Sometimes God Answers Prayer, but …

In the world you shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer;

I have overcome the world.

—John 16:33

Now, I know you are completely puzzled by the title I’ve used today. As a believer, did I really mean to say that “sometimes” God answers prayers?  Well, let me finish the sentence; you deserve that.

Sometimes God answers prayers by not removing the hurt we are trying to pray away. Just today I finally had to turn the news off for a while. The story about the three young women held against their wills in Cleveland for nearly a decade was too heart-wrenching to continue watching.  What about the pain, the agony, the throbbing disappointment that those praying families had suffered? The news media reported that one young woman’s mother died a few years ago of a broken heart. How does God answer prayer when your heart is breaking?

Believe me; He does answer. God gives us strength to bear the weight of the seemingly unbearable.

We live in this world. Jesus himself warned us that the world was not to be our consolation. He spoke to His disciples the words recorded by John. He speaks them to you and me. Jesus did not sugar coat our Godly futures.

Yes, you are anointed, favored and highly regarded by the Great God of the universe. But, sometimes, He leaves you in it rather than taking you out of the storms of life.

I read an old story about a father who took his child to the doctor to repair a cut above her eyelid requiring stitches. Choosing not to use an anesthetic, the doctor asked the child “Can you keep from jumping while I fix your eyelid?” The child replied, “I can if Daddy will hold my hand.” She went through the entire procedure without flinching.

What can you take? What pain are you able to endure? What will the world hand you tomorrow that will really test your mettle? (That’s your courage, determination and enduring spirit.) You can take anything if your Daddy holds your hand! Just ask Him.

Who’s Afraid of the Dark?

I will give you treasures hidden in dark and secret places.

Then you will know that I, the Lord God of Israel,  

have called you by name

—Isaiah 45:3, Contemporary English Version

 I, for one,

am not particular about being in the dark.  Actually, I prefer bright sunshine and well-lit rooms.

My favorite feature of the night is the brightness of the stars. These starry treasures point out that, even God wanted to punctuate the dark mantle of the night with a sprinkle of glimmer. I like that.

Life offers many contrasts. There are opposites and divergences.  Out of darkness comes light. Out of agony comes joy.

Someone has said that the richest blessings are often those that come to us in the night seasons of our lives, when we believe that we are surrounded by an unfamiliar haziness. In that hour, God sends a surprise package—some unbelievable delight.

There are countless stories of people who lost their homes during a flood. I have heard many people say that, after the loss, when those residences were rebuilt, they had an even better home.

The story is told of a man whose home and all of his belongings were washed away. On the darkest day, he stood to survey his losses as the waters subsided. Despondent, he saw an object shining in the mud. It looked like gold. And it actually was gold. The floodwaters, which brought ruin to his door, also made him very wealthy.

God will reveal to us hidden treasures in dark, secret places! This promise, this divine truth, comes today to brighten the night of your trouble, whatever it looks like. Look a little closer. You will see evidence of God’s hand, moving.

The darkness is not always the herald of shadowy things; sometimes it is about unanticipated blessings. Perhaps the night will usher in your next season of favor.

Mr. Demille, I’m Ready for My Close-up (or, Tyler Perry…Are You Out There?)


I must work the works of him who sent me while it is day;

night is coming when no one can work.—John 9:4 NRSV

 

 

Lights, camera, action!

Last Saturday evening, I trudged out into the February chill to hear author Eric Metaxas speak of how William Wilberforce launched a heroic campaign to end slavery.  There were a billion reasons that came to mind as excuses to stay home where it was warm and cozy. An hour and a half after taking my seat in the auditorium, I was glad that I came. Author of the book, “Amazing Grace,” Metaxas told riveting stories about how one person used his talent and influence to make a lasting global difference, impacting millions of people. The lecture was riveting and inspirational. I left telling myself:  “I’m ready to do something really big!”

I think I am ready for my Oscar. How about you?  Or we could plan a trip to LA, take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard and see if anyone placed our stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame…but forgot to tell us.

Among the more memorable words ever spoken in the world of cinema, for some strange reason, I suddenly recalled this famous line from the picture, “Sunset Boulevard.” Actress Gloria Swanson slinked down a winding staircase and said, “Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”  Swanson was Norma Desmond in the ‘50s classic and her lines addressed famed director, Cecil B. DeMille.  Playing Norma to the hilt, Swanson was ready to face all of “those wonderful people out there in the dark.”

There are even more people in the dark today. Who knew that we could find inspiration in the portrayal of an attention-driven actress? But this is the inspiration we need to tackle our God-given assignment and this is the strength we will find to help people walk into the light of Christ.

Well, this is the moment for your close-up.  I am challenging you to begin your most important quest—not necessarily to become a famous actor but to take on the pursuit of your really big role: accomplishing your divine purpose in life.

What is the one big thing you feel chosen to do? What great dream do you have for making a difference? What will you do to make the universe a more peaceful and joyous place?

You may be the one to positively impact someone halfway around the world. Closer to home, God may be counting on you to reach out in a new way in your own neighborhood or family.

Today is your day! This is the moment to find your true self.  If you don’t mind my saying so, it’s time to go big or go home.  Just go do it—whatever it is that God created you to do, do it now.  It doesn’t matter what work you envision; just don’t be a procrastinator. If you don’t do it, it may never be done. Ready for your close-up?

Watch Your Words!

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”  Proverbs 23:7

I worry sometimes that, when people walk past my door and hear me talking to myself—audibly—they may be concerned.  No need. Usually, I am speaking aloud those affirmations I need at the moment.

Positive affirmations are important. Speaking them aloud helps them to sink in better.

Did you realize that whatever you speak over your life is what happens?

Whatever you speak to yourself is the life you create.  When you speak words of healing, then, you are healed. You have the power to speak victory over every illness, every bout of depression or any negative situation.

What you say in your heart happens.  Those words that you speak to yourself internally are the words that grow out of your innermost thoughts.  When we envision something, we create our own reality.

There is a popular Donald Lawrence gospel song with the words, “encourage yourself in the Lord.”  Of course, those lyrics are based upon the Word of God.  “…but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.”—1 Samuel 30:6(b) (KJV) His life was in danger. He had suffered tragedies, now mutiny. His own troops were murmuring about stoning him. If David could speak encouragement, with all of the trauma and difficulties he faced, so can you.

When you do that—when you encourage yourself in God—the Lord Himself will, in turn, encourage you.  God hears; He listens. He uplifts you with heavenly encouragement. Just take note of the words recorded in Psalm 10:17 (NIV): “You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and listen to their cry.”

Watch your words because your words have the power to kill or your words can give life.  How incredibly wise Solomon was when he recorded this warning for our benefit:  “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.”—Proverbs 18:21(a)

The words that you nurture are the words that bear fruit.  Your words have a harvest. You plant them by speaking them and you can be certain that whatever you plant will grow. Just like in the natural world, if you plant corn, don’t expect to harvest green beans.  With the words you speak, you will harvest something, and you don’t want your harvest to be illness and despair.

While I acknowledge that it is human to speak words of doubt when you feel that there may be a reason to give up, we should never speak those words.  Make a commitment never to say, “I cannot do this” or “I won’t make it.” We serve a God who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask of Him or even think about asking. Apply this truth to your words.

Believe in your next victory. Speak it. Have confidence in the exceeding greatness of God’s power to bring what you believe to pass.

Joni Eareckson Tada Writes about Fear

Author and artist, Joni Eareckson Tada, has written a new booklet entitled Breaking the Bonds of Fear. The author is an amazing Christian woman who brings a new definition to the term “overcomer.”  In this publication, she shares her great gift of inspiration.

Those in Christian circles have long been encouraged by Joni’s inspiring response to a debilitating injury. Despite a diving accident which left her paralyzed, she has touched countless lives across the globe with the healing message of Jesus Christ.

In this new publication, Joni defines fear as the debilitating force that limits our ability to experience the life Christ plans for us and compares it to the reverent fear we should have for an awesome God. Fear is the opposite of trust and a clear enemy of Christian faith.  This easy-to-understand booklet will empower readers at any stage of growth.

The convenient size of this fold-out booklet makes it possible to tuck it into your bible for use during private meditation time as you read relevant passages, or to place it inside your purse or brief case for a quick read during a wait for your next appointment, or to carry to church in your iPad case.

This as a great resource for Bible study groups, book clubs or family devotionals.  The booklet is published by Aspire Press, a new imprint of Rose Publishing, Inc. Single copies are available online at various sites, including Amazon.com, Christianbook.com, lifeway.com, and barnesandnoble.com.  Multiple copies are available at a significant discount at www.rose-publishing.com.

An advance review copy of this book was provided by Rose Publishing Inc.

Sweet Beginnings!

Here we are.  Day #2 in what I have declared as “The Year of Opportunity!”

The past is our cherished history.  Tomorrow holds the great promises of God for a wonderful future, for accomplishing great things, and for fulfilling the purpose God has designed for our lives. Sweet!

There is nothing like a plate full of pancakes to make the sweet start of a brand new day. When my spiritual daughter, Kim, first came to visit me in Nashville, we left the airport and headed straight for Pancake Pantry. Not only is it a great place for celebrity watching, but also I have decided that one of the best eating experiences in the city is their sweet potato pancakes with cinnamon syrup.  Somehow, I think, that dish will be on the menu for at least one feast in Heaven.

In honor of sweet beginnings, I have decided to believe that this is the year.  Join me in affirming that every tomorrow comes bursting with wonderful opportunities. I will always cherish the past and hold on to the richness of memories, accomplishments, and dreams that have come true. However, the fact that I am still here is, to me, a sure sign that there is more in store.

What I envision for you in 2013 includes all of this: greater understanding, more days jam-packed with everyday joy, super-abundant opportunities, greater doors leading to fulfilled dreams, bigger triumphs, and enough prosperity that you can support cherished causes.  You can even become a grander “you” than you ever dreamed possible.

You must be more alert than ever of the negative force called “procrastination.”  It may be the one villain holding you back.  You may discover that the reason you didn’t accomplished the great things you set out to do in 2012 was that you kept postponing them. One of my biggest challenges is looking at a task, deciding it is too enormous, and then putting it off until tomorrow. Commit to doing something—anything—towards your biggest goal, doing it every day, and allowing nothing or no one to get in your way.  Start now. Failure is not an option.

This is the year to dream new dreams. At this very moment, God is putting fresh ideas into your mind. We are all very certain that God has a purpose for our lives. When we put ourselves into His hands, totally and confidently, the BIG dreams will come from Him. Do not be afraid of stepping out of your comfort zone. Be willing to stand still and watch God do the impossible.

You are on the brink of a promised victory. Just follow the advice of Moses; watch God perform a wonder. The problems and obstacles that looked so fearsome are about to be removed from your face forever!

Moses told the people, Fear not; stand still (firm, confident, undismayed) and see the salvation of the Lord which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians you have seen today you shall never see again.—Exodus 14:13 (Amplified Bible)

Can Fear Wreck Your Dreams?

I know a place
Ain’t nobody cryin’, ain’t nobody worried.
Ain’t no smilin’ faces…
I’ll take you there

These are the lyrics of the song made popular by the Staple Singers, “I’ll Take You There.” I don’t exactly know that place they sang about. Where is the hidden place they were going? Can there actually be an earthly place with no tears? No worries? Where is the place where dreams are fulfilled?

I stood outside a few months ago and watched the storms roll in. Clear skies were replaced by threatening, shadowy clouds. Fierce winds whipped the trees, pelting the ground with hail the size of quarters. It was fascinating. Whatever stockpile in heaven where hail was stored, must have been nearly empty.

“Mom, I forgot to tell you,” my daughter said. “You traded Midwestern snow storms for sunnier weather, but you may occasionally have to run for cover.”

In some ways, the storm opened my eyes. Our lives are much like that squall. Life is a passage from sunshine to rain. From balance to shakiness and back again. Our dreams can take us on a wondrous journey.  It is our dreams that transport us into the perfect future God designed for us.

Often, the storm that devastates our dreams is this:  our fears. Fear paralyzes. We fear being sick, forgotten, sad, heartbroken, alone or destitute. We fear being childless, homeless, demoted, undervalued, unappreciated, friendless or jobless. Some days we fear a combination of all the above.

Here are three simple affirmations for living an extraordinary life.  We can each put a stop to the self-defeating fears that destroy our dreams:

  1. I am full, strong, joyful, healthy and chosen. I will stop imagining the worst—My fears are a battleground. Sometimes the thing I fear the most is what I create with my imagination.  I refuse to get lost in the ordinariness of envisioning the most terrible thing that can happen.
  2. I dwell in God’s presence. I am never alone—The Creator of the universe cherishes me. My connection with God is the divine solution to my fears. Because I was created in His image, God has gifted me with His presence and with the power to overcome fear. That spark of divinity is the place from which I unfurl my greatest dreams.
  3. I claim all of God’s promises—I can tune in to God and His promises.  I believe that I am the joyous, triumphant recipient of all that has been promised.

 For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.”

                                                     Isaiah 41:13 (English Standard Version)

Getting to “Whatever”

“Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ.  This is what God wants you to do.”   1 Thessalonians 5:18 (Contemporary English Version)

             There are times in life when the atmosphere simply shifts. The earth moves. The stars swing into motion and reappear in a completely different part of the galaxy. It is at those times, that Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica speaks volumes. In those surprising “whatever” moments, that’s when life happens. When you face the unexpected. When some part of the mere process of living on planet earth simply jumps out of the darkness and shouts, “surprise!”

I know about “whatever” moments. And I know because the Lord designed a paradigm shift in my life. In a new, untried place, I learned a deeper lesson of what it means to completely rely on His design.  I live in a new place. I have a new, unanticipated marital status—widow. But, in your case it may be joblessness, finding a home, entering a relationship, having a child, facing an illness, finding financial balance. Any new phase can lead to those “whatever” moments. Mine is clearly a new walk, yet I trust that God’s guidance and sufficiency are not behind me—not in my past—they are ahead of me, in the future He is leading me towards.

When I spoke with a friend’s daughter who unexpectedly became a very young widow, I shared the importance of thankfulness at her new “whatever” point.

The advice of Paul is clear. When you come face-to-face with “whatever,” your response must be to immediately start thanking. Then, keep thanking.  Thankfulness is the posture God wants for you.

Even when we are blessed, secure, healthy and comfortable, we must constantly be aware of the fact that thankfulness, in every situation, is essential. Today, more than ever, I recognize small mercies. Never wait for the big miracles; be thankful for breathing, thinking, walking, talking, working, eating, loving someone and having folks who love you. Life sparkles when we give thanks in all things.

You get to that thankful place of “whatever” by growing up in your faith. And by trusting God for all of your tomorrows, even the unplanned ones. Do not hinder the work that God will accomplish in you by anything—especially by seeds of doubt about whether or not you can see all that is in your future. Because you cannot.

Still, know this. His abundance is enough. In that grace, embrace every one of life’s “whatever” moments.

(Image:  iStock Photo by Aldo Murillo)

When You Open Your Eyes, What Do You See?

“…I will guide You with My eye.”  Psalm 32:8 NKJV

Got healthy eyes?  If so, that is a reason to be thankful. Scientists tell us that nearly 4.2 million Americans are blind or visually impaired. Experimental therapies and modern technologies are opening up incredible doors for solving our vision problems. New treatments involve gene therapy, stem cell therapy and even modified versions of Vitamin A.

Not long ago, I panicked when I saw a small pool of shadowy spots drift across one eye. When I had my eyes examined by a young doctor—who, by the way, looked young enough to be a recent high school graduate—she assured me that “floaters” are not at all uncommon. The solution she proposed:  “Come back if they get worse.” Later, in the drug store, I was surprised to find an entire section of vitamins just for eye health. I bought some.

Each morning, when I open my eyes, one thing I am thankful for is vision. If I could not see, what would I miss? How would I work?

The eye has an infinite ability to express many emotions—what we feel, how we love, how we instruct, what we think. The eye speaks many languages. Just ask the mother of a young child how she uses an expressive look to speak a loud but voiceless, “No!” The strange and lovely words written by the psalmist remind us of God’s compassion, His gentleness. How remarkable to think that God has His eye on you.

What do you see when you look at God? What does God see when He looks at you? The greatest level of communication might well be those moments when we have eye-to-eye contact with God. If faith is our inner eye, in that contact, two become one. You and God.

In heaven, we have been promised to see Him face-to-face. Yet, for today, clear your vision and focus your gaze on God. Don’t miss His guidance. Prayer clears the vision. Meditating on Him adds light and focus. More prayer means that more light streams in and the brightness illuminates your day.

0.3 seconds. That is the time it takes for one blink. We lubricate our eyes with every blink. Each day, those 0.3 second blinks total thirty minutes. Thirty minutes of your waking time with eyes closed; you see nothing. In the spiritual context, fix your vision on God; try not to blink! Keep your eyes open.

Meeting God, eye-to-eye, opens the way for you to receive the message He has for you today. God is looking at you, individually. He focuses on your eyes in a sea of other faces. The mind of God shines through His gaze, caring for you. Look back. You’ll like what you see.

Lord, Bless This Mess

“Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah … saying,Arise, go to Nineveh…” But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord,and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish.” 

—Jonah 1:1-3

 Here’s a confession. I hear but don’t always listen.

To hear is to use your auditory senses. When you hear, you do so with your ears. When you listen, you take it to the next level. What you hear becomes the center of attention. To listen is all about focus, concentration, and tuning in to the broadcast. The conversation gets clearer.

On the other hand, human frailty is something like this: even when God speaks, we sometimes don’t listen.  Thus, my recent Jonah moment. In the Old Testament narrative, God spoke clearly and Jonah went the opposite way.

I can sympathize with Jonah. I think I know how he felt.  In my own self-created “situation,” I was on the boat leaving Joppa, heading for Tarshish when I knew perfectly well I should be in Nineveh.

And, no, it wasn’t sheer disobedience. I never refused to do what God said. In fact, I pledged to do exactly what God instructed, just not right now. The conversation went something like this:  “OK, Lord, I heard You. But I’ll be right back. Just let me run over here for a second and do this first.” It was a small request, I hardly thought He would notice I was missing.

From that moment, I was leaning into a headwind—the kind of gust that sucks the air out of your lungs. Two choices were involved and I picked the option that I favored.  The result:  a mess.

Choosing to do what we want is always prideful, self-centered and disobedient. We learn quickly that we can’t run away from doing as God instructs, Jonah-style. Nor can we quietly saunter away, full of logical explanations, like me.  Whether you end up getting thrown overboard in a fierce typhoon or simply have your eyebrows knocked askew by a powerful gust of wind, God’s message is clear. Stop doing what you want to do.  The plan we choose can never be as effective or successful as the plan God chooses for us.

Listen and learn.

Living in everyday joy doesn’t make you immune to making regretful decisions. It does give you peace in every mess. You cultivate the ability to pray and ask God to send a taxi…or a whale…going in the right direction. God honors us when He graces us with a work that becomes a blessing to someone else.  In the end, just turn around and pray for deliverance whenever you feel that messy wind start to blow.