Do we really need to give to anyone who asks?

thirsty thursHappy 4th of July everyone!

Today for Thirsty Thursday I am drinking an Orange Spice Iced Coffee with Soy from Starbucks. I received a Starbucks gift card, and I am putting it to good use. Although… when I ordered this drink, the woman apparently did not know they served anything “orange spice”, so I am guessing this drink is not as popular as it should be. So I am doing Starbucks a favor now and letting all of you know that it is a good investment. Go order yourself one today!

Now that you have your fancy drink, let’s get on with the rest of our post…

Last week my church conducted something called “Compassion Sunday”. This is a day when our church members go out into our surrounding community of Roseland on the far South Side of Chicago. Some pray with people, some give food, some provide a service, others visit shut in members or sick members, and some hold services in the local shelters or hospitals.

This particular time, I was in charge of a clothing drive. The process involved collecting clothing donations from the church, sorting them, organizing them into nicely folded piles, and then spreading the word!

The spreading the word was probably the most fun. On the Saturday before the Compassion Sunday Clothing Give-Away, I snagged a neighbor girl along with 40 fliers, and we hit up Michigan Avenue (between 107th and 115th  street, not the Michigan Avenue in the Chicago Loop).

During our jaunt down the block, the two of us just wandered, looking into the famous Roseland Doughnut Shop, watching with several others as men made giant globs of apple fritter. We stopped to talk with a family of 5 who were parked on the side street and eating melting popsicles with open van doors. We tossed out granola bars to men sitting on the side of the street, claiming that they had the “munchies”, and complimented a girl on her nice dress and intricate nose ring.

We stopped to hand one man a flier, and asked if he wanted a granola bar. He said yes, reached in the bag and pulled out two handfuls. My face must have shown surprise, or perhaps even disapproval, because he said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Can I have a few? I’ve got some kids down the block…” I nodded my head and smiled.

“Of course. Take as many as you need.”

My neighbor squinted her eyes; she has been trained (and trained well in my opinion) to be distrusting and wary, especially of men on the street. “You know he was prolly lyin’ right Claire?”

“Oh I don’t think it really matters.” I say, but really it’s not me whose speaking, because…well, me? Well, I’m thinking the same thing in my own head. It was the voice of the Holy Spirit inside of me who spoke, and I was reminded of Jesus.

To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” Luke 6:29-31

Jesus’s instructions are clear. We must give to who ever asks. Even if that man had taken all of our granola bars, I know Jesus would instruct us not to ask for them back, just as this passage teaches.

I was reminded of this yet again during Compassion Sunday. A woman’s hungry eyes were darting all over the clothing racks and tables of purses, belts and shoes. I handed her plastic bag after plastic bag, and she took as much as she could carry.

My natural, judgmental instinct would be to glare at her, ask her if she really needed all of these clothes, and request she think of others rather than herself and to please save some items for the rest of the people.

But Jesus is pretty clear. This woman was asking for more.

It was not my place to judge whether she needed more; it was my job to give her more, and to not even withhold the clothing off my own back from her (if she for some reason wanted to put my shirt in her bag too)!

It is the same with the Gospel. We are to share it– to give it to others. What they do with it after we give it to them is on their own conscious, not ours. In the same way, our job is to simply give to those who ask, never denying anyone. After we give, it’s up to them to decide how they choose to use the gifts. 

Jesus is the joyful giver. He is the Spirit of giving, and He gave his life for us.

How are we reflecting His precious gifts to us by giving to others who ask? How are we using our own gifts from God, including the gift of giving?

The First Thirsty Thursday

thirsty thursAs this is my first post for Thirsty Thursdays, I thought I’d explore an appropriate verse as well as explain what Thirsty Thursdays’ posts will generally be about.

If you’re in college, you might know “Thirsty Thursdays” to be completely different than what might be found on a Christian blogger’s posts. According to Urban Dictionary, Thirsty Thursday refers to “a term normally found on college campuses, the title becoming popular when many students did not have early morning classes on Fridays, allowing them to drink and party on Thursday night”.

Well, this Thirsty Thursday is quite different for several reasons:

Number one, I’m no longer a college student, but I do, in fact, have early morning classes on Friday (I’m a High School teacher), so late night partying is not really something I could do even if I wanted to.

Number two, alcohol and raging parties is just kind of not my thing anymore. And if it still were, would I be blogging about it and glorifying it on a blog that’s suppose to be glorifying my Lord and Savior? Um, no.

So usually, what I will do for Thirsty Thursdays, is I’ll be drinking something. Usually coffee or tea, but sometimes I guess I’ll be drinking Naked juice or Diet Pepsi or a glass of red wine (because drinking alcohol is not a sin, but being drunk is)…. or water. Water is always good. Anyway, I’ll be drinking something and I’ll probably tell you about it (because I know you care!). Then I’ll blog about Jesus.

Why about Jesus, you ask?

Well, number one, because He’s awesome, and He totally deserves a weekly blog post. And so much more.

Number two, because just like I need water to satisfy my thirst and keep me alive, I need Jesus to satisfy my thirst and to give me life.

In fact, this leads me to my verse of the Thirsty Thursday:

… Living Water, that is.

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14

That first part: it’s it so true? I swear, there are days (usually hot summer days) when I cannot seem to drink enough water. I’m always thirsty, always wanting more.

Water is an earthly substance. Indeed, planet Earth is iconic because of it’s water sources. It means that life can exist.

Our bodies are made of 60% water. We need it.

But, like all earthly things, we can never be fully satisfied with it. Just because we have water to drink, or water near us, or water in our bodies, it doesn’t mean that we’re truly alive.

Here’s where Jesus comes in. Jesus is alive. And because he is alive, we can be alive too!

The Living Water is different than regular water….. but how?

The kind of water which Jesus spoke about was “living” (moving or running) water. During the times of Jesus, water from a cool running stream was always preferred to the still, dirty water one might find in a pond or well; it was cleaner, clearer, fresher, better. The water which Jesus spoke of symbolized the always-moving Holy Spirit. The Spirit part of the trinity is the Living Water, the one who moves us to action and inspires the divine works in our lives. This “water”life makes us a new creation in Jesus Christ.

The Living Water of the Holy Spirit satisfies our deepest desires, thirsts, and longings for God. It is better than any earthly remedy. Like water, we need to drink in the Spirit everyday, multiple times a day, or we will become dehydrated, lethargic, and sick.

Now that you know what Thirsty Thursdays are all about, I will leave you with one deep theological question:

If earthly water makes up 60% of our body, what percentage of our body should consist of the Living Water that Jesus speaks of?

Oh, and also, I’m drinking home made iced coffee from our french press. No big deal.

Monday Musings… and Satisfaction Guarenteed Part III

As I contemplate my previous posts on the Holy Spirit (check out my “series” category over on the side –>), I being to think about breathing more and more.musings

Breath.

It is the title of my blog. The art of breath.

And there is indeed an art to the way we live our lives and breathe, if you will, through them. Because breath is the sign of life. If we cease to breathe, we die.

In the same way, when we cease being filled with His Holy Spirit, we die spiritually.

Last time we met, I wrote about Spiritual Breathing as being a powerful picture that helps us experience moment-by-moment dependence upon God’s Holy Spirit.

Exhale: Confessing sins in the moment you become aware of it, agreeing with God concerning it, and thanking Him for His forgiveness. John 1:9 and Hebrews 10:1-25 explain that confession requires repentance, or a change in attitude and action, so this is a very real and yet symbolic way that we can acknowledge our own need for grace.

Inhale: Surrender control of your life to Christ, and rely upon the Holy Spirit to fill you with His presence and power. Allow God to put His plan for you above your own plan for yourself. Let your faith be bigger than any earthly desire you might have.

To be filled with the Holy Spirit is not like filling a glass with water. When we’re dry, our need is not to just “get more” of the Holy Spirit. It is not like a physical substance where we can just gather larger amounts of it if we want to.

No. To be filled with the Spirit is more like a sail boat’s sail being filled with wind. There is either wind, or no wind, and the goal is not to get more wind, it is to catch the wind. And likewise, when our own sails are filled with the Spirit, we also are able to move. Without the Spirit we are like that same sail boat floating in the ocean without any wind to propel it forward. sail boat

The Holy Spirit moves us to action. Not to our own plans and to-do lists, but to God’s plans for us. We must not attempt to fill up our lives with “things” to make us more “holy”. Instead, we must catch the Holy Spirit, breath Him in and allow Him to move within the depths of our “sailboat hearts”.

Exhale. Inhale. Breathe. Move.

… and that, ladies and gentlemen, is my Monday Musing of the week.

Satisfaction Guaranteed Part II

When are you most satisfied with God?

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Will you go your own way, or will you go God’s way?

I asked this question to one of the girls I am discipling over these next two months. It is a tough question to ask yourself, especially when you’re not sure how to maintain the relationship with Christ during a day filled with distractions. The students I am working with spend almost all day at ministry sites, evangelizing on the streets of Chicago, or listening to workshops and interviews with ministry workers; their focus is clear. But this kind of situation is not as common for the majority of us.

It’s like going to a retreat or a mission trip and feeling absolutely on fire for God while we’re there, only to come back feeling empty and lukewarm. God doesn’t seem as present as He was when we were in the midst of all the ministry and worship and prayer and people.

Why though? Is one true and the other false? And if so, which sensation is false– the “on fire” passion we felt momentarily, or this halfheartedness that consumes us when we get caught in our daily lives?

There is a true and present danger that can and will cause us terrible loss and pain if we are not deliberately fighting against it.

The danger is our own selves.

We come from a fallen family of sinners, and if we trust out own efforts and strength to live our Christian lives, we are guaranteed to experience failure and frustration rather than intimacy and satisfaction in God.

This is not a completely modern predicament, as Paul was writing to the Galations about this very same thing: “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galations 3:3)

The truth is, human beings have been trying to go it on their own since Eden. We’re all just like the first humans, doing our own thing, thinking that we’ve got it totally under control.

We cannot enjoy all God desires for us if we live by our own self-centered desires.

“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galations 5:17).

Perhaps we felt “on fire” for God because, unlike our usual life, we were putting our own selfishness on pause for a retreat or a mission trip or even a church service. Perhaps we don’t feel a connection to Christ afterwards because our own desires are replacing the desires that His Holy Spirit has for us.

Ah ha! The answer is yet again tied to the Holy Spirit. The third member in God’s Holy Trinity.

When we become a Christian, we receive the Holy Spirit, and we commit to walk an intimate journey which we can only walk successfully in the Spirit of Christ. When we walk with Him, we increasingly experience intimacy with God and enjoy all He has for us. When we walk in the Spirit, we have the ability to live a life that is pleasing to our God.

But… how do we live by the Spirit?

Although it may seem as though answering this question might be difficult, it actually is quite simple. Just about as simple as…. well, as simple as breathing!

Spiritual Breathing is a powerful picture that helps us experience moment-by-moment dependence upon God’s Holy Spirit.

Exhale: Confessing sins in the moment you become aware of it, agreeing with God concerning it, and thanking Him for His forgiveness. John 1:9 and Hebrews 10:1-25 explain that confession requires repentance, or a change in attitude and action, so this is a very real and yet symbolic way that we can acknowledge our own need for grace.

Inhale: Surrender control of your life to Christ, and rely upon the Holy Spirit to fill you with His presence and power. Allow God to put His plan for you above your own plan for yourself. Let your faith be bigger than any earthly desire you might have.

The act of simply breathing in the Holy Spirit can bring us back (if we let it) to God’s presence and power within us. For it is by the Spirit that we live the fullest life.

Satisfaction Guaranteed Part I

What words would you use to describe your current experience as a Christian?Growing, disappointing, forgiven, struggling, defeating, up and down, discouraged, intimate, painful, guilty, so-so, frustrated, fulfilled, stuck, joyful, exciting, empty, duty, mediocre, dynamic, vital…?

Each and every one of these words could have been used at one point during these 3 years I have been a Christian to describe my walk with Christ. I would love to say that my walk has always been rewarding and encouraging, but the truth is, my walk has been messy, unpredictable, and at many times unsatisfying.

But… I’m a Christian! Isn’t life suppose to be fulfilling and awesome now?!

I never really went through a “mediocre Christian” walk, where I was half-heartedly following Jesus just because it was expected of me. This was because I was not raised in a practicing Christian home, so I could never simply follow Jesus by default; Christianity was something that was not expected of me. Still, I have felt my walk become lukewarm, even during such a satisfaction-guaranteedshort time following Christ.

When I look at my personal journey, and the journey of so many others, I have to ask myself why? Why do we get so negligent in our pursuit of Christ? Especially if we really are aware of all He’s done for us, why do we so often feel unfulfilled in our faith?

Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37-38). John explains what Jesus meant, “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7:39).

Jesus promised that God‘s Holy Spirit would satisfy the thirst of deepest longings of all who believe in Jesus Christ as well as glorify Him who sent his Spirit. The Holy Spirit then, has the potential to be the source of our deepest satisfaction as well as God’s!

But just who exactly is the Holy Spirit? God? Jesus? Some kind of ghost?

The Holy Spirit is God’s permanent presence with us here on earth: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17).  And this Counselor is the one who enables us to understand and experience all God has given us. “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us” (1 Corinthians 2:12).

I have met many a person who claim to be Christian and followers of Christ, but who do not live by the Spirit. The Holy Ghost has no real place to live and move in their life because they do not allow themselves to be ruled by God. First Corinthians tells us that the person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God because they cannot understand them and that the spiritual person makes judgments about all things with the mind of Christ.

So.

Spirit= Understanding and oneness with Christ

No Spirit= Foolishness, lack of clarity, disunity with Christ

Perhaps, like me, this is starting to clear up some of the reasons you may have chosen some of those negative words to describe your walk with Christ.

We as Christians cannot experience intimacy with God and enjoy all He has for us if we fail to live by His Spirit. If we trust in our own efforts and strength to live the Christians life, we will experience failure and frustration, as will those who please themselves rather than God.

When I think about my walk with the Lord, there have been dark times and there have been times of illumination. Looking back, I can see that the darkness sprung from me deliberately or accidentally shutting out the Holy Spirit, and the illumination came as a result of relying on the Holy Spirit to guide my actions. It was all about how I chose to live, or rather… who I chose to live for.

Jesus tells us in the Gospel that all who love their life will loose it, but all who loose their life for Christ’s sake will find it. So too, when we live for ourselves rather than for God, we loose our satisfaction in His Spirit, we loose our guidance from His Spirit, and we loose our identity in Christ.

Before I dive deeper into this topic, stop and think about where you are in your walk with Christ. Do you desire more? Are you completely satisfied? How clear can you see God’s work in your life?

Then ask yourself, do you listen to the Holy Spirit?

From Crying in the Weeds to Planting Seeds

Something evil was lurking in my body yesterday morning… I was unsettled and unhappy, but the reason for such a sour state of being was not apparent. This feeling soon grew to need a reason for it’s existence, so I began to pick a fight with my husband. Having a very bright morning, he was not altogether pleased with my needless anger and frustration, so of course, we had a giant argument….. right before church. How many young couples have been in this exact same situation before?

When we first joined our church, we experienced this kind of spiritual attack every Sunday morning. It seemed as though the Devil was working very hard to make us too ashamed and angry at ourselves and each other to be committed to our place of worship. So, when this came up again, I knew deep down that Satan was trying to prevent something from happening… but I had no idea how hard he would be working to break me that morning…

Upon arriving at church, I sat and sulked in the car, not wanting to see my husband lead worship, then I got fed up with sulking (because let’s face it, sulking is no fun) and so I started praying. It was very hard to hear God. I finally made my way into the church, trying hard to blend in and not be noticed (although, being the only white red-faced girl with a runny nose and teary eyes, this proved difficult).

For the rest of the service, I kept getting hit over and over with reasons to want to run. Far away.

It wasn’t that people were being especially cruel or rude (except for one unfortunate occasion), but it was clear that Satan was working to discourage my efforts in contributing to my church. Being still green to church membership and still coping with the fact that not all Christians in the church are perfect followers of Christ (see my previous blog post), I felt heartbroken at being so discouraged by my own church. Somehow I felt that this wasn’t the way it should be…

I came home sobbing, telling Dennis I never want to go back and that if no one appreciates my work or my creativity, then I’ll just go, or then we’ll just go and start our own church!

I literally would not stop crying.

Dennis was very sweet considering I had been a jerk to him earlier that same morning. He told me that what I was feeling made perfect sense….. But God still has called us to this church….so in other words, cry it out, then buck up and get on with it.

I cried for another hour, then decided to be less pitiful and start making some lunch (by this time it was 3pm and our stomachs were growling rather ferociously).

Over lunch I felt the Holy Spirit stirring in my heart. “I told you to plant that garden for a reason Claire. You blogged about it, but have you gotten your hands dirty in that soil yet?”

“I need to plant some seeds today.” I told Dennis.

“I was just thinking the same thing…” He replied. Although he was speaking a lot less literally than I was.

I went outside and got the pots ready with dirt and took out the weeds around our yard. While I was getting dirty and sweaty, Dennis went to get some beer. I know. Not exactly what you were expecting. But we took the beer over to our neighbors across the street and asked if the kids could come over for Bible Study and dinner later in the evening, then hung out on the porch with them, watching the kids play with the water hose and eat icy pops.

Allyiah, Stewie, JR, and Brianna came over to help me make pizza dough. The whole while I spoke to them about treating one another with respect and how to ask for things politely. (JR and Brianna were not as fond of each other and the kids kept grabbing things around our house and from each others’ pockets). Nevertheless, we mixed the flour and milk and butter together and we rolled out the the dough into little roundish disks and I let the kids splatter tomato sauce over it, throw cheese onto every corner of the pan, and sprinkle seasoning onto the little homemade pizzas. We stuck them into the oven and set the timer, and then met Dennis in the living room for Bible Study.

He had chosen Matthew 13: the parable of the sower. We read together, talked about what the seed represented, and what each part of the ground was. Then we read John 3:16 and talked about Jesus. The kids asked a lot of questions, and after showing them a movie clip of “Godspell”, Dennis asked them if they wanted to pray “the prayer” with him.

Let me start off by saying that I am not an avid evangelist by any means. I myself am a new Christian and so I feel somewhat hypocritical asking someone to start believing and living for someone I took so long to find myself. I also have not been trained in any evangelical methods, and so the prayer called “the prayer” was also fairly new to me.

I watched as these four children sat in my living room repeating after me and my husband. Their eyes were closed, they were really talking to God, perhaps for the first time, and they were speaking words to invite Jesus into their lives.

At first I thought, “Well, they don’t really know what they are saying… these are just words”. But then the power of this prayer began to sink in. These kids were admitting that sin was in their lives, that sin controlled the world they lived in, and especially in Roseland, where they are witnesses to violence, drugs, and sex everyday. They were confessing that they believe in Jesus Christ, that He died for them and that they loved Him. They were even vocalizing a choice to follow God and to live for Christ.

I felt the frustration with my church melt away little by little and I felt a quite voice inside of me say “You have planted the seeds, and their fruit is better than any you could reap from your literal garden outside. But I have called you to be a harvester for these children.”

A week or so ago I wrote about God’s unquestionable assignment to plant a garden. Now, we did go out and plant some seeds after dinner with the kids, but what I think God was really alluding to was planting the seed of God’s Word in the hearts of these young children.

The Gospel of Matthew explains that children are as the Kingdom of Heaven, and that if we as adults, humble ourselves as children, then we will be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. The more I study Matthew, the more I am convinced that the Kingdom of God is already here; John the Baptist spoke of it’s coming, and Jesus brought it with Him when he gave us the Holy Spirit and taught us how to pray and live. Many are still waiting, and many are not contributing to it, but regardless, it is here and I know that I want to be sold out for it. Like the man who gave up everything to purchase a pearl of great price, I want to leave all to bring the Kingdom to Roseland.

Little children are Kings and Queens in this Kingdom. The poor, downtrodden, and weak are Kings and Queens in this Kingdom. This Kingdom does not look like any other idea of a kingdom that you could dream of or see in books and movies. This Kingdom is for the least of these. The nothings, the lowlifes, the scum, the dirty, the struggling, the lame, the blind, the sinners desperate for change. Children, wide-eyed, innocent, trusting, and believing, are the perfect candidates for Royal Subjects in God’s Kingdom, and last night, with all six of us praying to Jesus, we brought it a little closer to our part of the city.

Proverbs 22:6 states “train up a child in the way he should go and when he is older he shall not depart from it”. Even if this world takes over this block, even if Satan tests these children, just as he tested me that same morning, and even if they stray into sin, God promises that they will not depart from it when they are older. I pray that Dennis and I can continue to train up these children with Christ as the center, so that they will become good soil for the Word of God.

I truly am amazed how God turns what Satan meant for evil into His goodness. I don’t think I would be truly as surrendered to Christ last night if I had not been broken down earlier that morning. I know that I can always trust that God will encourage me in the areas I lack stamina; He will provide refreshment in the areas where I am dry and rocky; He will churn and tend to my heart so that it is ripe and ready for harvest, and all will see the Glory of God through the fruit of not our gardens or our grocery baskets, but by the fruit of our lives.

And so, when God says “plant a garden”, perhaps He means literally, but perhaps He is speaking in another parable.

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.

Prayer Makeover Part III

extreme-prayer-makeover_for-web

I just realized that I never finished my Blog Series. Not the greatest of me– to start my first series and then just not come back to it. Sorry Saints, I am not the best with spam postings. But, without further ado: Prayer Makeover Part III (the last installment…. I hope it’s well worth the wait!)

So, if you remember, I told you all to keep your bookmarks in Matthew 6, which includes the “Model Prayer” there-in-which Jesus teaches us how to pray. Well, we’ve been looking at how to pray and why, so I guess getting direct instruction from God the Son wouldn’t be a bad idea…

However, since it’s been a bit, let’s have a short review session:

The Rules of Prayer: In order for our prayers to be heard and answered, we must abide in and accept Christ as our Savior and read his Wordshow our faith through our confidence in prayer, pray for God to do His own will before our own, rid any sinfulness from our hearts and especially in the words or intensions of our prayers, and finally, we must pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

The Process of Prayer: Go in your room and talk to God, listen to Him too!, Keep a prayer journal that you can revisit throughout the day. Read the Word and speak the Word. God will surely speak to you through them to give them new meaning and application to your own life. Work to see God everywhere! When you are constantly aware of God’s presence, it’s much easier to speak to Him and listen to Him throughout the day.

And now for the Model Prayer:

“This, then, is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’ 

-Matthew 6:9:13

This is a pretty simple prayer no? But how powerful it is!

If you were raised as a Catholic like me, you might remember the priest chanting this along with the members of the church, holding hands and singing in minor keys. During those times, I never really thought about the words we were all chanting so solemnly, but let’s look at them:

First, Jesus shows his ADORATION: he reflects on God Himself, praising him for His love, His power and majesty, and His wonderful gift of Christ and the Holy Spirit, who in combination, teach us the way to live and God’s will.

Second, Jesus shows us how to give a CONFESSION (he himself does not confess, for he is sinless): he asked God to forgive our debts and he instructs us to remember to also forgive those around us. We must be honest and humble, and remember that God loves us no matter what we do before our repentance.

The third is not directly talked about, but Jesus talks about it in other scripture, and that is THANKSGIVING: we should tell God how grateful you are for everything God has given–even the unpleasant things! Our thankfulness will help us to see God’s purpose for even the most painful circumstances, and this will allow us to have joy amidst  sorrow.

Lastly, Jesus shows us how to make a SUPPLICATION: when we ask him for our “daily bread”, or ask him to “deliver us from evil” or “lead us not into temptation”, we are making supplications to God. (AKA, asking him for things). We are allowed and encouraged to make specific requests, both for others and for ourselves, just as long as those things are within our pursuit of Christ. In other words, we should not pray for the God to hurt others or for God to give us more of something that we are placing before Him (our addictions, idols, or sinful, fleshly desires).

It’s always a good thing to pray like Jesus did in another circumstance, and add the words “But not my will; You’re will be done” after our supplications. This way, we give God the ultimate power to decide what is best for us. After all, He does know best!

The first letters of these four words form the words “ACTS”. Use this as a mental guideline for a balanced prayer life.

This way, you won’t be always exalting God (although He does love that!), nor will you always be making requests for thing, or asking for forgiveness in confession (I struggle with only making my prayers about confessing, so I need this reminder too!).

So there you have it: ACTS! (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). Conveniently, you can read the book of ACTS and see Paul and the rest of the disciples putting these into action. Or read any of Paul’s letters, which are similar to prayers in their structure…

Thanks for being patient in waiting for the last installment of my Blog Series on Prayer. I hope you have learned something and have benefited from it. Please feel free to offer any feedback or other thoughts!

Happy Praying ❤

Prayer Makeover: Part II

Last week I spent some time going over the rules or conditions of prayer. These five rules were not my own, they were found explicitly in the Word of God. If you remember, I used quite a few different books of the Bible to demonstrate God’s instructions about prayer.

This week, for Part II of our Prayer Makeover, I want to go into the process of prayer, and we will only be looking at one book of the Bible. So, (clears throat) please turn your books to Matthew 6, verses 5 to 8. You can go ahead and bookmark the page, because we’re going to be here for a bit…

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Here Jesus tells us a few things about how we should pray…. Well, first, He actually tells us how not to pray. We can’t be doing it out in the open for all to see. Now, does this mean we can’t pray out loud before a meal with our family? Does this mean that we shouldn’t pray in our small groups and group bible studies and prayer meetings with friends? Not necessarily.

See, the hypocrites that Jesus is talking about used to get all dressed up to go out on the street corner and shout out prayers that they could have just said at home in their pajamas. But they didn’t do it to talk (much less listen) to God. They did it so that other people would look at them and think, “Oh, look at that holy person! How faithful they are! They are so righteous! I love they way they pray!”

This is why Jesus says that these people have already received their reward. They get credit for their prayers from the people that hear them (the people that the prayers are actually for). These prayers are not for God, so God does not give them a reward in heaven for their windy, wordy, empty prayers.

Jesus warns us to not be like those people, who keep babbling, thinking that they will be heard because they keep on talking and talking and talking. When they do this, Jesus, implies, their words loose meaning, but they also insult God in the process; they are treating Him as if He doesn’t already know what they need! Our God knows everything! He knows what each and every one of us needs better than even we do! 

Now, back then, as I said, these people would go out to the town square to shout prayers to the Lord. Today’s equivalent might be praising the Lord in a Facebook status, or tweeting Bible verses. It all depends on the intent. If the intent is that you really truly think God is checking his newsfeed on “the Book of Faces” (as my husband so cleverly calls it), and so you want to let him know you’re a “fan” of His, then fine! But most of the time we post and tweet those things to make sure other people see them, not to make sure God sees them …. and honestly, I’m guilty of this too… so let’s all work on this one!

I remember being in a college prayer group when I first got saved. Each time we got together, we would talk about the Word and how it was working in our lives, then we would ask for prayer requests. After that, we would do what I like to call “Popcorn-Prayer” (this is the teacher side of me coming out!). One person would start praying, then after they had finished, another person with pick it up and pray as well, and then, after some silence, another person would pray… and so on and so forth until the last person prayed and we all would say, “In Jesus’ Name, Amen!”.

I would sit there with my eyes shut, not really listening to the others, but instead I would be rehearsing my prayer! I would think about what things to say and how to phrase things, and I would review the prayer request.

Now, to be honest, I don’t think I did this in order to be praised on Earth for my holiness or beautiful prayers. I think I was actually nervous about praying in front of other people because I was a new Christian, and I really didn’t know how to pray! 

Luckily Jesus actually tells us how to do that too…

He tells us to go to our room, close the door, fall to our knees, and pray in secret. This way, our prayers are only for Him and Him alone. We are not doing it for show and our reward will be saved for us in heaven rather than being wasted here on Earth with compliments from others.

So, now we have some general guidelines about how to pray, and we have Jesus’ direct words about how not to pray. What do we do now?

Practice!

  • Take instruction from Jesus and go in your room and talk to God, listen to Him too!
  • Keep a prayer journal that you can revisit throughout the day. Write about what you’re thankful for. Write about what you’re sorry for. Write about what you need or what you know others really need. Write about how incredible God is. Write about the questions you have for God.
  • Read the Word and speak the Word. God loves to hear His Word repeated back to Him, that’s why Jesus always quotes scripture. Read the Word, memorize verses, and speak them aloud in your private prayers. God will surely speak to you through them to give them new meaning and application to your own life.
  • Work to see God everywhere! When you are constantly aware of God’s presence, it’s much easier to speak to Him and listen to Him throughout the day. You won’t have to routinely rattle off a prayer during your lunch break at work just to fit your prayer time in if you are constantly communicating with God, whether silently or aloud. And remember, communication is a two-way street!

Next post, we will still be in Matthew 6, so keep that bookmark in your Bible or internet browser! We will take our prayer time to the next level with the “model prayer”

See you soon Saints!

Prayer Makeover: Part I

Recently I have been feeling… blue.

I think it’s got to do with a lot of things.

My husband’s out of town and I miss him. It’s getting darker outside faster. I’ve got a TON of work to do that keeps me busy… but kind of lonely. I’ve been tired…

But I think the real source of my certain shade of melancholy is rooted in my prayer life. Lately my prayers have felt weak, hard to muster up, and they’ve been lacking… gusto. I need to reexamine prayer.

In short, I need a prayer makeover!

For this next set of posts, I thought I’d explore the idea and practice of powerful prayer, it’s stipulations, it’s process, and it’s outcomes.

First, I want to take a close look at the stipulations or rules of prayer.

Now, before I was a true Christian, I totally still talked to God all the time. I never followed any rules about my prayer though, so all I did was talk; I didn’t listen. Communication with God is a two-way street. I didn’t realize that before I was saved. And if someone where to have told me that there were rules for prayer, I would have told them that they were “squashing my spirit” and “limiting my spirituality”… whatever that means. My problem was that I did not read the Word of God (the best place to really listen to God), and because of my lack of Christ’s actual words, I did not abide in Him (which is actually the first rule!).

The Five Rules of Prayer:

  1.  John 15:7 tells us specifically that if we want our prayers heard and answered, we must abide in Christ and Christ must abide in us. What does ‘abide’ mean? Abide means to accept or act in accordance with. So. We must accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we must act in accordance to His will and way, and in order to do that, we have to know and study His word. In short, our obedience to His word is highly important when we pray. And because of this fact, guess where we will learn about how to pray? …yep! The Word!
  2. In 1 John 5:14-15, God tells us to pray as if we have already received, which is an exercise which strengthens our faith. We need to pray, knowing that God will answer. Why would we ask for something from someone we didn’t think would answer? We need to be confident that our prayers will be answered because we know that our God is faithful.
  3. In the same verses (1 John 5:14-15), God also tells us that we must ask according to His own will. This is exactly what Jesus did when He prayed in the garden of gethsemane :  Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42. We need to be aware of the fact that God knows what is best for us, and so pray that His will be done rather than our own, which is limited by our own lack of understanding and selfish desires. (Also, if Jesus prayed that way, we probably should follow suite).
  4. James 4:3 tells us that a hindrance to answered prayer is greed. If we wish to spend what we receive on our own lusts and pleasures, God will be less likely to hear, much less answer your prayers. Psalm 66:18 explains that if we cherish iniquity in our hearts (in other words, if we have sinful intentions), then our prayers will not be lifted up. Now, sometimes we will make a mistake and pray for nasty things (revenge, excessive wealth, worldly power…). In time, God will reveal to us that our wishes are sinful and with the maturing of our faith, we will learn to pray in a selfless and grateful way.
  5. The last and most important stipulation on prayer is one that I never knew about before I became a Christian. You can find it in John 16:24: It is that we must pray in Jesus’ name. As believers in and followers of Christ, and because we belong to Him, we can ask in His authority and on His merit. Just as the Father answered Jesus’ every prayer, so He will answer us when we ask in Jesus’ name.

Now, you will notice that these rules of prayer are not my own. This is how God’s Word–The Bible– actually tells us how to pray.

To sum it up:

In order for our prayers to be heard and answered, we must abide in and accept Christ as our Savior and read his Word, show our faith through our confidence in prayer, pray for God to do His own will before our own, rid any sinfulness from our hearts and especially in the words or intensions of our prayers, and finally, we must pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior

In my future posts, I want to explore the process of prayer even further, in an attempt to strengthen my own prayers and deepen my relationships with the Lord. I also hope that you too will be strengthened and that your own prayer life will grow deeper in the love of Christ.

Jesus tells us that (after these previous stipulations), all we need to to is… “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” John 16:24

 

I’m trading my blues for the joy that is completed by answered prayer.

 

Will you join me in doing the same?