prayer

Specific prayer

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Prayer is often a difficult thing for me to write about. Though I firmly and adamantly believe in the power of prayer, it is tricky to discuss because I never want to give the impression that God is a vending machine or that our prayers must meet some imagined formulaic construct.  That said, I want to share an article I recently included in the most recent newsletter for A Chosen Generation. I hope this encourages you and draws you closer to the heart of the Father.

Last Thursday morning I woke up with three heavy burdens: 1 – we were waiting on tests to confirm or deny that my daughter had whoopping cough, 2 – as my kids get older I desperately want them to understand the power and purpose of their faith, and, 3 – I was asking God for an opportunity to share his love and kindness to others.

These were not “earth shaking prayers”, but I felt an unusual urgency and connection to each of them. The Holy Spirit was clear that I needed to bring each concern to his throne. Before tossing the covers back, and rolling out of bed, I did my best to still my heart and mind and direct my thoughts to the Father.

Later that day, I was busily moving things about my new office, when a young man and middle-aged woman came walking in off the street. They were selling homemade loafs of bread to raise money for a local non-profit.  I didn’t have any cash or checks on hand but I asked if I could pray for them. They were each noticeably taken aback. After a beat to let the idea sink in, the young man said, “Just prayer for general encouragement would be fine.” I said, “I’ll certainly do that, but I’m a believer in specific prayer. What specifically can I pray for each of you?”

Another beat…

He replied, “Well, I’m still getting over the effects of chemo; so you could pray for that.” I turned to the woman and asked, “How about for you?” She turned her face down and quietly said, “My rheumatoid arthritis is so painful all the time.”

“Let’s pray then.” I replied.

So, in my office these two strangers and I formed a circle, held hands and offered those things to our Father. When I had finished praying, the young man held onto my hand and asked how he could pray for me. I told him about my daughter’s possible whooping cough and would he pray that we get good news from the doctor today. He smiled and bowed his head.

What came next was one of the most passionate and simple prayers I’ve heard. This young man prayed over my daughter, my family and me with conviction and assurance. It was a uniquely holy moment in an otherwise ordinary day. The prayers ended, we each hugged, smiled and said we hoped to see one another again.

prayer circle

As my day went on, I returned again and again to that moment. Those simple prayers in my office were such a blessing and encouragement.

Later that night, my four kids and I were gathered in our family room. My wife had an event she needed to attend, so it was just the five of us. We went around the room (as is our tradition) telling our “highs and lows” from the day. When it was my daughter’s turn she said her high was when the doctor called and confirmed that she did not have whoopping cough (Yay!). It was the first time I had heard the results. Immediately I was drawn back to the powerful prayers of the young man in my office. I leaned into my daughter and asked what time of day it was that we heard from the nurse. She said, “Just before lunch, dad.”

This was roughly the same time as the impromptu prayer circle in my office.

I spent the next several minutes telling the story to all of them. As I spoke, I realized that each of my prayers from the morning had been answered specifically.

Bella was whooping cough free, my kids saw in a fresh light the power of faith in action and I was given the gift of sharing the love of Christ with others. Wow.

Certainly not every day is like that. It is rare that one day brings together all those opportunities and answers. Yet, it remains a day worth celebrating. A day to be reminded that God hears us, knows us, and loves us personally.

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Fighting the wind

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I love to run. It is my time alone with Jesus. Running is where I wrestle through the hurts and celebrate the wins with God. My wife can tell if I haven’t ran recently. My fuse is shorter, my sleep is restless and my typical optimism takes a hit. During times like these it is not uncommon for her to say, “You should go for a run.”

A little over two years ago I made the decision to train for my first marathon. Though I had ran competitively since high school, the most I had ran was one 16 miler that was more the result of getting lost than intentionally setting out for a big mileage day. Yet I was determined to force my body into the shape necessary to complete the 26.2 miles.

The training was not complicated and relatively easy to wrap my head around. I enjoyed pushing myself physically. The first phase of the training mostly involved running more days than not in a week while steadily increasing mileage. Simple. Straight forward.

Simple that is, until I hit a weekly total of about 30 miles. From there things got exponentially harder. Time became a big factor. I had a full time job, four great kids to parent and a wife to love and serve. I was “running” out of time to run. There was no easy answer. To push through to 40 miles I needed to start running at times that we’re not my favorite. Early mornings and late night runs after 10pm. I tossed work cloths in a backpack a couple times and ran to work. (Definitely not the freshest way to begin the work day.)

My least favorite part of training though were those days when I attempted to run on a hill that also offered a stiff head wind. Those runs sucked. No amount of cleaner form, shorter stride or increased cadence could alleviate the in-your-face challenge. It didn’t matter if I had the newest minimalist, zero drop, anatomically corrected and ridiculously priced running shoes, the hill and the wind didn’t care.

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Runs like that remind me of the battle we as men wage against our culture. A culture filled with rampant temptations of lust, immorality and pornography. So often the run against our sinful nature feels too steep and the headwind too strong to fight against. And although we keep, “running the race marked out before us”, our culture and our enemy will never alleviate the in-your-face challenge, because they don’t care. It is a battle the Enemy is determined to win.

However, just as I had to have a training plan to successfully complete a marathon, we must also have a plan to win this battle. Here are the simple and consistent steps that form my plan for overcoming what the Enemy and culture throw my way.

  1. A commitment to daily and specific prayer.

My connection to Jesus is the single greatest determination of my success as a man of God. Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” I have already lost if I haven’t begun the day connected to the King.

Ask for help in the specific ways that you may struggle. Yes, He already knows, but again, it’s that connection to Jesus that makes all the difference.

  1. Keep a short account with my wife.

Next to Jesus, my wife is my greatest support. We are a team, and because we are one, there is nobody better suited to pray for me.She keeps me accountable to my commitment to serve, honor and love her. We pray together and are committed to staying transparent in our successes and failures.

  1. Maintain honest accountability with trusted men.

I have chosen these men wisely. We share common values and a common commitment. More than committed to each other, we are committed to each other’s families. The accountability I share with them is not only for my benefit but for the protection and future of my family.

  1. Eliminate the obvious temptations.

I cannot remove every temptation, but I can do my best to be rid of the “usual suspects”.

A. My wife has my Facebook password and is free to login regularly.

B. I do not maintain virtual relationships with former girlfriends.

C. My wife has the code on all devices with internet access.

* No loading apps

* No in-app purchases

* No videos beyond TV-14 or PG-13

* No explicit song, audio or iBook content

* No explicit internet content

        D. I have loaded X3 Watch (a free internet accountability software) on my work laptop, home desktop, and iPhone.

        E. I do not schedule private meetings with women.

        F. When I travel, I stay connected to my wife as well as one or more of my accountability men.

        G. Typically I do not watch “R” rated movies.  There are some exceptions, but not many.

        H. My wife and I have one shared bank account.

These four points have become my simple and consistent training regimen to battle against the constant onslaught of our culture. For some it may seem extreme. Yet on days when the battle turns into an uphill slog with 50 mile an hour headwinds, these four disciplines enable me to do the hard work necessary to win the day. Not one of them is a “silver bullet”, or particularly fancy. They are simply the tools that help me fight the wind, for myself, my wife, my kids and my testimony for my Savior.

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Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 (NIV)

The Big Three

Julie and I recently purchased a new bunk bed for our oldest two boys.  In the interest of full disclosure…it is the first new bed that they have ever had.  Also, their previous “hand-me-down” bed had broken several months ago and our oldest has been sleeping with his mattress on the floor since.  Needless to say, it was time for a new one.

If you were to spend much time in my house, you would learn that:

  1. I’m not terribly handy.
  2. I want desperately to appear handy around my children.
  3. Missing pieces from “assembly required” items gives me brain damage (see points A and B).

Therefore it was with extreme frustration that I discovered that a crucial screw was missing from the new bunk bed.  I had torn through all the packaging, retraced my steps and exhaled mightily over and over again.  Yet, no screw was presenting itself.  I was beginning to spiral down toward guttural incoherent growling when my sweet eight-year-old daughter grabbed my attention and said in the simplest and sweetest of voices, “Well, I guess we need to pray and ask Jesus to find it for us.”

I would like to say that I immediately pulled myself out of the funk I was descending into, that I recognized a wonderful moment of spiritual intergenerational modeling and that I gleefully dropped to one knee and prayed fervently for Jesus to provide.  That was not the case.  It took great intestinal fortitude to refrain from openly growling at my innocent daughter.  Yet, more to her credit than mine, I managed to squeeze out, “Sure Bella.  Lets do that.”  My prayer was not powerful.  It was not passionate.  Nor was it expectant.  It was obligatory.  In all honesty, it was done mostly to placate my daughter.

Then we found the screw.

Not more than two minutes later did the solution present itself.  I found the screw buried under papers I was certain I had checked under previously.  Within minutes after that, we had the bed completed and my wife was busily arranging blankets on the boy’s new beds.

Later that night, as I tucked Bella in, we talked about how great it was that God answered our prayer.

Here is the thing—Bella’s prayer was powerful.  It was passionate.  And most importantly, it was expectant.  It is the only way Bella knows how to pray.  Luckily, she has not learned otherwise.  She is quickly becoming the prayer warrior of our family.  Whatever the issue or need, she takes it to Jesus; assuming He will answer and provide.  She does not get held up by the esoteric arguments about Free Will versus Determinism.  There are no existential wrestling’s with the sovereignty of God.  It is simple for her.

She loves Jesus.

She knows Jesus loves her.

Therefore, she expects Him to answer.

I smile big and broad as I write this.  My kids teach me so much more than I teach them some days.  How different might my prayer life be if I condensed things down to Bella’s three points?

I love Jesus.

He loves me.

Therefore I expect Him to answer.

God is not a cosmic vending machine.  He is not waiting to pump out blessings if we pump in prayers.  Yet it is clear to me that He will most often go where He is expected.

Are you praying expecting God to answer?  Or have your prayers turned into unrighteous obligation?  If so, revisit Bella’s big three:

You love Jesus.

He loves you.

Therefore you can expect Him to answer.

Joel Thomas

Things I won’t change

It is not the things you cannot change that hold you back.  It is the things you won’t.

This phrase popped into my head as I charged up a beautiful autumn hillside outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.  A close friend of mine had invited me to come and spend a few days of rest and renewal.  It was in the midst of this much-needed “r and r” that the Holy Spirit dropped these two lines in my head.

Since that trail run two weeks ago, I have returned to these sentences often; asking God to reveal the truth and depth of them in my life.  Here is what I have learned thus far.

1. I am not a victim.

We live in a culture that would have us believe that the difficulties in our lives are the result of forces leveraged against us.  Whatever the pain in your life, you are not the cause of it.  You are a simple and innocent bystander in the story of your life.  If you’re overweight, it’s a glandular problem—not your fault.  If you’ve been passed over for promotion, it’s because someone else is keeping you down, and you’ve been taken advantage of—not your fault.  If your marriage has fallen apart, it’s your spouse’s responsibility.  She just won’t take the time to communicate better—not your fault.  Your sex life with your wife is unfulfilling, if only she understood your needs better—not your fault.  If your children are bitter and distant, it’s because of their rebellious natures, not because of your parenting skills—not your fault.  Too often our culture tells us to take a pill, read another “self help” book, or move on if the going gets tough.  That is so rarely true it’s laughable.  Nine times out of ten, I am responsible for the circumstances in my life.  If I want things to change, I need to get on my knees, seek the Father and get busy becoming the Man of God He calls me to be.

2.  I have made some unhealthy agreements.

I have become such a masterful liar, that I can even lie to myself.  I’m sure you can relate.  There are so many things that I’ve “agreed” not to change or address about my life.  See if any of these ring true for you.  “I’m too busy to have a daily time with Jesus.”—baloney.  “My kids will understand that I can’t play with them right now.”—phooey.  “My wife knows I need this promotion.  She’ll understand if I can’t be there.”—bogus.  “I have to lie a little if I’m going to get ahead.”—wrong.  There is much more that each of us control than we like to admit.  Unhealthy agreements delay self-actualization and holy redemption.  They must be avoided at all costs.

This past weekend I attended an event titled, “The Rising – men rising to meet the challenges of tomorrow.”  If any of us are to truly rise, we must wholeheartedly embrace points one and two.  I am always the largest obstacle in the way of becoming all that God has called me to be.

Questions:

What are the things in your life that are “holding you back”?

Be painfully honest and evaluate if rather than being something you “cannot” control, its something you won’t.

List out some unintentional unhealthy agreements that have been shaping your attitudes.

Take each on that list and offer them as a prayer to God.

Example:

Dear Father I have unintentionally agreed that I cannot change my circumstances.  Give me the sight to see beyond that lie.  Help me to own my mistakes and help me to move beyond them.  Give me the courage and the strength to change.  In Jesus name, amen.

Joel Thomas