Tag Archives: Prayer

Hurry Up and Wait


I have just had the immense privilege of helping to care for my two-year-old grandson for a week.  It’s been a while since I’ve cared for a toddler, and I found myself pulling out ancient tactics and memories to help me keep up with the active little guy.  Hopefully, I taught him a few little things, like how to hug trees and the names of the flowers in the yard and how to play Calvinball with a plastic baseball bat and a rubber bouncy ball .(If you don’t know how to play Calvinball, you have not been reading the right comic strips . . . .)

He also taught me a few things, as well.

“MorMor, MorMor, MorMor!” he whined as I tried to scrape the last bit of yogurt from the nearly empty container. (He calls me MorMor, which is Swedish for “Mother’s mother”.)  It was time for breakfast.  He was starving!  And since he couldn’t see as high as the counter top, he had no idea that I was actually complying with his urgent request for yogurt as quickly as I could.  From his perspective, I was dawdling unforgivably, or even ignoring him altogether.  I tried to explain to him what I was doing, but he couldn’t hear me over his mantra of “MorMor, MorMor, MorMor!”

I didn’t mind.  I kind of like hearing his sweet little voice chanting my name.  But I knew that his frustration would be lessened if he would just listen to me.  Maybe not by much, but a bit.

And then, before serving him his breakfast, I needed to change his diaper and clean his snotty little face and hands.  To a toddler, this foray into hygiene was an entirely unnecessary delay and had nothing to do with getting what he wanted.

I know you all know where this is going.  How often do we bring our requests to God with all the patience and understanding of two-year-olds?  Chanting the same words over and over in our desperation, we can’t hear His calm, quiet voice assuring us that He has heard and is working on the solution to our problems.  With our limited perspectives and equally limited knowledge, we often feel He is ignoring us or at the very least taking an unconscionably long time about answering our prayers.  We can’t see all the work and preparation He is engaged in on our behalf, up there on His great counter top.

And then often, instead of just giving us what we think we need, He takes the time to prepare us for receiving it.  Like two-year-olds, we so often cannot understand the correlation between the preparation process and the desired end result, and so we resent it and often resist it with all our beings, struggling desperately against processes that are meant for our betterment.

Fortunately, God understands that we are all two-year-olds. Did I feel impatient with my grandson?  Of course not!  I know he’s two years old and I don’t expect him to act like an adult.  And God knows we are but dust.  I’m sure He smiles down at us as I smiled at my grandson, explaining to us in small words what we can barely grasp, knowing full well when we aren’t really listening, but continually trying to communicate His love to us all the same.

My little grandson, after being satisfied with a good breakfast, threw his sticky little arms around me and said, “Thanks, MorMor. I love you, MorMor,” and my heart melted.  I don’t need thanks, really.  I’d do anything for that little guy, even if he never responded to me; but those sweet words are a reward above silver and gold and all precious gems.

Easter proves that God will do anything for us.  Absolutely anything.  He doesn’t need our thanks or our love in return.

But doesn’t He deserve it?

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Teaching Children the Book of Nehemiah: Part One


Nehemiah is one of my favorite people.  He was a man who threw himself wholeheartedly into whatever task God handed to him.  He was faithful and hard-working; he was passionate; he was capable; and he could get mighty snarky!  Sarcasm is my love-language, and I think Nehemiah and I would have gotten along famously.  So, here’s my take on this enjoyable little book.

Because God’s people would not stop worshiping idols, God had to punish them by allowing them all to be taken away to the pagan empire of Babylon for 70 years.  Now the 70 years was over, and the people of Israel were slowly moving back to Jerusalem.  But it was a long process, and many Jews remained in Babylon.  One of these Jewish men who still lived in a foreign land was  Nehemiah.  Nehemiah had become a trusted servant to King Artaxerxes, the ruler of Persia.  He was the cup-bearer to the king, so it was his job to make sure no one put poison into the king’s food or drink.  King Artaxerxes must have trusted Nehemiah a great deal, don’t you think?  It was a big responsibility to keep the king safe, and it meant that Nehemiah would see the king many times a day, every day.  God put Nehemiah into this special job for a reason, but Nehemiah didn’t know what that reason was.  He just did his best, knowing that by doing his job well, he was also serving God.

Nehemiah had a brother named Hanani, who had already moved to Jerusalem.  One day,  Hanani, came back to Persia from Jerusalem for a visit.  Nehemiah asked how things were going, and Hanani had bad news to tell.   “They are in great trouble and disgrace,” Hanani said.  Back in Nehemiah’s time, cities always had walls to protect them from enemies and wild animals.  Jerusalem’s walls had been broken down and the gates burned when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city so long ago.  The people living in Jerusalem were in trouble because they had no walls to protect them.  They were in disgrace because having broken-down walls would be like you and me living in a broken-down, burnt-out house!  It is possible that the people had tried to repair the walls, but without official permission from the king it would have been impossible for them to get the materials they needed.  And there would have been no protection for the Jews from Jerusalem’s enemies, who did not want the walls rebuilt.

When Nehemiah heard this news, he began to weep.  Even though he had never seen Jerusalem himself, as a Jew it was his true home.  He felt as you might feel if you heard that your house had burned down.

Nehemiah was a man of action, though.  When he heard about the problem, he didn’t just sit around crying about it.  He did something about it.  He did the only really helpful thing anyone can do.  Do you know what that is?  He prayed!

And now Nehemiah knew why God had put him into the job of cup-bearer to the king.  He asked God to give him a chance to talk to the king.  Although he was with King Artaxerxes every day, Nehemiah was not allowed to speak to him without permission.  No one was!  Also, no one was allowed to look sad in the king’s presence or they would be punished!  The Persians had some strange laws, didn’t they?  So Nehemiah had to try to keep his feelings hidden and wait for the king to speak to him

Four months went by, and Nehemiah kept praying faithfully.  At last, God answered his prayer.  One day, the king noticed that Nehemiah looked sad, and instead of being angry and punishing Nehemiah for breaking that rule, he kindly asked what was wrong.  Nehemiah breathed a quick prayer to God to ask for the right words to say.  Then he boldly told the king what was on his heart.  The king must have liked Nehemiah a lot, probably because Nehemiah had been a good and faithful servant to him.  He was willing to do whatever Nehemiah asked of him, and Nehemiah was not afraid to ask the king for everything he would need to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

Isn’t it wonderful that Nehemiah was such a faithful man?  What if he had not been a good worker?  The king would never have listened to him, or even cared that he was sad.  In fact, he would never have gotten the job of cup-bearer in the first place, so he would never even have seen the king.  Then God would not have been able to use Nehemiah for such an important job.  Are you faithful in the jobs your parents or teachers give to you?  If you are, then you are also being faithful to God, and He can use you to do even bigger, more important jobs.

Next time, we’ll learn what Nehemiah did when he arrived in Jerusalem.

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Raising Radically Christian Kids


I recently read the book entitled Radical by David Platt. Kudos to Mr. Platt for writing a truthful book that has become quite popular in the church of late. However, as I finished the book I just felt on overwhelming sense of sadness; why should the concepts in this book be considered radical? What the author proposes is that we as Christians live according to the Word of God. To live as Radical Christians, he urges us to first actually believe that God means what He says in His Word and then to obey Him. Um, isn’t that just being a Christian? Isn’t it really just that simple and does it really require an entire book to explain?

Simple, I say. I don’t say it’s easy. It requires studying Scriptures to find out what they say, praying without ceasing, and then doing what God tells us to do in our daily lives. It requires constant diligent thought about our actions and words. It requires discipline. But if we call ourselves Christians, this is the way we must live. After all, we are bought with a price; we do not belong to ourselves but to Christ.

Unfortunately, this is considered radical living in America today. Most people do what they want to do, whether they call themselves Christians or not. They make their decisions based on what they want or what they think society expects of them. It doesn’t seem to occur to most Christians to ask God first before making decisions about what to do, where to work, where to live, whom to marry. They do what they want to do or what they think they should do and pray afterwards for God to bless their decisions. Most Christians do not study the Scriptures or spend time listening to for the voice of God to guide them in their daily lives. American Christians are individuals first and Christian somewhere down the list. So how do we change this downward trend? How do we raise our kids to be “radical” Christians; in other words, how do we raise our children to take God’s Word seriously and live in obedience to Him? I know of only one way. We have to live our own lives before our children as examples of truly Christ-like behavior.

I was fortunate in having parents who raised me this way. God gave them jobs to do, and they did those jobs, regardless of inconvenience or expense or hardship to themselves. The jobs God gave then were many.: leading the youth, teaching classes, leading the choir, volunteering at the hospital. They included us kids in their ministries, as well. Their biggest ministry was to missionaries: they built a cottage on our property where missionaries on furlough could spend time with their families, resting and refreshing themselves in the Lord without interruption. It was a great blessing to a great many hard-working Christians who needed just such tangible encouragement. My dad would work at his “regular” job all day, and then come home and work all evening and into the night building and then maintaining this cottage. We kids were allowed to help as our capabilities allowed. Many a nail in the sub-flooring is crooked and bent because I had not yet learned how to wield a hammer properly! But it taught me a valuable and lasting lesson. Listening to God and obeying His voice is more important than anything else we might want to do with our time. We sacrificed a lot of time and energy to this ministry, but we were doing God’s work and so it was worth it.

Many years ago, when my husband and I were still young, I had a dream. I dreamed Rich and I were in a strange house, going over it to make sure it was ready to receive those for whom it was meant to serve. I had the distinct idea that it was some sort of halfway house and that Rich and I were houseparents. We inspected every room, and then Rich turned to me and said, ironically, “This is not our dream house. But I know this is what God has for us. I know we are in the center of His will.” I was agreeing with him as I woke. The next day, Rich began to tell me of a dream he had had. He and I were in a strange house, going over it to make sure it was ready to receive those for whom it was meant to serve. Well, you can guess the rest: we had both dreamed of the same house. We spent a fun hour describing it to each other as if we had actually visited it together. I don’t know if we were meant to take this as a literal prophecy or not. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. But the point is, this house certainly represents our life together: not at all what we would have picked out for ourselves, but definitely in the center of God’s will. If Rich and I had our own way, we would be living in the woods in utter seclusion, raising our own food and shunning society as a whole. Instead, God plunked us in the middle of a big city, gave us a house, and sent us a steady stream of people to take care of throughout the years. If you had asked Rich what he wanted to do for a living 30 years ago, he’d have told you his dream was to be a hobo and travel the open road, returning to a little cabin in the woods when he wanted to settle down. Instead, God made him a police officer, a public servant who can’t afford to travel much or very far. I always planned to be a novelist. Instead, I’ve been writing curriculum for 15 years and little else. The wondrous thing is, although we’d have never picked this life for ourselves, we clearly see that it’s the best life for us. We can see God working through us, and it’s fun! It’s hard, and it’s often frustrating and I can’t say I don’t sometimes wish for the quiet of a cabin in the woods. But this life God has given us is fulfilling in ways our dream-life could never have been. There’s nothing better than the knowledge of living in the center of God’s will.

How do we learn God’s will for our lives? Can I open the Bible and find a verse that says, “MariLynn shall marry Rich and live in Nashville?” I’ve heard people complain that it’s hard to know what God wants for their lives. But God does not want this to be hard. He wants us to know what His will is. If you have a job for your own kids to do, do you make them guess what that job it? Or do you tell them as clearly as you can? If they don’t do what you want them to do, is it because your instructions were not clear, or is it because they weren’t listening carefully, or perhaps not at all? God speaks to us all the time, in many different ways, but American Christians are unaccustomed to listening. There’s always something going on to distract us: TV, radio, news, music, things that keep us busy and unable to sit quietly and listen. It’s up to us to take the time to spend with God, studying Scripture, praying, and listening.

How does God speak to us? He can speak through His written Word. But if we need instructions specific to ourselves, we need to hear the Holy Spirit speaking directly to us. He does this in ways that are tailored to our needs. I need verbal instruction, so He speaks to me with words. Rich communicates best with symbols, so God speaks to him in dreams. We must be prepared to accept what He says to us and obey Him, though. He will not force us to listen and He will not force us to obey. When our children see us living this way, and when they hear us talking to each other about listening and obeying, they will learn how to be “radical” Christians themselves. They may even become better at it than we are!

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Pray Without Ceasing


God put it on my heart to share a journey He’s been guiding me through concerning prayer.  He gave me Thessalonians 5:17 quite some time ago, “Pray without ceasing.”  A wise women I know once told me, “You do need your quiet time each day with the Lord.  But He’s with you all 24 hours of each day.  How rude to ignore Him most of that time.”  But what exactly does “praying without ceasing” mean?”
For me, it’s come to mean that I must be in constant acknowledgment of His presence.  Still, that’s hard to do consistently, especially when things are going well.  When  our daughter starting questioning God’s existence, praying without ceasing seemed a lot easier to do.  Then last June, when things came to head between us and she left home, every breath I drew, every thought I had, became a prayer sent up on her behalf.  I couldn’t do much except pray when I was awake, and I couldn’t sleep at night for praying.  Lots of praying, not much peace.
Soon after this, God told me to take a strip of linen and tie it around my left wrist, and to leave it there until further notice.  Okay.  I didn’t understand the purpose, but do I really have to understand to obey?  I tied it on and continued to pray.
Two weeks later, my husband was studying to speak at church on Ephesians 6:18–“With all prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit.”  This was a verse close to his heart, as he had been praying without ceasing, too.  But he wondered, why “prayer AND petition?”  Those words are synonyms in English, but they must both be there for a reason.  He looked up the original words in the Greek.  The word translated “prayer” was “ask”, just as you might expect.  But the word translated “petition” meant “with hands bound”.  Weird.  But then he put his hands together, as if he were bound.  What a picture of complete helplessness, pleading for help, begging for mercy, unable to do anything for oneself.  I can’t actually bind my hands together every day, but this symbol God gave me reminds me that my petition is always before the throne of the Almighty.  Petition without ceasing.
But the journey didn’t end there: I still had more to learn.  Soon after this, God told me to take a day off, leave home, and spend a day in prayer.  I decided to spend at least a part of that day walking on the greenway.  As I drove to the parking area at the entrance to the greenway, I prayed about what I should pray about while I walked.  I know, that’s weird, but I’m a weird person.  Anyway, God told me, “Why don’t you just be quiet and listen for while.”
That’s when I realized that I’d been really one-sided in the praying without ceasing thing.  I’d been asking, pleading, crying out, thanking Him for the answer I know is coming; getting angry, yelling, asking forgiveness for getting angry and yelling; making helpful suggestions as to a course of action He could take.  Not a lot of listening going on.  So, for almost three hours, I walked the greenway and listened as God spoke peace and rest into my soul.  If I started to talk about anything other than praise to Him, He would gently say, “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10.  Or, “My soul waits in silence for God alone, for my hope is from Him.” Psalm 62:5.  Or, “Let all the earth keep silence before Him,” Habakkuk 2:20.
I know I still have a lot to learn about what it means to pray without ceasing.  But now at least I try to keep a balance between talking and listening!
Father, teach us to pray, to pray without ceasing; to constantly acknowledge your presence in our lives; to listen as much  as we speak.
Amen

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A Hedge Story


To understand this story you first must know two things about me: first, I love trees.  Some people have pet animals; I have pet trees.  I have been known to go outside during tornadoes and ice storms to lay hands on my trees and pray for them.  We’ve never lost a branch in a storm!
Secondly, I was raised in the country, miles from our nearest neighbor.  Moving to Nashville, Tennessee, was traumatic for me, and living in such a large city was almost unbearable to me until we found the house we live in now.  We have a back yard, small, but full of trees, and best of all, there was a 10-foot-high hedge enclosing it on two sides.  A beautiful hemlock fir grew in the corner where the two sides met.  I could sit in my back yard and the hedge would block out all the other houses and the streets.  I could almost pretend I was in the country again.  My hedge played a big part in my adjustment to city life.
We were friendly with the neighbors whose property backed ours, and sometimes we visited through the hedge.  I knew they had moved away, but the hedge prevented me from noticing that new neighbors had already moved in–until one day, I came home to find my hedge was gone!  I ran to the back yard and gazed in horror at the little stumps, cut off at the ground.  I fell to my knees and wept aloud.
At that moment, my new neighbors walked up, gathering up the last mangled limbs of my hedge.  “Oh,” the woman said, “was that your hedge?”  The man just laughed and said, “Don’t make such a fuss.  It’ll grow back.”  I was sobbing too hard to say a word to them, and I decided to let my husband deal with the situation.  I was only thankful they had not also decided to cut down my hemlock tree in the corner.  Of all the trees in my yard, it was my favorite.
Four years later, I watched  over my pathetic, twelve-inch hedge as the bush-whacking neighbors moved out.  Soon I saw through my kitchen window that a new couple was moving in.  My children and I were all sick with walking pneumonia and I decided to wait until I was better and then I would bake some bread and welcome the new couple to the neighborhood.
But before I was fully recovered, the new neighbor paid a visit to me.  She came over on a Sunday evening to tell me that she and her husband were putting up a fence in the morning and that, by the way, their property map put their property line four feet over into our yard.  I didn’t know what to say.  Our yard is beautiful, but very small.  Removing a four-foot strip from the back would take sizeable chunk out of it.  Worse, it would put my barely recovering hedge and my precious hemlock tree on the wrong side of the fence.  I told her I would dig out our own property map and would talk to my husband and we would be over in the morning to discuss the matter.  “Come early, then,” she advised.  “The fence installers will be here at 9 a.m.”
In a daze, I woke up my husband so he could get ready for work.  He is a police officer and works the third shift, so he starts his day at 8:30 in the evening.  As he dressed, I told him about the neighbor’s visit.  He was furious that they had waited until the evening before the work was to be done to tell us of their plans, making it impossible for us to do anything about it.  He started talking about lawyers and courts and surveyors.  I could envision a legal tangle stretching out over years, and no matter who won, hard feelings between us and our neighbors for as long as we both lived here.  It was a nightmare.
I got my husband off to work and the kids all into bed, and then I was alone with God.  “Lord, what shall we do?” I asked.
“Remember Isaac and his wells,” God said.
I said, “No, really, what do we do?”
“Remember Isaac and his wells,” was the only answer I received.  My ladies’ Bible Study had recently gone through Genesis, and so this story in Genesis 26:18-25 was fairly fresh in my mind.  Rather than fight with his neighbors over the precious, life-giving wells of water he had dug in his desert home, Isaac chose to let them have the wells and move to another location.  He did this several times before he found a place where he could live in peace.  But I had other passages of scripture running through my head!
“What about that verse in Leviticus about not moving your neighbor’s boundary posts?” I asked.
God said, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)
“But you told Joshua to go to war over land,” I reminded Him.  I was actually trying to argue with God by using His own word!
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace,” (Romans 14:19) He said.
I got the point.  Living in peace with my neighbors was more important than keeping my property.  I said, “All right, I can give up the land.  I can even give up that pitiful hedge.  But, God, I just can’t give up my tree.  You know how much I love that tree.  You might as well ask me to give up one of my kids!”
“Isaiah 55,” I could almost hear Him sigh.  I looked up that chapter, which is full of God’s promises of blessing to His people, many of which will not be fulfilled until the Millennium.  One of the promises is an abundance of trees.  God told me gently, “You will have all the trees you can possibly love–later.  This tree in Mine.  I put it there for a purpose.”
For the first time, I considered the possibility that God’s purpose for that tree might not actually  include me!  Might God have had a purpose for the hedge, as well?   I asked Him, and He simply said, “Who was your neighbor?”
I went cold, because I didn’t know the answer to that question.  For four years, my previous neighbors had lived behind me and I never even knew their names.  In fact, I never spoke to them after the day they destroyed my hedge.  If I had to refer to them at all, I simply called them “The Hedge Killers”.  It was easy not to speak to them, as they were also avoiding me.  I had not realized how much bitterness I had held for them.  They had cut down a hedge, but I had built up a great wall between us.  I might have shown them what Christ is really like, forgiving and loving; but instead I showed them what I am really like.  Now God was showing me what I am really like, too.
“Don’t do it again,” God said.  It was too late to be a witness for Him to the previous neighbors, but I had a chance with the new ones.  I had a choice.  I could go to them with the attitude of protecting my property and my rights at all costs; or I could go to them with the attitude of reaching out to them for Christ, whatever the cost.  Would I let this fence they were building become a wall between us, or would I use it as an opportunity?  God was showing me that their eternal souls were more important than a hemlock tree, a hedge, a piece of property–or my own rights.
I began to pray that my husband would come to the same conclusions so that we could approach the neighbors with a united sense of purpose.  The next morning, when Rich came home, almost the first thing he said to me was, “Do you remember the story about Isaac and his wells?”  That night as he had patrolled,  God had shown him all the same scriptures that He had shown to me.
We went to our new neighbors that morning and we were able to talk to them about Christ.  And, incidentally, they apparently concluded on their own that we were right about the boundary line and they put their fence up just where we would have wanted them to, if they had asked us–which they didn’t!  We never even discussed it.  We were too busy talking about more important things.
I thought I had surrendered everything I had to Christ: my house, my money, my car,  my time.  Yet when it came to something that was really important to me, I found I was still claiming ownership.  This incident forced me to concede that everything belongs to God: all my stuff, all my property, my privacy, my comfort, my kids.  Everything is His.  He’s just letting me use His stuff for a while.  The minute I gave up ownership over my tree, I felt a great burden roll from me.  Since He owns everything, it’s up to Him to take care of it.  Since He’s taking care of everything, I have nothing to worry about.  I had known this in my head, but this knowledge needed to enter my soul until I could truly believe it.  The only thing I am responsible for in this world is being obedient to Him.
“Love the Lord you God with all your heart, and will all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Matthew 22:37-40

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