Hope at a Dead End

Standard

 

Gentle Reader, please share this with a friend that this could speak to. This is for the brother or sister whose gotten bad news about their career, health, or a family matter.

You feel stuck at a dead end, watching dreams crumble in the midst of the daily grind. Maybe pain and fear binds you, keeps you stuck in less than all you could be. Maybe you’ve pushed ahead in your goals as far as physical limits will allow. Maybe it’s not simply the voice of our own emotions screaming “you’ll never win.” Maybe a human authority is telling you that the odds are against you and they’re not ever getting any better.

There are no guarantees in this life. God doesn’t owe us anything, least of all miracles. “God works all things for our good.” But not all things in life are good. “God is for us, so who can be against us?” Yet we won’t win every battle. At some point, God is going to let us lose a battle with death itself. If we remain in the faith, God does turn even the ultimate loss of death into our ultimate victory, eternal life with Christ. Remembering that can help us face the prospect of painful losses with hope and fight on.

The nature of faith is uncertainty. God is faithful to God’s word. If the Bible says God promised to do it, God will do it. Yet many promises are conditional on us acting by faith. And applying the Bible’s promises to specific situations isn’t always easy. And it can be even more challenging to hear the voice of the Lord clearly. We need a humble awareness our heart’s strong desires can cause us to misunderstand. I pray God changes our hearts from desiring what isn’t God’s will to desiring what is God’s will.

But at your dead end, remember we serve the God who led Israel out of Egypt, straight into a dead end.

[tweetthis]At your dead end, remember we serve the God who led Israel out of Egypt, straight into a dead end.[/tweetthis]

Picture it. The Red Sea before the Children of Israel, and the armies of Egypt behind them. Trapped. Impossible to go forward into freedom. Impossible to escape the master bent on dragging them back into slavery. Yet God commanded Moses: “Tell the children of Israel to go forward. But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.” (Exodus 14:15b-16)

By faith, Moses obeyed the Lord, and the sea parted. By faith, the children of Israel went forward.

God overcame Israel’s dead end.

I can’t guarantee the desire of your heart is in line with God’s. I can’t guarantee your goals and plans are indeed the Lord’s plans. Still, when you come to closed doors that are unlikely to open, knock. Pray. Let God lead you to the best of your knowledge and discernment. And knock on the closed doors you encounter.

God can move mountains. God can give you favor and blessing beyond measure. If it is God’s will, knock, and the door will be opened. If it doesn’t open, it only means that specific door wasn’t right at that specific time. Keep trying other doors until God changes your heart or shows you another path. Or takes you home forever.

Don’t assume an open door is God’s will, either. Not everyone who opens a door when you knock is acting in accord with God’s will.

So let’s act by faith, aware of our natural limits, and aware of what God can do if God pleases to do it. Let’s weep and cry aloud as needed. Let’s praise and lift our hands in worship and sincere thanksgiving as the Spirit moves in us. Let’s pray carefully about the opportunities that do come to make sure they are God’s will.

But I believe the “dead end” in your life isn’t the end. One way or another, in this life or the next, God has so much more for you.

[tweetthis]Hope at a Dead End #overcome “If God is for us, who can be against us?”[/tweetthis]

Impoverished Gospel, Part One

Standard

By Adam Graham

Note from Andrea: This article begins a two-part series on prayer by a special guest blogger, my sweet, thoughtful husband. The second part will post next Thursday.

war roomThe Kendrick Brothers’ latest film, War Room, finished second at last weekend’s box office. The film focuses on the power of prayer. For many, that’s a problem. Some have accused the film of preaching a prosperity gospel that says all you have to do is pray in faith and your family’s problems will all go away.

I see the film as a mostly positive illustration of the power of prayer, but I also see how it could play into the hands of the false prosperity teachers. However, prosperity teachers aren’t the only sources of a warped view of prayer. This is important. Of all the areas where I’ve received poor teaching, none has done more harm than the variety of awful teaching I’ve received on prayer.

Growing up, the big thing was health. A popular sermon was, “Is it God’s Will to Heal Everybody?” The answer given was yes. The problem? As a child, I was often sick with bronchial infections. It recurred several times a year and hung on, time and time again, for weeks on. I begged God for relief and it never seemed to come.

When I was little, based on such teaching, I declared over my bronchial infections, “I am healed, and I was healed.” It was a nice, positive confession, but the illness continued to return to torture me round after round. As I grew older, I lost confidence that I would ever get better. Indeed, to this day, I have a bout once or twice a year with the same affliction that’s stalked me since my early days. I wasn’t alone in getting disillusioned from a lack of healing. I remember talking to a dear, sweet brother with chronic pain. He left a fellowship because he couldn’t live up to that standard of God healing him.

Thankfully, my never receiving a miraculous healing didn’t lead me to abandon God. I knew people who were healed, genuinely, absolutely, clearly miraculously healed, and only God could have done it. My conclusion was something was wrong with my faith and I couldn’t fix it. In the back of my mind was the idea maybe God didn’t love me as much as he loved others whose prayers seemed to be readily answered.

My confusion was infused with cynicism as I realized for some people, “I’ll pray about it,” meant, “I’m going to use prayer as an excuse to do nothing.”

At the first church I attended in Boise, I then heard a very clear message: God doesn’t want to hear about all your little selfish needs. “He doesn’t want to hear your selfish lists of requests.” This abusive church commanded us to only pray for others, and that’s what I did. Whole years passed where I would hardly mention my own needs to God.

It had been drilled into me that prayer was important and not doing it was bad for you. Prayer became the spiritual equivalent of an unpleasant medical exam: not fun but it’s got to be done.

I loved praying in groups because I did believe God would care about that prayer. Things that were prayed by groups had gotten God’s attention. He’d promised to move if two or three agreed. But me? Would my prayers ever change anything? Certainly not.

I did things for God and tried my best. Yet a lot of my effort was wasted. It’d be a mess or just unfruitful as I did my best to tilt at windmills and found the windmills winning.

Of course, I’d never publicly affirm that to be the case. I hardly admitted it to myself because it was too shameful to admit. But it’s had an effect on my life nonetheless. I worry too much and get way too stressed. I don’t have the peace I should have.
prayingman
I read scripture verses that I desperately wished would define my life but didn’t. They’d almost make me cry with longing for them to be true. Cast your cares upon him for he careth for you. (1 Peter 5:7) In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. (Philippians 4:6) That’d be nice, and I wanted it to be true, and to reign in my life, but it didn’t.

Instead, I carried far too much on myself. In the process of rejecting the tacky idea of the abundant life with perfect health now and everyone having a Cadillac and a boat, I’ve also missed out on experiencing what Christ meant by that phrase in the book of John.

However, God is working on me and one thing that ministered to me over the last couple of years is Diane Moody’s book Confessions of a Prayer Slacker (Second Edition). I got it free on Kindle, and it was the best free book I’ve ever gotten. It’s an honest book about how this author built her prayer life. She was honest about her struggles and the challenges she faced in doing it and it pushed me to making my prayer life a priority. And my Donna Fletcher Crow book Seasons of Prayer
has added some helpful organization.

Slowly but surely, I’ve drawn closer to God through prayer and the vast majority of days I’m remembering. I’m not where I should be, but I’m not where I was either. I sin a little less, fear a little less, and am moving closer to Him.

People who target a false doctrine often forget there’s more than one way to be wrong. For every churchgoer who thinks God owes them a BMW if they ask for it by faith in the name of Jesus, probably two or three wonder if there’s any point to praying at all. It’s this second group that War Room is meant to speak to.


Adam Graham is a follower of Christ and a contributor at PJ Media and Caffeinated Thoughts. He is the author of the novel, Tales of the Dim Knight (with his wife, Andrea) He has been an adult Sunday School teacher. He is also a former President of his local American Christian Fiction Writers Chapter. You can follow him on Twitter @idahoguy

[tweetthis]NEW! Two-part series on #prayer by special guest Adam Graham @idahoguy. #WarRoom[/tweetthis][tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true” remove_hidden_hashtags=”true” remove_hidden_urls=”true”]In targeting #falsedoctrine we forget there’s more than one way to be wrong. #prayer Impoverished Gospel[/tweetthis]

Standing Where Feet May Fail

Standard

Some fear Ebola. Some fear nuclear attacks on or our own governments attacking their own people. Some fear disasters like volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Some are so afraid, they ignore that in Mathew 24 Jesus said such phenomena are not signs of the end, implying they’re instead the status quo on the way to the end. It seems to be getting worse since we get reports from further away, faster than ever. If these are “birth pangs,” the earth has been already having contractions for millennia, and we haven’t been measuring long enough, widely enough, to really have any idea how far apart the contractions are and how close we actually are to the birth.

In other words, I don’t blink an eye at such worries, though I pray for the victims when prompted to. Likewise, the actual smell of smoke in my nostrils can give my flesh an urge to check which way the animals are running and follow them. Even then, it is well with my soul. My heart remains secure, knowing God is in control and will protect me or bring me through any disaster that does come. The Lord is the God who has brought me up out of spiritual Egypt and is delivering me to the spiritual Promised Land. I trust the Lord to get me there, whatever major disasters threaten along the way.

Why then do comparatively small matters put fear in my heart?

For instance, the Lord has given me dreams, things I feel called to, and the journey to achieving those goals has often felt like wilderness experiences. I’ve heard the call to go and gone, but God’s led me out in ways that don’t always make natural sense. In some cases, my own self-doubts and insecurities have been responsible for it seeming like a huge Red Sea was blocking my path. However, I knew God had directed me, even if it seemed impossible for me to achieve that, so I took what I had in hand and kept testing the waters by faith to see if the God who brought me this way would part the Red Sea.

Then comes the day the Red Sea parts.

Now, the first time this happens, we may be naively excited and rush right in. Only it isn’t easy to cross over an ocean bed, and even once we’re past the Red Sea, there is often wanderings in the wilderness to prepare us for the work we’ll have when we finally arrive. The hardships of the desert can make us question if it was really God who had parted our personal Red Sea. Perhaps we have misinterpreted natural phenomena as signs from God and taken wrong turns, made costly unwise decisions.

Perhaps God has brought us back around full circle, and we find ourselves yet again with a Red Sea in between us and where God’s leading us. Once more, we don’t know where God will part it, so we gather our courage and test the waters. It’s harder this time. Many times, we continue to be blocked, perhaps until we lose all notion of the possibility of getting past this one without divine intervention. We’re in tears now. Egyptians aren’t just at our backs. We’re fighting for the life of our dream.

We refuse to give in to despair and keep plugging on by sheer faith, and one day, the Red Sea parts.

If you’re like me, this time, you stare, stunned and dumbfounded. When it finally sinks in, joy and gratitude still aren’t what you’re feeling, and part of you is upset with yourself about this. The way is open, but dangers still lay ahead. God is faithful, and you trust him, but you don’t know and trust the agency. These waters have free will. These waters might change their minds and crash right on your head. What if you stumble? What if you fall? Any joy you feel in your soul is drowned out by your flesh’s fears screaming at you to declare what your eyes see “too good to be true” and turn and run.

Where’s our faith and our courage gone? Let’s deal gently with our hearts, and remember where we’d been before, how far God’s already brought us. When fear reminds us of all the difficulties, hardships, failures, and mistakes we’ve already seen on this journey, remember also that God’s kept us through them to reach this moment. Let’s decide the dreams God’s given us are worth the risk. Let’s trust God to keep us from drowning if the waters do prove fickle, to help us up and keep us going when we stumble, or give us a time of rest and refreshment in his presence to strengthen us for the journey.

“Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” John Newton, “Amazing Grace.”

Feeling Like a Stalled Project God Has Shelved? For you. :)

Standard

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” — Philippians 1:6

Sometimes, when God has began a good work in us,  it seems to take forever, especially with emotional healing and overcoming all sorts of life challenges. We want an instant miracle, not a painful spiritual growth process that can have such a slow pace that it makes rush hour traffic look like its racing on a NASCAR track. We may feel like we’re getting no where and wonder if we’ve misunderstood what God wanted to do in our lives, or if God has given up on us. If what we’re struggling with is a sin, we may hope that he’ll let us into Heaven still prone to sin, or be afraid he’ll toss us into the cosmic trash.

Phil 1:6 answers: Never! God will never give up on us. Sometimes we quit on him, though, and God’s promises often have conditions. Let’s take a look at the context of this verse and what else Paul says here to his original audience, the first century Christians in the city of Philipi.

After his salutation and greetings, he tells them in verses three through five that he joyfully thanks God for them in his prayers because they have been his partners in spreading the gospel from the very beginning of his ministry. In verse seven, Paul adds that it is right for him to have such great love for them that he is sure that God will finish the work he’s begun in the Philipians. Why?

His evidence is that the Philipians have received and experienced the same grace that Paul has–and taken an active part in God’s grace. They’ve stood by him while he was imprisoned for the faith and defended and confirmed the gospel. Confirmed here means to give someone new assurance of the validity of the gospel. It corresponds with defending the gospel and is a non-violent offensive by the Church against the forces of darkness.

The text doesn’t state who the gospel is being defended against. Neither does it state who the gospel is being confirmed to. Paul is likely thinking externally. What would be visible to him is the Philippians’ defending the gospel against its human enemies and confirming it to those questioning it with open hearts. For many of us, though, what is most vital to us staying on Christ’s team until Christ is victorious is defending the gospel against the lies Satan tells us and confirming the truth of the gospel to ourselves.

Lord, we grow weary, we become impatient. Sometimes we’re tempted to give up and quit and learn to live with the brokenness or emptiness in our lives. It seemed like you’d gotten started healing us, but there have been stumbling blocks and obstacles. We’re starting to wonder if you ever really wanted to fill in this empty, broken area of our lives, or to set us free from a sin or bad habit that has hindered us emotionally, spiritually, physically, and/or mentally. Thank you for this confirmation that you have started a good work in us. Thank you for your reminder that you may not do it as we imagined, but you will continue to work on us and will complete us at latest upon your return for your bride. While we wait in our present weakness, Lord, fill us with your spirit’s power, teach us how to refute the enemy’s lies and rely upon you for strength. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Fill my cup, Lord

Standard

By Adam Graham

“And herein is that saying true, `One soweth and another reapeth.’ I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labor; other men labored, and ye have entered into their labors.” John 6:37-38

The context of the scripture is that the disciples were baptizing even more than John. The disciple’s success was the result of the ministry of faithful people who we don’t know. Probably these people didn’t even know they were sowing, maybe they even felt like they weren’t accomplishing anything or were failures. I really relate to them.

However, they ultimately prepared things for the Lord and his apostles. This gives me the feeling that we may be sowing and earlier Jesus promises:

“And he that reapeth receiveth wages and gathereth fruit unto life eternal, that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.-John 4:36.”

Lord, we thank you for your word. Lord, we are weary today and have been so restless. We feel more like those who sows, perhaps without realizing it, and someone else reaps. Strengthen us and encourage our hearts today. We thank you for your peace. We thank you for being with us. Please give us direction and purpose today. Show us your vision. Prepare us to receive from you whatever we need to fulfill your plan for our lives. Protect us from the enemy’s interference today. Empower us to resist the devil and overcome his wiles. Please bring forth a good harvest of bountiful spiritual fruits in our lives today. In Jesus’ name we pray, Lord, amen.