Look at Me

“You, O Lord, are the lifter of my head.”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭3:3‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I witnessed this the other day. Actually, we all do every day. People walking around literally and figuratively needing a head lift. Sometimes it’s the person in the mirror.

When I read this verse recently, a familiar image came to mind. Picture a discouraged child, head down, not wanting anyone to see their eyes, possibly hiding their tears. They’ve been asked several times, “Look at me!” After several refusals, the inquirer gently puts their first few fingers under the child’s chin lifting their head in order to force eye contact. With that gesture, change becomes possible. The child looks into another pair of eyes offering forgiveness, understanding, empathy, strength, hope, protection, peace, or love.

In my relationship with God, I can often forget to allow him to lift my head. I’m satisfied to look down. To see what I want to see. To accept less. To tolerate guilt. To self-protect. To wallow. To be a stubborn child.

This Psalm was written by David in an extremely sad time. His own son was after him. Can you imagine how downcast David was? David helps us see how important it is to allow God to lift our heads. To be Fathered. To see what we need to see. To receive more. To embrace mercy. To drop our guard. To stand tall. To be a changed child. To obey the first time God whispers, “Look at me.”

His Word, His Way

(Day 6 of a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

Nebuchadnezzar asked them, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, is it true that you don’t serve my gods or worship the gold statue I have set up? Now if you’re ready, when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, drum, and every kind of music, fall down and worship the statue I made. But if you don’t worship it, you will immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire—and who is the god who can rescue you from my power?” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” Daniel 3:14-18 (CSB)

In this passage, the young men Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego display an exemplary level of faith. They tell the king in no uncertain terms that they trust God to be able to rescue them from the current threat and any other that the king could give. They know that He is powerful enough to save them from the furnace, and they believe that He will because He is a good God. But they go further than that.

These three were no longer children; they had grown up during exile from their homeland. They were surrounded by a culture that was contrary to their faith, but they did not waiver. They were willing to throw themselves into the Father’s arms regardless of the outcome.

They declare to the king that they would not stop following God even if they knew that He would not save them from the furnace. They believe that God is good regardless of their own circumstances or outcomes. They believe that following the one true God is more important than their own safety, because His word is true, and His ways are right. Just like a young child, these young men trust God entirely.

As adults we know that life is hard, and trials come. Even so, our prayers should reflect our belief that we can trust Him no matter what. We can throw ourselves headlong into His care, knowing that whatever happens, He will be glorified, and we are already saved. As we pray, we know that we can trust him, because His word is true, and His ways are right.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blessed assurance control,

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed his own blood for my soul.

“It Is Well with My Soul”

By Kyle Reilly

Childlike Simplicity

(Day 5 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

In many cases, prayer is a subject that comes easy to new believers. Just like a child to his/her Father, we realize how small we are compared to the greatness of the God of the universe. Because of this, we are quick and willing to go the Lord in prayer, laying all of our burdens before Him. After all, He cares for us. 

…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

Something begins to happen to that childlike simplicity as we mature as a Christian. When we begin to grasp the nature of God and the fact that He is all knowing (John 16:30), that knowledge begins to affect the way we pray. Why should we pray if God already knows our need? Why should we share our heart with God if He already knows the contents of it (Matthew 6:8)? Greater still, why should we pray if God is ultimately going to work all things together according to the council of His own will?

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will… (Ephesians 1:11).

It is at this point that we need to have our mindset reshaped as far as how we think about prayer. Prayer is less about how we get things from God and more about our relationship with God. Bluntly framed, God is not in need of our prayers. He is not frantically waiting to act until we ask Him to intervene in our lives. He is not “shook” nor can He be shaken. God is the sovereign creator and King of the universe. He is, of His own self, independent and self reliant. More specifically though, He is our God. He entered into covenant relationship with us through faith in the work of His son. This makes us His children. Childlike praying offers us an opportunity to know Him better, trust Him more, and understand deeper the vastness of His love for us. 

It has been said that communication is the key to any relationship and it is never more true than with our relationship to our Heavenly Father. God uses this communication not so much to change a specific circumstance in our lives but more to change us as faith followers. Simply put, prayer is a means of grace that God uses to shape us into the image of Christ.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

This causes me to think the way Paul thought…that in every situation, my immediate circumstances are less important compared to the “surpassing value” of gaining Christ.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ… (Philippians 3:8).

By Doug Hull

Our Prayers: Childish or Childlike?

(Day 4 of a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”- Luke 12:32

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Luke 11:13

One of my adult children needed to run an errand but could not because of other obligations. It was something that I could gladly and easily do. It brought me joy to grant the request. Then I realized that our Heavenly Father also finds joy in granting our requests, when they are for our good and His glory.

However, there are times when our requests become more like demands of God. We do not pray in a childlike manner, but in a childish way. Jesus reminds us that we must have the humility of a young child when we come to him. In fact, he taught his disciples that they must become like children, or they would not enter heaven. (Matt. 18:1-4)

Sometimes children will repeatedly ask parents to grant a request. A little later they will start asking the same thing again. While Jesus warned against vain repetitions, he taught that we should be persistent in prayer. When he told us in Luke 11:9-10, to “ask, seek and knock,” some translations in a footnote indicate the meaning as “Keep on asking…” He also told of a man who continued to ask a friend for bread. His bold persistence was rewarded, and he received the bread. (Luke 11:5-8)

Sometimes we act as though an elaborate display of words will impress God. We fail to take time to listen to him. We can learn some valuable lessons from children’s prayers. It happened to me years ago when our four-year old grandson was spending the night.

As we were having bedtime prayer, he ended with his usual “Amen.” I followed with a short, simple prayer. Then he turned to me and said, “Grandma, I had already prayed,” (as if one prayer were enough.) I replied that I just wanted to talk to Jesus too. He answered, “I want to talk to him again.” He then prayed, “Dear Jesus, when we get to heaven, can we come to your house?” After a long pause, as if waiting for an answer, he added, “Okay, goodbye.”

“Father, help us to realize that a simple two-way conversation with you can be a deep, meaningful experience. Amen.”

By Pat Browning

Faith Like a Child

(Day 3 of a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

“Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Matt. 18:2-4

I have always heard that Jesus calls us to have “faith like a child.” And that is absolutely right, of course; but what does that mean?

I have had the privilege to work with children in different capacities since I was in 6th grade. So, I used to think I had it figured out. Boy was I wrong. God is still teaching me what it truly means to have childlike faith.

As I think about it today, what I am inspired to focus on is the absolute, unwavering confidence that children place in their earthly fathers. I wonder if God makes some of us this way as children to prep us for adulthood and the confidence we should have in Him.

Let me share a story from my childhood to express what I mean. I was probably eight, which means my little brother was four. We each had our own room, but we were having a sleep over in his room on this particular night. In the middle of the night, we heard a scary rattling noise.

To us it sounded like a diamond-back rattle snake had slithered its way into the bedroom and was looking for some small boys to strike with its dripping fangs and eat. So we ran straight out of my brother’s room and into my parent’s room and woke up our dad.

We told him the situation, and he went to investigate. Here’s the thing, my dad is a tall, strong, and smart man. So my brother and I were not scared anymore with him on the job. There was no doubt in our minds that no matter how big that snake was, it had no chance against our dad! He would defeat that scaly beast before it could even open its fang-incasing mouth.

Turns out that rattling sound was just a fly buzzing around in my brother’s lamp, not a giant man-eating monster. My brother and I felt so bad we woke my dad up for a harmless fly, but he was as gentle and as patient as ever. My dad looked at us and said, “Boys, I would rather you wake me up for ten flies than not wake me up for one snake.”

What I learned from that experience is that having childlike faith means having the same kind of complete, immovable confidence in our heavenly Father. God is infinitely greater than we can ever imagine. When we pray to Him and ask for help, we do not have to waste our time doubting. We can be sure He will take care of us and defeat whatever is scaring us. Because whatever it is does not stand a chance against our big strong Dad! Totally confidence is what He deserves.

“You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Luke 11:11-13

by Frank Welch

31 Proverbs Highlights: #31-Speaking Up for the Voiceless 

(A simple series highlighting verses from each chapter of the book of Proverbs)

Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed. Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭31‬:‭8-9‬ HCSB)

Many people groups have no voice today. These verses describe them as dispossessed, oppressed, and needy. What groups come to mind when you read those descriptions?

Dispossessed groups certainly include the unfathomable amount of refugees around the globe. To be even more specific, this description includes the staggering number of children dispossessed around the world for a myriad of reasons. Speaking up for such groups can take on various forms. If you’re wondering how to do it, here are a few suggestions:

  • Follow social media to stay informed. Two suggestions include @WorldVision and @Samaritan’sPurse.
  • Share news to raise awareness and to encourage prayer and support. Go beyond following by sharing and creating dialogue.
  • Support efforts financially. You can sponsor a child through monthly gifts or give to trustworthy organizations giving these groups a voice.
  • Consider a short-term missions trip to put hands to your voice. Who says vacation can’t be about speaking up for the voiceless?
  • Consider getting more involved in the future with a second career or during retirement. A full lifer has much to offer to the growing lifer.

Fruity Fridays: Joy in All Circumstances

The second fruit of the Spirit Paul listed in Galatians 5 was joy. According to Webster, joy is a deep emotion of pleasure or gladness. The joy produced in one’s life by walking in the Spirit as Paul is writing about is much more than just an emotion. Emotions can be driven by circumstances. A couple on their wedding day should be filled with joyful emotion. Everything has been planned to make it a perfect day. Does that mean on the unperfect days they will face together that they will not have joy? Paul is saying it doesn’t have to be that way.

Paul taught that circumstances don’t have to rob you of joy (read his letter to the Philippians). You can have inward hope and exuberance in spite of outward circumstances. That’s where we are tempted to walk in the flesh–letting circumstances determine our joy rather than our walk with the Holy Spirit. Who isn’t guilty of that?

So what does this look like, how does it work? When I think of the most joyful people I know, they have all walked through some pretty tough circumstances. And what they all tell me is that those circumstances deepened their joy in their relationship with God.

I’m thinking in particular of a couple that have two disabled children. I’ve known them for 14 years. We don’t see each other as often as we used to, but every time we see each other they have the same joyful spirit. She recently went through a cancer battle also. Have they given up on their walk with the Spirit? No, it seems by their testimony to me that it is stronger than ever. They walk a joyful life because circumstances haven’t determined their spirit. Their walk with God has produced steady, genuine, inner hope–joy in all circumstances.

What circumstance in your life tends to be your joy robber? Have you truly given that circumstance to God? It’s possible that’s your first step to this second fruit of the Spirit, to joy in all circumstances.