prayer

Day 18: Doer who's humble

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?‘  And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’ And they said to him, ‘We are able.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.‘  And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.  And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
— Mark 10:35-45 ESV

Jesus asked this, “What do you want me to do for you?”

What if Jesus came to you and asked you this question?  What would be your answer?  Is there a need you are desperate to have filled today?  Would you plead someone’s case, asking God to move in their life?  Would you ask about an unfulfilled dream that you would hope Jesus could bring to fruition

I’m seven sentences into this blog post, and all of them have been questions.  I don’t know what I would ask Jesus to do for me.

I judgmentally look at James and John’s answer.  Surely I wouldn’t ask Jesus to place me at His level, make me His top dog.  Or would I?  (BTW, sorry for calling you Shirley!)

As I think back about my “striving hard to impress God” times in ministry, wasn’t this kind of what I wanted?  I wanted to be noticed, promoted, trusted with more, and praised.

James and John were asking to be second and third in command, placed in a seat of honor, and maybe even seen as holy.

When I strive to look “good” to people, isn’t being seen as holy my goal?

I don’t know about you, but I feel such conviction reading this passage.

Jesus told them, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”

That answer must have felt so backward or inverted from what they were expected from Jesus.  Jesus isn’t giving them what they asked.

What I want in my deepest heart of hearts would not be to be a servant.  I can understand their confusion.

Jesus then left that conversation to go die on the cross, paying the ransom of so many in bondage to sin.

Yesterday we discussed freedom.  We considered being a DOER who is free by being someone who DOES out of love.

Serving out of love is the key to freedom and also the key to being more like Jesus, who tells us that He came to serve - not to be served.

When we come to Jesus concerned with our self-interest and self-promotion instead of coming to Jesus concerned about His Kingdom and His will, we are very likely to go away as disappointed as James and John were.  What matters most is His will, the advancement of His Gospel, and His story here on Earth.

A better stance would be to approach Jesus with the humility of a servant as we do, we find our assignment to serve others in our lives from a place of love.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
— 1 John 5:13-15 ESV

 

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I like to include a song with each blog post.  Here you go.  I love the guitar part at the end and the lyric, "I want to knit you a sweater, I want to write you a love letter, I want to make you feel better, I want to make you feel free."  Joni is a treasure.

Day 27: Dad

31 STORIES OF FAITH ADVENTURES

DAY 27:  DAD

The first prayer, that required faith, that I prayed fervently as a Christian was for my dad’s salvation.

I say it required faith because I was completely unsure of whether God could answer it or not, whether my dad could turn his heart towards God and accept Jesus.

I remember my youth minister encouraging me to have hope and pray for my dad.  I know my mom was praying too.

A couple things happened that got my dad’s attention.  One thing was that he began carpooling to work with a guy from our church.  Those 45 minute drives back and forth opened a lot of opportunities for seeds to be planted.

The guy from our church was Jerry Normand.  He was an important figure in my life.  He witnessed to my dad.  He introduced me to my husband.  He encouraged me when my faith was low.  He stood in our wedding.  Jerry went to be with the Lord in 2009, and I’ll always be thankful for how God used him to help me turn corners that now define my life.

The other thing that got my dad’s attention was a health issue.  My dad was experiencing vertigo at work, to the point of ambulances being called.  He had ringing in his ears and severe periods of dizzy spells with exhaustion and nausea.

The doctors diagnosed him with Meniere’s disease.  His recommended course of treatment was surgery.  They would remove one of his equilibriums from behind his ear, and the other equilibrium would take over for both sides.

The doctor let him know that this surgery was as serious as brian surgery, since they would be drilling a small hole into the part of the skull behind his ear.

This kind of statement caused thoughts of God to no longer be far off and uncritical.  My dad was reminded of how close we all skate to the edge of death every day of our lives.  We foolishly believe that we don’t need to address eternal questions until some day when we are old and grey.

My dad was only 39 or 40, only a few years older than I am now.

Our church did something that turned my dad’s beliefs about church and pastors upside down.  They took up a love offering for him.  They knew my dad would be missing work and would have extra medical bills.

One Sunday night, as we were at our kitchen table eating dinner, the doorbell rang.  A few men from the church brought in the money and gave it to my dad.

There are so many reasons our church could have justified not reaching out in this monetary way.  One, my dad wasn’t a member of the church or even a Christian.  Two, they knew my parents spent money on ungodly things like beer and tobacco.  His carpool buddy could have testified to that.  And three, we were in the insignificant middle of our community.  We were no one important.  We had nothing to offer.  But we weren’t necessarily “the poor” either.

I know that that gift from those believers made a difference in my dad’s story.

My dad had his surgery and recovered well.  He now can make his famous joke, “I need that (fill in the blank) like I need ANOTHER hole in my head.”

A few weeks after his stitches were removed and life was settling back to normal, I had slept in on a Sunday morning.  My mom and little brothers had left for Sunday school without me.  I might have been being rebellious or I might have stayed up too late the night before watching tv.

My dad came in and told me to get up because we were going to church.  I jumped out of bed.  I couldn’t believe it.

Here I was ignoring God, staying home on a Sunday morning, and God was busy answering my seemingly unanswerable prayer.

My mom couldn’t believe it when my dad and I walked in a joined her pew.  It was honestly a miracle that he was there.

Our praying continued.  My dad attended church for about 6 months before one Sunday night in December of 1992, I was singing Christmas songs in the choir, and my dad went forward to pray to receive Jesus as his Savior.

My clearest memory of that night was how blurry my eyes got when I was fighting back tears watching him walk to the front of the church and pray with our pastor.

God had asked me to ask him for something, my dad’s salvation.

As I was thinking about writing this story this morning.  I begin to question myself, when was the last time I had prayed prayers that I was completely unsure could be answered?  Immediately three different instances popped into my mind of prayers I prayed this week.

I am thankful that as I have grown older that I have not let go of my childlike wonder of what God can accomplish.

But honestly it is something I’ve had to fight for.  I have caught myself wording prayers in way that is “safer” or already answered without God even getting involved.  When I catch myself doing this, I feel like I’m talking to myself, and God wants me to talk to Him.

That might be a good barometer of your faith life to ask yourself that same question, when was the last time you prayed a prayer that you were completely unsure could be answered?  Let me just give a disclaimer that this not something I got from scripture.  It’s only a thought meant to lead you to deeper faith in a God that is trustworthy and capable of miracles.  

If God doesn’t answer your prayers the way you want and ask Him to, this isn’t a slight on your relationship with God.  Just the fact that you are willing to ask God, trust God, and depend on God says way more about your relationship.  We can never understand, on earth, the reasons behind God’s workings.  It is foolish to try.

The asking is the key.

Be willing to ask God for anything.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
— Matthew 7: 7-11 ESV

 

 

This song reminds me of my dad, not for any spiritual reason, but because he would walk in from work singing this song and he drove a t-bird.

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Praying for change

Prayer.  It’s the word, the idea, I can’t get away from this week.

God has put it on my mind and on my heart.  I pick up a book I’ve owned since March.  It’s been waiting it’s turn in line on my shelf to be read.  It’s a book about a woman’s journey to learn how to pray, and I can’t put it down.

I turn on a sermon podcast in the car.  It’s the next one in line to be listened to.  Someone must have mislabeled it because the sermon tiled “Trinity” was so much about prayer, that it has to be tiled wrong.  And boy was it what I needed to hear.

My last blog post mentioned a desire I had to pray more for the hurting, and God heard me peaking my head up, and He said, “You there, raising your hand saying your willing to pray, here you go.  I’m giving you instructions and I’m daring you to do it.”  (Maybe that’s not really how God talks, but I kind of picture a coach with a whistle putting me into the prayer game.  That’s how it feels anyway.)

These lessons on prayer I’m hearing, in my book, from that sermon, from the Holy Spirit guiding my heart, they are not new.  I dove into the pool of learning to pray once before with such fervency that those lessons are deeply etched into my heart.  As a young woman I learn what prayer was and how to pray.  I wanted my prayers to be effective and to avail the way James 5:16 describes.

The summer of 1998 I was 7 months pregnant with my first baby, and my mom was having surgery.  She was having a hysterectomy.  So I went to Ft. Worth to be a loved one sitting in the hospital room.  I was young and didn’t know what I was suppose to do, but I knew good daughters waited in hospital rooms.  I went to be a good daughter.  So as I was baking a brand new daughter in my belly, my mom had her baby baking equipment removed.

Turns out hospitals, when they aren’t the setting for nightmares or miracles, can be quiet, boring places.  I regretted not bringing a book to read, so I grabbed one of my mother’s, a book about prayer.

It was a game changer.  I soaked in every specific lesson I could about talking to God.

I don’t know why the book on prayer jumped out at me.  I’m guessing it was because I knew I was on my way to becoming a mother.  “Praying” and “mother” are two words that go together out of sheer necessity.  How can you ever plan on mothering a child without the opportunity to beg God for help in such an impossibly big job.

So I sat and read about prayer in a room with three generations of women of our family in three very different places in life.  My mom in a pain medicine induced sleep trying to recover from surgery, me contemplating how to talk to the God who created me and how to be a praying mother, and my baby girl Lucy safely resting in my quiet belly, warm, cozy, and loved.

Driving in my car yesterday, memories of those days in that hospital room from the summer of ’98 came flooding back to me.  I began to ask why was prayer so important to me again.  I didn’t land on a good answer.

Then this morning I realized it.  I’m paper pregnant.  I’ve been paper pregnant waiting for our Ethiopia adoption to turn into a new child to mother now for 1 year, 5 months, and 9 days.

God surely knows that this child, who is not safely baking in my tummy, needs prayer.

I’m trusting the Spirit to guide my prayers for my little boy.  I want them to be specific to his circumstances.  Even though I have no idea where he is and what he needs, our God knows.

I bet you are wondering why I’m not praying every day for this child that will be my child.  If you’re not wondering it, I am.  Time can be daunting.  Fervency and excitement wears off.  Waiting becomes something I try not to think about.

And I need prayer because waiting is hard.

In the line at the grocery store yesterday, we run into friends.  The subject of how long our adoption from Ethiopia is taking comes up.  I tell them we could be 1 and 1/2 years into a possible 4 year wait.  Those numbers get the reaction you are probably having.  I don’t like those numbers.

But God said to do this.  So we are doing it, and right now that means waiting.

I want something to happen.  I don’t like waiting.  So yeah, I need prayer too.  I’m in my safe house with a well fed stomach and a family who loves me.  But I need Him.

The fact that we can talk to this magnificent God who made us and loves us is a gift.  The fact that we can ask for intercession for people who we barely know or even don’t know is humbling.  The fact that we can ask God to help us be more like Him, bear the fruits of His Spirit: LOVE, joy, peace, PATIENCE, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, that is life changing.

Here is what Patricia Raybon says in her book I Told the Mountain to Move:

Prayer as Richard Foster said, ‘is the deepest and highest work of the human spirit.’ In real prayer, Foster added, we think God’s thoughts. We desire the things that God desire. We love the things that God loves. We will the things that God wills. But there is more, I learned. Isn’t there always? In real prayer, we go places we don’t want to go. We learn lessons we don’t want to learn. We tell secrets we don’t want to tell. We walk bridges we don’t want to cross. We face battles we don’t want to fight. Then we change the world. We stand at the door to heaven and then we rush in. But as we go, we change ourselves. ‘To pray is to change,’ wrote Foster and with those few words he pulled together the deep essence of it all.
— Patricia Raybon
Shauna Niequist mentioned Guster on Twitter this week, and I've been revisiting some songs I love.

My kid's bff's mom's thyroids

This morning I woke up and poured my heart out to God in intercessory prayer for my friend Courtney.  She is having surgery this morning to have her right thyroid removed.  She has a growth, and the biopsy was inconclusive.  As I am writing this, they are removing the thyroid, and then they will be able to tell if it contains thyroid cancer.

Courtney's son is my son's best friend.  This fact makes these events strangely familiar.

My daughter's best friend's mom had the same surgery five years ago.  Her mom's name is Terri.

So whomever my youngest son decides to choose as his best friend.  I feel it would only be fair to warn that boy's mother to keep an eye on her thyroid.

I will never forget the day Terri called me to let me know that she needed her thyroid removed.  I vividly remember being outside cleaning the above ground pool when she called.  I stopped and just let my feet be in the water while I let this serious news sink in and quizzed her on the details of her needed surgery and the possibility of thyroid cancer.

The news that Terri could possibly have thyroid cancer was an even deeper sting because of Terri's circumstances.  Terri's husband Sal was in the very advanced stage of early onset alzheimer's.  Terri and Sal were a few years older than me, but he was very young to be at the stage of alzheimer's that he was at.  It was very certain that, unless God performed a miracle, the girls would be losing their dad soon.  The girls needed their mom.

So I was praying to God even as Terri was giving me the details on the phone, begging God to take the cancer off the table.

Terri told me that because of the timing with insurance coverage, she was going to have to postpone her surgery until she had enough cash to pay for her thyroid to be removed.  I had God on three way, and I was telling Him that this was unacceptable.  If she might have cancer in that thyroid, it needed to be removed as soon as possible.

God answered all of those prayers.  God provided the money for her surgery.  And although the thyroid did have cancer, Terri has been cancer free for years.  The girls lost their dad very soon after that surgery, but they have had their mom.

So I remind myself that God can answer my prayers this morning as I intercede for Courtney.

Courtney's circumstances are different than Terri's but also quite sober.  The same week Courtney realized that she had the growth on her thyroid, her daughter Sydney, who was having digestive problems and stomach pain, was given the a diagnosis of pancreas cancer.  Cydney is only 19, and it is extremely rare form of cancer.

Intercessory prayer is not an easy thing.  We are selfish and self-absorbed creatures.  Sometimes we don't take other people's requests seriously.  We hear their requests and weigh the need in our mind before we take it to the Lord.  We decide how much God, how much faith, how much prayer the request needs.

I'm extremely guilty of this in the classes where I teach children.  They raise their hands and ask for things like "my grandpa is sick" and "my dog ran away."  Well how old is your grandpa?  How sick is he?  How long has that pet been gone?  Do you have other pets?

If I'm honest with myself, I do this with adults too.  I see prayer requests on social media all of the time.  Sometimes I drop to my knees, and sometimes I hit like and send up a "Yea, answer that, God."

Sometimes we are just to immature to understand how serious a request is.  I remember when I was just a teenager and an adult friend from church called to tell me about his dad's cancer.  The conversation went on for quite a while, and as he was talking, I got sucked into the tv show that was playing in the background.  Not one of my proudest moments, but my immaturity is my defense.  I had no scope of the seriousness of what this man was going through.

Imagine the maturity and wisdom Cydney will have after God brings her through this trial at such a young age.

Yes, intercessory prayer is hard, but it is beautifully gratifying.  Although we naturally are self-involved, it feels wonderful to pray for someone else and watch God answer those prayers.  We get to be the cheerleader, the wall watcher (Isaiah 62:6-7.)  We get to take our eyes off ourselves and become invested in what God is doing in our neighbors lives.

Can I ask you to do something for me?  Enjoy this worship and pray for Courtney and Cydney.  Pray that the thyroid will not contain cancer.  Pray God will heal Cydney.  Pray for her surgery on February 12th.  Pray for Courtney's husband Chris.  This is a tough time having both his wife and daughter facing serious illness.

"You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many." 2 Corinthians 1:11



UPDATE:  I received a text from my friend Courtney.  It was noncancerous.  No more surgeries.  No more meds.  Just healing.  God has answered prayers.


How my mom led me to salvation

When I tell my testimony, I always start with a prayer my mother prayed.  That is where it started.

I was twelve, and we had just moved back to the town of Burleson, Texas.  My mom had a deep longing in her heart to have her children in church and to know Christ.  So she prayed this prayer, "Lord, show me where we are suppose to go to church, and I will go."

Before this moment, our family had never been a church going family.  So this was definitely a turning point for my and my whole family.

Now that I am a mom, and I have a daughter that is halfway through her teenage years (Hallelujah!) and a son that is at the cusp of teendom.  I know how desperate that prayer might have felt.

There's worry, then there is worry about your kids worry, and then there is worry about your teenager worry.  It's the most powerless of the three, and the scariest.  You are letting go of all that control you had in those younger years.

Sidenote:  I took a personality quiz and found out I was half control freak and half perfectionist.  The perfectionist part I knew, but I didn't realize I wanted control all the time.  It should have tipped me off that the quiz was right when I wanted to start analyzing the quiz and see if I could rewrite it.  Ummm.  Control?

I've had nights were my worry for my kids has been so intense, I physically hurt all over.  Lord, forgive me.

My mom is not a control person though, she's a peacemaker.  That is why her prayer was so, so brave.  My dad didn't want any part of going to church, and he didn't for years after we started going.  Thank the Lord that my dad's heart was changed eventually.

All of these intense feelings and bravery must be why God loves and answers prayers of mothers.  He can see their hearts.  There are so many examples of God answering mother's prayers.  Hannah, Elizabeth, Mary, Sarah, Rebekah, Naomi, and Hagar all begged God for protection or provision and He delivered in phenominal ways.

God answered my mother's prayer too.  Within a few days, we received a letter from the church just a few blocks away inviting us to attend.

That Saturday my mother came into my room and said, "Tomorrow we are going to church so be ready" is seared into my brain.  It was so unusual and unprecidented.

We started attending South Burleson Baptist Church, and if we haven't, I know my life would not be the same.

When my mom prayed that prayer, she was leading me to Christ.  When my mom bravely took us to church against my dad's wishes, she was leading me to Christ.  When my mom continued to attend church even though it was difficult for her because of her anxiety, she was leading me to Christ.

The night I gave my heart to the Lord, another moment is seared into my memory, and I know it is seared into my mother's memory as well.  It is the memory of standing in front of our neighborhood church and telling my mom that I had asked Jesus into my heart.  God had answered another of my mom's prayers.

What about you?  Are you a mother with prayers for your children?  Are you a child with a praying mother?  Are you a child with prayers for your mother?  Take heart.

Be encouraged by Hannah.  She was praying so passionately to the Lord that the priest Eli thought she was drunk on wine.  Listen to what she told him, and what Eli told her.  The God of Hannah, loves you and wants to answer your prayers.

"'Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.' Then Eli answered, 'Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.' And she said, 'Let your servant find favor in your eyes.' Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad." 1 Samuel 1:16-18 ESV