Tag Archive | Faith

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.

Are You a “God-fearer” or a Born Again Christian?

I’ve been doing an in-depth study of the book of Acts, and today’s lesson was on the beginning verses of Acts 10, which focus on Cornelius. Luke, the author of Acts, describes Cornelius as “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:2), yet as the chapter continues we learn he was still a man who needed to hear and receive the good news of salvation by grace.

My Christian life began in a series of Methodist churches, so when I read the following quote by Warren Wiersbe comparing Cornelius to John Wesley it stood out to me.

“In many respects, John Wesley was like Cornelius. He was a religious man, a church member, a minister, and the son of a minister. He belonged to a ‘religious club’ at Oxford, the purpose of which was the perfecting of the Christian life. Wesley served as a foreign missionary, but even as he preached to others, he had no assurance of his own personal salvation.

“On May 24, 1738, Wesley reluctantly attended a small meeting in London where someone was reading aloud from Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans. ‘About a quarter before nine,’ Wesley wrote in his journal, ‘while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed, I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’ The result was the great Wesleyan revival that not only swept many into the kingdom, but also helped transform British society through Christian social action.”

This is also a good description of my life. From the time I was a small child, I was in church most Sundays. But like John Wesley and Cornelius, while I believed in Jesus Christ, I did not trust in Him alone for salvation. My trust was in my good works. That changed when I was in my first year of teaching kindergarten, when my eyes were opened to the need to trust in the finished work of Jesus on the Cross alone for salvation.

What about you? Are you like Cornelius at the beginning of this chapter, “a devout man (or woman) who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” (Acts‬ ‭10:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬) Are you a seeker or a true believer in Christ?

Salvation is by placing our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. It is a gift of grace, based on what Jesus has already done.

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans‬ ‭10:9-10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Joy From Abiding in Christ

In recent weeks, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I have been doing a study on the book of Acts. This week, I’ve been looking at Acts 8. The previous chapter focused on the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and Acts 8 begins with persecution spreading and many believers, both men and women, being dragged off to prison. The result was the dispersion of many of the believers from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria – which was God’s plan to begin with (see Acts 1:8). God used this difficult situation to begin spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the non-Jewish world.

As I was reading Acts 8:4-8, which talks about Philip going to the city of Samaria and proclaiming Christ to the crowds gathered to hear his message, verse 8 stood out to me. “So there was much joy in that city.

Facing severe persecution, being forced to leave my home and flee to a city of strangers that I really had nothing in common with doesn’t sound to me like the ideal soil for producing joy. But when God is in control, even the most difficult circumstances can be fertile soil for the growth of biblical joy.

The Greek word translated joy in Acts 8:8 is chara, which refers to “an inner gladness; a deep seated pleasure. It is a depth of assurance and confidence that ignites a cheerful heart. It is a cheerful heart that leads to cheerful behavior. Joy is not an experience that comes from favorable circumstances but is God’s gift to believers. Joy is a part of God’s very essence and as discussed below His Spirit manifests this supernatural joy in His children. Joy is the deep-down sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows all is well between himself and the Lord.” (from http://www.preceptaustin.org, Greek Word Studies)

Alfred Plummer, pastor and professor at Columbia Theological Seminary during the late 1800’s, wrote that joy is “the result of conscious union with God and good men, of conscious possession of eternal life…and which raises us above pain and sorrow and remorse.

Donald Campbell, former President of Dallas Theological Seminary, has defined joy as “a deep and abiding inner rejoicing which was promised to those who abide in Christ. It does not depend on circumstances because it rests in God’s sovereign control of all things.”

Jesus taught that abiding in Him is the secret to being filled with joy. Pastor John Piper explains what it means to abide in Jesus. He said, “active abiding is the act of receiving and trusting all that God is for us in Christ… It is trusting in Jesus, remaining in fellowship with Jesus, connecting to Jesus so that all that God is for us in him is flowing like a life-giving sap into our lives.”

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing…These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John‬ ‭15:5, 11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Even in the midst of suffering and weariness, abiding in Jesus is a key to walking in joy. And as Swiss theological Karl Barth has said, “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”

The God of the Impossible

Tomorrow will be the five-month anniversary of the day the Lord took our son David to his heavenly home. When David was born, my husband and I entered an unknown world of being the parents of a child with extensive medical needs that our lives centered around meeting his needs.

During David’s short lifetime, we’ve faced a long list of diagnoses with diseases we had never even heard of before, fragile bones which resulted is numerous fractures, evaluations by doctors that put David’s life-expectancy at twelve years or less, dozens of hospitalizations which could have ended in death, and even a legal battle to not lose all his essential nursing care when he turned twenty-one. In the midst of all of this, the Lord graciously gave us thirty-four years with David.

On this Thankful Thursday, I’m grateful for the work God has done in my husband’s and my life over the last thirty-four plus years to bring us to the place where the attributes of God’s character have moved from being words in a book to being truths we now know by personal experience. Trials are rich soil in which our knowledge of God has the opportunity to grow.

  • I now know our God is a loving and compassionate Father, because I’ve seen His love and compassion in innumerable situations in our lives.
  • I now know God is faithful to keep His promises, because in one circumstance after another God has given us promises and then done exactly what He promised.
  • I now know God has the power to do what looks impossible in my eyes, because I’ve seen Him turn around several situations that looked impossible.

The one situation that stands out to me above all others was what God did when David aged out of the children’s services program that provided him with sixteen hours a day of private duty nursing care. When David’s twenty-first birthday was approaching, the state offered us only two options. We could choose to keep David at home and meet his extensive medical needs without any nursing care, or we could institutionalize him in a state school. We went to visit the nearest state school for the disabled, and they told us they really hoped we would not enroll him there, because they were not able to meet his extensive medical needs. We’ve never faced a situation that looked more impossible!

God gave us a promise: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew‬ ‭19:26‬ ‭ESV)‬‬ As I was praying, the Lord brought to mind the name of a legal assistance program, Advocacy, Inc. (now known as Disability Rights Texas). I made a call to the local legal office, but this was such a major case that we ended up being represented at the Federal District Court by the top legal team for disability rights in the state of Texas, at no cost to us.

Through a legal settlement, God made a way for us to continue to meet David’s needs in our home, with no reduction in the level of services he received as a child, until the day the Lord took him home. And He provided the added benefit of setting a legal precedent through our case that has helped numerous other families who have faced the same situation when their son or daughter turned twenty-one.

Now that our son is safely in God’s presence, no longer suffering but whole for the first time, our family is walking in a season of transition. The past is behind us, the future uncertain. In this situation, a quote I heard many years ago has come to mind. While I don’t have a clear picture of what lies ahead, I do know the One who does. As Corrie ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

Today, I want to encourage you to look at your current circumstances through the lens of God’s attributes. How has He shown Himself to you through the struggles you’ve walked through? What characteristics of God have moved from simply being something you’ve read about in the Word of God to something you now know by personal experience? Let’s encourage one another today by sharing how your battles with chronic illnesses and whatever other difficulties have been a part of your life have helped you grow in your knowledge of God.

Going “Gratitudinal” – Changing My Attitude to One of Gratitude

The final chapter in Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy, by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, is about change. When we are facing difficult circumstances, change sounds inviting. But this chapter isn’t talking about a change of circumstances. The change referred to in this chapter is a change in our attitude toward our circumstances.

An attitude is a set of emotions, beliefs, and behaviors toward a particular subject, situation, person or group of people. Attitudes are often the result of our experiences or upbringing, and they can have a powerful influence over our behavior. While attitudes are enduring, they can also change. Attitudes are a learned tendency to evaluate things in a certain way, and since they are learned they can also be unlearned.

Woodrow Kroll, evangelical preacher and radio host of Back to the Bible has said concerning our attitude about difficult circumstances, “Nothing is so sour that it can’t be sweetened by a good attitude.”

Author, speaker and pastor John Maxwell wrote in his book Developing the Leader Within You, “The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That’s the day we truly grow up.”

While changing circumstances is a great goal, sometimes we are powerless to do this. For example, I can do nothing to change the fact that our special needs son David suffered for thirty-four years with profound mental retardation, spastic quadriplegia CP, seizures and fragile bones prone to fracture and then graduated from this world to heaven last November. I also can do little to change my personal pain and limitations from the chronic illness and disability I live with daily as a result of an auto accident in 1975 that also took the life of our first born daughter Teresa. But in both of these situations, I do have the power to change my attitude. I can choose to have a God-honoring attitude in whatever circumstances I’m currently walking through.

New attitudes start with new mind-sets and result in new behavior. Let’s take the two circumstances I shared above. In dealing with the challenging life and recent loss of our precious son, I could focus on how hard life was for David and the pain of our recent loss, or I could shift my focus to the truth that David is now in the presence of the Lord and whole after a lifetime in a broken body. In my chronic illness and physical disability, I could turn my mind on all the things I’m unable to do, or I could thank the Lord for the blessings in my life and all the things I am able to do. As Nancy says, “The pathway to personal transformation requires a change in perspective.”

She says, “I’d like to coin a new word for those who may be deficient in the gratitude department (which includes all of us from time to time).” Instead of speaking of “attitudinal change,” Nancy calls us to “gratitudinal change.”

Gratitudinal change comes from choosing “to live in the fullness of your relationship with God, not hindered and hamstrung and holding Him at arm’s length, but experiencing Him richly. Feeling at home in His presence.”

It results in rewriting our story “into a tale of God’s grace, one that He uses to help you be an effective minister of His hope and healing to those who are walking the same kind of path” He has helped us to walk. It’s being “so available to His Spirit’s leading, so aware of others’ needs, and so willing to be open and genuine, that God takes the things Satan meant for evil and transforms them into things of value.”

It’s living as God’s Word instructs us in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

‭‭The author gives several specific recommendations to get us headed in the direction of “gratitudinal change.”

  • Surrender your rights to God. If we are to bloom and flourish as children of God in this harsh and suffocating culture – shining like ‘lights in the world’ – we must pour ourselves out as a drink offering before the Lord.”
  • Commit to a set season of gratitude. “Like any other virtue, a grateful spirit is the work of God’s Spirit within the life of a believer who is purposeful about putting off fleshly inclinations and cultivating spiritual ones. And that takes time, effort, and focused attention.” 
  • Take stock of your gratitude accounts. “Who deserves (or needs) a word of thanks from you? Who in your life could use a bit of encouragement today?”
  • Write thank you notes. Remember, “the act of expressing gratitude breeds joy. In the sender and in the recipient… Don’t get hung up on the ‘technique.’ Do resolve to have a thankful heart and to take time to express your gratitude as frequently as possible, by whatever means possible, to as many people as possible.”
  • Do it together, as a Body-building exercise. As we bring this nine-week study of Choosing Gratitude to a close, I encourage you to share with the other members of our group how you plan to put these principles we’ve studied into practice.

Understanding the place of suffering in the Christian life is a key to walking through whatever God permits to touch our lives with a Gratitudinal attitude.

Joni Eareckson Tada became well acquainted with suffering when at age eighteen she suffered a cervical fracture when diving into some shallow water in the Chesapeake Bay and became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down. She has identified suffering as “God’s choicest tool in shaping the character of Christ in us... the gym equipment on which my faith can be exercised.” She adds, “God is more concerned with conforming me to the likeness of His Son than leaving me in my comfort zones. God is more interested in inward qualities than outward circumstances – things like refining my faith, humbling my heart, cleaning up my thought life and strengthening my character.”

Elizabeth Elliot was plunged into the world of suffering when her husband Jim was one of five missionaries killed while participating in Operation Auca, an attempt to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador. She said, “This hard place in which you perhaps find yourself is the very place in which God is giving you opportunity to look only to Him, to spend time in prayer, and to learn long-suffering, gentleness, meekness – in short, to learn the depths of the love that Christ Himself has poured out on all of us… The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”

Author Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth brings this study to a close with these words, “Some of the holy work we need to have done in us and through us can only come through the valley of shadow and suffering. Are you going to be resistant to that? Or are you going to be clay in His hands, knowing that He is intent on shaping you into the image of Christ and wants to use your life for something far bigger than you own comfort, convenience, and pleasure? He wants your life to be part of a grand, eternal redemptive picture that portrays the wonder of His saving grace.”

I encourage you to meditate on these quotes concerning the benefits we gain through suffering. And allow them to cause a change in your perspective concerning the difficult circumstances in your life.

Do you want your life to reflect the character of Christ? Do you agree that God is more interested in inward qualities than in outward circumstances? Do you want to know the depths of God’s love? Do you want to “go forward in ways that are pleasing to Him, ways that place us in the center of His great will and plan”? Then, make the decision to begin looking at your world through “gratitude-colored glasses.”

I want to close today with a song by Joni Eareckson Tada that perfectly expresses the attitude God desires us to have toward the suffering He has allowed in our lives.

Religious Lifestyle or Living Relationship?

1 Peter 3:15 instructs us as Christians to always be prepared to share the reason for the hope we have in Jesus Christ – in other words, to be ready whenever the opportunity arises to share our personal testimony of how we came to know Christ. I especially like the New Living Translation wording of this verse.

“… you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.”

During recent weeks, our iConnect Bible study class members have been taking turns sharing our personal testimonies of how we came to know Christ. The goal has been for each of us to prepare and share a brief, two to three minute testimony of our life before knowing Christ, how we came to know Him, and how receiving Christ as our Savior and Lord has changed how we live. Then, when God opens the door to  share this with someone who does not know Christ as their personal Savior we’ll be prepared to explain what God has done in our lives and what He is able and willing to do in their life.

This is my personal testimony.

I was born into a Christian family. My father and my mother had both accepted the Lord as their personal Savior at an old fashioned camp meeting revival before they were married, and by the time I came along over 20 years later, our family lived a Christian lifestyle.

Two of my earliest childhood memories are of my father sitting in his red leather rocker every morning before leaving for work reading his Bible, and of my mother kneeling beside her bed each night praying. And going to church was simply what we did – every time the doors were open. It was as much a part of my lifestyle as a child and teenager as going to school.

We attended a Methodist church that was at the end of the block where we lived, and I remember walking to the church early every Sunday morning. During the week, I also spent lots of time at the parsonage which was next door to the church, visiting with some of my best friends, our pastor’s daughter and another friend who lived next door.

My father was a deacon in our church, my older sister who still lived at home a children’s Sunday School teacher and choir member. And by the time I was in high school I was either working in the nursery or teaching the youngest class of children most Sundays.

When I went away to college in 1966, I continued to attend church. A large local Methodist church sent a bus to the campus to pick up students, and I seldom missed a Sunday.

When I graduated from college in 1970 and moved to the town north of Baltimore where I had a job teaching kindergarten, one of the first things I did after my roommate and I got unpacked and settled in an apartment was to start looking for a church. I found a nearby Methodist church and started attending. And this church is where my life changed.

At this church, my life changed when Christianity became more than a religious lifestyle. It became a relationship, a personal walk with Jesus Christ. It was in this church that I first understood that the only way to be a real part of God’s kingdom is by being born again. For the first time, I understood that my religious lifestyle wasn’t enough. I understood that my sin separates me from God, but that God had provided a way to bridge that gap.

Even though I had attended church all my life, even though I considered myself a Christian, for the first time in my life I recognized this wasn’t enough.

For the first time, I understood why Jesus had to die on the cross, and the steps I needed to take to benefit from His sacrifice.

  1. I now saw myself as a sinner who needed salvation.
  2. I understood that the just penalty for sin is death.
  3. I acknowledged that Jesus paid that penalty for me when He died on the cross.
  4. I recognized that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, one we accept by faith.
  5. I received that gift by faith, as I accepted Jesus as my Savior and Lord. And I was born again – and since that day my life has never been the same.

My life as a new Christian began me down a new road, one that definitely hasn’t always been easy. But I’ve never regretted the decision I made so many years ago. Jesus has been with me, walking at my side, through every trial I’ve faced, and my relationship with Him has been my source of strength.

Do you have a similar story you can tell? If not, now is the time to take these same steps I took. Moving from religion to relationship has the power to transform your life.

If you’ve already received this free gift of salvation by faith, are you prepared to share the reason for the hope you have found in Christ Jesus? Have you taken the time to prayerfully prepare a brief testimony of the work of God in your life to bring you to salvation? Acts 1:8 says the Lord has called us to be His witnesses, to our Jerusalem (the city where we live), our Judea and Samaria (the area nearby), and to the ends of the earth. Are you prepared to be His witness whenever He opens the door for you to do so? If not, don’t wait another day to get ready.

 

Peace In Tough Situations

My devotional reading this morning in Breaking Free Day By Day, by Beth Moore, began with the following question.

“Have you had a time when you were surrendered to Christ in the midst of real difficulty and you found His peace beyond understanding?”

This immediately brought to mind the day in November 2018 when I was in a small room in the emergency center of St. Luke’s Hospital in the Houston Medical Center. We had already been told that our son David was in critical condition, and while the medical staff was doing their best to stabilize him, his private duty nurse and supported home living aide and I were taken to a nearby room to wait. As I sat in that room, it became a sanctuary of God’s presence. The Lord clearly spoke to me that He was ready to take our son to heaven to be with Him. The words brought no fear, no fight, simply a deep willingness to surrender our precious son to the Lord.

For years, as we battled through one life-threatening situation after another in David’s life, I had dreaded the time when God would take him home. Even in recent years, fear of David’s death had been my biggest source of anxiety. Yet as we faced the time of surrendering our special-needs son to the Lord, there was no fear, no dread.

Concerning situations such as this one, Beth Moore said:

“When we are in crisis and finally give up trying to discover all the answers to the whys in our lives, His unexpected peace washes over us like a summer rain… Peace comes only in situations that are completely surrendered to the sovereign authority of Christ.”

Elisabeth Elliot said in the deepest valleys we walk through, we gain the deepest insights about our God. This deep valley has taught me much about God’s peace. The Greek word translated peace, as used in Philippians 4:7, refers to the sense of rest and contentment that comes from living in harmony with God, accomplished through the gospel.

As I read this brief devotional this morning, my eyes were opened to truth of why God spoke to me that day in the hospital. God was not asking my permission to take David home, I already knew that. In reality, He was inviting me to walk through this very painful situation in His peace. Through surrender to His clearly revealed will, I’ve walked through one of the most painful seasons in my life with a deep sense of peace. Yes, we miss our son. Yes, we have grieved his loss. But if I had to find one phrase to characterize these last four months it would be supernatural peace, that peace spoken of in Philippians 4:7 that makes no sense in the natural, that surpasses our human understanding and is a gift from God.