The Challenge of Unanswered Prayer Part 1

praying-hands-1564657

Last Sunday, the sermon in my church was on the topic of unanswered prayer. A tough subject, to be sure, and not the most popular. The whole notion of God not answering our prayers is troubling. In fact, it’s one of the leading complaints used by non-believers. You’ve heard variations of this:

If God loves you, why didn’t He give you what you asked for?

Well if God is good, why does He let people suffer?

Where is God while all this terrible stuff is happening in the world?

Valid questions – maybe you’ve asked them yourself at one time or another. However it’s worded, it comes from the same place. As humans, we want to feel secure and settled, and unanswered prayer works directly against that goal.

I have to admit, I struggled through the sermon, because it hit a little too close to home for me. I’ve written before about some of the challenges I’m facing now, especially the RA. And so far, there hasn’t been healing for this disease, or resolution in other situations. I’ve reached a sort of impass about it.

Prayer used to seem like a simple thing to me. As a young believer, I somehow got it into my head that if a prayer request seemed reasonable and good, then it would eventually get answered. I found that notion  comforting and positive. But like all “baby Christian” beliefs, it wasn’t accurate. And God knew I needed to be set straight.

Over the last few years, I’ve seen lots of examples of good prayers that have gone unanswered. Prayers for healing, for salvation, for rescue – made by godly people with godly characters. And I’ve watched as they waited. Well, now it’s my turn, and there’s a part of me that’s wishing for the good old days of ignorance.

I’ve been exploring the truth that there are no guarantees my prayers will get answered. I may study God’s Word and think I’m praying the way He wants me to, with the right motives, and still not receive a yes from Him. I’ll share more about that journey in my next blog. Meantime, here’s a teaser and a promise for you:

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.

Psalm 27:14

 

A Zig-Zag Day

sunset-weed-1544201

 

 

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”                                                                                                   Ephesians 5:15-17

 

I’ve had a zig-zag day today – do you ever have those? I started out with a plan – a good one, I thought. Not too busy, with just right amount of to-do’s on my list. But, it was not meant to be. From the get-go, things and people conspired to distract me: a husband on vacation, computer and car troubles, phone calls…

(Ironically, just after I finished typing that first paragraph, I got up and made myself a snack. Yummy, but not helpful to my cause!)

Now it is nearly 3 pm and I’m taking a quick inventory of what’s been accomplished. The short answer is, NOT MUCH. That’s kind of discouraging. But is the short answer totally accurate?

No, I didn’t get my blog done by 9 am, but I was able to give my husband a ride home from the mechanic’s. No, I didn’t make the big batch of lentil soup for lunch like I planned, but I did some shopping so my daughter could make a special dinner that she’s been craving. And no, I didn’t put time into working on my new website, but I got to connect wtih a couple of people and offer them some support.

I guess whether I see my day as a success or not depends on what I use as a measuring stick. If I rely soley on my original plan, then yes, my day was a distracted mish-mash. My verdict would be: “Oh well, I’ll just try again tomorrow.”

But after starting down that road, the scripture from Ephesians came to mind.  And that phrase, “making the most of every opportunity” especially caught my attention. What kind of opportunity was Paul talking about? The context was a teaching on how to walk in love, so the oppotunity had to do with modelling Christian behavior wherever and whenever we can.

What does that have to do with my zig-zag day? Well, I think Paul’s overarching theme here was to aim  be as Christlike as possible, and to use whatever the day brings as a way to show God’s love to others. If I look at what I actually did today in those terms, it paints a more positive picture.

I had opportunites to help, to support, to equip, to pray, and to encourage other people. And though I could have just stuck to my own plan, I chose to take advantage of the opportunities the day offered me.Did I align myself with the will of the Lord in doing those? I think so, at least for the most part. And that makes for a successful day, doesn’t it?

I still hope I can get more of my stuff done tomorrow. But in the meantime, I can thank God for providing so many chances for me to show that love to others – that doesn’t happen every day!

 

Looking Ahead

Today, for maybe the first time, I felt excited about the season of life I’m slowly heading into. And it came about in an interesting way.

My husband and I were talking this morning about cooking. More specifically, I was sharing about how I am still having trouble navigating the diet I need now – all the restrictions in food and preparation, etc. As I told a friend recently, the kitchen used to be one of the favorite rooms in my house, but now it just reminds me of all I can’t do and eat anymore.

It was a good conversation. I got a chance to share some practical and emotional challenges I’ve had lately. And my husband had some insightful things to say about both. His main point was that I needed to base the family meals more around the basics that I could tolerate than what I thought everyone else wanted.

What he said reminded me of something I believe God whispered to me last week. As I prayed for peace during an upsetting and exhausting time, I got a message to “Let go.” It could have applied only to the situation at hand, but for some reason I felt it went beyond that. It felt like a bigger, broader command.

Now, I am not one to let go easily of anything. I cling to what I know, whether it is helpful or not. Letting go has always meant losing something or someone which causes me sorrow. Kind of a narrow definition, to be sure. But this morning, I dared to consider how letting go could lead to something better.

How?

  • If I let go of trying to feed (take care of, fix problems for) everyone in the family, I’ll take better care of myself
  • If I let go of worrying about whether everyone likes what I cook (do, say, think), I’ll be more free to discover what’s good for me
  • If I let go of striving to make sure my food (work, ministry) is always perfect, I can gain more enjoyment from what I do and be more of a blessing

Do you see how that ripples out? I do now. Instead of just being a reason to grieve, letting go can be a gateway to new adventures. And that’s exciting!

So, I’m revisiting my diet and my life, ready to clear out what doesn’t nourish me anymore.

Peace At All Times

 

731625-tn_people-026Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.”                                                                                       2 Thessalonians 3:16

My rheumatoid arthritis reared it’s ugly head again this week. It’s always in my awareness to some degree – stiff joints or a lack of coordination, perhaps. But I had what I call a full-fledged “flare up” for a couple of days. And I have admit, I’m sure I brought it on myself by doing too much. In my defense, the situation (of the clogged toilet variety) left me no choice, at least until Roto Rooter arrived. So, I did some plunging, which wrecked my wrists.

I expected some backlash, so when the pain hit that night I was not surprised. I was up most of the night, rotating from ice packs to the heating pad, and shifting my arm position every couple of minutes. It was, in a word, miserable.

At about 2:00 am I lay listening to my husband sleeping next to me, and memories of last year came rushing back. All those nights I’d spent this same way vividly replayed, and I could actually feel my emotions start to stir up the way they used to. Just then, a small voice in my head geve me a big idea: “Take a deep breath.” So I did. A full, from-my-belly type breath – and it felt good.

The pain level didn’t go down. It was just as bright and hot as it had been during those earlier nights. The difference was how I reacted to that pain. Before, each twinge made me fearful and angry. I complained and wondered if relief would ever come. The dark and quiet only made things seem worse. Simply put, my emotions ruled, and result was tighter muscles and catasrophic thinking.

This time, I chose to follow common-sense and prayer instead. I reminded myself of the times I’d already dealt with painful bouts – they’d come and gone, and I’d survived pretty much intact. And though I prayed that God might take away the pain, I also asked Him to help me behave better this time while I felt bad.

The next morning was a revelation. I had weathered a tough night without making it worse by a bad attitude. I was tired, but peaceful. Still hurting, but calm. I certainly would have preferred that God answer the prayer for healing, but He chose to give me peace instead. And actually, in some ways I think that was the better blessing to get – it will help me breath deeper and pray more quickly next time.

Powerful Worship Songs 2

bayside-silhouette-1401003

There are some songs that are so recognizable that even the introduction gets people excited. That seems to be the case with “Days of Elijah” by Robin Mark. And it’s not just me – pretty much every video or every recording of that song I’ve encountered includes an audience that starts cheering when they realize what they’re hearing.

It’s amazing how a simple chord progression can stir people up. I’ve seen Robin Mark live twice now, and each time an undercurrent of anticipation fills the room. No matter how good his other songs are (and I think he’s done some great ones), “Days” is the one that most everyone wants to hear him do.

These are the days of Elijah
Declaring the word of the Lord
And these are the days of Your servant Moses
Righteousness being restored
And these are the days of great trials
Of famine and darkness and sword
Still we are the voice in the desert crying
Prepare ye the way of the Lord!

So what’s the story behind this piece? According to Mark, it was meant to be a song of hope. In 1994, he was watching a year in review-type show that included coverage of the tragedy in Rwanda. Seeing that brought to mind so many other troubling situations going on in the world. Mark found himself in prayer, asking God what kind of times he was living in and if He was really still in control.

Mark felt in his spirit that God answered his question, first by reassuring him that “Yes, I am still in control.” As to what kind of days were upon us, God brought Elijah to mind, as an example of someone who stayed firm in his faith, even in times when it feels like the culture is against God. His people are called to be righteous and holy in this dark world.

And these are the days of Ezekiel
The dry bones becoming as flesh
And these are the days of Your servant, David
Rebuilding a temple of praise
And these are the days of the harvest
The fields are all white in Your world
And we are the laborers in Your vineyard
Declaring the Word of the Lord

The second verse is a message about the need for unity in the church, and the importance of praise and worship among Christians. And finally, there is a call to action for all of us – to be lights that point others to Christ.

Behold He comes, riding on the clouds
Shining like the sun at the trumpet’s call
So, lift your voice, it’s the year of Jubilee
Out of Zions hill, salvation comes

This chorus never fails to thrill me because of the vision it evokes. That moment when we all see Him – and forever with God will begin! And that’s probably what gets so many people revved up when they hear this song. Mark succeeded in composing a true song of hope for the nations.

Do you have a favorite Robin Mark worship song? Share it with us!

An Uphill Battle

 

pexels-photo-large

I was sitting in the drugstore this morning waiting for a prescription to be filled, when I noticed the rack of magazines directly across from me. It was hard not to notice. All the most popular women’s magazines were lined up, one on top of another. Scanning the headlines and teasers on each, I found myself interested in some and amused by others.

Just then a woman with two boys came over to the sitting area. The boys, about 10 years old, started playing around with the blood pressure monitor in the corner. I watched them for a moment, then turned back to face the counter, and the magazines.

This time, I saw them not as a woman reader, but as a mom. And instead of noticing the article headlines, all I could focus on was the cover photos. It was like a montage of images, all designed to ignite desire. I think the point was for women to desire to look, and live like, the females in the pictures. In times past, I would have bought into that myself. But now I see another group of people who those magazine covers beckon.

Boys and men have always been attracted to pretty females – that is nothing new. From what I understand, response to visual stimuli is truly a part of their DNA. On the other hand, men are expected to behave themselves, to reign in their desires. Women, rightfully, demand that men treat them with respect as people, not as sexual objects.

But it seems unfair to me that men are bombarded daily with images of sexy girls and women. The deck gets stacked against them. In that rack of magazines alone, there were 8 different provocative pictures. Add to that TV ads, internet sites, and video games – basically, anytime and anywhere. Men like my husband and young men like my son who are trying to live rightly face an uphill battle.

Some people say that those images are no big deal. Men know they’re just meant to be fantasies, and they’re not aware of most of what’s out there. I’d like to think that’s true. And I know that Christian men have power through Christ to stand up against any temptation. I give God lots of thanks for that truth.

The thing that bothers me the most is that men have to be put in that position in the first place. Blame it on original sin, our fallen nature or the enemy at work in the world. But whatever the cause, men are being continually hit in a vulnerable area, and the fight can wear down even the strongest of them.

I know there is only one thing I can do, whether for my husband and son or those 10-year-olds in the store. Having no power to change what’s on the magazine rack, I can stir up spiritual power by praying. As a woman, I feel protective of young men and empathy toward adult men around me. And I believe God feels the same way.

The “Fix It Myself” Heart

18838202-studio-shot-portrait-of-one-caucasian-young-woman-feeling-strong

I’m such a wannabe fixer!

  • It’s snowing outside, and I want to get out and clear the walkway and cars.
  • My daughter is struggling with something, and I want to map out the plan to get her to a better place.
  • The house is a cluttered mess, and I want to straighten it all out.

In past years, I’d treat all those wants as a call to action that I couldn’t ignore. So off I’d go to shovel and strategize and clean. Afterwards, seeing what I’d accomplished, a feeling of satisfaction would fill me up. That is, until I’d see the next thing to fix.

But do you know what always happened? Eventually, I’d get tired! And then, all those to-do items that beckoned me would annoy me instead. I would notice that I was the only one working on that list and let resentment creep in toward other people. I’d rant a little, decide to let it go, and the cycle would start all over again.

Now there’s a monkey wrench in my routine, though. Having rheumatoid arthritis has meant readjusting the amount and kind of work I do. It has meant I don’t have as much energy as I used to. It’s meant I can’t do everything anymore (as if I ever did). And most importantly, my ‘fix-it myself’ heart has needed changing.

If I could name one positive thing that’s come out of having RA, it would be that I’ve been forced to ask for help more. That doesn’t really sound like a praise, does it? But for most of my life I have prided myself in the abiiity to take care of business on my own. It felt good not to have to wait for or depend on someone else to get something done.

But that approach has shut me out of fellowship, with others and especially with God. And until I was forced to start asking for help, I didn’t realize what I was missing. Boy was it hard at first. I needed jars opened, seat belts buckled, shower faucets turned…sometimes I had to ask for help getting up from the couch. And I wasn’t very gracious about accepting that help, either. It hurt my pride to keep reaching out day after day.

I believe God has used this disease to break my spirit in this area. Thankfully He’s done it in a gentle way, moving other people to be gracious with me as I learn my lessons. And I’ve discovered that being less than the perfect fixer gives me the chance to be blessed by other people.

Now as I look out the window and feel that ‘want’ to shovel, I think about who I can ask to do it instead. There’s still a little twinge of disappointment, but also a bit of relief, too – that shovel can get heavy!
 

A Psalm A Day…

The Pastor of my church has issued a challenge – for us to read a psalm (or at least part of one) every night. So the last few nights I’ve been doing that, and God’s already been giving me some new things to ponder.

I’m not going in any particular order, which adds a note of excitement. What did He show me tonight? Well, here’s my reading, Psalm 3.

“LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!  Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side. Arise, LORD! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the LORD comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.”

Now, I have to share that in the last few days I’ve felt overwhelmed by life, physically and mentally exhausted. Reading this Psalm did two things for me: it calmed my spirit and it got me excited. Those might sound opposed to each other, but they actually can work together.

I felt calmed by the idea that God will be there for me during my troubles. David talks a lot aboout that in the Psalms, doesn’t he? As if that wasn’t enough, I saw more – a whole list of promises David claims that God gives to His people. I went slowly, taking them in for myself.

God will:

  • Be a shield around me
  • Lift my head high
  • Answer me from His holy mountain
  • Sustain me
  • Arise
  • Deliver me
  • Strike my enemies
  • Bless me

Can you feel a sense of excitement bubble up inside you at these truths? The Psalms are loaded with them. And you can get your fill anytime. The question is, are you willing to take up the challenge of daily Psalm reading?