A Week of Fasting and Prayer: Day 1 – A Prayer for the Newly Married

20140602-183113-66673526.jpgMy heart is pounding as I grab the groomsman’s arm and walk down the walkway, between pews of wide-eyed guests. Somehow we make it down the aisle in one piece, and both assume our positions on opposite ends of the alter. I watch as seven bridesmaids follow me, all carrying bouquets and on the arm of a gray-suited groomsman. Then, the music changes and all of the guests stand and look towards the back of the chapel. From where I am, I cannot see my best friend walking down with her grandpa. But honestly, I don’t want to. Besides the fact that I’ve helped her get ready for the past six hours (so I know what she’s going to look like), I’m more interested in something in plain sight from where I’m standing. So, I’m staring at the groom’s face, to see his reaction when he catches the first glimpse of his bride in all her beauty and then again when they lock eyes, knowing that this is the moment when their whole lives change.

It’s this moment when you can see all anticipation, all love, all excitement, all fears, anxieties, and “am I enough?s” in the groom’s eyes, and you know that his bride has equivalent emotions running through hers, sometimes even in the form of tears. It’s then when I start tearing up as well, because I know what a huge commitment this is. I know what an amazing decision this is. I know these feelings, and I am so excited when others make the plunge into the incredible life-long commitment that is marriage.

In my week-long fast and focused prayer for marriage, it made sense to start with a prayer for the newly married–the newlyweds— mostly because I just was in a dear friend’s wedding this past weekend, and my eldest cousin was also married the same day.

I don’t have to imagine the excitement, joy, weight, and anxiety that this new commitment entails– I felt it on my wedding day and I feel it every time I’m at a wedding. It’s something that you don’t easily forget, especially when you take marriage as seriously as it is meant to be taken. Yet I don’t pretend to know these couples’ stories or how they came to this decision, or how it will effect them and shape them as a unit in the time to come. What I do know is that these newlyweds will need prayer. A lot of prayer.

And so, without further ado, here is my prayer for all of you newly married couples out there:

Lord,

I pray for the newly married couples that have entered into a covenant with You and with one another. I praise you and thank you that they have chosen monogamy in a world that says you can have it all and never have to be satisfied with one person. Lord, we know that You have made marriage a beautiful image and reflection of Christ and the church, and that as husbands are to love their wives sacrificially as Christ does the church, wives are to submit to their husbands respectfully, as they do to God, never sacrificing dignity or the quiet strength and beauty that you created so many women to have.
Lord, I pray that you encourage these young men and women in their decision and their commitment to love each other. Allow them to keep their vows in their hearts and minds so that they work hard to keep those promises. Give them grace when they don’t keep them, and teach them how to forgive one another. Show them your character so that they may become more like you in their marriage, as they learn more about one another, and as they learn more about themselves.

I pray specifically for the husbands. Lord, there may be times, especially in that first year, where the man feels that he didn’t ask for the kind of responsibility it takes to be a husband, and the head of a family. There may be times when he is tempted to be unfaithful, or to be harsh with his wife, or to just give up. He may feel like he’s disrespected and unappreciated, and can never win. Show him that these are lies from the enemy, and give him strength to push harder and stronger towards the love that you have called him to. Let him rejoice forever in the wife of his youth, and allow her to become his standard of beauty, so that he is not comparing her to anyone or anything else. Allow him to leave his mother and father completely, whether that be physically, emotionally, or financially, and cling to his wife. Give him the ability to be a servant leader and protector for his family, and give him fulfillment from this role.

I pray specifically for the wives. Lord, there may be times, especially in that first year, where the women feels that she didn’t know what she was getting into when she signed up to be her husband’s helper and to submit to him. She may feel that this makes her the “lesser” in the relationship, but Lord, don’t allow her to believe this lie that the enemy tells her! Encourage her in her role as a help meet, fit for her husband, and show her the beauty and strength that you created her to have. Lord, there may be times when she is temped to be unfaithful, or to disrespect her husband, or to just give up. She may feel that she’s unloved and unappreciated, and can never win. Show her that these are also lies from the enemy, and give her strength to push harder and stronger towards the love that you have called her to. Let her be satisfied by her husband, and let her be content with the man that God gave her. Giver her the ability to be her family’s irreplaceable manager, the beating heart of her home, and giver her fulfillment from this role.

Lord, I know that it can be easy, in the euphoric feeling of love for the other, to place the other spouse on a pedestal, and place them above you in their priorities. I pray that both the husband and wife do not fail to make you first priority. I pray that they don’t expect the other to be perfect, because I know that this only sets them up for disappointment, and the other for failure. I pray they instead recognize that they each are only human, and I pray you help them bestow grace upon the other, in understanding that, while the spouse is the top priority among human beings, they can never take the place that only You, O’ God, can fill.

Let those who are just married rejoice and be glad! For the husband has found a good thing in his wife, and the wife has found a good thing in her husband! Your word tells us this O’ Lord. Allow them to examine themselves more closely as a result of this relationship, and in doing so, recognize their faults, as well as their strengths and beauty. Please encourage them to hold onto this joy found within one another and within You, God, so that they will work through the hard times, knowing and trusting that the marriage covenant was the right choice and that they will be blessed. Lord, we know that your word tells us that a cord of three strands is not easily broken, and so I pray that these couples be encouraged to keep you at the center of their relationship. Show them how to love each other in their specific love language, teach them how to spend time together and how to encourage one another. Instruct them about how to speak with love to one another and how to express their deepest desires and fears to each other. Let them be one another’s best friend, and provide them with the deepest level of intimacy to share with each other.

Thank you for the newlyweds in our life Lord! I pray you prompt us to pray for them and prompt them to pray for one another, and to turn to you for guidance and strength.

In your Son Jesus Christ’s name, Amen.

What specific prayer has God laid on your heart for newlyweds? Share it here, so we can pray as well!

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Gasp! The church isn’t perfect?!

But… if the church isn’t perfect, then who is?!

A few weeks ago I found myself at a meeting in the church. Everything was going fine: we were praying, talking, taking prayer requests, offering our personal experiences, and sharing ideas about what the Lord was doing in our lives. All of the sudden something happened. An argument sprung up over how the voting of new officers should be done. Women were yelling, being snippy, acting stubborn, rolling their eyes, accusing one another, and attacking one another. It was out of the blue, and I wasn’t sure how to react.

Now, first let me preface that this church is my first church. I’ve gone to other churches before, yes, but I have never been an active member of the church nor have I been a follower of Christ for more than three years. This has been my only experience of what a church is and what people who belong to Christ do.

With this in mind, imagine my reaction to a mean-spirited argument arising out of a seemingly harmless church meeting. Some (who have perhaps been in the church a little longer) may expect as much, I mean, we are dealing with sinful people here. Some might join in the argument to defend the “Godly” side. Some may simply roll their eyes and begin praying a self-righteous prayer, thanking God that they are not like “those people”. Others may pray an earnest prayer that the Lord would intercede in this disagreement and peace would be restored via Christ’s will alone.

Now, what do you expect my reaction was?

Yep… I started crying. Big fat tears rolled down my face, my cheeks were red, my eyes puffy, my nose running.

Imagine a group of women arguing, then the youngest, whitest, newest member starts balling her eyes out like a little baby. I was extremely embarrassed to say the least. I ran into the bathroom with two other members trailing worriedly behind, the rest left in dismay, no doubt discussing what might have set off the new girl.

Between heaving sobs and behind the bathroom stall door, I explained in rather childish terms, what had made me so upset.

“I just (sob sob sob) don’t understand (snif sniff) why people of God (cry cry cry) are so (sniff sniff) mean to each other (uncontrollable sobbing)!”

Dramatic and laughable (and I do invite you to laugh at me as well!) as it is now, this rather mortifying experience taught me something very valuable. The church is not perfect.

Gasp! It’s not?!

I know. It’s taken me a while to digest as well.

Before this moment, and even a while afterwards, I had been under the impression that other people were either good or they were bad. I found this manifesting in the way I read the Bible as well. Stories like the book of Esther confused me. Is Esther good or is she bad? She presumably sleeps with a man before being married to him and she lies about her heritage until her people are being killed. She doesn’t sound like a super admirable gal, but God does use her to help save His people.

This “imperfection” is is way more than just the book of Esther too. David, after being declared a man after God’s heart, steals another man’s wife, gets her knocked up, then kills her hubby by putting him in the front line of battle. What the heck Dave!? And Solomon, the love child of David and Bathsheba, decided to leave his beautiful wife to go build temples to other gods for his millions of concubines. Even Jesus’ apostles do some pretty stupid petty stuff. So, my question is, how are these people the people of God? Shouldn’t these people be better than that?

My mentality was the same for people in my church. Why are they being so mean? Aren’t they here because of the Lord? If Christ is the leader of their life, why are they speaking to one another so disrespectfully? Shouldn’t these people be better than this?

The answer is yes, they should be better than that, but they aren’t.

And it’s not just them. I also should be better than I am, but I’m not. This answer seems oddly simple: we are, as humans, imperfect. We are not good. We are sinful.

Romans 7:15-20 says it best: I do not understand what I do... For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing...”

Keep in mind, this is Paul, arguably one of the most Christ-like examples in the New Testament besides Christ himself. If even he does not do the good he knows he wants to do, and he is extremely Christ-like, then how can I expect my fellow church members to be perfect at doing good?

This is not to say that we just allow people to do whatever they want, speak harshly, and live sinfully. By no means! But when sin happens, because believe God, it will happen, we need to respond as people who understand that only Christ is perfect. This allows us to be forgiving and merciful to those who disappoint us or leave us in dismay, and it also exalts the name of Jesus, His power, and His utter goodness.

To expect this kind of perfection from anyone else but Jesus takes away from God’s role in our lives, and it also leaves us continuously disheartened and dissatisfied in other people.

As you can see from my tearful reaction not but a few weeks ago, I am still learning this lesson each and everyday, especially since I have now become a member of a church. The Church is beautiful and I love mine, but we must not fool ourselves into thinking a group of sinful people will be perfect and holy simply because they gather in the name of Christ. Guard your hearts, have realistic expectations of people, and understand that Christ is the ONLY one who is good.

“Get behind me Satan!”

… and I’m not just talking about the White Stripes album.

Today I was reading Matthew (if you haven’t already noticed, I’ve been reading through this book for a while now), and I was startled by the words “Get behind me Satan!” coming from Jesus’ mouth. The surprising part wasn’t so much that he said them, but rather who he said them to:

“Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering, be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it Lord! this must never happen to you!’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’. “ Matthew 16:21-23

Yep, he says those startling words to Peter.

The weird part about all of this is in this same chapter, Peter (at the time he was ‘called’ Simon) totally impresses Jesus with his faith and understanding in his divinity that Jesus renames him to “Peter”.

At this point, Jesus has been getting all kinds of annoyed at his disciples because they just aren’t getting it!

They freak out when they don’t have enough bread even though Jesus turned five loaves and two fish into food for over five thousand men (not including the women and children). Then, when Jesus is trying to warn them not to listen to the Pharisees, they misunderstand him entirely and get paranoid that Jesus is mad at them because they didn’t pack any food (which is silly because Jesus actually tells them not to bring anything with them when traveling).

But Peter is the one who passes the test.

Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” And they say, “Some say John the Baptist, but other Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then Jesus says toe them, “But who do you say that I am?” And it’s Simon/Peter who answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Paraphrased from Matthew 16:13-16)

Jesus is elated– someone finally gets it! Quite honestly, I don’t think most of his disciples really understood this fact about Jesus’ divinity up until after his death. They knew he was special, but why would Jesus respond so enthusiastically to Peter if all his followers were also aware that he was divine?

“Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.'” Matthew 16:17-19

This description has a lot of heavy language in it. I mean look at it! Peter, first of all, gets his new name, then he’s got Jesus telling him that God himself revealed important information to him, that he’s the rock that the church will be built on, that the Devil will not prevail against said church, and that he’s going to be giving Peter the kingdom of heaven!

Talk about some heavy stuff!

So how does Jesus go from praising the heck out of Peter to then calling him “Satan” and a “stumbling block” that stands in his way?

The truth of the matter is that we all are just like Peter.

Sometimes we totally impress and excite our God…. and other times we annoy him to no end. He still has patience with us, just like Jesus does with Peter even after this last encounter (and then later when he denies him three more times), but we do have the tendency to, as Jesus puts it, “set our minds not on divine things, but on human things.”

This human vs. divine thing is kind of clutch.

Jesus tells Peter that whatever he gains and looses here on earth, he also will gain and loose in heaven. But then he also tells Peter that his mind is not focused on heaven; which is a big problem!

Paradoxically, Jesus is the perfect blending of both of these things; he is fully divine, but also fully human.

So what does all this mean?

Well, it may not be so easy to say. However, I believe this verse’s purpose is to put the fear of God back into our hearts and to get us focusing on heaven rather than earth.

Sometimes people like to paint this pretty picture of Jesus as this meek, mild, accepting person, but just from the initial passage– (the “Get behind me Satan!” passage)– you can clearly see that his man is nowhere near meek!

Jesus has a mission, and it’s a tough one, the toughest one that any man has ever faced: to take on the wrath of God and die for the world’s sins.

Jesus knows he must do this, and yeah, it looks crazy (as many times Jesus’ missions do), but he’s got to do it, and any person who says otherwise is clearly not supporting the mission of God. If you’re not for him, your against him.

We are evil. And God hates evil. And it sucks, because we have Satan working to turn us into stumbling blocks to God’s mission 24/7 and the rest of the world is not helping us out in the least.

Jesus told Peter that he came about his wisdom not by the world, but by God– divine intervention, if you will. And the same is true for us; any understanding we may have of Christ, any truly selfless act or piece of truth we receive or give comes from God.

Like Peter, we are capable of incredible good, but we also are capable and highly susceptible to disdainful evil. Even our closest, dearest friends.

If God is calling us to his mission, then anyone or anything that tempts us to stray from that divine path is a stumbling block to Jesus.

What would it be like if we reacted the way Jesus does in these situations? ….

“hey man, I know you trying to quit smoking and like, take care of your body or whatever, but you want to step out and share a smoke with me?”

“GET BEHIND ME SATAN!!!”

“…Woah, chill out dude…”

Okay, so maybe that’s a little extreme. But maybe we’re called to see things this way. Maybe we’re called to see ourselves this way.

Have you ever felt Satan at work in your life?

What are stumbling blocks in Jesus’ mission for you, and how can you recognize them when they may simply look like Peter, a concerned and protective friend?

What do you think is the balance between focusing on divine things and earthly things?