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“I’ve prayed and prayed, and God doesn’t answer.” How many times have I heard that from frustrated people. I have voiced the same complaint. Faith and hope beckon to me with peaceful smiles on one side of an abyss while disappointment sighs, and resentment scowls on the other. The latter snaps its fingers ordering me to join them. How am I supposed to avoid all that negativity and lean toward the glorious promise in the midst of unanswered prayer?

The Bible instructs us to pray believing. For someone’s salvation, for the basics necessary to life, for healing.

If I am to pray believing, then I am to be expectant each day. This might be the day! And if God does not answer this day with “yes,” then I am to carry on peacefully and joyfully, persisting into tomorrow with the same prayer.

What about the complaint that I opened with? If God promises to answer our prayers, if He promises to give us the desires of our hearts, especially if we desire the salvation of someone, why doesn’t He? IS it His fault – He doesn’t keep His promises? I can think of three possibilities – and I’m sure there are several more.

  1. God giving you the desires of your heart comes from Psalm 37:4. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Ah, there’s a condition attached to that promise. Is Jesus my delight? Is joy and peace in Christ a way of life for me? Or do I run to Him with my petitions when I need help but otherwise don’t give Him a whole lot of thought? Evaluation Question 1: Do I really delight in God’s presence in my life every day? If the answer is no, God has no obligation to answer my prayers. He often does anyway, but He doesn’t have to.

bank

  1. God also promises to say yes if you pray in the name of Jesus (John 14:13-14). Now, that’s not a magic formula. “In the name of Jesus” is not to be used in the same fashion as “Abracadabra.” “In the name of Jesus” indicates that I know HE has all the authority, and I have none. He has all the wealth and power in the universe and beyond. I am penniless when it comes to eternal worth. When I come to Him with my requests, I must acknowledge that my own account is worthless. Evaluation Question 2: Do I realize that I’m asking God to benefit me with funds from His bank, that I have no riches of my own other than what He chooses to give me?
credit to MAUXWEBMASTER

credit to MAUXWEBMASTER

  1. Give it time, yes, more than you want to give. God is working it out. So many of our prayers hinge on someone else’s will. God is not going to override that. Otherwise, humans would be robots. But He does know how to bring someone around to His way of thinking.

Persuading people to change their minds takes time. It requires offering a series of choices and learning from the consequences of each. It depends on the individual’s stubbornness as to how many choices must be offered before the person “sees the light.” And like a chess game, God needs to make several moves and have all the pieces in place before the checkmate of salvation. Evaluation Question #3: Am I willing to give God as much time as He needs to put everything in place so my prayer will be answered? If the answer is “no,” if I’m not willing to keep praying – for decades if that’s what it takes, then how much do I really care?

Don’t think I’m a pointing a finger at you. I’ve had to ask myself the same questions. After seven years of prayer for one person, I get discouraged. Then I remind myself. God is God, and I am not. I get back on my knees, and I rise from there with a peaceful heart ready to move on with the tasks of the day.

And maybe today is the day.

Once I discovered The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare, I read it every year to my fifth grade class. And every year, I couldn’t make it through the whole book without breaking down into tears, always at the end, and often during one particular scene where a man lays down his life for his friend. Each time I pick up this beautiful novel, another vital lesson strikes home.

It’s not my purpose to tout the book. I already did that on my Scriblerians blog last year. No, I want to focus on that scene just mentioned.

en.wikipedia.org

en.wikipedia.org

To set the stage: a group of young Jewish zealots plan to rescue one of their members from a Roman slave caravan. They are strong, ambitious. They believe God is on their side. They contrive the “perfect ambush,” confident of success.

The raid fails. The Romans don’t panic, the plan’s time frame stretches like a rubber band causing their plot to become more and more fragile until it snaps back on them. Not enough weapons, not enough strength to break their friend’s iron bonds. The Roman guards close in.

Enter an unexpected source of help. He manages to free the slave then turn on the captors while the zealots make their escape. He saves the day – but doesn’t make it out alive. That’s where I lose it. I must have read the story twenty times or more, and I still sob over that selfless love.

credit to ejumpcut.org

credit to ejumpcut.org

 

The Bronze Bow is fiction. The Bible is not. The story of Christ’s sacrifice should reduce me to tears every time I read it. Jesus went beyond a mere rescue of a soul or two from the grasp of evil men. He sacrificed Himself for billions of souls, and even better, He still lives!

Too often, we Christians make the same mistake the zealots did in the novel. Our faith is strong, God is with us. Surely, we can save a lost husband, a lost wife, brothers, sisters, friends, children. But we can’t. Our brilliant debates, our enthusiastic persistence, even our acts of love can’t break the chains that bind people to unbelief. We are not strong enough.

The Bible is filled with verses about the strength of our adversary and how he and his cronies permeate everything on earth.

Check out Ephesians 2. There is a prince of the power of the air that presses mankind into disobedience beyond his own natural selfishness. Salvation does not come from our own efforts. It is the gift of God.

1 Peter 5. Satan prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour. We need God’s grace and guidance to know how to fight him off.

credit to scrapetv.com

credit to scrapetv.com

Any plan we make to defeat the enemy will fail if we depend on our own puny strength. Enter Jesus. He is the One who can swoop in, snatch the captive and free him, and fight off the enemy all at the same time. So why does He need Christians?

He doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing for us to do. When He makes a rescue plan, He gives us tasks to accomplish. Those tasks build our faith and teach us to become more and more like our Savior.

I know so many people who need salvation. You do, too. I’ve learned to start with prayer and wait for God to let me know what part I get to play in the rescue.

He may give me a prominent role or a one-liner. I might remain backstage, but every successful raid against the enemy has the ebullient mood of a successful play after the final curtain of its premiere. The cast party in heaven is going to be a lollapalooza!

credit to walkerthornton.com

credit to walkerthornton.com

 

I’ve been taking this course from Jesus titled “Dying to Self.” It’s one of those outcome based classes (those of you with an education background will recognize the term). I can’t move on to the next lesson until I’ve passed the test. And I keep failing.

Death to self isn’t as gory as one might suppose. I’m not required to commit suicide or anything. How could I move on to the next lesson if that were the case?

For a long time I thought dying to self required all kinds of sacrifices on my part. No indulgences, no activities that I liked – you know, legalism in the extreme. If I was having fun, I must not be dying to self.

 

credit to emilianperezansaldi.com

credit to emilianperezansaldi.com

 

No wonder I couldn’t pass the test. God didn’t want me to be a grim, walking-talking rules book. With some remedial work, He helped me figure things out.

Dying to self has almost nothing to do with self-discipline. It has everything to do with obedience.

When we think of obedience, we tend to think “don’t.” Don’t write on the walls with a crayon. Don’t stay out past curfew. Don’t drive over the speed limit. But obedience also involves “do.” Do visit a friend who needs a shoulder to cry on. Do clean the bathroom on a regular basis. Do eat all your vegetables.

 

credit to cambraza.blogspot.com

credit to cambraza.blogspot.com

Obedience should be easy if I want to do what God directs me to do, but too often it doesn’t work out that way. He might lead me to a great book that He wants me to read, but I won’t make time for it. Maybe He’ll nudge me to apply for a new job. What an exciting prospect! But scary, and I’ll be too timid to follow through. Or something as mundane as cutting down on soda. Yeah, that one requires self-discipline, but if I truly want to obey, He’ll give me the ability to do it.

The most recent test I’ve been given is the directive, “Go play.” How hard can that be? Jesus is telling me to relax, have fun. Take the Holy Spirit with me and enjoy my surroundings, my family, my friends. But I have trouble obeying. I worry and fuss over the problems of those close to me, so I want to stick around and tell Jesus how I think He should fix them. Like I know better than God?

 

Go play! credit to curezone.com

Go play!
credit to curezone.com

I know the right answers to “go play” in my head, I even obey part of the time, but once I’m in the test situation,  I want to take control as the problem-solver. God wants me to leave my loved ones in His capable hands, and prove my trust by exploring new vistas with the Holy Spirit. When I am able to fully obey His directive, I will have passed one more test in the coursework of dying to self.

Think about the tests God gives you. Have you been able to obey his orders? To die to yourself and live to please Him? I sure hope you’re a faster learner than I am!

 

 

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus gave the illustration of three servants who were given money to invest. Two of them earned good returns. With the World Series recently completed, you could say the first hit a home run and the second had an RBI double. “Well done,” said their master. The third was scared to make a wrong move so he made sure he didn’t lose the money. He refused to swing the bat and was called out on strikes. The boss was not happy.

 

Strike 3

 

I’ve always wished Jesus had introduced a fourth servant. What about a guy who invests the money and loses it? He swings with all his might but strikes out. Does the master say, “You’re fired?” Or “Poorly done, good and faithful servant?”

 

I’ve been mulling that one over. Maybe Jesus is telling us that if we make the effort to step out in faith and use our talents for Him, He’ll make sure there is a return on our investment. We will contribute to the team’s victory.

 

I confessed last month that I’m a natural born klutz. Along with a penchant for falling out of boats, I own a string of poor performances. I can’t water ski to save my life. During my one experience on snow skis, I spent most of my time sliding downhill on my backside. I can’t throw a ball properly, can’t swing a bat effectively, and my bowling scores are atrocious.

 

Why I'll Never Be a Ski Instructor credit to: twobeanornottobean.blogspot.com

Why I’ll Never Be a Ski Instructor
credit to: twobeanornottobean.blogspot.com

 

After years of failures, I wouldn’t even try to participate in anything athletic. Fear and pride took over.

 

Did my friends and family understand? Did they pat me on the head and say, “You poor thing. Just come along and cheer us on.” No! They told me to get over myself and have fun.

 

With a little maturity and a lot of trepidation, I returned to the world of sports. And you know what? I’ll never be the guy who received five talents. But God offered me a little mercy.

 

I’ve learned to see the angles in billiards. My coordination is erratic, but on good days I can beat my husband in Eight Ball. I can swim. No speed, but my endurance and buoyancy give me confidence to swim across a small lake if I have to.

 

I’ve used athletic talents to make a point, but God gives us all kinds of abilities, and He wants us to use them for His glory. Some people were born to run like Eric Liddell of Olympic fame.

 

2012_olympics_gold_medal

I was born to teach and to write. I will never win a gold medal nor am I likely to be nominated Teacher of the Year. Selling a blockbuster novel is a distant dream, but I do pour love into my students, and I pour words into this blog and other projects. I strive to honor Jesus in every endeavor.

 

Sometimes I fail, but I’ve also seen my investments pay off as former students return to thank me for preparing them for high school. I’ve watched them grow into servants of Christ and realize I contributed to their Biblical worldview. I receive feedback from readers letting me know how my writing encouraged them in their own walk with Christ.

 

Perhaps, God doesn’t pronounce praise over us because we’re so smart in how we invest our talents. He congratulates us on the fact that we screwed up the courage to act.

 

I invest my God-given talents in the faith that He is the one who makes my investments profitable. And if I fail, He is the one who chooses to allow failure to happen. Jesus won’t fire me on the day of reckoning. If I made an honest investment, I will still hear:

 

Well done

my2ndnature Linda Samaritoni:

Powerful witness by Leah Ness

Originally posted on Isaiah 43:1:

tumblr_mmtsumPwXC1r9zlymo1_400

Three months ago, almost to the day, I set out to have a great adventure with God. I left behind almost all the people and things that used to mean ‘home’ and headed out into the wild blue yonder, hoping and trusting that God had my back.

I was sure that taking this leap was going to strengthen my faith and bring me closer to Him. But as the days trickled into weeks and months, I felt my strength melting away and my faith felt weaker than ever.

I couldn’t figure out why all my best laid plans were crumbling. I had felt so well prepared, so eager to showcase God’s greatness. I felt like I’d spent months, maybe even years, sculpting this offering of a good Christian heart to lay at the feet of my King.

Imagine my hurt and confusion when my beautifully sculpted offering began to melt.

View original 425 more words

Any Christians out there have the “following Christ” thing down to perfection? No? Didn’t think so. Every honest Christian I know goes through the despair of ever getting it right. Our best laid plans…

 

We are klutzes. Stumblebums. We slip on banana peels. Our spirits are willing, our desires pure, but we mess up trying to carry them out.

 

banana peel

 

I freely admit I’m a klutz, both in physical coordination and in my spiritual walk.

 

dock pile

 

One particularly embarrassing incident occurred in high school involving a dinghy on a romantic little inlet off the bay one lovely autumn afternoon. As we pulled up to the private dock, my date (let’s call him George to protect his identity!), realized he didn’t have a rope so he could moor us to the post. “Just stand in the boat and hold on to the dock till I get something,” he told me.

Seemed simple. As he headed toward a nearby shed, the boat began to pull away, and my weight and strength were not enough to pull it back against the dock. I had to make a choice: let go of the post and drift away with the boat or hang on to the pile and fall out of the boat.

I’m sure George disagreed with my decision. Remember, I’m a klutz. I didn’t trust my own rowing abilities to get me back to the dock. In my defense, I did try to hang on to the boat to the very end with the tops of my feet as my five foot five inches stretched between the dock and the dinghy.

George returned to find me hanging on to that post with my lower half submerged. Always a gentleman, he hauled me up on the boards first, then jumped in the water to chase down his boat. That might have been our last date.

 

photo credit: clarkjbrooks.blogspot.com

photo credit: clarkjbrooks.blogspot.com

 

I’ve observed two reactions from Christians who are disappointed in their efforts to follow Jesus. Either we hold on to Christ for dear life like a man dangling from a cliff holds onto a rope (having fallen off said cliff in our klutziness), or we give up, say, “I’m not trying anymore,” and live whatever way we please for the moment. To continue with the word picture, we let go of the rope, drop a few feet to a God-provided ledge, then spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out how to climb to the top of the cliff all by our lonesomes.

Meanwhile, God remains at the ready if we would just ask.

By now you can surmise I have dangled from many cliffs, and each time Jesus hauls me up. I can’t imagine giving up and letting go of my only possible means of safety.

 

photo credit: snowaddiction.org

photo credit: snowaddiction.org

 

If you have let go and given up on God, do you feel your life is better for it? And if you find yourself in even more despair, remember: God will still throw you a rope and pull you to the top. If you ask.

 

 

Last week we left Junior prancing down the street with balloons of love and goodness bouncing along behind him. He knows God loves him, blesses him, and he’s learned that he can share those blessings. The more he shares, the more joy for everybody.
I’ve enjoyed creating these theoretical conversations with a kid all summer, and today’s is the final segment. The last part of the last verse of Psalm Twenty-three. How will Junior put the whole thing together?

 

CS-Lewis-Quote-Living-Forever
Theoretical Conversation #12

 

You: And what happens next as goodness and love follow you?
Kid: I dwell in the house of the Lord forever. I go to heaven!
You: Right. All those good balloons for your whole life and then heaven forever.
Kid: Yeah, and all I have to do is good stuff.
You: Whoa! You’re forgetting the other five verses. The last verse is just what happens because of the others.
Kid: But you said goodness will follow me my whole life and the more good stuff I do, the more good stuff that follows.
You: I did say that. And where did all that good stuff come from to start with?
Kid (has to think back as he mumbles the entire psalm): The Shepherd prepared the table for me.
You: So the Shepherd’s the one who gave you all your blessings. And how come He gave you blessings but not everybody?
Kid: I don’t know.
You: Keep going backwards through the psalm.
Kid: He uses the rod and staff to comfort me…
You: Keep going.
Kid: I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death…
You: And you fear no evil. Keep going.
Kid: He guides me in paths of righteousness…
You: Ah, now you’re getting somewhere. Keep going.
Kid: He restores my soul…
You: And?
Kid: He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters…
You: And who is doing all this for you?
Kid: The Shepherd.

 

green pastures

green pastures

You: And why does He do all that – the pastures, the water, restoring your soul, comforting you?
Kid: Because I’m a sheep?
You (triumphant): Yes! Because you’re a sheep! A sheep follows the Shepherd. That’s why you go to heaven.
Kid: Because I follow the Shepherd, because I follow Jesus.
You: That’s it.
Kid: So it all goes back to the first verse? I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever because the Lord is my Shepherd.
You: The Shepherd starts it all. We get to go to heaven because of the Shepherd. Beautiful, isn’t it?

 

 art by toia Thompson

art by toia Thompson

 

 

I’ve always pictured Junior at approximately eight years old. Soon, my four-year-old granddaughter will arrive for a visit. I’m going to try the same kid conversations with her and see how she responds. If she comes up with some adorable insights, I’ll share them with you.
In the meantime, I’m ready to return to creating spiritual metaphors from the physical world as such thoughts come to mind. I would appreciate feedback on this: if you look in the archives to see other types of blog posts I’ve written, would you prefer to see them as a Conversations-with-kids format? Or do you prefer the original style? Thanks for any help you can offer.

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