It’s going to be beautiful!

“He has made everything beautiful in his time.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

My friend, who worked for an art gallery, believed we should surround ourselves with at least a few beautiful things. She was convincing enough to sell me a framed print for my office! There’s something about the beautiful that gives satisfaction and, even, peace.

Is your life beautiful today? Is everything in order? All relationships going smoothly? Are you healthy? Happy? Content in your work? Growing spiritually?

If you answer “yes” to all of those questions, you are most blessed! And most unusual. For the rest of us there are situations, areas of life, concerns that are not at all beautiful. Those are the things we pray about, sometimes get anxious about, and wish there were answers other than the ones we are receiving. And if you’re like me, you work at making things beautiful all by yourself, when, instead, you need an expert. And the expert at making our lives beautiful is none other than God himself.

So if there are areas of our lives that need beautifying, we turn to him, we pray, and we give up trying to control situations by ourselves. In prayer, we learn to trust him even while we wait for him to act. Believing he is at work even when we can’t see anything happening. And, if I read the Bible right, he’s making even the ugly things beautiful. He doesn’s waste our pain, failures, or tears. He weaves them all together into a life that will, in his perfect timing, be beautiful. When it comes to beauty, God is the expert!

“Through prayer we become part of a greater story – the story of what God is doing in our lives, our families, our communities, and around the world.” – Margaret Feinberg

 

Because you prayed

“. . . in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. – Philippians 4:6b

Do our prayers make a difference? Yes! God hears and responds.

King Hezekiah in an interesting example. The Assyrian army was outside Jerusalem ready to attack. But first they came with threats, hoping the people would surrender. They bragged about all the nations they already had conquered and mocked God saying he was not strong enough to save them.

Hezekiah took those threats before God in prayer, asking that God defend his people for his own glory. Here’s God’s response (through Isaiah, the prophet):

“. . . Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:” (from Isaiah 37:21)

And he promises Sennacherib will be defeated and Hezekiah’s army will not have to lift a finger. The next morning 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were found dead in the camp. The others fled.

Look again at what Isaiah said to Hezekiah: Because you prayed this is what God’s going to do. And he did.

Keep praying! Who knows what happens because you pray? I imagine a scene in heaven when God says to us,

  • Because you prayed, your child was healed.
  • Because you prayed, your friend came to know me.
  • Because you prayed, your soldier came home.
  • Because you prayed, others learned to pray, too.

How will he finish that sentence for you? You won’t know if you don’t pray. For reasons we’ll never understand fully, God takes our prayers seriously. At least that’s what he told Hezekiah. I think he says the same to us. Our prayers matter!

“The sense of mystery must always be, for mystery means being guided by obedience to Someone Who knows more than I do.” – Oswald Chambers

#prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It takes both.

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on  him, how can the love of God be in him? – 1 John 3:17

He was a friend from years past and had moved away. Now he was back with his bride and we were reconnecting over our dinner table. As we ate, he put his hand to his face and winced. Finally, he explained he had had tooth pain for a few days and it was getting worse. He feared it would take a dentist to make it better and they didn’t have money for that, so he was praying for a cure.

As they readied to leave, my husband and I told him we, too, would pray about his tooth. As we closed the door behind them, looked at each other, both thinking the same thing: What had we just done? We had a brother in need in our home and all we did was offer to pray. We regretted our less-than-God-honoring behavior and in the morning, lined up a dentist to help our friend.

We were brought face-to-face with the truth that God often expects us to do more than pray. James puts it this way, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16)

I’m a big believer in prayer – there are many things only prayer can do. But, much of the time, praying is not enough. Praying and doing go together in God’s plan for our world. God is teaching me how to do both better.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” – Mother Teresa

 

 

 

A Place for God

“The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” – Lamentations 3:25-26

Wouldn’t it be sad if God has something to say to us and we’re not hearing Him over the noise of our world? If God is talking to me, I want to hear Him. I think you do, too.

Ezekiel was a prophet in ancient Israel at a critical time in their history. It was important that he hear God’s messages clearly. One day, God just picked him up, whisked him away, and set him down in a new place (Ez. 3:14-15). Sometimes God simply wants us to get away from where we are so we can hear His voice!

How might we use our present circumstances to allow God to take us away from the ordinary and into the extraordinary? We might find ourselves set aside because of illness, a broken relationship, job loss, or an empty nest. When these things happen, they can provide space to escape from busyness, experience God’s presence, and listen for His voice.

At other times, when life just goes on in whirlwind fashion, we can engineer a place for Him in our daily devotional times and occasional spiritual retreats. He longs to share His heart, direct our steps, and bring comfort and healing. But we have to be quieted, patiently waiting to hear Him speak. He doesn’t shout, He whispers. It’s easy to miss if we’re not paying attention. And paying attention requires time apart – focused, intentional, God-centered time.

The truth? Listening for His voice may well be the most important thing we have to do today.

“God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer.” – Mother Teresa

 

 

 

#God

#prayer

Can you believe? Just a little bit?

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:9

I have a friend who was skeptical about the Bible. He’d read it, then question it. He tried to explain away miracles and dismissed any possibility of Jesus’ divinity. He looked at commands as cultural suggestions, to be revised at will.

But some of his rationalizations didn’t make sense – even to him. Eventually, he came to an intellectual impasse. One day he simply said to himself that, if the Bible were true, he’d be willing to believe. The next day, as he read the Bible, everything seemed to fall into place. His willingness to believe resulted in actual belief.

Sometimes we just don’t want to believe. We are not open to having our minds changed. If you are in that place, I would encourage you to take a step, just a small step toward the possibility of belief.

God is not like us. He thinks differently. He communicates differently. He has capacities and powers we cannot begin to understand. But He loves humans. He sent Jesus to reveal Himself to us. One of my favorite Jesus stories is when a father came asking for his son’s release from demonic powers. Jesus responded “Anything is possible for the one who believes”. The father, in complete honesty, answered, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

I have prayed that prayer many times. “I believe, Lord, but just a little. Help my little bit of belief to grow so I can know You as you truly are and trust You with my life.” Are you ready to pray that prayer, too?

“The one you are looking for is the one who is looking.” – Francis of Assisi

 

Note: In my discussions with this person and many others, I’ve had a chance to hear and explore the questions skeptics often ask. If you want to know more, you may be helped by my recent book, The Bible for Skeptics: A Conversation for Thinking People.   https://beverlyvankampen.com/resources/
#bible
#god

Is my way the right way?

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall remain stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty.” – Psalm 91:1

Sometimes when I pray, I know how I want God to answer. So I’m specific and, honestly, any answer other than the one I’m praying for will not be acceptable to me. Do you ever do that? We sometimes forget that God’s perspective is better than ours! He knows things we cannot possibly know.

Centuries ago, people asked Jeremiah to pray for God’s direction about their going to Egypt. Jeremiah gave them God’s answer: They should stay in Israel where He would keep them safe. Their response? They call Jeremiah a liar! The problem was they were already packed to go before they asked Jeremiah to find out what God wanted. There was only one answer acceptable to them and they weren’t hearing it from Jeremiah, so they were angry. What they didn’t know was Babylon was on the move and soon would war with Egypt and the refugee Israelis would get caught in the crossfire. They could not see at all what God could see clearly.

Sometimes we struggle with giving control to God, trusting His direction. When we pray about a problem and we know what we want the answer to be, we would be wise to tell God that, though we desire to have our prayer answered our way, we are willing to accept His answer, whatever it is. That’s a safe prayer because

  • He sees what we cannot see,
  • His answers are always for our best good, and
  • He walks beside us when we’re willing to go His way.

“What I think and feel as I pray, rather than the words I speak, may be the real prayer, for God ‘hears’ that too.” – Philip Yancey

Greater Prayers

“We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” – Romans 8:26b

How do we know what to pray for? So many times we face situations for ourselves or others that don’t have identifiable solutions. At other times, we may be praying for a band-aid when God wants us to have surgery. Or praying for candy when He wants us to have steak.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have God’s perspective applied to our situations so He can respond today in ways that prepare us for what’s next? We know God’s thoughts are way beyond ours – more creative, more all-encompassing, more eternal. We cannot think as He does, so how can we know we’re praying for the right things? How can we pray prayers we don’t even know how to pray?

I’ve learned that it sometimes means praying without words, silently allowing the Holy Spirit to pray through us. We can practice this wordless prayer something like this: Sit in His presence. Tell Him we yield to His will, whatever it may be. Then, trusting His character, know what He wants is better than anything we could ask for ourselves or for someone else. Quiet yielding comes from the heart, relies on God’s wisdom and love, and prays beyond words.

I believe it’s God’s way of letting us pray prayers bigger than ourselves. Amazing, really.

“Lord Jesus,
take my mind and think through me,
take my hands and bless through me,
take my mouth and speak through me.

Above all, Lord Jesus, take my spirit and pray in me; so that it is you who move and have your being in me.”

(from a prayer found in a 16th century Book of Hours)