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

Cruelty-Free Conversation

Civil discourse is sorely lacking in society. Wikipedia defines civil discourse as engagement in discourse (conversation) intended to enhance understanding.” We are in an era where people no longer are concerned about truth or gaining understanding. Instead, we cloister around those who are “right”, meaning that they share our perspective, and we attack those who do not. We are self-absorbed and more concerned about “winning” than the well-being of our fellow man.  Concern for the greater good is overshadowed by self-absorption and vanity disguised as self-preservation. We are quick to attack others who disagree and slow to defend those who appear vulnerable.

This self-centered mindset can also wreak havoc with our prayer lives. Prayer is a conversation with God which requires a shift from self-centered to Christ-centered thinking. It is our natural, human inclination to focus solely on ourselves – what we want, think, and feel. It is radically irrational to defer every situation that concerns us to the will of God, our heavenly Father, in a timing which is divinely ordered instead of personally dictated.

Yet, the more we ask God to examine our hearts and renew our minds, the easier this transformation becomes. Romans 12:2 says “Do not be conformed to this world,[a] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Through His Holy Spirit, the Lord speaks to us, blessing us with an assured sense of peace, self-control, patience, gentleness, and joy that cannot be swayed by news headlines or personal irritants. Galatians 5:22-23 says “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

The enemy revels in chaos and confusion which breeds fear. 1 Corinthians 14:33 says “in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The enemy tries to distract us by allowing us to experience disheartening situations intended to steal our joy, make our faith falter, or diminish our peace. However, in those dark moments, we must remind ourselves that our hope does not lie in hollow promises of this world, but the eternal promises of an everlasting God. A God who will never leave nor forsake us. A God who is sovereign and the giver of every good gift. In addition to reminding ourselves of who God is, as we pray, we must also remember that we are created in God’s image and more than conquerors.

As we navigate this world, as Christians we need not be cruel. Instead of cruel comments that kill, ask God to grant wisdom so that we can speak the truth in love that leads to life.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.
-Ephesians 3:16-21

Coincidence or God Incidents?

Although we don’t always acknowledge it, God is constantly at work in our lives. 2 Chronicles 16:9 says “The eyes of the LORD run through the earth, to show himself strong for those who trust him.” God is sovereign and all-knowing. He understands our actions, motives, and implications. Psalm 139:2 says “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.” We tend to view situations based on immediate concerns where God views everything through the lens of eternity. We are often preoccupied with what provides immediate relief where God’s focus is what is ultimately best for our growth and maturity. Job 42:2 says “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

As God goes about His work, orchestrating situations according to His divine wisdom, we should try to pay attention to the myriad of ways He interacts with us. So often, we notice the unique way that issues are resolved – often better than we anticipate. However, we are also quick to label the smooth resolution as “luck” or “coincidence”. James 1:17 says “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Whether it’s the mercy of not receiving as severe a penalty as we expect or the grace of receiving a blessing we didn’t anticipate, we need to acknowledge our heavenly Father at work in our lives and adopt an attitude of gratitude.

Gratitude should also extend and be an integral part of our prayer lives. Can you imagine being a parent, constantly providing for your child’s needs, being concerned about whatever troubles them, surprising them with unexpected treats and rewards, keeping them safe, watching over them constantly, even enlisting others to assist them, yet never receiving any acknowledgement or appreciation from the child whom you dearly love? It is the same way with our heavenly Father. In our prayer lives, we should begin simply by thanking God for all that He does for us. We can reflect and acknowledge the ways that God is actively working in our lives. We can ask God to open our heart and grant us godly wisdom regarding God Incidents: situations where the Lord changes circumstances to help us learn, grow, and ultimately to trust Him more vs. luck or coincidence where we displace such credit to generic entities. I encourage you to resolve in your heart to give God the glory for great things He has done.

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” -1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

Lacking Nothing

I recently watched a music awards show long enough to see Janet Jackson receive an icon award. She acknowledged our Creator in her acceptance speech, proclaiming that “…everything we lack, God has in abundance.” I couldn’t agree more. So many times, we struggle while operating within our limited abilities and perspective. We are immersed in the logical and tangible, navigating in ways that make sense to us. We cling tightly to our fears, frustrations, and established patterns of failure instead of releasing them to our all-seeing, all-knowing, limitless heavenly Father.

We unknowingly invite a Spirit of Lack to cloud our perspective. We make decisions based on fear of not having enough love, money, time, energy, patience, cooperation, approval, etc. The scariest thing about the Spirit of Lack is that we can unknowingly invite it into our lives. A Spirit of Lack is very dangerous because it can serve as a gateway to usher in other evil spirits to further attack your mind and lead to feelings of hopelessness and defeat.  Sometimes, even once it’s identified, the thought of vanquishing that spirit seems impossible.

However, according to Luke 1:37  For nothing will be impossible with God.” We do not have to tolerate feelings of shortage or defeat. Lack does not have to be a permanent fixture in our lives. Although He can, I’m not saying that God will immediately remove our challenges. However, if we ask, He will help us apply a different lens so that we view our lives through a filter of abundance instead of lack. Instead of fixating on what we don’t have, He will show us what we do have – the innumerable blessings that we take for granted. We can move forward with a keen awareness of those blessings, a renewed understanding of how very precious we are to God. Isaiah 43:19 says Behold, I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness And rivers in the desert.” No matter how dire the situation, God is always with us. Hebrews 13:5 says “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”” Furthermore, our God is one of restoration. I’m a living witness that God is not only capable of replenishing what we previously lost but He often replaces it with something far better. Years ago, I lost everything on the ground floor of my home in a flood. During that crisis, the Lord taught me valuable lessons that deepened my trust His provision, favor, and restoration. God can use a loss to increase of faith. When we place our trust in Him, we can live a life of freedom and abundance because we can trust Him to handle the challenge of each day as well as all of our tomorrows.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” -James 1:2-4

 

 

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