For All the Beauty All Around Me

Today is the third week I have not been able to make it to church.  Two weeks ago I was in too much pain to go.  Last week we were all snowed in and church was cancelled. Today I am suffering again from pain.

Feeling a little down – I miss my church family, I miss the corporate worship and most of all I miss hearing the sermons my pastor shares.  Although I am sure I am a little prejudiced because my pastor is my daughter, she is one of the best speakers I have ever heard and I always seem to find something to encourage me or challenge me when she speaks.

My husband and I did our own devotions.  As I thumbed through my Bible afterwards I came across this beautiful old song.  It reminded me that whether I am in church or at home,  whether I am in pain or not, whether my spirit soars or descends – there is so much beauty around me.

So I choose to remember all the goodness of the Lord and reflect on these words:

For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies.  For the love which from our birth over and around us lies. 

Lord of all to thee we raise, this our joyful hymn of praise.

For the beauty of the hour, of the day and of the night.  Hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light.

Lord to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise.

For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child.  Friends on earth and friends above.

Lord to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise.

For each perfect gift of thine to our race so freely given.  Graces human and divine, flowers of earth and buds of heaven.
Lord to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise.
Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: JOHN RUTTER
For the Beauty of the Earth lyrics © WORD MUSIC, INC., HINSHAW MUSIC, INC., HINSHAW MUSIC INC (CHRISMON MUSIC DIVISION), OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS UK

Why Do I Pray?

Growing up in a Christian home, I learned to pray at a very young age.  Prayer was an important part of my family’s life.  Every meal we took turns thanking God for our food.  As the “baby” in the family my first prayers over meal time were memorized prayers like

God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food.

But as I started school it was expected that my prayer would become a “real” one prayed from my heart and not my head.

Before we went to bed at night we would all gather in the living room and pray together as a family.

So prayer to me is just a natural part of my life.

Lately, however, I have asked myself “why do I pray?”  Is there “magic” in prayer?  Does my prayer change God’s mind?  If I did not pray for someone, would their need still be met?  If someone’s request is answered, is it because I prayed?

Prayer is a mystery.  There have been times I believe I prayed and saw immediately a direct answer to that prayer.  There have been times I prayed and wondered if God even heard me.

So, since I have no real answers to these questions about prayer, what do I pray?  Why do I believe in prayer?

First I pray because of the example Jesus gave us.

  • And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
  • In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.

Even in his greatest moment of anguish He prayed.

  • My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as You, not I, would have it.

Second, I pray before Jesus told us to.

He gave parables about the importance of continuing to ask and not give up.  He also gave us specific things to pray about.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

This is one prayer I think the church may have forgotten as we hear such hateful language now directed toward those who disagree with us.

Several times in his teachings he used the phrase When you pray.”

Not “if” but “when.”

He told us to pray for laborers to share the gospel.  He told to pray that we would not yield to temptation.  In the Lord’s Prayer He made it clear that praying with unforgiveness toward someone else in our hearts will be a barrier to our prayers being answered.

But perhaps the main reason I pray is that it strengthens my relationship with God.  As I pray to God, I am again reminded of my need for Him.  I am encouraged to know I can talk to the Almighty and that He cares for me and my needs.

I think of my relationship with my husband.  Our closeness would not last long if we never communicated with one another.  A good marriage requires good communication.

As I pray I maintain that relationship with God.  Recognizing that prayer is for me one of the ways to keep my relationship with God thriving, I know my prayers must be more than just a grocery list of “God, do this and God, do that.”

Again, in my communication with my husband if I only spoke to him when I had a list of chores I wanted him to do, our relationship would not be warming and loving.

My praying to God helps me remember all the blessings I have received and to maintain a grateful heart and attitude.

Finally as I pray for others my heart is opened to their needs and I find myself not just praying for God to help them, but I often find ways that God can use me to be that help to them.  It opens my heart to others.

So I pray.  I pray with expectancy that I speak to one who is loving and powerful and that although I do not understand it all, prayer matters.

 

 

 

 

 

The Day I Let My Pain Go!

Thirty-eight years ago my beloved husband and father of my two daughters was killed in an accident.  Only those who have suffered the loss of a loved one know what sorrow I felt.

In that first moment when I realized I was a widow at 33 with two little girls to raise, the first thing I did was cry out to God.  Since a small girl I have based my life on my faith in Jesus Christ so it was only natural that my first thoughts were “God help me!”

Immediately a verse from the Bible came to my mind.

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

In the days and weeks ahead God gave me the strength and courage I needed to make so many decisions.

Things I had never thought about:

  • What funeral home do I use?
  • Where do I bury him?
  • Will I have enough money for the expenses?
  • How will I provide for my girls on my one income?
  • How far will his life insurance go?
  • Since I have to keep working, who will watch my girls before/after school?
  • Do I continue to live where I am or move closer to family for support?
  • What do I do with all his clothes, his guns, his personal stuff?

But the biggest decision was “how do I get through a day without him?”

While everyone talked about how strong I was, only God knew how many times I fell to my knees and cried out for strength.  One of my friends had recently recorded this song, “Praise the Lord,” and when I felt I could not go on, I would play this song and as I began praising the Lord, peace would come once again.

 

But slowly, as the months, then the years went by the burden of my grief became almost more than I could bear.  While the love for my husband did not diminish, I confess I became very lonely.  The idea of all the years stretching ahead of me with no one to share them with me became almost overwhelming.

I began to entertain the thought of finding a new love.  Yet, I felt so terrible even thinking such a thing.

One Sunday in service the speaker sang an old song “Take My Hand Precious Lord.”  The lyrics expressed exactly how I felt.

“Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand.  I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.”

After the song was finished, the speaker invited anyone who was struggling with a burden to come to the altar for a joint prayer with the church.  While I definitely wanted prayer, I did not want to walk to the front of the church – too embarrassing.  As I sat in my seat debating what to do, a old friend of the family who was sitting in the very front of the church got up, walked back to me, held out his hand and invited me to walk to the front with him.  How could I say no when my heart was crying out for relief of this burden of grief?

At the altar I quietly asked God to please take this burden of grief from me.  I could not go on year after year like this.  It suddenly came to me that God could give me peace, but I had to be willing to let go of my grief.  Like a light bulb going off, I realized that I was holding tight to my sorrow because I felt that was all I had left of my husband.  To be willing to stop grieving, to be willing to laugh and love again, I had to “let it go.”

Praying to God to help me, I felt as if a heavy load had been lifted from my shoulders.

I felt the peace of God that passes understanding fill my heart.

Did I quit missing my husband?  Of course not.  Even today I cannot see a young man fishing without seeing my husband with his fishing pole slung over his shoulder.  I cannot see a police officer without seeing my husband in his uniform as a prison guard.

Did I quit loving my husband?  Of course not.  I treasure his memory and look forward to seeing him again some day in the next life.

But I was able to finally understand that constantly grieving, being filled with sorrow was not how he would have wanted me to live.  He would want his memory to bring a smile and he would want me to live and laugh again.

I let my pain go – and accepted the peace Jesus offered me.

Another song I now love to hear that says it so well:

And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that you were never left alone ‘Cause you can always count on Jesus’ name.  And if there’s one thing I pray it’s that Jesus helps you find a way to make a change and listen to your heart.  God will take away your pain if you choose to let it go, if there’s one thing I know.”

By this post I do not mean to sound like Pollyanna and to those who are suffering unbearable grief, I know it is not an easy thing.  But I do hope you will seek the peace of God and allow Him to help you.

 

Stand Firm – Love Well

My church has been doing a sermon series on the book of Daniel.  At first glance you might wonder how a book written thousands of years ago has any relevance to today.  As I listened to the messages each week I found it clearly spoke to our current culture today.

As a Christ follower I often find myself in total disagreement with the values all around me.  Much of society speaks and acts in ways so opposed to the words of Jesus Christ.  Everywhere I look – entertainment, fashion and especially politics I find much to disagree with and can often find myself feeling overwhelmed.

How should I respond to my culture when I am so many times in disagreement with it?

Probably each generation thinks they are the first ones to face this perplexing situation – when our own values and lifestyle seem so different from the lifestyles about us.

But we are not the first.

Looking at Daniel we see a young man taken by force from his own home and placed forcefully into a totally alien culture.  The food was different, the religion was different, the customs were different.  Even his name was changed from a name that meant “God is My Judge” to Belteshazzar which meant “Bel protects his life.”  His very identity as a believer in the God of Israel was challenged by this new name honoring an idol god of the Babylonians.

I struggle with the friction between speaking the truth, not backing down from the principles I strongly believe to be right and showing the love of God to those whose beliefs are different than mine.

How do we “stand firm” but “love well.”

Daniel is a good example of that.

He and his friend stood firm on their foundation of faith refusing to bow down to idols and continuing to speak to God when the king said they could pray to no one but himself.  They were willing to lose their lives for their belief in God.

However, if you read Daniel’s interaction with the king he was always respectful and never spoke in anger or showed irritation with the king.  He served within the Babylonian government and obviously worked for the good of the government disobeying only when his basic belief in God was challenged.

We need to follow his example.

Stand firm – never compromise our principles even when it may led to persecution or difficulty.

Love well – never treat those who disagree with us with disrespect or hatred.

My pastor ended Sunday’s sermon with a powerful question:  Do we truly love our enemies as Jesus told us to do.  We often say to “hate the sin, but love the sinner” but in truth do we love the sinner?

A great example of this today I feel is how so many famous Christian ministers are calling for the church to pray for Donald Trump.  We should do so.  The Bible clearly tells us to pray for those who are in authority over us.

But where is the call for pray for Nancy Pelosi or Adam Schiff?  The Bible clearly tells us to pray for those who persecuted us.

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum – which ever politician you would view as the enemy, I challenge you to pray for them.

Let us Stand firm but love well!

 

 

Do I Reflect Being With Jesus?

Every Sunday I meet after church with a small group to study the Bible and right now we have started walking through the book of Acts.

One story in chapter 4 of that book really makes me stop and examine my own Christian witness.

Peter and John had been brought before the religious leaders who were disturbed at the message they were sharing with the people.  A message that Jesus had risen from the dead.  A message of hope for salvation in those who believed their report.

After careful questioning they ordered them to never speak or teach again in the name of Jesus.  They answered that “We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard. “

History tells us that they did not stop but later it is reported that in Thessalonica it was said of the followers of Jesus “they have turned the world upside down.”

What caught my eye in this passage of scripture is the religious leaders description of Peter and John.  They were amazed at the boldness of these ordinary men who had no special training in theology.  They recognized these two as men who had “been with Jesus.”

How was it these ordinary fishermen became bold and successful messengers of the Good News that Jesus Christ died and rose again and that belief in Him led to salvation?

They had spent time with Jesus.

Examination of my own life makes me question.

Does my witness to the goodness of Jesus reflect that I have spent time with Him?

My language, my attitude, my compassion, my awareness of the needs of others, how I spent my time and my money – would people say of me that “she has been with Jesus”?

That is my prayer today.

Heavenly Father, help me to spend time with you – in Your Word, in Your house, with fellow believers, in quiet times of worship.  Help me turn off the television, the internet, stop fussing about having a perfect house.  Keep me from the things that would distract me from time with you.  Then, help live in practice of what I profess to believe.  Help me treat others so that they will know I have been with You.

 

 

 

 

How Do You React When Persecuted?

It’s the holiday season and so it begins.  Many Christians complaining because people are saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”  I hear claims that we cannot now say “Merry Christmas.”  But no one is stopping us from saying that.  A few employers may ask their people to use the “Happy Holidays” response to customers, but they still can wish a “Merry Christmas” outside their employment.

Is this persecution?  I don’t think so.

Last Sunday was the National Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  Want to know about “real” persecution.  Read my post:

“Miracle Boy”

Now that is persecution!

Reading today from the book of Acts I was impressed again with the early church’s reesponse to persecution.

Ater the apostle were jailed for preaching about Jesus and warned not to do so again, they immediately went to the church and there was a prayer meeting.

Now, if that was us I think our prayers would be:

Lord, we are being so persecuted.  Please save us!  Please destroy the power of our enemies.  Protect us!

But that was not their prayer.

They prayed:

“Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:  ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one. Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.   They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.  Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

Consider their threats and make us bold to keep sharing your word.

Let’s stop worrying about whether others say and let’s just keep sharing the love of God.

 

 

Do All You Can

Today’s devotion was the story of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana found in John’s Gospel.  Every time I read this story I try to imagine how the servants must have felt when Jesus had them filled up the jars with water and then told them to take it to the guy in charge of the wedding feast.

Questions I have:

  1. Did they hesitate at all?
  2. Did they taste the water first to see how it tasted?
  3. Could they tell the change in the water by just looking at it?  I’m guessing that wine would look much different than water.
  4. Did they hang close by to see the man’s reaction when he tasted the wine?
  5. What stories they must have had to tell their family that night about this miracle!

My first few times reading the story I wondered why Jesus had them fill the jars with water.  Could he not just have spoken and had wine fill the jugs?

Of course the answer is open to anyone’s interpretation but here is mine.

  1. They could verify that the liquid in the jars had been water and that Jesus did not somehow find wine and put in the jars.
  2. More importantly, they would be a part of this miracle.  They could say “we filled the jars with water for Jesus.”

And my own personal take away from this is that I should not just sit and wait for Jesus to meet a need.  I need to be willing to do what I can.

My husband often says:

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When I have done what I can – God will do what I cannot.

Do not mean to imply that we do what we can before we ask God or trust Him.  But too often I think we tell someone we will pray for their need when we should also ask what we can do to help meet their need.

Often we are helpless.  But many times we can and should be the hands and feet of God to meet a need.

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?  Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.  1 John 3:17-18