Last year, my church produced a series called “Here I Am.” It was such a powerful message that it’s become the spiritual theme of the year for me. It’s amazing to consider the significance of those three tiny words. Here. I. Am. But if you do a quick search through the Bible, you’ll see this phrase play a critical role in some huge interactions.
I was at a church service recently where the preacher said that God had told him to remind “the person who feels they are alone” that they aren’t because God is there and He loves you more than you could ever know.
In an audience of several hundred, I’m sure “that person” could be almost anyone.
It reminded me of a day earlier that week when I had come home from a long day at work with no agenda for the evening. I recently moved to the coast in Florida so I made a quick run to the beach before coming home for dinner. With more time to kill, I started thinking of more options.
“I could really go for a beer,” I thought. “I know, I’ll have a beer on the back porch. With Jesus. You know, quasi-prayer, shoot the breeze style beer with Jesus. That’s normal, right?”
It was awkward. And kind of pathetic. And it didn’t last very long.
My friend Chris Hendrix asked me to write a guest post for his blog last fall, so I’m re-posting it here.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God.…
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
T. S. Eliot, “East Coker”
I read these words in Philip Yancey’s book Disappointment with God. I was going through a brutal spell in my life. If you’ve read the book, maybe it helped. But it didn’t help me. In fact it just made me feel worse for all the people referenced in the book as well as for myself.
Why do bad things happen to generally decent people? I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I’ll ever understand this side of heaven. It might be better if I stopped asking. But there are few things that haven’t escaped me. Maybe they were rungs on the ladder that kept me from hitting rock bottom.
Here they are:
Give me faith, but don’t put me in situations that require it.
Give me hope, but don’t disappoint me.
Give me contentment, but give me everything I want.
Give me grace, but don’t put me around people who need it.
Give me patience, but don’t make me wait.
Has faith or prayer even been risky for you? Have you ever believed something would happen and risked being let down if it didn’t? Or you prayed for something ideal knowing it could hurt you as much as help you.
Last month I got to write a guest post for my friend Chris Hendrix’s faith-based blog exploring just that topic. I took some reflections on faith, doubt, old prayers, and tied it in with the game of Monopoly. Let’s face it, when you pray for God’s best, it’s like drawing a Chance card in Monopoly. It could help or it could hurt. But you’ll never know unless you play.
Have you ever been in an isolated situation you couldn’t escape and had to just let things be? I had one of those experiences when I was serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army several years ago. It was a good year but a tough year. It definitely shaped me. Earlier this month I had the opportunity to write about it in a guest post for my friend and former colleague Jess Titchener who lives in London and recently launched her new faith-based blog This Train is Bound for Glory.
Jon Acuff uses the term “hinge moments” to refer to those times when life teaches you something new and swings you in a new direction. Iraq was a spiritual hinge for me, but it wasn’t a moment, it was a process.
I think God goes out of His way to speak our language.
In fact I know He does. At least I know He did. I’ve been reading Jason Clark’s book Surrendered and Untamed lately and thinking about Peter. Jason makes a great point that sometimes God’s favor means fishing all night without catching a thing to prepare you for the catch of a lifetime in the morning. That one stuck with me for a while. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Jesus not only went out of His way to be dramatic, but He did it in the way Peter would have appreciated most as a fisherman.
I don’t know what your Thanksgiving traditions happen to be, but if it’s typical you probably get together with family, watch some football, eat yourself silly, and generally try to have a good time. Maybe you take turns having each person tell one thing he or she is thankful for. Whatever it may be, I hope this note on gratitude can provide extra food for thought.
“Lord, accept my thanks.”
I’m afraid the first mistake we make when we think about gratitude is to assume that God owes it to us to accept our thanks.
I’ve been privileged to lead several small groups at church over the past couple years and also coach small group leaders. I’ve also been a part of some interesting discussions with friends who are responsible for setting up small group programs at their churches. Small groups are crucial, because that is a key place where community happens for so many church members.
So I wanted to include a list of small group best practices I’ve picked up since I got started. Feel free to use any or all of them, or to add your own.
My church started the year with Pastor Mark Batterson‘s four-part sermon series on based on The Circle Maker, his new NY Times Bestseller on prayer. It highlights the importance of dreaming big, praying hard, and thinking long. Specifically, one of the core principles is the idea of “praying through.” Praying through is the opposite of seeking an answer as soon as possible. It’s a commitment to pray as long as it takes to realize God’s purpose in us – and for Him to receive the glory.
I had a real-life object lesson when we presented a junior version of the Circle Maker series to our Sunday School kids.