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Bringing Calm to Unrest

Last Thursday, I was encouraged when my husband Mitch and I were finally able to have lunch together at one of our favorite restaurants. After months of isolation due to COVID-19, things were finally starting to look up. Stores and restaurants were gradually opening back up, still with the need to maintain social distancing, but it felt like things had turned a corner. Our church was even planning in-person services on Sunday, and though we had decided to wait a few more weeks before going back, things were finally starting to look hopeful.

Then, as we left the restaurant to take a package to UPS, we turned on the radio and listened to the news. The heartbreaking story of the senseless death of George Floyd was the top story. We expected there to be some protests about this situation, but we really didn’t know what was ahead. What started as a peaceful protest of the injustice was quickly hijacked by violent external groups bent on destruction and mayhem.

Soon after that, we learned George Floyd was originally from Houston, our hometown, and that his family still lives here. So as we heard of the rioting and destruction in other cities I was a little fearful of what was ahead. George Floyd’s brother Terrence has been a calming voice in our city, saying violence wasn’t the way to honor his brother. He said, “My family is a peaceful family, my family is God fearing. Do this another way.” This has still been a time of deep grieving, but Houston has been spared most of the destruction and violence that has marked other cities.

As I’ve thought about this situation, two questions have been on my mind. First, as Christians, how are we to be a calming force in the midst of situations like this? First, remember we are all created in the image of God. Our skin color or nationality doesn’t change that. Paul gave us advice on how we are to deal with situations such as these, two important instructions found in the book of Romans that apply to situations of injustice. We are told to weep with those who weep, and our ultimate goal is to learn to live in harmony with one another.

Another truth is equally important in this situation. Ephesians 6 reminds us that our battle isn’t just with flesh and blood. Yes, there are people involved whose desire is to fan the embers of hatred into a raging fire. But behind them there are spiritual forces in control. Walking in this understanding and responding in love and prayer can bring healing to a horrible situation.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” Ephesians 6:12-13

Yes, the United States is in turmoil right now, but as Christians we can help to bring the presence of the Prince of Peace into the unrest. Let’s reach out to our black brothers and sisters and support them through this time. And let’s pray for all those affected by this travesty.

Remember, the Light of Christ can overcome the darkness, the Love of Christ can replace hatred. Though prayer, we can come against the spiritual forces that are behind this situation. And we can run to the Lord, our strong tower, and find in Him a place of safety.

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” Proverbs 18:10

Rejoicing in Hope During Difficult Times

Earlier this year, officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that it wasn’t a question of if but of when the novel coronavirus would spread in the United States. They warned that the spread of this disease would drastically change our daily lives. In this past two weeks, we have seen what was expected and more.

The spread of this virus has been not just in the US, but around the world. No matter where you live, you have probably experienced major changes in your daily life. Unfamiliar terms have become commonplace: pandemic, self-quarantine, social distancing, lockdown, shelter in place or stay at home orders. Non essential medical procedures have been put on hold. Churches are now restricted to internet broadcasts of services. Grocery stores are lacking the things we routinely buy, from milk and eggs to toilet paper and sanitizer products. And the list goes on and on.

We are living in a drastically different world, with no idea if or when we will return to the world we once knew. The Coronavirus Pandemic has produced a “new normal” for all of us!

The question on my heart as I’ve walked through these last two weeks has been how does God want us to live during times like these? In an atmosphere of fear and panic, how can we walk in a way that both enables us to have joy and peace and also draws others to the God we serve? This was on my heart when I sat down on Monday for my daily quiet time.

I had my quiet time all mapped out, but as I sat down to spend time in God’s Word the Holy Spirit led me in a different direction than I had planned. In essence, the Lord led me to a verse providing the instruction I was needing to walk in peace and victory during this unique season none of us have ever experienced before. As I was reading Romans 12, a familiar passage, verse 12 jumped out at me like I had never seen it before.

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:12

REJOICE IN HOPE
To rejoice is to be in a state of happiness and inner sense of well being that is not affected by outward circumstances. It is to be “cheer” full, calmly happy. Rejoicing includes both inner joy and outward rejoicing.

The Greek word translated “rejoice” is in the present tense. It paints a picture of living with a habitual attitude of inner joy that results in outer rejoicing. Joy is the deep-down sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows all is well between them and the Lord and is independent of whether circumstances are favorable or unfavorable.

God is not asking us to rejoice in our circumstances. He is calling us to rejoice in Him in the midst of the circumstances. We do that as we walk in anticipation of what He is able to do in them, through them, and in spite of them.

According to Psalm 118:24, rejoicing is an act of our will, a choice we make. “This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.”
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Our rejoicing is to be in hope. Worldly or cultural hope is an optimistic desire that something we desire will happen. Biblical or Christian hope is different. It is the assurance that God will do what He has promised. This is the only kind of hope that has the power to anchor our souls, holding us steady during times of uncertainty. It is the kind of hope described in Hebrews 6:19, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul…”
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BE PATIENT IN TRIBULATION
The Greek word translated “patient” literally means “to stay under”. And what are we to stay under? Pressure or pressing circumstances. Sounds a lot like our daily lives since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. This is basically a call to stand firm in our faith when circumstances feel overwhelming.

Persevering when you are experiencing crushing circumstances is not a call for you to just “man up” or to “grit your teeth” and “bear it.” That is the “world’s way” of dealing with difficult situations.

As followers of Christ, the answer is not found in self-reliance and self-effort. If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit now indwells your body (see 1 Corinthians 6:19). He came to be your Helper in situations like the one we are currently walking through. He provides what is needed for us to walk through difficult circumstances, as we yield to His supernatural enabling power.

Rejoicing in hope enables us to persevere or remain under the circumstances that are pressing down on us. As we lean on the Helper, we are empowered to wait calmly as the Lord works everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.
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BE CONSTANT IN PRAYER
Someone has said that prayer is the breath of the Christian life. There is nothing more more vital to living a victorious Christian life than prayer. Unfortunately, few aspects of the lives of Christians are more vulnerable to neglect.

Prominent nineteenth century American evangelist Dwight L Moody said, “I’d rather be able to pray than to be a great preacher; Jesus Christ never taught his disciples how to preach, but only how to pray.”

Charles Spurgeon, England’s best known preacher during the second half of the nineteenth century and known as “the prince of preachers,” said prayer and an open Bible together were the key to bringing the will of God to bear upon the distresses of this life.

“Whenever your hope seems to fail you and your joy begins to sink, the shortest method is to take to your knees. By remembering the promise in prayer, hope will be sustained and then joy is sure to spring from it. An open Bible and a bowed head create a powerful atmosphere in which God’s will is brought to bear upon the distresses of life. Jesus even recommended we “nag” God with our requests, like a persistent neighbor at a friend’s door or a relentless widow harassing a presiding judge.”

GOD IS THE GOD OF HOPE                                                                                                              In Romans 15, the apostle Paul shares a Messianic prophecy from the prophet Isaiah. He says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” The following verse gives a name of God that is only seen in this passage. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans‬ ‭15:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Biblical hope is found in a person, the root of Jesse, the One we know as Jesus Christ. He is the foundation upon which our hope is built, and He has promised to return for His body, the church. We are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus‬ ‭2:13-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬) That truth keeps us firmly anchored as  we go through hard times.

One powerful way to pray is to use God’s own words to seek His help in situations that we are powerless to change. We are enabled to rejoice in hope when we remember that our God is the God of hope. He is the foundation upon which our hope is build. And his desire is to fill us “to the brim” with peace and joy.

Are you feeling discouraged, fearful, anxious about what lies ahead? Let’s take our petitions to “the God of hope” and leave the burden on His shoulders. Let’s with confidence draw near to God’s throne of grace, that each of us may receive the mercy and grace to help us walk through this time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

My prayer for you today comes from Romans 15:13 (NLT):
“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
‭‭88A6CE19-65EB-4527-997A-4FCCE127D306Hope

Never Alone: God’s Presence & His Rest

Early in July, on the day before I was scheduled to go in for an MRI on my left knee, I heard the still, small voice of God speak a very clear message to my heart. Since the pain in that knee had gone from very mild to extremely severe overnight over a month before, I was ready for some answers. But what I heard wasn’t exactly what I was asking for in prayer. Instead, the Lord clearly spoke two verses of Scripture to my heart, with the strong impression that I was going to need to hold onto these to make it through the following months in victory. I immediately opened the Bible Memory app I use as a part of my daily quiet time, entered these two verses, and began memorizing them.

The first verse was Deuteronomy 31:8, which says (in NIV84, the version I frequently use when memorizing Scripture), “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

The second verse was today’s I Am Not Alone verse, Exodus 33:14. In the same version, it reads “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Since that day, though God has given me several other verses that have been helpful during this time of dealing with multiple health issues, these two verses have been the ones that I’ve returned to over and over and over again. So on Wednesday morning, when I looked on our list of verses for the I Am Not Alone Bible Reading Plan to find today’s verse, I didn’t need to stop first to look up the verse in my Bible.  After reviewing this verse nearly daily since July 8th, I immediately recognized the Exodus 33:14 reference. “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.

Now, let’s dig a little deeper into the meaning of today’s verse. It contains two promises from God, first to the children of Israel to whom it was originally addressed, but as we’ll see later, also promises God has given us.

First, it says, “My presence will go with you.”

The children of Israel were on a journey. God had delivered them from bondage and oppression in Egypt, He had gone with them through a wilderness experience characterized by disobedience, dangers and drought, and now it was time for the final stage of the journey to begin, actually entering Canaan, the land of milk and honey God had promised His people.

But as Exodus 33 begins, God is not exactly happy with His people. Read these words God spoke to Moses at the beginning of this chapter.

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Exodus 33:1-3 ESV

‭‭So what happened between verse 3 and verse 14, today’s key verse? Moses interceded before God for the stiff-necked people he had been called to lead. A part of Moses’ prayer is recorded in verses 12-13.

“See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”

Basically, Moses was apprehensive about taking on the responsibility of leading God’s people into the promised land without God’s help, and he appealed to the mercy of God. He told Almighty God, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.” And today’s verse is God’s response. Moses’ prayer of intercession changed God’s mind.

As God’s people under the New Covenant, He has made the same promise to us, as the verses we have been studying this month have confirmed over and over again.

‭‭The second promise of today’s verse: “And I will give you rest.”

First, what exactly does the word “rest” mean as it is used in the Bible. There are several words both in the Old and New Testament, but for today I’m going to stick to the three that most directly apply to us.

The Hebrew word used in the Exodus 33, “nawach,” means “to rest, settle down and remain; to repose, have rest, be quiet.”

When Christ taught on entering rest, He used the Greek word anapauō” which refers not to a “rest from work” but rather to a “rest in work.” Christ’s rest is not the rest of inactivity, but rather the inner rest of living in harmony with God.

But the word used in the Hebrews passage I’ll refer to later “katapausis” more closely parallels the Hebrew word used in Exodus 33 and includes the idea of “to cease, refresh, be quiet.”

God’s presence and His rest are inseparably joined in today’s verse. But there is also something required of us to enter God’s rest. Let’s look in the book of Hebrews for a clearer understanding of the process of entering God’s rest.

For the children of Israel, this was a promise of rest from the toils and dangers of the wilderness wanderings as they entered their promised land. Unfortunately, Hebrews 3:18-19 explains that they failed to enter His rest for two closely tied reasons, disobedience and unbelief.

The good news is that the account in Hebrews concerning entering God’s rest doesn’t end with these words. Hebrews 4 begins with a promise that the possibility of entering God’s rest still stands. These verses also include a warning for us, a reminder that entering God’s rest has the same two requirements for us that it had for Israel, faith which is demonstrated through obedience.

If it’s your desire to enter God’s rest in the midst of the sufferings and conflicts that are a part of life on this earth, take time today to open your Bible and read Hebrews 4:1-13. Remember, rest is found in God’s presence, but it also requires something from us.

As you read these verses, thank God for the gift of rest that He is offering you today, but also take some time to pray and ask God to show you if there is anything in your life that needs to be dealt with so that you can enter His rest. Any unbelief? Any disobedience to something He has clearly instructed you to do in His Word? God’s rest is one of the richest gifts He has offered His children. As Hebrews 4:11 (NLT) says, “So let us do our best to enter that rest.”

‭‭On this Thankful Thursday, let’s thank God for this gift of His rest and do our best to enter that rest.

God Over All We Don’t Know

Today, I’m trying to recover from two physically exhausting days of medical appointments and two nights where the pain kept me awake. Life with chronic illness can be difficult, especially when new symptoms start popping up and we don’t know the cause of them. Doctor’s appointments, lab work, medical tests – they can all be challenging when you’re already feeling at the end of your strength.

But as I was taking some time in prayer this morning, God gently spoke to my mind in the midst of all the unknowns to turn my eyes on what I DO KNOW. I may not know why the Lord has allowed this interruption in my plans or what the future holds. But I do know I’m not alone. No matter what today or the future holds, I know I can continue moving forward because the Lord is at my side.

  • I do know I can choose to draw close to God and find comfort in His presence and His Word.
  • I do know He is my loving Father, who wants the very best for me.
  • I do know He is my faithful God who always keeps His promises.
  • I do know His grace is sufficient for me in every situation He asks me to walk through.
  • I do know He invites me to cast all my cares on Him because He cares for me.
  • I do know He proved without a doubt how much He loves me when He paid the ultimate price of giving His Son Jesus Christ to make a way for me to draw near to Him in both good times and in times of need.
  • I do know He is God over all I don’t know, over every pain, fear, and unanswered question. Even when I don’t know all the answers I can rest in the assurance that my God does!

No matter what fears you’re battling today or what unanswered questions you have, you can know we serve a God who is God over ALL we don’t know.

I love this song that reminds us of this truth.

Thankful For Access to God’s Presence

In a recent discussion in our iConnect Bible Study group at our church, we were reflecting on how blessed we are to be living during this time in history. Because Jesus came to earth as Immanuel, God with us, lived a perfect life, died in our place to pay the penalty for our sin, and was resurrected and returned to the right hand of the Father in heaven, life is entirely different for those who have placed their faith in Him as Savior and Lord.

Last week, our Thankful Thursday post was on one blessing that is ours because of the era in which we live, the indwelling Holy Spirit who empowers, teaches, and guides us – and so much more. This week, I wanted to focus on another blessing we have thanks to the finished work of Jesus on the Cross and our salvation by grace through faith in our Redeemer.

This often forgotten blessing is spoken of in Matthew 2:51, Mark 15:38, and Luke 23:45, as well as referred to in Hebrews 9 and 10. And it marks the end of life under the old covenant and beginning of the new covenant of grace.

“And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” ‭‭Mark‬ ‭15:38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The curtain of the temple, also called the veil, was a curtain believed to be around 60 feet long and four inches thick (according to early Jewish tradition) and made of blue, purple, and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen (see Exodus 26:31). It’s purpose was to separate the part of the temple called the Most Holy Place, which held the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat – the earthly dwelling place of God’s presence – from the rest of the temple where men entered. This veil signified that man was separated by God because of sin. It marked the boundary between God’s pure holiness and the wickedness of mankind.

‭‭Only the High Priest was permitted to enter the Most Holy Place, going through this curtain, and even he could only enter once a year, on the Day of Atonement. Before entering, the High Priest was to bathe and put on special garments, then sacrifice a bull for a sin offering for himself and his family. The blood of the bull was to be sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant. Then the High Priest was to bring two goats for the sins of the people, one of which was to be sacrifices for their sins and its blood sprinkled on the Ark. The other goat was used as a scapegoat, which symbolically carried on itself all the sins of the people and was sent out and released into the wilderness.

If anyone else entered the Most Holy Place, or even if the High Priest entered on any day other than the Day of Atonement, that person would immediately die. It yearly sprinkling of the innocent sacrifice’s blood on the bowl on gold lid of the Ark provided atonement for the sin of mankind for another year.

The size and thickness of the veil and the fact that it was torn in two from top to bottom make it clear that no human being could have accomplished this. It reminds us that in Jesus the final and full sacrifice for sin has been paid. And it also signifies the end of the Old Covenant of the Law and the beginning of the New Covenant of Grace.

Hebrews tells us that this curtain or vail was symbolic of Christ Himself, that the veil was representative of His broken flesh on the Cross.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews‬ ‭10:19-22‬ ‭ESV‬

On this Thankful Thursday, I’m eternally grateful that there is no longer a heavy curtain separating me from the presence of my Heavenly Father. I’m grateful that Jesus, through His substitutionary death on the Cross, removed the barrier separating us from God. I’m especially thankful for His invitation to draw near to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace in my time of need.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews‬ ‭4:14-16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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Importunate Prayer

Do you ever go to a prayer meeting – or open our God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness Prayer Group page – and wonder why the requests seem so familiar? Why the same or similar requests keep coming up over and over again? In the case of our prayer group, one reason for this may be the fact that all of our members deal with chronic illnesses, which means new issues constantly need to be dealt with. Another, the fact that God uses our difficult circumstances to do a work in our lives that He counts as more important eternally than an immediate healing.

As I was praying about this characteristic of our times of prayer, I came across a concept I knew little about, that of importunate prayer.

In his book The Necessity of Prayer, E.M. Bounds defines importunate prayer and explains why it is important.

“He prays not at all, who does not press his plea. Cold prayers have no claim on heaven & no hearing in the courts above. Fire is the life of prayer, and heaven is reached by flaming importunity rising in an ascending scale.

“Importunate praying is the earnest, inward movement of the heart toward God. It is the throwing of the entire force of the spiritual man into the exercise of prayer. Forceless prayers have no power to overcome difficulties, no power to win marked results or to gain complete victories.”

Jesus spoke of the need for persistence in prayer in two parables that are recorded in the book of Luke. In Luke 11:5-8, immediately after teaching the disciples how to pray according to what we call the Lord’s Prayer, He shares a story about a person who goes to his friend for help feeding unexpected visitors.

“Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

In Luke 18:2-8, He shares a second parable to encourage us to not lose heart in prayer. This time, the story involves an unrighteous judge who did not fear God or respect people, and a widow who is seeking legal protection, which he gives her, not because he cares about the widow but because of her persistence in asking.

“In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’ And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?'”

‭‭These parables don’t teach that God is reluctant to answer our prayers. He delights in answering the honest requests of our hearts. But at times, God’s timing is not the same as ours. At times, God wants to deal with an unconfessed sin in our lives before answering or to build some positive character quality in our lives that will only grow under pressure.

Importunate prayer is first and foremost prayer that keeps asking, that is persistent in asking a God who sometimes delays the answer, not because He is indifferent to our needs but rather because He wants us to learn how to walk in faith and consistency.

Importunate prayer is the opposite of lazy or lukewarm prayer. It is prayer that comes from a trusting and godly heart, a pure conscience, and a determination to keep praying until we have an assurance that God has heard and will answer. It is prayer that is built on the foundation of the goodness and faithfulness of our God, and persists in praying until an answer is received.

A Miraculous Answer to Fervent Prayer

With the health problems I live with daily and my need for a walker to get around, my husband or I usually check the weather forecast before the two of us leave the house. If the odds of bad weather are high and the outing is one that can be postponed, I usually end up staying in the safety of our home for another day.

Acts 12:1-6 describes a situation where the odds for Peter were not very promising. His friend and fellow apostle James had just been beheaded, and Peter was in prison, chained to two guards with two more outside the cell for double protection. And this time, the arrest was officially made by the king who lived to please the Jews. Passover was causing a delay in Herod Agrippa I carrying out his plans, but it was nearly time for the planned release of the prisoner to the Jewish leaders who wanted Peter to suffer the same consequence of preaching in Jesus’ name that James had already suffered.

Yet God did the unexpected. God’s plan for Peter included such a miraculous deliverance that even those who were gathered to intercede for him were shocked at the answer to their prayers. https://biblia.com/bible/nasb95/Acts%2012.13-16

As I’ve heard this story taught in the past, the fact that those who were gathered praying for Peter were surprised when he showed up at their prayer meeting, so surprised that he was left standing at the gate knocking when the servant girl realized he was there, was given as evidence of their unbelief. A careful study of this passage shows me that’s probably not what was going on. Verse 5 makes it clear that these believers were fervently praying for Peter.

“Fervently” means they were praying with a right spirit, earnestly and without relaxing in their effort. That doesn’t sound to me like God’s view of their prayers is in agreement with this idea that their’s prayers somehow fell short of what pleases God, that their response reveals their prayers reflected unbelieving hearts.

It sounds like they were human, struggling with the recent death of one of their leaders and seeking to align their hearts with God’s will for Peter, whether it was his death or his deliverance. Their first thoughts appear to have been that Peter’s work was done and God had taken him home to be with Him, as He had Stephen (in Acts 7) and James (in Acts 12:1-2), and that the one at the gate was actually Peter’s angel, there to announce his departure.

Instead I see this as a rather humorous account of a miraculous intervention by God. If one of those gathered in prayer had simply responded to the knocking, they would have recognized God was at work in their midst. And as I read this passage, I had to stop and ask myself if my prayer qualifies as fervent. I learned I deinitely have room to grow in this area.

So what are the characteristics of fervent prayer?

  • Fervent Prayer is intense and earnest, coming from a heart seeking to please God.
  • Fervent Prayer perseveres until an answer is received.
  • Fervent Prayer involves genuine contact with the living God through faith.
  • Fervent Prayer seeks the will of God and not our will.
  • Fervent Prayer is based on the Word of God and the promises in the Word.
  • Fervent Prayer seeks God’s glory, never the glory of those who are praying.

In Acts 12, those gathered to intercede for Peter were praying with intensity and perseverance. I believe they were seeking understanding of God’s will in this particular situation, not assuming God would do what they wanted. They knew Jesus’ teaching about counting the cost of being a disciple, and they knew deliverance wasn’t God’s will in every situation.

I believe in the weakness of their humanity they were seeking to align their will with the will of God, to what would bring Him glory in this situation. But what they were missing was a clear revelation of the will of God in this particular situation. What they didn’t know is that this time God’s will was not the same as His will for Stephen and James. Peter still had work to finish, his purpose was not completed, so in this case there would be an amazing deliverance, one that was possible only with the power of God.

An interesting side note to this story. Peter’s deliverance was the fulfillment of a promise Jesus gave him of living until old age when He forgave, restored and called Peter to serve Him after he had denied Jesus three times. In John 21:18 Jesus said to Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go. ” When the angel came to set Peter free, on the night before he faced probable death, he had to be roused from a deep and peaceful sleep before the angel could carry out his instructions. According to extra-biblical history, Peter probably lived around twenty-four more years before he became a martyr for the faith.

Battling Anxiety by Prayer with Thanksgiving

“BE ANXIOUS FOR NOTHING , but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians ‭4:6‬ NASB

The above Bible verse has been one of my favorites for many years. I memorized it at least ten years ago. I’ve tried to live it out whenever circumstances came that caused anxiety, even studied Max Lucado’s book Anxious For Nothing last year and found help in overcoming some anxiety I was battling during that time.

Yet when I learned about three weeks ago that our home was no longer insurable due to extensive damage during the last two hurricanes that hit the Houston area – that to have continued insurance coverage on our home we had an estimated $40,000 of repairs (not covered by our insurance company) that we needed to find a way to cover – I still had a major battle with anxiety. Yes, I tried to cast my burdens on the Lord, but the anxiety remained. I prayed, but I still was waking up in the middle of the night feeling so anxious about this situation that I couldn’t get back to sleep.

Knowing I needed to find a way to deal with this before it started causing major problems with my health, I prayed and sensed the Lord speaking to my heart that I needed to reach out for help. We had already shared some of the details of what we are facing with the couple who lead our iConnect Bible Study class at church, so I made a call and explained the problem I was having to my friend Donna.

After listening patiently to my explanation of what had been happening, my friend gave me several practical suggestions to use to conquer my fears. First, she reminded me of the above Scripture. We discussed some of the specific fears that were keeping me awake at night. Donna asked me to make a list of those fears and others that came and then find Scriptures I could use in prayer to combat the nighttime fears. And she reminded me of the second action called for in Philippians 4:6, giving thanks to the Lord in the midst of our current circumstances. She also gave several other practical suggestions, which I’ve been putting into practice.

This was nearly two weeks ago, and nothing in our circumstances has changed. But my outlook on the circumstances has turned 180 degrees. Yes, I’m still having an occasional battle with anxiety keeping me from getting a full night of sleep some nights. But the combination of identifying my fears, reminding myself of what God’s Word says about the things I’m fearing, and looking for things to thank God for in the midst of this situation has made a big difference.

Dr. David Jeremiah, founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, said:

“No matter what our circumstance, we can find a reason to be thankful.”

I don’t believe Philippians 4:6 is telling us to give thanks FOR the problems we are walking through but rather IN the troubles that are causing anxiety. Frankly, I’m not thankful about the damage that happened to our home or the fact that neither the government disaster relief agency nor our insurance company did anything to help after hurricane Harvey last summer. I’m not thankful that our attempt to find a new insurance company that would actually do more than take our money ended up causing our insurance to be cancelled because my husband was honest about the current condition of the house. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to give thanks for in this situation.

I am thankful that the damage to our home last summer did not mean we had to move out, which would have been a huge problem with the medical needs of our son David. Many in the Houston area were not so fortunate. I’m grateful that God provided enough money to repair the leak in the roof so that future rainstorms did not result in even more damage. And I’m thankful for supportive friends who are helping us through this difficult time in a way that encourages us to honor God and His Word. And above all, I’m grateful that God has been with us as we walk through this difficult season, doing a work in both my husband’s life and my life.

Prayer is an important key to getting past our anxious thoughts. But remember when Philippians 4:6 gives us counsel on how to overcome anxiety it adds something to prayer. Thanksgiving.

My husband and I have prayed about our situation, reminding God that without His help there is nothing we can do to turn this around. We are doing the things He has shown us to do. And we are thanking Him daily for His blessings in the midst of the hardship.

Are you currently battling anxiety over some circumstances beyond your control? If so, I want to remind you that they are NOT beyond God’s control. He loves you with an everlasting, steadfast love and He has a track record from Creation till now of faithfulness. So instead of giving in to anxious thoughts, pray. Tell Him what you need. Praise Him for who He is. Thank Him for how He has come through for you in impossible situations in the past. And even look for something you can thank Him for in your current stressful circumstances.

The situation may not change overnight – but I suspect YOU will begin to change. And according to Romans 8:28-29, that’s one way God uses everything we face for our good and His glory, as we are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Add giving thanks to your prayers and see what happens.

 

Thanking God in the Midst of Uncertainty

Last Friday, I had an unusually healthy day. I woke up feeling well rested and with very little pain. After spending some time reading my Bible, my husband and I left for what I expected to be a routine doctor’s appointment.

At my last appointment a month earlier, my doctor had stopped both of my high blood pressure meds, after losing a few pounds had put my blood pressure in the ideal range. Today’s appointment was to see how I was doing after a month off these meds and to go over the results of a full body bone scan she had ordered when recent blood work had shown some abnormalities which she thought were related to my bone health. I received a great report in both of these areas. My blood pressure was still in the ideal range and the bone scan ruled out the bone problems she was most concerned about.

After she went over the positive results, my doctor asked and I answered a long list of questions concerning my health. Yes, I had been purposely trying to lose weight. No, I wasn’t having any digestion problems. No, I wasn’t having a problem with bloating or abdominal pain. No unusual weakness or fatigue.

In essence, my doctor was trying to rule out all the things that could have caused the abnormality in my blood work, which she now told me was even worse with the last lab results. She ordered new blood work and talked about some possibilities of what might be going on. Basically, she had ruled out just about everything that would explain the worsening results except for major problems with my liver or pancreas, mentioning cancer as one of the very real possibilities.

I came home that day suddenly facing a future filled with unknowns. Now that I have the results of last Friday’s blood work, which didn’t show any improvement, I know the next steps, a CT-scan of my liver and pancreas and a bone density test, both scheduled for next Friday. I’m taking the steps medically that seem wise at this point. But I’m placing even greater attention on taking what I’m facing to God’s throne of grace, asking for His mercy and grace in my time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

This past week, I’ve been doing lots of praying, asking God to help me see this situation from His perspective. And God reminded me that this situation was out of my control – but it wasn’t beyond His control. Nothing could touch my life without His allowing it, and anything He allows is for my good and His glory. I heard, “Don’t be afraid. Trust Me.”

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Last week, my blog post was on giving God thanks in everything we face, and I’ve been trying to take my own advice this week. How do you give thanks for a new health crisis? For a season filled with unknowns? It all comes down to truly knowing the God we serve. As Kay Arthur said, “God is in control, and therefore in EVERYTHING I can give thanks – not because of the situation but because of the One who directs and rules over it.

One of my favorite ways to give thanks in the midst of uncertainty is by writing Scripture-based prayers of gratefulness to God for who He is. The following passage was in my scheduled Bible reading for Wednesday, May 16 (the day I was writing the first part of this article, for a Thankful Thursday post with God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness), and it was a perfect Scripture to turn into a prayer of gratefulness.

Thank You, Lord, that You are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you will answer me. (Psalms 86:5-7 ESV)

This morning, as I began my regular quiet time by reading today’s devotional in Praying God’s Word Day By Day, by Beth Moore, the two-fold message I’ve been reflecting on all week was again repeated: This situation is under God’s control, and my focus right now needs to be on God’s character, especially on His steadfast love for me.  Beth’s Scripture prayer based on Psalms 116:15 was,

“Lord, sometimes my only answer will be that You are sovereign… One day I will have all the answers. But until then, I must trust that You have power and dominion over all things and that You know best. Help me to believe this even when I don’t feel it.”

And the other half of her message, based on Psalms 119:76-77, 81 was,

“May Your unfailing love be my comfort, according to Your promise to Your servant. Let Your compassion come to me that I may live, for Your law is my delight. My soul faints with longing for Your salvation, but I have put my hope in Your Word.”

Reading this led me to a shift in my Bible study plan for the day, as I did a topical study on God’s steadfast love. Here are a few of the verses that encouraged me this morning (all verses in ESV):

  • Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.” 3‭‭Psalms‬ ‭6:4‬
  • But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭13:5‬ ‭
  • All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭25:10‬ ‭
  • Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭33:18‬ ‭
  • But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.” Psalms‬ ‭59:16-17‬ ‭‬‬

And as the last verse above encouraged me to do, I closed my quiet time by singing aloud of God’s steadfast love, using several songs including this one.

St. Patrick’s Day: The True Story Behind the Annual Celebration

St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated each year on March 17th, is about more than shamrocks and leprechauns. St. Patrick’s Day commemorates the life of an early Christian missionary.

In the fifth century, Ireland was a beautiful island enshrouded in violence and spiritual darkness. Warlords and druids ruled the land. But one man would be used by God to break through the darkness and introduce the light of Christ to this heathen land.

The man we now know as St. Patrick was born in Roman ruled Britain to a middle-class Christian family around A.D. 390. The grandson of a priest and son of a deacon, Patrick was exposed early to the truth of the Gospel, yet by the time he was a teenager he had rebelled against his Christian upbringing to the point that he was pratically an atheist.

Then his life took a drastic change for the worse. Irish raiders attacked his home and he was abducted from his village and thrown onto a slave ship headed for Ireland. At 16 years of age he found himself a slave in a foreign land, separated from everything he’d ever known. He was sold to an Irish chieftain named Milchu, who put him to work as a shepherd.

Patrick saw this difficult situation in his life as God’s chastising him, believing he deserved what had happened because of his rejection of the faith of his fathers. And while a slave in Ireland, his life began to change. Instead of becoming bitter, he turned to the God he knew about but had previously refused to acknowledge as his God.

Rev. Brady, the Roman Catholic Archbiship of Armagh and Primate of All of Ireland, says of young Patrick,

“He says, ‘I prayed a hundred times in the day and almost as many at night,’ Through that experience of prayer and trial, he came to know another God — God the Father, who was his protector. He came to know Jesus Christ in those sufferings, and he came to be united with Christ and he came to identify with Christ, and then of course, also the Holy Spirit.”

Patrick’s hard years of slavery came to an end six years later, when during a time of prayer and fasting God spoke to him that he would soon return to his own country and gave him clear direction when it was time to leave. He escaped and traveled 200 miles to the west coast, where he found a ship – the ship God had shown him in prayer – ready to sail. Though at first refused passage, after desperate prayer Patrick was allowed aboard. He returned to his home and family, where he began to study for the ministry.

Patrick had no desire to return to Ireland, but that was exactly what God asked of him. Philip Freeman, author of St. Patrick of Ireland, says:

“One night, he had a dream. There was a man who came from Ireland with a whole bunch of letters. And he opened up one of the letters and it said ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ And then he heard a voice coming out of this letter that said, ‘Holy boy, please return to us. We need you.'”

Patrick struggled in his soul, not convinced this dream was from God and having no desire to return to Ireland and minister to the same people who had enslaved him. Once again, he turned to God in prayer. He received the answer in a dream. God truly was calling him to return to Ireland as a missionary, and he stepped out in obedience to God’s leading.

Patrick gave 29 years of his life to ministry and established the first Christian church in all of Ireland. During that time, he preached the Gospel, baptized over 120,000 Irishmen, and planted 300 churches. Freeman declares, “What Patrick did was really lay the groundwork for Christianity.” Because of Patrick’s willingness to die to his own will and return to Ireland, the land of his suffering, in obedience to the Lord’s call, that nation was forever changed. Reflect on this truth as you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year.