Be Careful What You Pray For

I read a book in December, a seemingly simple Christmas novel, that convicted me as much as anything ever has outside the Bible. In it, a woman experiences being ignored in her public agony, and it changes her forever.

Without going into the book’s details, let me just say that everything centers around a few words she writes, a prayer. I have it on my wall, and I’ve prayed it many times since finishing the book.

Give me eyes to see what isn’t shown,

Ears to hear what isn’t said,

Hands to do what You want,

And the courage to not walk away.

This prayer has helped me as I’ve tried to be more sensitive to those around me in the past few weeks. I’ve never been the most observant person, taking the pictures people present at face value most of the time, but I’m trying to really watch and listen, especially for that still, small voice.

And then, today, I was tested. I was in the fast food drive through and saw a man who had fallen and was trying to get up. I didn’t want to get out of line and go help him, hoped the line would hurry and I could just swing back by after getting my food to make sure he’d managed it. After all, I was a woman, and alone, and…

Hey, I’m just being transparent here. The first time I heard God whisper, “and the courage to not walk away,” I ignored Him. (Yes! I know!) I kept my eyes on the man through hearing those words yet again – as the line didn’t move an inch. And then, after watching him almost get up only to fall back down, I got out of line.

I knew going in that he was most likely drunk. I knew when he spoke that he surely was. Still, I kept hearing “and the courage to not walk away.” I called another man over and together we helped him stand. I picked up his dropped bag to hand it over and knew exactly what I was smelling on his breath.

We got him up and helped him brace himself. The other man left after getting assurances that he didn’t want us to call 911. I stayed, because I knew it wasn’t over.

I didn’t do any great thing. I let him talk. I listened. I prayed for him. I didn’t offer to buy him a meal or take him anywhere. I just… I just acknowledged his humanity and the fact that even if you’re homeless you are worthy of being treated as a human being.

I got back in my car, went to order (no line-imagine that) and headed home nearly in tears, shame-filled tears. Only weeks ago, I’d have just prayed a quick, “Send him help” prayer and then shut my ears in case I was the help God wanted to send. Even today, I almost didn’t have the courage to not walk away.

And that knowledge hurts.

I’m going to keep praying that prayer, asking God to help me become more like Him. I hope that if I pass by you and you are hurting I have the courage to stop and at least listen. If I fail, please forgive me, and pray with me that I do have the courage next time.

I am being careful what I pray for, because it’s what I want.

The novel is A Cinderella Christmas, by Amanda Tru

Celebrating Jesus!

Tammy C

Revisiting the Furnace

Most of us have heard the story of the three Hebrew boys and how they were thrown into a fiery furnace after refusing to bow to the idol. (Daniel 3) We read about their obedience to God, being thrown in, the guards dying from the heat, the king seeing them and the fourth man walking around, and them walking out of the fire not even smelling of smoke. But let’s pause for a moment. What about while they were inside? What happened…from their perspective?

The first thing they would have noticed, beyond the fact that they were still alive, was that the very fire intended to destroy them had, instead, burned away their bonds. They were thrown into the fire held captive and bound, but were likely loosed before they even hit the floor. Yes, they were still in the fire, but they could stand up, may have even playfully pulled each other up, and they could walk around as they liked. In truth, they were more free than they had been for a while. 

Many times in our lives, we find ourselves anticipating potential outcomes with dread, perhaps with such a fear that it binds us, holding us captive and keeping us from moving forward. Statistics say that what we fear almost never even happens. Think about that. How much time do we waste letting the fear of something that will NEVER HAPPEN hold us captive to the point that we can’t even move?

But the thing is that, once we’re thrown into the fire, that fear is burned away. The worst has already happened and, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we can look up from the floor of the furnace and realize, “Hey! I’m still here! I survived!”

I can imagine their surprised joy in that moment. They had dared declare God’s power to the king, assuring him that the One they served was more than able to deliver them. And He had. You know that special laughter that comes with joy? I can almost hear it. I can also see them turning to look through the flames, out the door, at the outside. Perhaps in the midst of their astonishment they wondered what they should do next. And then, just maybe, from behind them…

They heard a chuckle. Can you see them whipping around in even more shock and amaze? The king said the fourth man in the fire looked like the son of God. Presumably, he was right. They wouldn’t have known Him as “Jesus,” but their hearts would surely have recognized Him.

Now their backs are to the exit, the fire that surrounds them is pretty much forgotten, and their eyes are firmly focused on their first ever glimpse of the One they’ve offered their lives for. Though they have no way of knowing it, everything – literally everything – has changed. 

What words would Jesus have spoken to them? Did they ask all of the questions that had burned in their hearts for years? Did He… I can’t really even begin to propose what He might have said. We do know this, though. They spent some time in there. 

We don’t know how much time, but it was enough that the king eventually realized what he was seeing, pointed it out to his companions, and called out for the three to come out. Given the raging fire, and how loud it would have been, it seems to me that either the fire was allowed time to burn down or Jesus told them, “Hey guys, the king is calling.”

Regardless, stepping back inside with the kids… While I was homeschooling, I wrote an essay entitled “The View from Inside the Furnace,” and at this point I suggested that they, instead of being in the worst time of their lives (what it looked like) were actually on the field trip of a lifetime.

As they walk around, I imagine Jesus explaining exactly how this furnace works, how it is used to harness the destructive nature of fire and cause it to change things, transforming soft clay into usable, even valuable, vessels. Then I imagine Jesus sharing a few secrets about how He is going to use their time in the fire to do far more, not only to change them, making them more useful and valuable, but also change the world. I imagine…quite a lot, actually. 

Can you see the disappointment on their faces when either they finally hear the king calling or Jesus announces that their visit is over? The very thing that was at one time the ultimate threat has now become a refuge, a place they’ve been seeking their whole lives – a secret place where it is just them and Him. In all honesty, if it were me I’d have been like a child begging for “just one more story.”

Actually, I have been. I wrote the essay I referred to earlier during one of the hardest times of my life.  I intended it for friends who were worried about me, and with good reason. In the midst of the fire I learned things I could never have learned anywhere else, and I developed an intimacy with God that I had never known. As I shared with God in prayer at the time, I would never wish that fire on my worst enemy, but I desperately desired to take the intimacy with me when I walked back out of the flames. 

Those three boys had to feel the same way, but for them I think it almost had to be a harder walk to take, because Jesus came out of that furnace with me, staying always by my side, and they had to leave the fourth man behind, knowing they would likely never see Him face-to-face again.

And, as I imagine Jesus promising, their world changed – and not just for them. Yes, they were promoted and given all honor, but even more importantly God was promoted, and the king himself ordered that He be worshipped. Yes, our God was merely added to the list of gods they already worshipped, but it was a beginning.

So I leave us (Yep, this is a reminder for me.) with this. Serve God with all your heart and don’t fear the fire. Jeremiah 29:11 assures us that He has great plans for us, and Romans 8:28 promises that He can cause all things to work together for our good. Even a walk in a fire-filled furnace, though terrifying to face, can be  an amazing experience that prepares us for an astounding future. 

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

He is I AM

Jesus said to His disciples, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” (John 8:58)

I’m sure you’ve heard someone, at some point, refer to a Scripture as having leapt off the page while they were reading. This is one of those verses for me. There I was, reading along, when suddenly I SAW Jesus say, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”

I’ve heard this verse used to support Jesus’ divinity, as it hearkens back to God’s declaration to Moses, but the revelation I gained in that moment was entirely different.

Picture me sitting there, stunned expression on my face, realizing that He’s saying “I AM before Abraham,” that even though He was standing there talking to them He was also, at the same time, before Abraham was born!

The revelation hit me in a moment, but it took my brain weeks to process it. Throughout my days, I kept going back to the thought the way you keep returning to a pot that’s simmering on the stove. I even pulled out my concordance and sought out similar times when God made such references to Himself.

You see, I’d always heard it taught that God was saying, “I am _________ (insert your need in the blank,” meaning He is whatever you need.
I am your Savior.
I am your deliverer.
I am your healer.
I am your provider.

This is all true, and lines up with the very names of God. The challenge is that Scripture isn’t two-dimensional. You can look at it one way today and see that it means one thing, and realize tomorrow that it means that and much more. The challenge is to keep from getting locked into only one view.

As I meditated on Jesus’ declaration, God lifted another verse from the page. “Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10) It was as if He were writing me a personal message.

Be still and know that I AM
~God

It’s a fact: Time is meaningless to God. Yes, we find it hard to comprehend this truth, because it’s almost everything to us, but I’m convinced that its only use to God is that it helps us keep our own lives in order. Well, perhaps that’s an oversimplification, but you get my point.

Through the weeks, I slowly gained an understanding that GOD IS, that even as God IS with me as I type this, He IS also with Moses in the desert and Adam in the garden. At first, it was almost like a mental exercise. I’d been given a new piece of information and was slowly grasping what it meant, what its significance would be in my life. Like watching the sun slowly creep up over mountains, I knew something was coming. And I was actively watching for it.

And then the day dawned.

We’d been dealing with CPS (Child Protective Services). The report was completely bogus but, like everyone else who has ever been accused, we had been doing our part to prove wrong the accusations made against us. On “that” day, I walked out my front door, heading to the mailbox, and I suddenly GOT IT. Even as I took those steps, I prayed something along the lines of, “Daddy, you’re in all times at once, so I ask that you do whatever you have to do three days ago for there to be a letter in the mailbox today saying, ‘We’re so sorry. We’ve found nothing wrong. We’re dropping the whole thing.’”

The letter was there. It didn’t say, “We’re so sorry,” but I really didn’t care. That was the day my prayer life radically changed, the day I realized that what I call retroactive prayers are a thing.

Have you ever received a prayer request at noon for a surgery that was taking place at seven, and felt terrible because the surgery was surely over and all you could pray for was a swift healing? But you can still pray in such situations! God, who is with you when you get the request, is – at that same moment – with the person before they go into surgery, in surgery, and as they come out. Truly, since God isn’t bound by time, there’s almost no such thing as “too late” for Him. (Almost. There are definite spots in Scripture where God declares to man that time is up.) I mean that literally.

We’ve heard it said that when a man is dead he’s dead, that you might as well stop praying for him. As a Protestant who doesn’t believe in Purgatory, I understand where that teaching comes from, but I don’t entirely agree. Not anymore.

The fact is that the same God who is with me now is – even now – with a specific young lady I’m thinking of who died in a car wreck, and He is capable of reaching out to her in those last few moments and saving her soul. Yes, I asked Him to as I learned about her. It is true that, even at the end, she might have resisted Him, but I still have the ability, the right, to ask Him to try. He told me so Himself.

Be still and know that I AM.
~God

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

“I can tell you he’s not brain dead.”

No one wants to hear the words “brain dead” in relation to anyone they know. No one wants to think about the implications. Not wanting something doesn’t keep it from happening.

On Sunday evening, April 30th, my husband inhaled his dinner and nothing I tried helped. The EMTs got there quickly, and shortly after they got him into the ambulance the food obstructed his airway completely and he went into cardiac arrest.

I learned this after I arrived at the hospital, where I was told that the EMT’s had been doing CPR on him when he arrived, and they had his heart beating again within two to three minutes after getting him into the ER. They’d also removed the obstruction and intubated him. I’m ignorant – was ignorant – enough about such matters that I didn’t realize what wasn’t being said until two hours later.

Mind you, I got people praying right away!

Roughly two hours later, the Intinsivist called me aside and explained the situation. For a young man in good health, you have about 2 minutes of oxygen loss to the brain before you have to worry about brain damage. For a man Jack’s age, and with his medical history, you have 11-12 seconds. They’d been working on him for somewhere between two and six minutes. Also, Jack had yet to regain consciousness, his pupils were dilated, and they were only sluggishly responding to light.

In other words, the doctor wasn’t telling me Jack might have brain damage. He was telling he would have brain damage; it was only a matter of how much. This was when he told me, “I can tell you he’s not brain dead. We have seen signs of brain activity.”

I can’t even begin to explain what I felt at that point. I went to see him as they prepared to chill his body to alleviate the damage as much as possible. They were prepping for other things as well, so I got ready for a move to the ICU waiting room.

Again, prayer warriors were lifting him up. Also, I had some strong support in the room with me, which was good since it was 12:30 AM before we heard anything else.

At that point, another doctor came and got my sister and me. He asked if I knew what all they’d planned to do and I gave him the list, ending with, “and…put him on ice.” (I still can’t remember what they called it.)

“Yes,” he responded, nodding. “On that, there’s been a change of plan. We’ve had him sedated, of course, because of the intubation, but a little while ago he awoke on his own. He’s groggy, but responding to our commands. We won’t be instituting ________ protocols.”

I HAD to clarify. “You’re saying you see no reason to think there’s brain damage.”

“Right,” he agreed as he opened the door.

His ICU nurse told me repeatedly, “You have no idea how lucky he is!” Jack was one of three of the five choking patients they’d had recently who had lived. The two they lost died because of the very lack of oxygen Jack experienced. But…

By 4:00 the next afternoon, he had been moved to a regular room. Two days later, he was transported to rehab. Seven days after that, I took him home. Yesterday, on May 17, the man they expected to either die or come out of this a vegetable walked into church.

But. God.

May 20 EDIT/ADDITION

We saw his primary care today. I’d texted him immediately after my first meeting with the nurse. 

He looked at Jack and said, “What I did not tell your wife is that, when I got that first text, I knew you were gone.”

And again I say…

But. God. 

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

The Next Show Starts In…

You walk in the door carrying your take-out coffee and get offended when you’re told you’ll have to leave it outside. You let your cell phone ring repeatedly. You let your child wander around. When you can tell it’s getting close to the end you start gathering your stuff together, and right before the official end you walk out the door.

It’s all pretty standard behavior in a movie theater, but I’m talking about church. I’ve seen all of this through the years, and much more, and it sickens me that we’ve reached a place culturally where such behavior is acceptable (by some) even in God’s house.

People leaving during the altar call is the worst. There are souls hanging in the balance. If we really are Christians we should be praying for those around us. Unfortunately too many seem to think they’re in a theater and the altar call is like the credits: Let’s leave now to beat the rush.

Celebrating Jesus anyway!

Tammy C

The Art of Listening

I know what it is to hear God’s voice; we’ve had that kind of relationship for decades. Even so, since I began working with a new prayer journal last December, my relationship with Him and my experience with hearing His voice have been revolutionized.

This journal has a section specifically set aside for listening to Him. Every day, when I come to that section, I literally shut up and take dictation. That first day it felt slightly awkward, but it wasn’t long before I was sitting there in awe, writing as fast as I could while trying to process what He was saying. The experience was, and still is, AMAZING.

It’s not possible to entirely “get” what He’s saying as He speaks it, of course, so I then go back and read what I’ve written and talk to Him about what He’s said. He has opened my eyes to astounding things this way, and in letting Him talk freely (instead of me interrupting Him) I find that we get on topics I’d never have dreamed of. He tells me things that blow my mind, give me instruction, encourage me…

One advantage of this method is that I have what He’s said written down and can go back to refer to it at any time I wish…or any time He tells me to. This morning was one of those times, and while reading I came across one section I wanted to share with you. He was talking about the close relationship I have with Him where, among other things, He tells me secrets just like a best friend would.

This is what life should have been all along, the relationship I desire with everyone. You are no more special than anyone else. You have merely developed the art of listening and learned to trust your ability to hear.

 

Trusting myself to hear has been a big deal – meaning a big challenge. God and I have conversations throughout the day, and sometimes when I ask Him questions His answers surprise me. At those points, I’ll pause and ask, “Was that You or was that me?” I can almost hear Him chuckle as He answers, “That was Me.” So my faith in my own ability to hear has been growing.

But still, the first key to the truly tight relationship we should all desire to have with God (or anyone else) is in the first part of that last sentence. Develop the art of listening.

I have desired this type of relationship for most of my life. Who’d have thought that it would start with something so simple as me learning how to shut up and listen?

Well… you probably figured it out a long time ago. Sometimes I can be a bit slow.

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

 

Meditations: Matthew 6:5-13

Copyright Clarissa Pardue 2014
Copyright Clarissa Pardue 2014

Matthew 6:5-13
NKJV

5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

Again, here are those hypocrites, and again I reiterate that I do not want to be like them! What must I do…or not do?

First, God says when—not if. Obviously, the Christian is to pray. It is obvious, too, that the Christian is often called on to pray in public, corporately, in the church, in one accord… So this verse, like so many others, speaks to the motivation of the heart. Why do I pray where I pray and in the manner in which I pray? If I pray “out there” so that men will see me and be impressed, then the only reward I’ll get will be for those men to see me and be impressed. Oh, but does this also mean that such prayers go unanswered and, perhaps, even unheard by God? If the motivation of my heart is to be heard by men, am I only heard by man? Now there’s a sobering thought, because the answer affects not only me, but everyone I would be praying for in this hypothetical situation.

And if this applies to charitable deeds and prayer, does it also apply to praise? In charitable deeds I see no danger, but only the loss of God’s reward. In prayer, it would seem the loss of God’s reward would also be the loss of answers to prayer. This is dangerous in many ways. Now, if the same holds true for praise—for giving praises to God by singing in the choir, for instance—what then? The individual has lost his reward from God, gaining only the attention of men, but is there more? Does he, perhaps, in his hypocrisy, hinder God’s ability to move? Is he more of a stumbling block to freedom in the Spirit because he is a hypocrite (or at least an ignorant and misguided man) in a place of spiritual leadership? Does he, in truth, affect what the congregation is capable of doing, the heights the people are able to reach in Him?

These are sobering thoughts.

 

6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Back to prayer.

I read this verse and think of a time or two when I was praying with groups and certain people were obviously praying specifically so that others would hear and be impressed. Mind you, I’m not saying their prayers were any louder than the next person’s. What I am saying is that, as one who was praying with the right motivation, I easily sensed their wrong motivation.

So that’s another thing about praying openly so that men can hear. Men do hear, all right, and those who are sensitive to the Spirit know exactly what is going on around them. No one likes being caught faking anything, so this one thought should be even more motivation, more reason to keep one’s heart pure and motivation right.

 

7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

8 “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

This passage reminds me clearly of all the times one of my young sons would come to me and begin a long dissertation, taking forever to give me endless details when I already knew what he was preparing to ask. It is a frustrating thing for a parent, and there were many times when I’d want to say, “Get on with it,” or was tempted to settle for a simple, “No,” just to end quickly a conversation that was already grating on my nerves. There are few things more frustrating than listening to a seemingly endless spew of words.

Got it.

My daddy already knows what I need and want. He knows full well what I’m going to ask of Him. He does want me to ask, but He wants me to get down to the business of asking so He can get down to the business of answering. Too, like any parent, He wants our time together to be filled with meaningful interaction, warm hugs, expressions of love and thanksgiving…not gimme, gimme, gimme…

So how do I pray?

 

9 In this manner, therefore, pray:

He really is always right there with the answers to our questions.

 

Our Father in heaven,

I believe I could write books on these two words—Our Father. They mean so much!

First, they tell me about Him and the relationship He wants to have with me. He wants to be everything my earthly father is and more. He wants to be the one I run to when I’m joyful and when I’m sad, when I’m confused and when I’ve just made an exciting new discovery. He wants me to fling my arms around His neck when my heart is overflowing with love and cry on His shoulders when my heart breaks and I can’t seem to stop the tears. Above all else, He wants me to trust Him and His love for me; He wants me to believe with all my heart that no matter what things look like around me His choice is to stay at my side, holding my hand as we walk through things together. He wants to see my face as I stand before Him, not my back as I walk away.

Second, these words tell me about me. If He is my father, then there are things in Him that are also in me. Sometimes we hear people say things like, “He is the very image of his father.” We, too, having been made in His image and likeness, having been made His children, can (and should) be the very image of our Father.

The first characteristic most people think of where God is concerned is love. He is love, therefore I have it within me to be love as well. I Corinthians 13 talks about this very thing and in John 13:35 Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” The first characteristic of God that is mentioned in the Bible is creativity. (Gen 1:1 “In the beginning God created…”) I can never say that I am not creative, because as one who is made in the image of my Father, I definitely am. In fact, I create truths every day in the very same way God does, with the words I speak, which is one reason the Scriptures so often command us to control our tongues.

Third, these words tell me some about others who call Him “Father.” I have one full sister and one half sister and all three of us share the same father. Stick us together and you’d never know by looking at us that we’re sisters. Spend time with us and you will discover that while we are three wildly differing individuals we are also very much alike in an astounding number of ways. The same is true in the family of God. We are all children of the same Father and are often both more alike and more different than we may want to admit. I may be instinctively drawn to some and not others, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re all my brothers and sisters and my only choice is to love all them.

 

Hallowed be Your name.

This is a concept modern day man, as a whole, has absolutely no grasp of. From completely ridiculous profanity (Really, like any man can tell God to damn someone.) to the frustrated teenager’s use of, “God!” accompanied by rolled eyes and slammed doors, our culture shows clearly that it is clueless about the holiness of God and His name. In this, I am humbled by the Jewish manner of refusing to even spell His name. God becomes G-d as a reminder that His name is hallowed—holy.

He and His name are HOLY. Why do I feel like it is pointless to even continue with this prayer until one has a true understanding—revelation—of these four words?

 

10Your kingdom come. Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

Oh, but this is one verse I wish I really could get a revelation of. I know what it’s saying here; I really do. I just have trouble, sometimes, transferring that head knowledge into the right place.

Jesus would not have told his disciples to pray this thing if it could not come to pass. He simply wouldn’t. So it IS possible for God’s will to be done right here on Earth like it is done in Heaven. Oh, His will does get done here on Earth, but never to the extent that it ought to. In Heaven, though, it is His will that gets done and done unconditionally. I can only imagine what it will be like when His will IS done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Now, if I could only get past the imagining and into true envisioning.

 

11Give us this day our daily bread.

Here is another brief request that is full of meaning.

For Israel in the wilderness, their daily bread was manna, food that came straight from Heaven every single day. I have lived like this, seeing God bring to us, each day, food enough to make it through that day. Like the Israelites, I was also tempted to store up the leftovers, and like the Israelites, I sometimes forgot to be grateful. It is so easy to forget, when buried within our own selfish flesh, that this daily bread is a gift from God.

The Word of God is often likened to bread and this is something else I truly do need every single day. Just as my body needs fresh bread daily, so does my spirit need “fresh bread” daily. I ask that God give me that bread, yes, but then I must receive it. I must take time out to read it and really chew on it—to meditate on His Word.

And Jesus, in that last night with His disciples, referred his body as bread, broken for them—for me. I do not take that bread in a literal sense, as communion, every day, but I should seek that fresh revelation of Him and what He did for me every day. It is this daily bread, this continually renewed revelation of who He is, what He did, and who I am in Him that keeps me aware of my purpose and working on doing my part to see to it that His plans for me are fulfilled.

 

12 And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.

This one is interesting. In praying these words I am asking God to forgive me, yes, but I am also acknowledging that there is a limitation. If someone who has wronged me asks my forgiveness and I refuse to forgive him, then I know that God will also refuse to forgive me. However, this is also a promise, as I do unto my debtors, so does God unto me. Forgive!

 

13 And do not lead us into temptation,

Amen! Temptation, in this sense, essentially means “to test.” God, please, save me from all of the tests you can.

 

But deliver us from the evil one.

If I am being delivered from something, I am being rescued, obviously. I looked the word “deliver” up in the Greek on a hunch and found that it also means “to rush or to draw.” This takes me right back to God being my Father. A natural father, when he spies something unsafe, will rush or draw his child away from danger. At times, a child will fight, refusing to be drawn away, and at such times he may be endangered.

So this part of the prayer also involves me and my actions. I am asking my Father to alert me to evil, to draw me away, and I am committing to go where He leads.

 

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

They’re His. They are ALL His and I had best not forget it, best never fail to acknowledge His supremacy and give Him His due.

 

Amen.

Amen means “so be it.” Yes, Lord!

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C