Tag Archives: prayer

Isaiah 36-39; Counting The Days, or Days That Count?

Maybe it’s my age, but there are three people close to me who are battling cancer right now. One dear lady, after months of body-ravaging chemo, has decided to stop the treatment because it isn’t working. The doctors tell her there’s nothing more they can do, so she has gone into hospice care. Unless God intervenes (and that’s what I’m praying) she is at the end of her young life.

Another friend, who lost her mother to breast cancer just one year ago, has begun radiation therapy after surgery to remove a cancerous tumor on her own breast.

The other friend, is a man who beat cancer four years ago, but after a routine checkup was told cancer has attacked his other lung. He wonders if he has it in him to fight that battle yet again.

Hezekiah was facing death. He was sick, and it seemed nothing more could be done for him. But he prayed, and God spared his life, promising him fifteen more years on this earth. There are a lot of important lessons here, and I hope you’ll read these chapters and let God teach you what He wants you to know. Here’s what spoke to me:

God answers prayer.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Not all prayers are answered the way Hezekiah’s was. My friend, the mother of two teenagers, the wife of a man who loves her, a church secretary whose ministry touched so many lives, finds herself where Hezekiah was, “there’s nothing more we can do.”

But because God has not given her the same outcome as He gave Hezekiah, do we think her prayers are going unanswered? I love what Matthew Henry  says on page 880 of his Commentary in One Volume (Zondervan 1961):

“When we pray in our sickness, though God send not to us such an answer, as he here sent to Hezekiah, yet if by his Spirit he bids us be of good cheer, assures us that our sins are forgiven us, that his grace shall be sufficient for us, and that, whether we live or die, we shall be hiswe have no reason to say that we pray in vain. (emphasis mine)

My friend has something so much more important than physical health. If you knew her, you’d know that is true.

Interestingly enough, I was talking to my sister about this topic this morning even before I started studying these chapters in Isaiah. She said we (people) cling so hard to this life, when what’s ahead for believers is so much better than we can even imagine. We’ll get to heaven and say, “What was I thinking?”

Hezekiah did live fifteen more years, but the choices he made during those additional years had devastating consequences for the entire nation. He lived those additional years, but then he died anyway.

Now I’m not advocating we boycott physicians, nurses, hospitals, and medications. I do not believe we should adopt the mistaken philosophy that “God’s will be done” means I do nothing. God told those ministering to Hezekiah’s physical needs to put a poultice of figs over the boil and he’d recover. They did. And he did.

Oh, by the way. I think I know where the whole “God helps those who help themselves” thing started. Matthew Henry, whose insight into God’s Word I usually appreciate, said this about Hezekiah’s recovery: “help thyself and God will help thee.” (page 882 of Commentary in One Volume.)

Busted.

Seriously, Matt, do you have any idea the can of worms you opened up here? Some people actually believe those words are in the Bible. When the truth of the matter is, the Bible never says God helps those who help themselves. It clearly, repeatedly says God helps those who obey Him.

Read that part of chapter 38 again. God told them what to do, and they obeyed, THEN Hezekiah recovered.

So here’s what I get out of this today: my life is in God’s hands, and I’m ok with that. I want my days to be bathed in prayer, I want my mind steadfastly focused on God, I want to be sensitive to His leading, and I want to obey.

I’ll let Him count the days. I just want the days to count for eternity, for Jesus’ sake.

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Proverbs 21-24; Poverty-Stricken

It’s kind of hard to read these proverbs and not think about people other than myself. I mean, I don’t drink so you couldn’t say I’m a drunkard. I worked for 37 years, and am busy these days serving at my church so I wouldn’t be described as a sluggard. I’m honest most of the time. I’m not a jealous person, and my friends are upstanding, God-fearing people. So these proverbs must be talking to someone else, not me. Right?

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

“So read it again, Connie,” God seems to be saying. “I’m talking to you.”

So I read these chapters a second time. And a third. I looked at what a couple of people had to say about these proverbs, but mostly I just let God do the teaching about my walk with my Savior.

Which leads me to share my thoughts on the end of chapter 24. At first glimpse it seems to be talking about farming, about making a living. And if that’s all you get out of it, it’s still a good lesson. But when Solomon says he applied his heart to what he observed, I did the same.

What does this passage have to do with me? How can this passage be profitable to me, to correct and instruct me in righteousness so that I can be better equipped to do the good work God has for me to do?

When I take a good look at my relationship with my Savior, I wonder if it is well manicured, or if there are thorns and weeds allowed to grow. Have I neglected to root out sin in my life, am I ignoring the signs? One thing I know about gardening, if you don’t take care of the weed problem the minute it raises its ugly head, the harder it is to get rid of. Once those roots have taken hold, once it spreads, it’s a nightmare, and can take over your whole landscaping.

The same can be said of sin. If I allow sin to exist in my life, even just one more day, it doesn’t stay stagnate. It digs its roots in, and can take over my life. I don’t want Solomon’s vineyard in these verses to be a picture of my relationship with God.

The walls around the vineyard Solomon describes are tumbling. And God would have me look at the wall I’ve built around my heart. Am I really guarding my heart against the enemy? Or have I allowed it to crumble one thought, one TV show, one sin at at time? Is my heart exposed to the enemy due to my lack of care?

I’ve looked today at the land God has given me, this thing called salvation, and considered my care of this precious gift that is mine through the blood of Jesus. God would have me consider the time I spend in His Word, not just reading the verses, but letting the verses speak to me, to meditate on it, memorize it, ingest it so it becomes a part of me and crowds out any of the weeds Satan would try to plant before they take root.

God would have me consider how important is guarding my heart, taking a look at the wall that would keep out my enemy. Is it strong and healthy because I’m praying, being intentional about my walk with the Lord?

Or, and this is what convicted me this morning, am I too lazy to make an effort to make this relationship with God something really beautiful and fruitful?

A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man. (24:33-34)

The picture of a poverty-stricken soul makes me sad. If I’m thinking my walk with the Lord isn’t what it could be, if I feel a bit removed from Him, if I’ve allowed sin to grow like a weed, I need to get up and get to work.

Psalms 5-7; Waiting in Expectation

David certainly knew what it was to be mistreated, alone, physically and emotionally drained. In Psalm 6 he says things like: my bones are in agony, my soul is in anguish, I’m worn out from groaning, I weep all night.

My sister Peggy’s son Geoff died in a car accident in 2012. I have had losses in my life, times when I felt alone and defeated, agonizing over circumstances. But Geoff’s death is the single most devastating thing I have experienced. I, like David, had sleepless nights when tears drenched my pillow. I ached all over, and groaned uncontrollably.

Now I don’t want to compare my grief to anyone else’s. It’s not a contest. This aunt grieved deeply for the loss of my dear nephew. But who can touch a mother’s grief?

I watched my sister die that day, too. There was no life in her eyes. Smiles were forced. Laughter would occasionally break the mood, but it was short-lived. I will say her faith and hope in God never wavered. That deep trust enabled her to get out of bed each day, and has sustained her to this day. But the sadness was there, too.

I began to pray that God would restore her joy. Every day I’d pray that Peggy would know real joy once again. Then, over a year after Geoff went to live with Jesus, I was talking to Peggy on the phone when she said she woke up that morning and felt joy for the first time.

I was shocked!

“I’ve been praying for that,” I said.

Now why did that shock me? Why would I be surprised that God would answer my prayer?

My pastor shared a while back that he prays Psalm 5:3 to God every day:

In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation(emphasis mine)

I picture a child sitting in front of the Christmas tree, presents wrapped, waiting excitedly to see his wish list fulfilled.

That’s how David prayed. I think sometimes I pray because I’m supposed to, or because someone asks me to. I pray knowing God can answer prayer. I’m not sure I always pray expecting Him to.

Listen to what David says about God in Psalm 7: I take refuge in You, my shield is God Most High who saves the upright in heart, God is a righteous judge, and

I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High. (vs17)

David had confidence in God. He could lay out his troubles before God and believe that He would hear and answer his prayers perfectly. Then he would look for the ways God was working throughout the day, expecting to see His hand. Expecting God to answer His prayers.

My Dear Heavenly Father, let me tell you what is on my heart. I want to lay it all out there, and then wait expectantly for the ways You provide exactly what I need, the way You answer my prayers according to Your will. Make me aware of Your hand today, Lord. I will give thanks to You.

 

2 Samuel 16-18; Positive Thinking Garbage

Absalom wanted to be king over all Israel, and in order to do that he needed to get rid of his dad and his dad’s followers. Absalom wanted David dead. But in the pursuit of his father, Absalom got his hair caught in the branches of a tree, and became a sitting duck for David’s men. The rebellious young son was killed.

Now David had given strict orders that Absalom was not to be harmed. “Protect him,” the King pleaded with his soldiers.

So David sat expectantly at the city gates, waiting for word about the battle and fully expecting his son to be brought to him in chains. But alive. The watchman saw a runner in the distance, and told King David about it.

“If he’s by himself, he brings good news,” David declared.

The watchman saw another runner some distance behind the first. “This one’s bringing good news, too,” insisted David.

The watchman recognized the first runner. “He’s a good man,” said David. “He’s bringing good news.”

But we know neither runner had the good news David wanted to hear. All the positive thoughts David could muster couldn’t change the fact his son was dead.

We’ve all heard there is power in positive thinking, that if you think it you can be it, that negative thoughts bring negative results. David would tell you that philosophy is garbage.

Your thoughts, dear one, have no control over the universe. Positive thoughts might make you feel good, they might even prompt you to take positive action. But there is nothing magical about your thoughts. And anyone who tells you differently is lying.

However, if you direct your thoughts in prayer to God, and allow Him to work in your circumstances, you’ll be amazed at what He can do.

Last year I shared with you my encounter with Hurricane Matthew from the island where I live off the coast of Georgia. We are once again bracing ourselves for Irma. I’m not happy about it, for sure.

I don’t know what will happen. But I can tell you with all assurance I am not going to greet that storm, standing on the pier and thinking positive thoughts. I am not going to “will” the storm away by thinking good things.

But I am praying to the One who has control over the weather, as shown in Scripture. I am going to pray to the One who stood in the fire with three believers who told their would-be murderer, “My God can save us from this fire. But even if He doesn’t save us, we will not serve any other God. Period.” I’m praying to the One who does all things well, even when I don’t understand His ways.

Your positive thoughts going out into the universe are meaningless. Why not pray with me to the God who created the universe, and believe that no matter what happens, He is able to see us through.

My prayer is that, of course, we all will be spared from the devastation this storm brings with it. I pray that lives will be spared. And I pray that through this storm, the Spirit of God will speak to hearts who don’t yet know Him, and lives will be changed for eternity.

I’m asking you to pray for all of us in the path of this particular storm. I’ll keep you posted if I can. May God be praised in all things.

I Samuel 11-12; Convicted Again

I love God’s Word. I look at it as a personal letter written to me by the love of my life. Every day I hear Him encouraging me, directing me, reassuring me as I read these precious words. I open my Bible every day and expect God to speak to me. And He never fails.

But…

Sometimes I read what is on God’s heart, and find myself guilt ridden. I end my time with the Lord, and feel the sting of conviction. Today was one of those days that God thought I needed a good spanking instead of a pat on the head.

And what really bugs me about that is the thing He’s disciplining me for is something He’s disciplined me about before. Often.

How many times are you going to yell at me about this, God?

How many times are you going to ignore me, He seems to reply.

The subject is prayer. If you’ve been with me very long on this blogging journey, you’re probably aware that my prayer life can be lacking. It’s not that I don’t pray. I say grace before most meals, I offer sentence prayers to God throughout the day, thanking Him for things, praying a word or two on behalf of someone He brings to mind.

But so often in God’s Word I hear Him say He’d like me to be still, to spend time communicating with Him, that He longs for that kind of relationship with me.

Today He got down to business. Samuel, in talking to the Jews about the fact they were going to have to live with the consequences for the sin of asking for a human king, said these words that slapped me in the face:

As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you… (12:23)

So God, you’re saying that failing to pray is a SIN? Not just lack of discipline? Are You saying that when I promise to pray for someone and don’t, it’s not just forgetfulness? It’s a sin against the Lord?

Ok, God, I hear You. And I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I hear You tell me that entering Your throne room and laying my requests at Your feet isn’t just a suggestion. I understand prayer is a privilege. I’m seeing that not praying is a sin. There are so many people You’ve laid on my heart, so many illnesses and relationships that need healing. Forgive me for assuming that because You know everything anyway, You don’t need to hear it from me. Forgive me for sinning against the Lord when I don’t pray. I love You. I certainly don’t want to sin against You. Especially by neglecting something so amazing as talking toYou.

Numbers 21-24; Are You Really Going To Ask God For That?

I’ve always been a bit puzzled by Balaam’s story. It seems God told him to do something, then tried to kill him when he did it. (I also have to admit I laugh every time I read Balaam’s response to his talking donkey. He answered her like it was the most natural thing to hear words coming out of a donkey’s mouth. Makes me smile)

Anyway… I’ve spent some time looking at what others have to say about this passage of Scripture, and today the lightbulb finally turned on. Let’s see if I can put into words what I see here:

King Balak’s men came to a prophet by the name of Balaam, and asked him to join them, to go back to Balak, and to curse the people of Israel. Balaam does what I think he should have done, he waited for God to tell him His will in the matter.

Balaam ends up telling the men that God refused to let him go with them. Which was true. But Balaam left out an important detail. God had said, “You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.” That’s the message Balak’s men should have taken back with them. The story might have ended there.

But Balak tried again, with more important men representing him. Surely Balaam didn’t mean God was holding him prisoner. Maybe a new bunch of messengers would convince Balaam to come, with or without God’s blessing. Worth a try. Their request was the same as before: come with us and curse Israel.

Here’s another mistake: Balaam decided to go back to God and ask again what he should do. I wonder what made Balaam think God would change His mind about about not cursing His people. Maybe Balaam WANTED to go to King Balak with these important people. He said he didn’t want Balak’s money. But I wonder if his actions reveal something else.

Was he really asking God to give him permission to sin? Did Balaam want God’s blessing on sin? How many times does God need to say, “No” before we hear Him? (Should I curse Israel? Should I rob this bank? Should I spread this hurtful rumor? Duh!)

But this time God gives the go-ahead. So Balaam jumps on his donkey and heads to the king of Moab. God’s WILL was that Balaam stay. He made that plain the first time Balaam asked. But God gave permission for him to go after the second request. It was obviously not God’s will because He gave Balaam three opportunities to turn back. God tried to prevent Balaam from putting himself in a tenuous position. But it wasn’t until the donkey spoke up, that Balaam’s eyes were finally opened. He fell on his face, and admitted his sin.

The angel called Balaam’s actions “reckless.” Balaam called it “sin.”

Sometimes Scripture tells us to pray persistently. Like Jesus’ parable of the neighbor who kept knocking because he needed food for some unexpected visitors. Or like the Gentile woman who kept asking Jesus to heal her daughter. We learn that if we keep asking, there are blessings.

In this case, however, we’re told not to keep asking, or there are consequences. What’s the difference?

Sin.

You are wasting your breath if you keep going to God and asking Him to permit a sin, or condone a sin, or bless a sin. If what you are asking is clearly a sin, hear Him say the first time, “NO,” and let it go. You put yourself in difficult positions if you keep thinking He’ll change His mind.

But if what you are asking is in line with Scripture, then go for it. Keep asking. Keep praying. You might have to wait for an answer, but there are blessings even in the waiting.

Just be honest with yourself and God about what it is you are asking Him for. You can dress up a sin with good intentions, but it’s still a sin.

And God is never going to bless a sin, no matter how many times you ask.

Exodus 32; 960 Hours

It’s the middle of March. I’m wondering how many of you who made New Year’s Resolutions are still sticking with it. Myself? I quit making New Year’s Resolutions long ago. I stink at it.

But what about when we make promises to God? Are we able to keep those promises more than forty days? Forty days were all it took for Aaron and the Israelites to forget their promise to follow God, and make a golden calf to worship instead. 960 hours.

How seriously did God take their failure to keep their promise? 3,000 people died that day. I call that serious.

A man in my church lost a bunch of weight a while back. He looked great. I, who gave up my yearly resolve to lose these extra 15 pounds I’m carrying asked him how he did it. His answer? “I prayed.”

I don’t remember ever seeing an infomercial on that diet plan.

But my friend said that he prayed believing God would hear and answer his prayer. Then, every time he was tempted to open that bag of chips or have that second helping of dinner, he’d pray. And God answered his prayers.

Prayers. My friend lives his life in an attitude of prayer. And God answered his prayers as often as he prayed. He successfully lost the weight and has kept it off several years later.

I don’t think the Israelites did much praying when Moses was on the mountain. Because if they did, God would have answered their prayers. They would not have lost their confidence in God and Moses if they had prayed about that.

I take two things away from this chapter in Exodus today. One, God takes my promises to Him very seriously. And two, if I feel led to make a promise to Him, He is able to help me keep it. If I ask Him. And if I go to Him when I am tempted to break that promise, He will give me the strength to be successful.

He is able. And because He is, so am I.