8/25/10

Planning Forward in a Jacuzzi

Late Sunday night, my husband and I joined his sister and her husband in their backyard Jacuzzi. We talked about silly things, but then the conversation took on a more serious tone. We talked about retirement funds and IRAs and paying down mortgages, and the merits and drawbacks of retirement homes vs. assisted living. Those are facts my sister-in-love, Jan, grasps better than I do. My thoughts grew more philosophical.

“What do you want to be doing twenty years from now, when you’re old?” I asked my husband. Bob said, “I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it.” “Well, maybe you should,” I kidded, “unless you’re not planning on being around here ... and in that case, maybe you should help me plan for that, too!”

But then I turned to Jan and said, “I know that I just want to make a difference, even when I’m old,” I said. “I want my life to matter to someone, even if it’s just mentoring a young girl, or writing something that will encourage my kids when I’m gone. Something!”

She nodded. We both agreed that we want meaning and purpose in our elderly years.

I’m a planner. So is Jan. (We joke that we do what we do—working in this tough California economy—so our husbands can continue to do what they do in ministry.) Planning for finances is one thing, or even planning where we might live two decades from now; but planning to make a difference in others’ lives—that gets my juices running.

General Douglas MacArthur said, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” When I’m an old soldier of the cross, I don’t plan to fade away. I want to go out fighting. The battle might look different in old age; but I don’t want to shirk, and I certainly don’t want to wither spiritually. I want to show and proclaim God's strength and power to this and the next generation (Psalm 71:18). I want to seek and obey Him so He will give me a long life (Deuteronomy 5:33; 30:20; Proverbs 9:10-11; 1 Peter 3:10-11).

There are some who physically and mentally cannot function, but if we are blessed with physical and mental strength, we still have a responsibility to seek God and serve others daily. God doesn’t normally remove our gifts as we age. He intends that we use them. We may not use them as often or with as much intensity or skill; but we don’t neglect them.

I don’t ever want to retire from kingdom usefulness. For one woman, that might be as simple as attending a youth function so she can hand out hugs. For another, it might mean mentoring a younger woman at the local Jack-in-a-Box ~ the Titus 2 woman, a teacher of good things (Titus 2:2-3). Some older women make pillowcase dresses for little girls in Africa. Others will battle in prayer. We can all "bring forth fruit" in old age (Psalm 92:14), and God will guide us 'til the day we die (Psalm 48:14).

Diane Dew compiled a powerful page for seniors with statistics and scriptures. She ends her study with Psalm 90:12, which is a challenging scripture for anyone thinking forward. We need to "number our days" (realize the brevity of life) so we can apply our hearts to grow in wisdom. I want to be a wise old woman, but I know I need to make the wise choices now that will give me the experience and wise counsel to encourage others in the future.

Are you thinking forward, too? For more encouragement to grow in wisdom, see "Pursue Wisdom with Passon," and "Am I a Fool?"

8/18/10

No More Wimpy Prayers!

John Piper talked about “wimpy women” at True Woman ’08 – and he encouraged us not to be wimpy, but rather, theologically sound and strong in the Lord. So I came home and learned how to be bold for Christ and live out my roles in biblical womanhood. So many areas of my life changed. But I still was a wimp in one crucial area.

The truth is, my prayers were wimpy and ineffective. I didn’t come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16); most of the time, I limped in apologetically. Oh, I could string together pretty words – writers and speakers tend to do that. But boldness before God? I didn’t know how to be bold. My idea of boldness in prayer was more like a loud whimper, hoping God would hear, but not sure why He’d bother.

It’s not that I doubted God’s love. I doubted my right to be in the throne room. But that all changed as I attended Life Action’s Revival Week and listened to a message by David Butts, a simple but forthright man who chairs America’s National Prayer Committee and serves as president of Harvest Prayer Ministries. I first became acquainted with David as I read his book, Asleep in the Land of Nod. I knew he was a man of profound wisdom.

As he spoke on prayer, I heard God say, “Listen, learn, and obey.” David said, “Most Christians pray wimpy prayers. There’s no faith; there’s no confidence. There’s nothing that causes it to rise to heaven. There’s no power.”

David said the model for practical, bold praying is found in Acts 4:23-31, the early church. First, they paid attention to who they were talking to; they acknowledged that God is God—the sovereign Creator and Lord. When we pray with concern and anxiety, we are focusing on our needs, not Him! David made the picture all the more absurd: “We enter the throne room, and have the attention of the Father,” he said, “and we mutter a wimpy prayer?”

Second, the early church prayed the Word of God back to God. Prayer is not about us. “It’s how God has chosen to accomplish His will on earth,” David said. We pray according to God’s will (1 John 5:14-15), not saying, “God, I have an idea of how you can fix this.” Even Jesus had to pray according to the Father’s will.

Third—and this is the part that grabbed me—the early church prayed BIG prayers. Our little prayers, our hospital lists and daily needs are important to God, but they will not change the world. “Pray the big prayers that shake heaven,” David said. “Within five weeks of their prayer meeting, the teachings of Jesus filled Jerusalem and they turned the world upside down.”

I wondered whether I’d ever be able to pray big prayers. David invited us to envision the throne room of heaven, with angels crying out “Holy, holy, holy” and “Glory to God.” Perhaps we stand nearby, joining them in praises. “The Lord reigns!” we might cry out (Psalm 93:1-5), admitting our submission to and reverence for the Holy One.

Then David asked us to imagine that there is a path leading to the very throne, and we walk that path and stand before our Father, and then boldly present our prayers. [I envisioned "The Emerald Throne Room Scene in Heaven," an artistic rendition by Pat Marvenko Smith.] I realized that the reason I ask such puny prayers of God has nothing to do with His ability to answer, but rather, my weak faith to believe that He wants to answer. After all, I reasoned, who am I?

And then the Lord flooded my heart with all that I am and all that I have in Christ. It’s not a matter of my puny faith, but rather, my all-sufficient Savior.

So, I’ve begun a new journey in prayer, believing God for bigger things—resting in my position with God in Jesus and claiming God's Word. I don’t know what will happen next, but the adventure in prayer is refreshing my spirit!

8/11/10

Laughter, to the Glory of God

I heard it all the way across Walmart, the infectious giggles of a small child. I couldn't help but chuckle myself. There's nothing like the laughter of children.

I once watched a video of an infant laughing and laughing and laughing. I was tired and stressed, so I watched it several times and ended up laughing so hard that my stomach muscles tightened and cramped. "Man, I needed that," I said.

Laughter does indeed serve as good medicine for the soul (Proverbs 17:22), and there are no side effects. God planned for this powerful release. Why do we so seldom use it?

We've all heard the verses. The wise writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, "There is ... a time to laugh, and a time to weep" (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Paul made it a principle for Christian community ~ We are to rejoice and weep with our brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans 12:15). Why is it that some people are quicker to enter into the sorrows and struggles of the Family of God, but so reticent to laugh and party with the saints. There is room for both in the plan of God.

I am part of a revival ministry. Believe me, there is much heart searching as we seek God. We repent of sin. We confess our sins one to another (James 5:16a) and pray for one another for spiritual healing. We don't want to stand in the way of anything God might want to do in bringing revival to churches and our nation. There are times of intense prayer; for some, fasting. It's serious business. There are seasons of life when our laughter needs to be turned to mourning as we humble ourselves before our holy God (James 4:7-10).

Though we need to seek God every day of our lives and confess sins in sincere repentance, we also need to rejoice in forgiveness and grace and the goodness of God. We rejoice in suffering as we identify with Christ (1 Peter 4:12-13; Acts 5:41; Matthew 5:11-12). We rejoice because our names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20). We rejoice as we give God glory (Revelation 19:7a). We rejoice in the Lord ~ in what we have and are in Christ (Philippians 3:1a). It is God's will that we rejoice and give thanks always (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Philippians 4:4).

When did we get so sophisticated that our rejoicing became a simple smile?

I remember one day, distinctly, when my laughter returned. I was driving into town after a light rain, and suddenly, I "saw" all the lovely greens God had created in nature ~ trees in pine green, emerald green, yellow-green, blue-green, and more. I said, "Thank you, Lord, that everything isn't just one shade of green." From that thought, I considered that God also creates every human with unique DNA and "colorful" personalities, and He is not willing that one of us should perish. Jesus died to redeem us ~ He died to redeem me.

As I considered my Creator's love, I wept in gratitude, and then, suddenly, I started to laugh. I laughed that God could remind me of His love and my need through a bunch of green trees. I rejoiced in the Lord. I reveled in His goodness.

From that day on, I began to look for the loving fingerprints of God all around me. I heard and saw Him in so many places. Of course, in the Word, but also in nature. In friends at church. In music. In my relationship with my husband. In my granddaughters at play. And yes, in that giggling child at Walmart.

I recently walked by a gathering of godly men at my church. I smiled to watch them interacting, laughing out loud. It's just my opinion, but I believe that Jesus laughed with (and perhaps, at) His disciples. How could he not spend time with impulsive Peter without at least a smile. I imagine that the One who turned water into wine at the Cana wedding entered into the celebration of His friends. I imagine that He smiled and laughed with the little ones who crawled into His lap. Jesus understands our sorrows and is acquainted with grief, the Bible says. He enters into our pain. Why would He not also understand what tickles our funny bones? Why would He not enter into our laughter?

Do we think that Jesus only wept? Perhaps smiled? Never laughed? As long as our laughter is holy, Jesus can join us. Keep it clean, but don't be afraid to laugh. Do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

When was the last time you took a good dose of the strong medicine of laughter?

If you would like to start your day with some laughter and then a thought-provoking message from scripture, I'd like to recommend my new book, authored with Pam Farrel: LOL with God: Devotional Messages of Help & Humor for Women, released on September 1st, but now available at Amazon.com and Christianbook.com. This is not meant to take the place of deeper Bible study, but simply to supplement your day with joy and truth.

To make it fun, we have turned Bible texts into text messages similar to what you might see on a cell phone. But the focus is on God's "text messages" to us ~ the powerful, life-changing Word of God.

What makes you Laugh Out Loud? What brings you the kind of spilling-over joy that comes from knowing the Lord? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

8/4/10

Fractured, but Not Forgotten

I was just walking on a beach. A patch of sand, darker than the rest, looked innocent enough, but underneath was thick, slippery mud. My foot slipped, my body twisted, and I hit the sand with a not-too-graceful thud.

I said, "It's probably only a twisted ankle." I didn't want to scare the grandkids and their cousins. But I knew ~ the pain stabbed my foot and grabbed my gut. I was glad lifeguards arrived quickly.

Later, in urgent care, x-rays revealed a twisty line above my ankle ~ a spiral fracture, sometimes called a "skiier's fracture." Six weeks, the doctor said. Minimum.

Crutches, a rolling walker, a regular walker, and a removable boot were all part of the recovery and therapy. I experienced a love/hate relationship with the prescribed medicine, not sure the nausea in my stomach was worth the relief from pain. But I healed and walked, and life returned somewhat back to normal.

During those early days, I said I didn't want visitors. But then, lonely, I changed my mind; and visitors came with soup, ice cream, and pleasant conversation. Dependency birthed new relationships.

As I dealt with the fracture, the Lord taught me many lessons.

We're All Broken. We're all fractured people. Cracked vases (or cracked pots, if you prefer). None of us is perfect. We're sinners (Romans 3:23). And when we begin to think that we are perfect (outside of our being made perfect in Christ), we'll need to be broken again ~ humbled before the Lord. We need to admit our need.

We Need God's Peace. When struggle, hardship, or suffering come, the frustration or pain may be unbearable. We're tempted to try different remedies; but they are always temporary, and sometimes the remedy compounds the original problem! The Lord is our only lasting "remedy." He is our peace when stress comes (Isaiah 26:3). He redeems each situation and, most of the time, helps us make sense of our frustration or pain. Some struggles we may never understand this side of heaven, but God brings peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7).

We must Choose Joy.
We are to rejoice in all circumstances ~ not in the situation itself, but in the God who is sovereign in all circumstances (Philippians 4:4). Because nothing catches Him by surprise, we can trust in His greater purposes. We can pray to see from His perspective, ask for wisdom, and choose contentment and joy.

We Are Deeply Loved.
When we feel most fractured ~ unattractive, not at our best ~ we tend to hide out. But that is when we most need our brothers and sisters in Christ to love us and remind us that we are accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6). We are His delight. And the body of Christ is most beautiful when it ministers and serves, reflecting God's love.

God's Presence is Real.
In the midst of tough circumstances, we may feel lonely, but we are not alone (Psalm 139:7). God's presence brings us the power, provision, and protection we need to move forward.

I loved all the visitors, but God's presence comforted me most during those weeks of healing. I believe with all my heart the words of Jim Elliff, who I've quoted often: "Everything," he said, "flows from the presence of God."

Everything I need. He is all I need.

So I may be fractured, but this does not surprise God. In the midst of my struggle, I'm never alone! Never forgotten. And neither are you.