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

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

If Only

13 years. That’s a long time to walk in the wrong direction. Ask Abraham.

Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram. When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before me and be blameless.”

These two verses from Genesis are only separated by chapter delineation (16:16-17:1). It appears for thirteen years, at least, Abram did not hear from God directly like he had previously. This time period followed he and his wife’s decision to do things their way, a way not given to them by God. This decision was a deliberate choice that could be concluded with two words: “if only.”

So Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael were acceptable to you!”

He said this in 17:18 (Read the rest of the conversation between verses 1-18 to see why his name changed, among other things). Abraham said this in response to just being told, in so many words, quite graciously, “My plan hasn’t changed. Even though you tried your way, I’m still offering you a better way.” Thankfully, we all can say Abraham followed the plan.

This scene offers us hope when we’ve followed Abram’s and Sarai’s path. At some point we all seem to face the choice to wait, or to devise our own way, or to heed questionable counsel. It’s almost as if a salesperson shows us a pair of blinders, and we knowingly reply, “Yes. I’ll have a pair.” For whatever reason, we complete the transaction, say thank you, put them on, and walk out the door…until God shows up, however long that takes.

Fortunately for us, God is gracious. And if we receive that grace and give him our blinders, we reap the benefits of faith. As he was told, Abraham received tremendous blessings that have been passed on to many generations for placing his faith in God’s way despite “if only.”

Do you have an unresolved “if only”? Are you wearing blinders? How long before you follow Abraham’s lead?

NO ONE Gets There ALONE (book review)

What a nice surprise this book by Dr. Rob Bell was. While checking out a recommended book on Amazon, his book popped up also. Not familiar with him, I was intrigued by the title. Knowing I have a commitment to reading a few coaching books this year, I went ahead and purchased it. Here are some quotes to illustrate why you could consider doing the same:

  • Everyone is an athlete; our office is just different. Some of us are corporate athletes, sales athletes, or entrepreneur athletes. Being an athlete is an attitude and awareness. It means looking through our own lens of life as an athlete.     
  • True competition is me vs. me.
  • Comparison is the thief of joy.   
  • When we focus on the differences between us, we are in comparison mode, believing we are better than or less than someone else.   
  • Talk about all stressful situations in non-stressful environments.   
  • When we are not all-in, we are just in the way.   
  • The chicken is invested in breakfast by supplying the eggs, but the pig is fully committed by providing the ham or bacon.   
  • Complaining is the first small sign of giving up.   
  • There are two types of pain, the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.

You can read this book because you are a coach. You could read this book because you need a coach. Or you could read this book to explore why you should consider being coached. 

For example, Dr. Bell’s section on faith may help you explore yours in a new way. And his approach to mental toughness is encouraging and tool-giving to all readers, regardless of your reading agenda. My personal best takeaway of the entire book was the section entitled “Focus on the Similarities, not the Differences.”

You’ll have takeaways from this easily digestible book. Give it a look and improve how you are getting there.

June’s Jordan Journey

Here is our final team member’s note about her journey to Jordan.

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On our trip I learned just how spoiled we are and how we take things for granted – so unappreciative and selfish.

I saw people with faith, love, and hope with a little of nothing that showed hospitality and welcomed us with open arms-thankful for what little they had and keeping their eyes on the Lord with hope.

When we think about faith like a mustard seed, I saw that firsthand in our home visits the church set up for the refugees where they could come together for the hope needed to carry on.

I worked with children that were far behind in learning and not allowed to attend public schools, and women with skills but could not go to work like we can.  I saw how important the church school and women’s center and in-home visits are to those hurting refugees.  It’s hard to put into words; just something you have to see to appreciate and understand the great need.

Something much needed that we all can do is pray!  Prayers for their families, health needs, visas to be able to go to another country and get settled-just to know they’re not forgotten.  The children need to be in school, women need a place to use their skills and feel self-worth, men need jobs to care for their families.

In all it was a very humbling, heartbreaking experience-an eye opener as I could see how we take things for granted but thankful for the opportunity to go, see, and do.  Praise God!

-June Hartlaub

Sherry’s Jordan Journey

Here is a second team member’s note about her journey to Jordan.

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My recent journey was truly a journey of love and miracles.  When I told my family that I wanted to go to Jordan their reaction was, “No way.”  It is hard to explain why as a retired grandmother I felt God was calling me to take this leap of faith and following His lead. I have no visible talent-can’t sing (but I can make a joyful noise), can’t do physical work, but I can and do have a huge capacity for love.  And God had a plan for me and my love.

While we were there, my time was spent at the Women’s Center and on home visits.  Let me tell you about the Women’s Center. The center offers women the opportunity to come together to learn crafts to perhaps sell them and earn a little money, but more importantly it gives them the chance to fellowship with one another and with us.  I met so many beautiful and wonderful women who are just like us in so many ways, but are so much stronger, happier, funny and joyful.  One Syrian woman absolutely blew me away in every way; but perhaps the most heart breaking way was her answer when I asked her where she wanted to go. Most people said Canada, Australia, or perhaps Brazil; but her answer was she wants to go home, back to Syria.

See, we are all basically the same; we want to be home.  And perhaps many of the beautiful, wonderful people God gave me the blessing of meeting may not get to go home until we are all home with Jesus in heaven.

-Sherry Morrow

Bob’s Jordan Journey

Our team that went to Jordan had a life-impacting journey. Here is one member’s note about his journey.

img-20180418-wa00161158138559.jpgOn my first Syrian refugee home visit, I choked back tears as I listened to heart- wrenching stories of their lives. I began to wonder how I would make it through the next 10 days. I wondered if my being there was a mistake. Then God began to show me hope! These people who have no material possessions have everything in Jesus Christ. They have faith that I can only pray to have someday. That faith, that God is in control, gives them hope for tomorrow and a better life.

I went to Jordan to be a blessing, but as God would have it I was blessed. Truly a humbling experience that I am grateful for.

-Bob Sagrilla