Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Power of Prayer

As Christians, we often talk about the power of prayer. We tell friends, "I'm praying for you" - and sometimes we actually do. We encourage one another with scripture about praying. We record prayer requests, keep prayer journals, and read books on the "Power of a Praying Fill-in-the-Blank".

But do we really get that God answers prayers? Do we grasp that our prayers can change the outcome, can avert tragedy?

Don't get me wrong - God is sovereign and maybe He would have done what He would have done regardless of our prayers. I don't know.

I do know that there have been a few times when God has answered my prayers so powerfully, so immediately, and so clearly that I am simply awed by the realization. I'm stunned by the thought that the God of the Universe, who spoke the world into being, heard our heartfelt cries and met our need.

One of those times was about a year ago - when a tornado swept through our neighborhood while my husband and two young sons were at home. As my oldest daughter and I prayed that God would "change the path of the storm and protect our family," the tornado ripped the empty house across the street off of its foundation and tossed it into the street and then hopped over our house causing no major structural damage.

This week was another example of how God hears and answers our prayers. My father, who is 73 and has had more than his share of medical problems in the past, went to Duke Hospital on Monday for major back surgery. The surgery went according to plans and he seemed to be recovering well the first 24 hours. But as the second day progressed, he developed a complication which is not uncommon following surgery - his digestive system stopped working properly. By Thursday, he was not able to keep any food down and they needed to place a tube to extract the contents of his stomach. Unfortunately, his very strong gag reflex made this nearly impossible and in the midst of their efforts, his vitals dropped drastically. They moved him to ICU, where they could sedate him and get the tube in place.

Within an hour, they called and said the doctor wanted to speak with us. They brought us into a small, private conference room and within a few minutes the doctor and half a dozen other staff members came in, introduced themselves and launched into their explanation. The bottom line was that they believed my father's bowels were perforated, ruptured or necrotic (the tissue was dying). The only means to determine or correct this would be to do emergency exploratory surgery; however, his vitals were so bad, they did not know if he would survive the surgery. They estimated he had a 10-15% chance of surviving and there was a strong possibility that if they got in and found what they anticipated, they might have to simply close him up and let us say our good-byes. I'm thankful to say I've never before had doctors present so grim a prognosis and I hope I never do again.

My younger brother, my mother and I were the only ones there and they said they could give us just a minute with him before surgery - essentially to say good-bye in case he didn't make it through the surgery.

As we hovered by his bedside for no more than a minute or two, I laid my hand on his stomach and prayed. For the doctors - wisdom, skill and discernment. For my father - strength and determination to fight. For my family - strength and faith to trust and praise God regardless of the outcome.

We adjourned back to the 'bad news room' - our private conference room, where we were to be left alone to wait for news. Of course, by this time, I had posted on facebook and mobilized a virtual army of prayer warriors on dad's behalf. My older brother and his wife as well as my own husband arrived. Randy led us in prayer shortly afterward and then, before going into surgery, the doctor stepped in for just a moment to offer the first glimmer of hope. Dad's vitals had strengthened - just a bit. Still critical, but it was an improvement.

An hour or so later, the doctor returned to tell us that their worst fears were unfounded. There was no perforation, no necrosis. Although Dad was still very ill, his numbers were improving. Two days later (Saturday evening) and he is no longer on a ventilator, he's conscious and seems to be out of the woods. He still has a long recovery and rehabilitation for the original back surgery as well as recovery from the exploratory surgery, but God answered all our prayers.

I know that prayers aren't always answered in the way we hope. I know there are times that despite our fervent prayers - joined with the prayers of friends and family around the world - loved ones die. Bad things do happen. I certainly don't believe for one moment that anything about us made our prayers special, made God hear them more, or made them more effective.

 This isn't a how-to guide.

But we will never know what prayer God may answer if we never ask. We will never know if our prayer might have made the difference if we never pray it. If we face an impossible situation and we don't pray, we will be forever haunted by the possibility that our prayers would have made all the difference.

"You have not, because you ask not."

Lord, help me to remember your powerful answer to our prayers. Each time a friend shares a prayer request, help me to pray diligently for them. Help me to remember that "the fervent prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective." Thank you, Lord, that you do hear our prayers. That you do answer.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Is it Better to be Right or Right with God?

It seems as if everyone I know has experienced interpersonal conflicts lately. I'm sure my next interpersonal conflict is waiting just around the bend - maybe when you read this post!

If you've lived on this planet long enough to learn to walk and talk, you've probably experienced conflict - maybe on a daily basis. If you serve in ministry, you've definitely experienced it.

Misunderstandings. Differences of opinion. Hurt feelings. Offensive words or actions. Body language that speaks volumes. And if all that were not enough, social media provides a whole new realm for us to come into conflict since the there are no non-verbal cues to promote understanding.

Sometimes we are in the wrong. We react in an instant without considering the tone of voice or choice of words - or maybe without realizing our CAPS LOCK is on! It's easy - or at least easi-ER - to admit we're wrong when we recognize that we made a mistake. God brings conviction and we repent; we seek the forgiveness of the one we wronged and hopefully reconcile, moving on together with a little more sensitivity and thought the next time. Or so we hope.

But what about when we didn't do anything wrong? What about when we are confident that our words and actions were Spirit-led? Should we apologize for doing exactly what God led us to do? Would God lead us to do something that creates conflict? We expect conflict between us and the world as we seek to live for Christ - but are blind-sided when the conflict is not with the world, but with the person praying next to us on Sunday, or the person sitting beside us at our table.

Our sense of justice cries out that it's unfair. That we should be the one to receive an apology.

Jesus provides an interesting example for us in Matthew 5:23-24: " 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift."

Notice that Jesus does NOT say, "if you are offering your gift on the altar and there remember that you have wronged your brother or sister". The point is really not who was wrong or right, but that the relationship be restored. 

Paul admonished in Romans, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Romans 12:18)

He does NOT say, "Stand up for yourself! Fight for your rights! Win at all cost!"

Our culture in America, though founded in many ways on godly principles and heritage, teaches a proud and rebellious spirit that is anything but biblical. The Word says to "13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right." (1 Peter 2:13-14) Yet the Colonists perceived they were being treated unjustly and rose up against that authority, and Americans have bristled at authority ever since. Instead of recognizing a unique and special circumstance where God intervened to overturn an unjust ruler, Americans have embraced and glorified the rebellion itself. We've passed down an ideology of demanding our rights whether it be from the government, our friends, our family, or our church. (Don't get me started on how we've expanded what we believe those rights should include!)

We've abandoned the priority of relationships over rights.

God's priority is always relationship over rights.

John 13:34-35   34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Remember that Jesus spoke these words after showing them what this love looks like by washing the feet of his disciples. Even the feet of Judas Iscariot, knowing that in moments Judas would leave to betray him. Even the feet of Peter, who would soon deny that he knew Jesus. 

Photo courtesy of Keiki Hendrix

That is the way Christ directs us to love - to wash the feet of the one who betrays us. To humble ourselves before someone who may not deserve such grace...just as we do not deserve such grace from Christ.

Romans 12:10  "Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves."

Corinthians 13:11  "Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you."

Ephesians 4:2 "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love."

God is all about relationships. Just as our salvation is not about doing a list of things but about having a relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ, so He desires that we prioritize relationships over our own rights. 

It's not about saying that what you did was wrong - it it truly was led by the Lord. But it is about seeking reconciliation anyway. Ask forgiveness for the hurt caused, if not for the actual words or actions. 

God has a way bringing humility to those who choose not to humble themselves. As one who has learned the hard way - it is better to humble yourself before God must do it for you!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

To Serve or To Be Served?

How do you picture God reacting when you stand before His throne? If you're a Christian, do you embrace the scripture that describes a crown of righteousness reserved for you? ("Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing." 2 Tim. 4:8.) Do you look forward to the day when you will hear "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25: 21, 23)?

Perhaps, like me, you will find this passage (Luke 17:7-10) a little more difficult to digest:
7 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

What? No crown? No "well done, good and faithful servant"? No "enter into my rest"?

This passage doesn't contradict those other passages, but it does speak to our heart and our motives. Are we living in accordance with God's Word because of the rewards we believe we will receive? Are we thinking of each person we share the Gospel with as another notch on our Bible belt? Do we entertain for one moment that we have done anything deserving of praise and honor from the Most High? Lord, have mercy on us if we let such a thought enter our minds.

Now compare this passage with Matthew 7:22 "Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’" Do you see the similarity of heart? Do you see the pride inherent in the thought that our Master should serve us or that 'I' did anything of merit?

Anything that is accomplished of eternal value through our lives, will only be accomplished by God, through His Spirit, living in us.

So how could I think that I deserve a crown or a throne or even a "well done" when it isn't I who did it, but Christ living in me?

Easier said than done to be sure.

Do I remember that showing love to someone is not about how I feel or what they deserve, but about allowing the Holy Spirit to work through me? When I finally DO the thing God has called me to - serve in the nursery, help a family in need, give to help missions, show love to my co-workers - do I pat myself on the back and feel satisfied with that meager offering? Do I compare my service to others and set myself up as judge?

Do I envision God saying, "Come sit down, you've had a tough day in the field, let me wait upon you"?

Lord, Have mercy on me if I seek anything but to serve you, if I entertain for one instant the notion that I deserve something other than eternal separation from you, that my works merit any compliment or reward from you. Let my heart's desire be to serve, rather than to be served.