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

Majoring in the Minor

As the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. I am a recovering perfectionist. Recently, amid looming deadlines and competing priorities, I planned a busy day to optimize progress on multiple fronts. I was up ahead of the sun, working, cleaning, planning, and organizing. My logic was that if I made a Herculean effort that day, it would alleviate later stresses.

Throughout the day, I repeatedly encountered unexpected delays and challenges that resulted in me not making nearly the level of progress that I had hoped. By that evening, my perfectly productive day had morphed into a frustrating mess. I was irritated and feeling like an underachiever.

Dejected, I flopped into a chair, then sighed to myself as I realized I needed to get right back up to retrieve something that I needed for my next task. It was then that I caught a glimpse of my reflection. I barely recognized the frowning, stressed-out person that I saw looking back at me. I immediately had a reality check with myself, praying and asking God to help me. I had unintentionally tried to fly solo that day, not seeking God’s guidance on my To-Do List. I’d failed miserably. I invited God into the situation, asking Him to help me recover and prioritize.

The truth is, God wants to be involved every aspect of our lives. He does not want us worried, anxious, nor distracted. Those are tools of the enemy. Philippians 4:6-7 says “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” We need to pray and invite God into every situation that concerns us. Psalm 138:7-9 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch out Your hand Against the wrath of my enemies, And Your right hand will save me. The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.” How often do limp along in our weaknesses and frustrations, injured and struggling for so long that we no longer recognize it? Job 12:13 says: “To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are His.” God already knows all things in detail. He doesn’t need to come up to speed because He IS the speed.

It took years for me to realize it – but my deep-seated desire for perfection is born of a spirit of pride. Proverbs 16:18 says Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.” I didn’t have to fall far. It only took a relatively minor level of frustration to help me see the error of my ways. I spent some time in prayer, asking God’s forgiveness and confessing my need for Him. I continued to pray, asking God to bind up a spirit of pride and loose a spirit of humility. I needed God to order my steps. I did not want to operate in frustration one moment longer. To my relief, as I sealed my prayer in the matchless name of Jesus, a spirit of peace came over me. I returned to my To-Do List with a different mindset. I quickly distinguished between which tasks were critical vs. optional. I reprioritized and remixed my To-Do List based on what I felt God thought was important. A few hours later, I retired for the evening feeling both peaceful and victorious because, in His loving and merciful way, my beloved heavenly Father taught me how to stop being the captain of my own tempest in a teacup. He showed me how to avoid majoring in the minor because only what we do for Christ will last.

“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”
-1 Corinthians 15:58

Calling on the Name

Over the holiday weekend, I was delighted to give and receive messages from many loved ones. Yesterday, I reflected on my multitude of life roles and the various names that I answer to. I am a daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, sorority sister, neighbor, girlfriend, coworker, customer, intercessor, classmate, worshipper, and the list goes on. A unique name accompanies nearly every role. I thought about how I am sometimes able to identify a sender or caller based on how I am addressed.

These thoughts led me to think about our expectations when we call on the Lord. As we transform from being self-centered to Christ-centered, knowing the various names of the Lord – who we trust God to be – is vital to our spiritual growth. God is all-encompassing. According to Exodus 3:14, God is the great I AM: “God said to Moses, I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” The I AM reference is not a limitation as if the statement is an incomplete sentence. Rather, it is the opposite. I AM refers to the fact that God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (everywhere at the same time). There are no boundaries nor limitations. The Lord knows us intimately and understands our motives and intents, even when we are unable to articulate them.

There is no question about how well God knows us. The question becomes how well do we know God? We sometimes restrict God, deciding for whatever reason that a situation is not God-sized. In those moments, we should remind ourselves of God’s names.  There are entire books devoted to the names of God the FatherGod the Son, and God the Holy Spirit reflecting His triune identity as our:

  • Creator (Genesis 1:1)
  • Provider (Genesis 22:14)
  • Healer (Exodus 15:26)
  • Banner (Exodus 17:15)
  • Peace (Judges 6:24)
  • Shepherd (Psalms 23:1)
  • Righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6)
  • Savior (Luke 2:11)
  • Redeemer (Job 19:25)
  • Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5)
  • Rock (1 Corinthians 10:4)
  • Peace (Ephesians 2:14)
  • Way (John 14:6)

This is not an exhaustive list, just a glimpse into the powerful entity that we can directly access through prayer. The Lord provides opportunities to learn about Him across his broad spectrum of identities. We need only to believe in Him and call on His name to tap into that transformational power.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
-Isaiah 11:2

 

 

 

 

 

The Ripple Effect

I recently enjoyed a lakeside stroll. I was fascinated by the rippling water. Some ripples were caused by wind blowing across the water’s surface in small waves. Other ripples were caused by turtles, fish, or other animals breaking the water’s surface. In each case, no matter where they began, the ripples always moved across the entire lake.

The ripples remind me of our prayer journey. Prayer is the practice of paying attention to God. God is always at work, and cultivating a rich prayer life shifts our mindset, allowing us to focus on God’s ultimate movement above our transient impressions. Prayers are powerful spiritual transmissions that reverberate just like those lake ripples. The element of water is symbolic of God’s purification in our lives. Hebrews 10:22 says let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” 

In his book “How to Pray After You’ve Kicked the Dog”, Terry Tekyl explains that we apply prayers like water because we sprinkle some situations in prayer and saturate others. Even when life overwhelms us and we feel that our prayers are small and insignificant, like a drop in that pond, they spread out in all directions and reach their God-appointed destination. 1 John 5:14-15 says “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” Our prayers are alive and continuous. Sincere prayer allows us to express appreciation as well as concerns to God. Our prayers invite God into situations that burden our heart as well as our heart itself. Prayer is a relief and a release, a vehicle to minister to ourselves and others. Psalm 68:19 says “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, The God who is our salvation. Selah.”

The ripples on that pond reminded me that God is constantly moving, working, arranging, and orchestrating events in our lives. Through the ebb and flow our lives, we can walk in the reassurance that God is constantly at work. Sometimes prayer ripples take a while to reach God’s intended place. However, we must remember that we operate according to God’s timeline, not the other way around. As we continue to pray and seek God’s face,  He blesses us with the spiritual vision to recognize the blessings all around us.

I encourage you to trust God as you become a catalyst for His ripple prayer effect!