The Struggle is Over!

I recently moved to a beachside town. One of my prized possessions is a pair of backpack beach chairs which were gifted from my dear friend. These chairs are well-designed, equipped with handles as well as backpack straps, to easily transport them to the beachfront. The trouble is, although the beach chairs were easy to move and set up, I always had difficulty with collapsing the chairs when it was time to leave. Each time, my mechanical mind would spend several frustrating minutes attempting to return the chairs to their original compact position. What’s worse, once I successfully collapsed the chair, I was always so irritated and distracted that I was unable to successfully repeat the process the next time.

It wasn’t until I was intentional about proactively finding a solution that anything changed. Instead of waiting until I was at the beach, I researched the beach chair opening and closing online. I was delighted to find a brief video, less than 20 seconds long, that demonstrated how to properly close the chairs. I went from novice to pro within two minutes! I tried it out on my very next beach visit and Voila!

Reflecting on this situation made me realize that if we aren’t careful, we can face similar frustration in our prayer lives. All too often, we struggle with situations like I struggled with that beach chair – wrestling and working through multiple attempts and failures when we know in our hearts that there must be a better way. We wallow in our ignorance and grow frustrated, yet feel powerless to change the situation. Just as I sought a solution from a chair expert, we need to seek solutions from the Eternal Expert. Isaiah 55:8-9 says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Once I confessed my ignorance and sought an answer beyond my limited understanding, the solution presented itself and I was at peace. Similarly, when we stop clinging to our perceptions of how problems should be solved and invite the Lord to show and teach us, our load lightens considerably and immediately. Psalm 55:22 Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.”

We can get out of our own way regarding every struggle in our lives when we pray and invite God’s power and presence into every situation that concerns us. Colossians 1:11-12 says We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.” The situation doesn’t always change immediately, but the change in our perspective can be an instantaneous blessing through the anointing of God’s Holy Spirit. We don’t have to wait until the situation is fully resolved. We can rejoice in advance, knowing that the struggle is over!

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.” – James 1:5-6

 

 

Give It Up!

Life’s ups and downs can throw off our spiritual focus. When unanswered prayers stretch into time frames beyond our anticipated estimates, we become discouraged and can drift even further away from our intended Christ-centered focus. It is in those very moments of feeling weary and uncertain that we need to double down on our efforts to seek God’s guidance, wisdom, and favor. We need to demonstrate that no matter what difficulties we face, we trust God above all else, and eagerly await His answers. Proverbs 3:5-6 says Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Our desperation for relief means we need to show God that we are serious about trusting Him, that we are willing to deny ourselves so that we can focus on whatever lesson He is teaching in this season. We need a change. We need resolution. We need peace. We need a breakthrough. We need to fast. The time has arrived to Give It Up! and fast.

Fasting is a sacrifice of enjoyment. Traditional fasts involve abstaining from food for a specific amount of time. However, modern lifestyles provide a host of other pleasurable distractions. Today’s fasting can be any sacrificial act that allows you to spend time with the Lord that you’d normally spend catering to yourself. It transforms your “me” time to “we” time with God. Whether your “me” time involves a television, social media, time-consuming hobby, or enjoyable meal – denying those indulgences and spending that time with the Lord can reap tremendous benefits. Here are a few key considerations. Always fast with:

  1. Discretion and humility: No one else needs to know you’re fasting. You don’t need to broadcast your activities. Fasting is about your relationship with the Lord, not impressing your friends. Matthew 6:16-18 says “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
  2. Focused prayer: Share your heart with God. Ask His forgiveness for your sins so you can start your fast with a clean slate and sharper focus. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” God already knows your heart. Articulating your needs, concerns, fears, and desires to God benefits you and invites Him into those situations that concern you.
  3. Expectation: Reflect on past victories in Christ. Allow those recollections to fuel your anticipation. Cultivate a successful vision and thank God in advance for your next victorious breakthrough. Ephesians 6:18 says “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

Remember that we are God’s creation. He does not want to destroy us, He wants to build us up. He wants us to grow and flourish. Fasting involves temporarily sacrificing earthly pleasures to recognize and gain eternal spiritual treasures.

 “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Miraculous Restoration

I was delighted to hear a powerful testimony from my father.  While on the highway, he had to swerve which made the back end of his vehicle hit a retaining wall – BOOM! He could hear and feel the impact from the hit, yet decided not to stop immediately to survey the damage. My Dad resolved that he couldn’t do anything about it at that moment anyway and continued on his way. A short time later, he went to inspect the damage and there was NONE – not even a scratch. He praised God for miraculous restoration.

Through prayer, we can invite God to miraculously restore us, just like that vehicle. Although life situations can damage us, the Lord can bring about restoration of all kinds – spiritual, occupational, physical, emotional, intellectual, financial, environmental, and social. We need only to ask. Psalm 51:12 says “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” 

As humans, our power is limited. No matter how hard we try, we are incapable of blessing ourselves. Even when we desperately desire it, we cannot grant ourselves wisdom, peace, hope, joy, faith, comfort, provision nor protection. Yet, these gifts are given freely through a relationship with God. Ephesians 2:8 says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—” God gives us purpose and provides what we need so that we can mature in understanding His character. Everything we need, including miraculous restoration, is available through Jesus Christ. God gives us free will. We need only to exercise faith in Christ to reflect God’s love instead of life’s hardships.

 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” -Romans 5:1-4

 

Father’s Mayday

As the United States Father’s Day holiday approaches, I realize people may struggle with this day for a variety of reasons. For some, the day is one of reflection of biological or other father figures who are no longer among the living. For others, the day is a painful reminder of the stark contrast between society’s ideal father vs. individual life experience. One of my dearest friends recently asked about these contradictions as it relates to praying. Specifically, how do we align scriptures regarding children and parents with a need to establish expectations and boundaries for healthy relationships? How do we eliminate toxic relationships when the “toxins” are our own flesh and blood? Does God intend for us to assume a passive posture in tolerating relationships that may harm us emotionally, physically, or spiritually?

The short answer is no. John 10:10 says “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” Does abundant mean wealthy and prosperous? Not necessarily. Abundant is defined as plentiful. When you have plenty of something, you use it generously because you have no fear of your supply being depleted. Abundant life is less about money and more about the fruits of the holy spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 as …love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” When you have plenty of love, joy, peace and all of the other fruits – you share it generously, trusting that God will constantly restock these fruits to your spiritual shelf. 

However, abundant life also means exercising wisdom and discernment. On the whole, we seem to be willing to sever ties once we recognize that a relationship is toxic. However, when the toxic relationship involves a relative, especially a parent, we are typically more willing to permit prolonged exposure, even when it harms us in the process. If a relationship is unhealthy meaning that it tears us down rather than builds us up, seems to stagnate rather than grow, and constantly requires us asking God for forgiveness, we need to pray and ask God for wisdom regarding the relationship. For our own spiritual protection and emotional safety, we may need at best to suspend the relationship to limit the threat to our own well-being. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says “Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” Many parents of adult children quote Colossians 3:20 or Ephesians 6:1-3 which says Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” These scriptures are literally intended for children, those who are not full grown. Furthermore, if we continue to verse 4 of Ephesians 6, it also states: And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” 

We can be respectful and love, even if from a distance. Nothing can stop us from praying for forgiveness to release those we feel have wronged us, even if it was a parent or parental figure. We never know how God may work on hearts and minds to bring about reconciliation. Once we are reconciled with God (the vertical relationship), it becomes much easier to reconcile with one another (the horizontal relationships). Continue to pray without ceasing and invite God’s light and loving presence to flood every area of your life and the lives of those you love, specifically those you feel have wronged you.

 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” –2 Corinthians 12:9a

A Piece of Peace

The world seems filled with turmoil. Newscasts are filled with stories of injustice, destruction, violence, and despair. There is an increasingly predatory slant to our society where the people are desperate to protect and defend what’s theirs. Our souls grow weary as we long to escape to a stress-free zone.

Internally, these troubles take a toll on our spiritual and emotional health. We feel frustrated, aggravated, and conflicted about so many issues, wondering about a safe haven. Even the places where we used to find solace are under threat. Shootings occur in places we never dreamed – including schools, movie theatres, and churches. Struggles threaten our relationships and sense of well being. We long for peace and wonder whether there is any remaining place where peace can be found.

As the saying goes, prayer makes a difference. Prayer doesn’t make us physically invincible, it makes us spiritually unstoppable. Romans 8:37 says “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” There are no limits – physical, emotional, financial, spiritual, creative, psychological, mental, relational – in the Lord. Prayer connects us to God through the power of His Holy Spirit. We cannot create peace, but we can invite peace into our lives through the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 says But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” We can offer ourselves as instruments and vessels of God’s peace in this world filled with all manner of conflict, chaos, and confusion. God brings peace to our hearts. When we have a portion of God’s peace, it filters the world around us. Job 11:18-19 says “You will be secure because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid, and many will court your favor.” We have the option to carry peace in our hearts along with God’s many other extended benefits – hope, joy, faith, and courage. These gifts are absolutely free for the asking and have the potential to infect and affect every aspect of our lives. Psalm 29:11 says “The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.” As we seek God and receive peace for ourselves, we gain the wisdom to better engage with the world around us. Peace does not have to make logical sense because it is a spiritual gift. Our loving Father who sees all, knows all, and transcends time can bless us with peace, even in the midst of the most turbulent circumstances.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
-Philippians 4:6-7

 

Now Worries vs. No Worries

Matthew 6:34 says “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Each day that we live is actually three in one. First, there is the day that we expect considering our obligations and commitments. Second, there is the day we actually have with its unexpected delights or difficulties. Finally (if we choose to acknowledge it), there is the day where we see God constantly at work in every circumstance.

The day that we anticipate can be easy, difficult, or somewhere in between. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:” There are joyful days that can seem to take eons to arrive and pass in the blink of an eye. There are also difficult days that speed toward us like a train, threatening to run us completely over. 

We can waste time being worried about situations that can profoundly affect us, yet are outside of our control. Worry is packaged in many shapes and sizes. If it goes unchecked, the worry that begins as a mental weight can breed anxiety and stress that takes a physical toll on us. The more concerned we are about a situation, the more difficult it is to admit our lack of control. The truth is that we are in a constant battle between our spirit and flesh. In our flesh, we want to be in control and “make things happen”. In our spirit, we are admitting our reliance on God, seeking His strength so that we can weather the storm. Fear is a tool that the enemy uses to undermine and sabotage our faith. Ultimately, the enemy hopes to discourage us enough to abandon our relationship with God altogether.

As Believers, we must pray and spiritually confess our fears, admit our worries, and release our anxiety to God. If we are busy harboring our worries, feeding our fears, then our faith cannot grow. God never promised that our lives would be smooth and easy. In fact, John 16:33 says “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

We must remind ourselves of the promises of God as revealed in many scriptures including:

  • Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
  • Psalm 94:19 “When my anxious inner thoughts become overwhelming, your comfort encourages me.”
  • 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”
  • Isaiah 46:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
  • 1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

The book “God’s Psychiatry” was first published in 1953. In it, the author Charles Allen, prescribes the 23rd Psalm. Just as we might take a medical prescription multiple times a day, he offered the 23rd Psalm morning, noon, and night for spiritual healing. It made a significant difference in the outlook of those who followed this practice. When you suddenly find yourself in the midst of trouble, find scriptures that minister to you, bringing peace and joy to your heart. Our triune God can turn “now worries” into “no worries”.

2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Heavenly Fellowship

My schedule has been jam-packed lately. While reflecting on the past week, I thought about the many ways that I’ve recently connected with loved ones: one-on-one phone calls, conference calls, individual and group text messages, emails, online meetings, and (my favorite) face-to-face interactions.

No matter how brief or extended the exchange, love and concern were the common denominators. Whether it was a prayer conference call, a text from my Mom, or dinner with friends, the love in those exchanges is what made them so enjoyable.

As Christians, universal love is our distinguishing characteristic. John 13:35 says Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” In his sermon about loving our enemies, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted Matthew 5:43-44 which says “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” Ancient Greek culture had seven different words to represent various types of love, including the universal agape love for man, nature, and God. 

Modern society flings the word love around, making it undervalued. We allegedly “love” a lot of material possessions that can be here today and gone tomorrow. Yet, we are often reluctant to invest the time, attention, and energy to express concern or encourage others around us. Sometimes we love selfishly, expecting reciprocity. That’s not love – that’s a business arrangement. Sometimes we hoard our love, trying to ration it out to those whom we deem as deserving. That’s a deception because God loves us all. Furthermore, as the saying goes “Love does not divide, it multiplies.” Life events can harden and close our hearts, for fear of vulnerability or further pain. The trouble is, when something is hard and closed, nothing can go out nor in.

As we pray, we can petition God for the wisdom, strength, and courage to love and encourage those who touch our hearts (in a good or bad way). We can ask God to soften and open our hearts. We can receive and extend forgiveness. Psalm 103:8 says “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Those who know God can demonstrate agape love. 1 John 4:8 says “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Therefore we are not the source of love within ourselves. God is our source of love. We are merely conduits of His love. We are the channels that God’s love flows through. We do not have to be stingy with our love, because we tap it from an unlimited source.

For this reason, when people of God gather, love flows through us, making our times of fellowship, whether we are gathered for a meal, worship, or other activities, a glimpse of the divine. As the song goes, when all of God’s children get to heaven, what a time! Times of fellowship is a glimpse of heaven on earth.

More importantly, as we travel through our various spheres of influence, it is even more critical that we demonstrate love in unexpected places and everyday situations. Dr. Cornel West said “You’ve got to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. A thermostat shapes the climate of opinion; a thermometer just reflects it.” We are ambassadors of The King! You never know how much your simple, genuine extension of God’s love can bless someone else. Wherever you are, there should be a sweet spirit of love and heavenly fellowship.

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” -2 Corinthians 13:14