel of God.
    This is kind of important because, according to Ephesians 6, we've only got one weapon.  That's it.  Just one -  the Sword of the Spirit (i.e., the Word of God).  But the good news is that  it's not like any other sword because apparently you can switch out blades right and left, suiting a specific Bible passage (rapier?) to the particular battle that God is calling you to fight.
     However if the only verse we know is: Now I lay me down to sleep.... (Just kidding - I know that's not a verse....)  Anyway, if we only know a poem, a song, and a couple of verses, our repertoire of blades is going to be, um, really pitiful.  Stone Age weaponry  against the spiritual forces of darkness... Not good...
    But if you have a working knowledge of multiple passages from the Bible, the Holy Spirit can bring the right verse to mind as you wrestle through for a lost child, a devastated friend, a ministry in trouble,  or even a crisis in another country.
    For example, what if you've witnessed to someone and they've always been open to the Gospel and they've even promised to come to church  - but the next time around it's the same thing: apparent openness, willingness to learn, and sincere but unfulfilled promises to come to Christ, come to church, come to Bible study, etc.
    What's the hold up?  Is it that they are just people-pleasers and so they smile and nod and make empty promises just to make you happy and get you off their back?  Or is it something else?  After I started re-reading Born for Battle, I began to pray for an acquaintance who has strung me along for months with an apparent willingness to learn but no follow through.  This time, however,  instead of telling God what to do, I asked for  the Holy Spirit to select the right sword for this particular battle.  And II Timothy 3:6-7 came to mind, surprisingly enough.  I've never memorized it but I was familiar enough with it to know that it was probably in one of the Timothy's. Through this Scripture I felt led to pray specifically that issues from the person's past (which I am not privy to) would no longer keep them from  truly coming to Him.
    The last point that impressed me was this:  God doesn't come to our side so that we can complain about our Lumbago. (See.. I did put that illustration in at the beginning of this blog for a reason!)   He does invite us to bring our needs, large and small to Him but  prayer is always God-centric, not ego-centric.  And prayer that wrestles  - deep prayer that engages the enemy of our souls - that type of prayer is where God calls us to stand alongside Him and pray His will, not our own. In order to do this, we have to know His will and that takes time.  God doesn't  reveal Himself in sound bites or 30 second devotionals.
   Once you know God's will, as Matthews puts it, you have a winning combination:    God willing something in Heaven and man willing it on earth. Matthews even says that when a critical situation breaks out on earth, God looks for such a man to be His prayer warrior on earth.
    I'm not that person yet, but that's what I want to be.

Friday, January 10, 2014

No More; No Less....

       Who can ever forget Kermit, resplendent beside Miss Piggy, singing,"It's Not Easy Being Green?"
       I used to watch that with our son when he was still knee-high to a grasshopper.
       At those times I had already started to dread the teen years.  Little did I know that even though our son is  a good guy, still, the times of greatest motherly angst would come after adolescence.
       Put succinctly, it's not easy being young.
       Why did I ever think it was?
        How could I have forgotten the trauma of dating, falling in love, breaking up?
        How could I have forgotten the decisions that loomed large? School.  Career.  Finances.
        Getting started.  It's just not easy.
        I see this from time to time not only in my son but also in his friends.
        I've read that when you are a child, you draw your identity from your parents.
        When you are a teen, you move away from the parents and draw your identity from your peers, for better or for worse.
        When you suddenly find yourself thrust out into the adult world, where does your identity come from?
         Your job?  The one you date? (Or don't date?)  Or even worse, the sum total of the decisions you have made in order to get where you are up to that point?
          For the Christian, our identity is found in the love and grace of Christ.
          In retrospect, I believe that our children need to know this as well or even better than they know their own names. I think it needs to be drilled into their impressionable minds from the get go: you are who Christ says you are. You are loved.  You are not the sum total of your choices. Some will be good. Some won't be.  Good choices will make you feel better and get you farther down the road of life.  But none of your choices will define who you are. The love of God does that.  
         You are who He says you are.
          We like to say that the past doesn't define us.  But then we turn around and define ourselves and others by what we've done up to that point.
          Yesterday I got the yard mowed, the bills paid, and I took chicken soup to a needy neighbor.  I.e.: I was a good person.
         Today I blew it six ways to Sunday,  lied to my neighbor because I didn't want to be bothered by their incessant requests to use my phone and let the dust bunnies pile up while I sat around in my jammies, watched t.v., and ate chocolate.  So now I'm a bad person.
         Maybe I did better on one day than on the other.
         But the fact remains:  yesterday I was a person for whom Christ died and today I am exactly  the same - a person for whom Christ died.
        No more; no less.