“Self,…”

Fear is exhausting. Well, at least misplaced fear can be. Proper fear can actually provide joy and comfort.

Several people have commented how that in spite of being slowed down since March they still feel tired, maybe even more so. Perhaps fear is to blame.

I started a new book this afternoon, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn. His book contains 48 devotionals written as notes to “Self,” reminders of what you know based on Scripture. Note #3, entitled “Fear,” includes these thoughts:

Worldly fear will lead you to toe party lines, compel you to try to live a safe life, and lead you to so prize the good gifts of God that they mutate into idols.

Your possessions can go up in flames, but you have treasure in heaven and stand to inherit the kingdom. Your reputation may be sullied, but you are justified in Jesus. You may be rejected by those who you admire, but you are accepted by God. You may be hated, but your Father in heaven loves you with an undying love.

The fear you need to maintain and cultivate is a fear of God, for in it you will discover wisdom and develop strength that enables you to persevere in faith to the end.

Somewhere in those reminders may you find rest from fear, whether you’re fighting your own or burdened by other’s.

What if you wrote your own note to self? What reminders would it include?

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Melanie Wasser

The Faith Doctor

I’m half through the autobiography of Jerry Kill, a successful college football coach known for turning around programs. One part of his personal story is a bout with kidney cancer. In the chapter recalling the bout, he gives a shoutout to his team chaplain with these words:

He is the best Christian man I know. He knows how to talk to you, how to relate to you, and he has the “it factor.” He’s a faith doctor. You have to have your medical doctors obviously, but he was a faith doctor for me.

That’s a first-hearing someone categorized as a faith doctor. Made me ask two questions:

  1. Who’s my faith doctor?
  2. Who’s faith doctor am I?

Maybe we all should ask those questions. After answering them, we could ask further ones like…

  1. How often do I see my faith doctor?
  2. What symptoms do I need to acknowledge to my faith doctor?
  3. How willing am I to be someone’s faith doctor?
  4. What fruits of the Spirit are needed to be someone’s faith doctor?

You get the gist. This chapter, by the way, was entitled Upsetting Cancer. Whatever spiritual issue you have that needs upsetting may well be worth answering these questions.

Better & Deeper!

Equal Access

Occasionally someone will say to me, “How about you pray for me? Your connection is better than mine.”

We both understand the thought, but reality is it ain’t true. Just because one person may practice praying more than another doesn’t mean their connection is better. For a really clear illustration of that, check out Jesus’ teaching in Luke 18:9-14. Frequency of praying doesn’t assume better.

Does that mean we shouldn’t bother praying regularly? SMH. It means we should take advantage of the access God graciously gives everyone. My connection ain’t better than yours. No ones is. Well, except Jesus. Why? Because of Jesus’ resurrection. That’s right. One of the many impacts of his resurrection for all people is direct access to his Father through him. His sacrifice gave everyone equal access. His job right now is to sit by his Father to intercede on your behalf.

So if you’re tempted to believe the lie that you don’t have equal access and maybe give yourself an out for praying, why not tell Jesus, “How about you pray for me? Your connection is better than mine.”

Mary’s Sanctification

The title of the day 11 Advent devotional I’m reading was “What’s On The Other Side of Your ‘Yes’?

I’ve thought about the fact that Mary said yes. Rather quickly, by the way (see Luke 1). But this devotional made me think about how, like Mary, our current acceptance is limited to the present. We place our faith in surrendering to what’s in front of us. But we have no idea what’s coming down the road, what’s on the other side. Mary heard what the angel said about the son she would have, but I wonder how much she understood how many yeses were ahead.

  • Yes, I’ll marry a man who’s thought twice.
  • Yes, I’ll run for my son’s life to another country.
  • Yes, I’ll give grace to my son when I don’t understand him.
  • Yes, I’ll let The Father defend his son against the enemy’s lies.
  • Yes, I’ll watch him be crucified.

Each yes was a new challenge, a deeper victory, a fuller revelation.

The teenager who birthed Jesus wasn’t ready to watch him be tortured. She got there through the transformtion of her every yes. A theological word for that tansformation is sanctification. In his book Awe, Paul David Tripp defined sanctification as a process that works the radical transformation of hearts. Mary’s sanctification came through repeated yeses.

What yes is God asking from you right now? What if you said yes for no other reason but to take one more step in your sanctification? Why not see what’s on the other side of your yes?

Terrified…But Looking Forward

A flashback for all the parents: Remember the day you found out you were going to be a parent? Joy mixed with fright. Thrilled but terrified.

The birth came and maybe those feelings got worse. But after a few diapers and spit ups, no big deal. Until a few years later and those Terrible Twos arrived. And then preschool came…and then puberty came…and then graduation…and then…and then…

A friend recently told me that a life change had them terrified, but they were looking forward to the future. Terror doesn’t have to result in paralysis. It’s normal and doesn’t have to lead to life-smothering, dream-crushing, or ice cream-binging sorrow. With the right mindset mixed with faith in God’s power over all his creation, the future can be rushed toward versus never encountered.

For example, suppose…

…Noah never picked up a hammer

…Moses never went back to Egypt

…Ruth never left home

…David never slung a stone

…Esther never approached the throne

…Daniel never revealed his interpreting skills

…Joseph never married Mary

…Jesus never drank from that cup

If God has shown you a glimpse of the future and it looked scary, you are in good company. Of course, you could pull a Jonah, if you’re into seasickness and other kinds of goo. But why bother with that drama? The better drama is found in trusting your faith in the One who will help you finish what he’s starting.

Go ahead. Walk toward the Terror.

This Is So

(Lyrics to a song inspired by Joshua 4:24)

Verse 1

With each sunrise you refill me

To recount the hope that I see

Looking back to claim your promise

All my words proclaim your goodness

 

Chorus

This is so

All may know that You are God

This is so

I may always fear You, Lord

Write it on my heart

Remind me who you are

May I not forget

This is so

 

Verse 2

Waves behind me tell your story

Ever lifting all your glory

Here’s my song to join in raising

Yours alone the name worth praising

 

Bridge

In your presence I’m made holy

By your strength I’m standing only

Fearless

(Day 27 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

I’ve read about bold prayer and recently learned “bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers. God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less…The more specific your prayers are, the more glory God receives. Most of us don’t get what we want because we quit praying.” Do know how to properly pray to God?

Reading about bold praying helped me notice that I’m not being specific or really being bold during praying. I’ll say a little prayer just to make me feel good about praying for that moment. Then I read,

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:16

This passage taught me a lot with only thirty something words. Then I noticed something again. I don’t put enough faith into bold praying, or just a simple prayer. Life is full of battles that would be impossible to conquer without God’s provision. When we talk to God, we need to pray boldly, be confident, courageous, forward, strong, and firm. We have to abide by that.

There is a difference between wanting to receive something from God and being determined to receive it. Have you ever boldly prayed to God? If you haven’t, you should start now, because he wants to listen to you. “Determination brings forth bold prayers of passionate conviction. Wishing leads to shallow and unspecific prayers that are timid, hesitant, and bashful – encompassing the complete opposite of boldness.” -John Bevere

Approaching God through prayer is much more than just words. You need to be resilient and bold when you come to God. We need to be bold for God even when we are not praying. We need to be bold in everything we do.

By Shanti M. Washington

Come With Everything

(Day 26 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

“The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. Elijah was a human being as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.” – James 5:15-18

One of the most incredible things about the gospel is that we are encouraged, throughout the New Testament, to pray always and in all circumstances. God did not give us access to Himself begrudgingly, hoping that we would never actually pray. He wants us to come to Him with everything-good, bad or indifferent-so that we can continue to build a relationship with Him, and so that He can continue to shape us into the people that He wants us to be.

In this passage, James reminds us to pray boldly for big, even miraculous things. Remembering to also be submissive in prayer, we must keep in mind that God’s highest goals are our sanctification and His glorification. Sometimes that means He will answer our prayers in very unexpected ways. But that should not stop us from praying with boldness. Rather, it should spur us on to pray with more perseverance and fervor, so that we may see God work in better ways than we can imagine in our limited view.

This is where James’ example of Elijah’s story becomes so helpful. In 1 Kings 17-18 Elijah prays for the drought that James describes, and the Lord brings it upon Israel, stopping the rain for three and a half years. Throughout that time, all of Israel suffers greatly from the resulting famine, but the Lord provides for Elijah in miraculous ways. And through the drought, the Lord turns the hearts of the people back to Himself, so that they worship Him once again. It is an amazing story of our great God and a righteous man who knew how to pray well. I encourage you to read it and dwell on how Elijah’s example can encourage you to pray with boldness.

By Kyle Reilly

Pray First

(Day 11 of a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

“You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” (S. D. Gordon)

Does it really matter what the order is in spiritual disciplines for the Christian? I believe it does – not because of what some man said, but because Jesus himself emphasized that prayer is of first importance.

A soldier does not go into battle without proper equipment and preparation. Yet we as believers sometimes feel that we can engage the enemy on our own, without prayer. Jesus reminded Peter that self-sufficiency would not result in success. He warned him,

“Simon, Simon, look out. Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” (Luke 22:31-32)

Upon entering the Garden of Gethsemane, the Lord told his disciples,

“Pray that you may not fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:40)

In Matthew 26:36 and in Mark 14:32, his additional word to them was to sit there while he prayed. Upon taking Peter, James, and John farther, he told them,

“Remain here and stay awake with me.” (Matthew 26:38)

Notice that he did not say that they should get up and take action right then. They were to sit, or remain, until after prayer. Jesus knew the battle that he, and they, were facing, and how desperately they needed to pray and wait. He also knows exactly the trials and temptations that come to us. Yet, how often have we decided that we must act immediately, rather than remain and pray first?

Even the very Son of God realized that his own struggles required prayer and dependence on his Father. He knew that he faced horrible persecution and death. Consequently, he asked His Father to remove his cup of suffering if there could be another way for our forgiveness. Then in submission, he prayed, “

…nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Not only must we pray in times of temptation, but also when facing trials. I recall that once in the wee hours of the night, I realized that morning would bring an event with which I totally disagreed, but over which I had no control. I was in dire need of the strength my heavenly Father would provide as I prayed. It happened just as I had feared, but the Lord gave me strength. Likewise, he provided for all my needs in the days to come, as the trial continued. Then in his perfect timing, he brought about the best solution.

Each of us has encountered many and various trials, just as the Book of James tells us to expect. Times of suffering, disappointment, failure, illness, death, financial problems, family situations, and tough decisions will come. Our assurance is that our Father knows them ahead of time. He will provide wisdom, comfort, peace, and even joy, in the midst of these, when we trust him and take them to him in prayer.

“Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer.”

Joseph Scriven – “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

By Pat Browning

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