How Long have You Prayed?

Luke 1:5-7 reads, “5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.”

While the story of Jesus’ birth actually begins at the creation of the world, fast forward with me to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah was 1 of 7000 priests in Israel. The job of the priest was to serve the temple twice a year, and by casting of lots, on this particular day, Zechariah was chosen to do the job. Only the priests were allowed in the inner chamber of the temple, the Holy Place, to burn incense on behalf of the people in Jerusalem.

For years, Zechariah had prayed for a child; however, his wife Elizabeth remained barren. After Elizabeth reach an age beyond childbearing years, Zechariah must have been desperately discouraged.

How long have you prayed for something you desire? Something that is terribly important for you? Maybe it is a child, yet month-after-month, there isn’t one. Maybe it is a spouse, yet you can’t seem to meet the right one. Maybe it is for healing, yet visit-after-visit to the doctor reveals your miracle hasn’t come. Maybe it is for the salvation of a loved one, yet day-after-day you watch and nothing. Have your prayers seemingly fallen on deaf ears?

As Zechariah entered the Holy Place to light the incense, the angel of the Lord appeared before him standing at the right side of the altar of incense. “When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.’

Can you imagine his delight? His surprise? And yet, when Zechariah hears the news, he actually argues with the angel. “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Some of you might read his words and think, “What a nut! This angel is standing right in front of him! How could he doubt?” But some of us understand. There are times in our lives when we desperately long for something. We hope for it; pray for it; believe for it; and the disappointment, the heartache, the anguish overpowers our heart to the point that we just can’t allow ourselves to hurt again. We can’t allow ourselves to believe.

Zechariah is no different from you and me. It really didn’t matter if the angel was standing right in front of him. His human nature forced him to protect his heart from the pain of possible rejection and disappointment yet again. I’ve been there. Some of you have as well.

Doubt, fear, anxiety, and disappointment can be crippling. God wants us to know, His plan is better. He wants us to believe our answer is on the way!

Today, take your desires to Him. Believe in His ability to deliver you in His way, His time, and with His plan.

And Christmas is Here!

I remember as a boy receiving the Sears Roebuck catalog in the mail.  The thicker it was, the more excited we all became. The arrival of the catalog for me marked the starting of the Christmas season. I loved sitting on the sofa with pencil in hand and flipping through the pages. “I want this…oh! I want that… Wow! Look at this… look at that…” My sister and I used to fight over whose turn it was to gaze upon the many items and wish and dream of the possibilities.

Sometimes, our prayer life can be the same. It’s like we are giving God a check list of catalog items to make our lives better. “God, I need this. Its found on page 920 of the Sears Roebuck catalog.” Some of you may not even know what the Sears Roebuck catalog is! It was the “booster chair” of the 60’s when you visited grandma’s and couldn’t reach the table.

Prayer is not intended for a litany of desires. Prayer is intended to communicate with God; to get to know God better and learn His ways; and to change us inside to out. Most answers to prayer actually start with a change in us. Either God changes the way we see our situation or He changes our direction or He changes our circumstance.

Prayer is a means to praise and thank God for all that He is allowing us to use of His. The house you live in – His; the car you drive – His; the clothes you wear – His; the money in your pocket – His. It is all on loan to us. Shouldn’t we thank Him repeatedly for the use of it? Think about it, if you didn’t have a car to drive, and your neighbor said, “Drive my car,” not only would you be grateful, you’d probably take extremely good care of it, and thank your neighbor regularly for its use.

Prayer gives us redemption. We go to God to renew ourselves. We seek forgiveness for the mistakes we make. We ask for guidance and direction to prevent us from committing the same error again. Prayer keeps us “right” with God.

As you pray today, consider what you are asking of God. Is He like Santa Claus to you? Or are your prayers an instrument to allow God to change YOU so that God can change the circumstances around you. He is looking for willingness, faithfulness, and obedience. Will His eyes fall upon you?

This Good News is for YOU!

Christmas gives the world a softer glow – the lights, the music, the giving, the sense of family and the atmosphere of kindness. It is as if the weight of the world is lifted, even if for just a moment.

As a boy, I remember decorating the tree with my sister, arguing over who gets to hang what ornament, untangling lights, climbing the ladder, and watching as the tree stood in its finished product. There is nothing more beautiful than the first look at the newly decorated tree. The smell of cookies seemed to linger in our kitchen even after my mom had finished cooking them. Even now, my mouth waters just thinking of it. Christmas cards were a huge deal when I was growing up. My mom labored over addressing the envelopes and finding the perfect Christmas stamp. My dad made sure we were aware the day was all about Jesus’ Birthday – a child born to be the Savior of the world. For a little boy, I did not fully grasp the significance of the day. To me, He was the figurine in the manger between Mary and Joseph. And while there is nothing like the magic of Christmas for a child, as an adult, I realize there is nothing more important to our lives than Christmas.

What should Christmas mean to you and to me?

It’s a celebration of really good news. The angels, in their opening words to the shepherds in Bethlehem, told us of the excitement in Luke 2:10, “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” I love the words “all people.” Not just some – all. But even more important are the words, “I bring to YOU” – ahhhh – its personal. It is news for you and for me. I love that because it tells me how God thought of me and He thought of you when He sent His Son to us.

And then, it’s GOOD news. It does not matter who you are; where you live; what you’ve done; who you know; or even where you are going – this GOOD news is for you.

God so loved us, that He came, so that we could be with Him forever. So, what should Christmas mean to you and to me?

God loves us! God is with us! And God is ours!

Celebrate the Season for the good news it brings.

We are Warriors

When I was in elementary school, I had a standing engagement during recess at the bottom of the playground, around the old oak tree. We called it “WAR.”

It was a battle between warriors – warriors in tennis shoes with untied laces and muddy stains; warriors in frayed jeans with worn out knees; and warriors missing teeth the tooth fairy had taken the night before. My best friend and I dug a trench for a strategic advantage over the fourth grade warriors. It was an ingenious plan until the principal made us cover it up. Our weapons were magnolia buds (you know the ones, that look like hand grenades?), rubber-band balls detonated by the flip of a sling shot, and acorns. I wore a camouflage helmet my mom bought me at The Five & Dime, rain boots, a plastic breast plate from a costume, and a catcher’s mask, which was a bit larger than my face. We would play as hard as we could, for as long as we could, until the bell rang to return to our classroom – plus five minutes. Those extra five minutes, although annoying to my teacher, were some of the most exhilarating. So much could happen in that short space of time. Even now, while typing this devotion to you, my heart is racing, adrenaline flowing, palms sweating, just remembering the thrill of “WAR.”

Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:11-12, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

WAR is all around us as we walk through our day unaware of an enemy who knows our weaknesses, our vulnerable places, our flaws. An enemy who came to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).

Strategies. That’s right! The devil has a strategy against you. He is prowling around like a lion in the grasslands of Africa, scheming, devising a plan to catch you at just the right moment – off guard, unaware, enjoying life… BAM! GOTCHA! Before you know it, you are in the middle of an adulterous affair; addicted to alcohol, drugs, or porn; distant from your children or spouse or parents; believing there is no God; cheating, stealing, gossiping, judging, and hurting those you love. Like a lion, it is Satan’s desire to rip you to shreds. See, he works overtime, long hours so that what you want to preserve and foster, he wants to destroy. When you try to fix it yourself, it empowers him even more. Because without Jesus Christ, we are powerless against him.

Everyday, know that Satan devises strategies against you and me; however, we have weapons to defeat him.

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6:14-19

Making a Way

Isaiah 43:18-19, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

There are times in our lives when we feel stuck, unable to move, heavy, and burdened. I don’t know about you, but those are the times I want to crawl in my bed, pull the covers over my head, and sleep through the storms.

Years ago, (and I mean years ago before cell phones) my rental car broke down on a back road outside the city of Chicago. It was one of the coldest nights of the year. I had on dress shoes and a suit, not appropriate attire to walk a few miles through the snow to get help. I don’t know if any of you have ever faced a winter in Chicago, but not only is it painfully cold, it is dangerously cold. With today’s technology,  I would’ve used my cell and called for help. During that time, it was not a possibility. The snow banks made walking extremely difficult forcing me to lift my legs as if I were marching. My hands were cold. The wind stung my face. The snow was falling in sheets of thick flakes, and I could barely see the road ahead. For a moment I wanted to quit moving, but I knew that was the worst thing I could do. I remembered a gas station not far away which I had passed earlier, and I just had to keep telling myself, “Just a little further. You will be there soon.” You can imagine how happy I felt when I saw the building just up ahead. Praise God, I was able to press on to get the help I needed.

Some of you are facing tough times right now. Whatever the mess is in your life, ask God what to do and get moving. Do what you know to do. Do what makes sense. Studies have shown the most creative and inventive times in history come during economic hardships. When the economy is bad and people start losing jobs, they start thinking; they start inventing; they start creating. If your marriage is suffering, do what you need to do to make it better. Don’t wait for your spouse to change…change yourself. If you need to get healthy, don’t wait another day. Study nutrition and start eating right. Exercise. Change your unhealthy habits. If you are suffering from an addiction, get help. Determine you are no longer going to let it have a hold on you.

My grandmother used to tell me, “Do what you know to do. Do what you can do. When you put forth the effort, God will show up and do what you cannot do.”

God is making a way in the wilderness for you. Trust Him and follow His lead.

Vote

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. – 1 Timothy 2:1-2

I have voted. Have you?

Sometimes we can get caught up in the politics of the moment – the he did this and she said this – I don’t like this Party because…that Party stands for… that we spend a great deal of time arguing, debating, turning red in the face, posting, deleting, unfriending…you get the picture. 

The reality is I am given the amazing privilege to vote – to cast one vote – for the person I believe I am most closely aligned in character, values, and views. You get one vote as well for all the same reasons. We are equal – one vote to one vote. All the stomping and chanting and whatever else doesn’t change the fact my opinion = your opinion, whether they are the same or different. 

The important steps to voting begin with prayer. Pray for those in authority; for those who are running; and for those who are voting. We are called to pray for “peaceful and quiet” lives. That is what God wants for us. 

There are times I have no clue what to pray about for those in authority; but, I pray for them anyway. Under the Hand of God, we are good. Don’t ever forget that. No matter who wins tomorrow – we are better than good – because we have the blessings of God on, in, through, and working for us. 

Please exercise the privilege you have received to vote. Then, let God do the rest. Whatever the outcome, you have done your part. 

Discouragement is for everybody

Discouragement is inevitable. It isn’t about IF you will experience discouragement, it is about WHEN you will experience discouragement. Discouragement comes when what we EXPECT is different from what we EXPERIENCE.

Discouragement comes in all shapes and sizes. It does not distinguish between people who are intelligent and those that are not so intelligent; or people who are wealthy and those whose pockets are empty. It doesn’t bypass the most athletic or musically talented or most beautiful.

Discouragement is for everybody.

All of us have EXPECTED something that didn’t turn out the way we thought it should.

What do you do when discouragement creeps up on you? What do you do when you just don’t feel you are going to get “through” the day? What do you do when staying in bed seems to be the better answer?

Look UP!

God is not surprised by the struggles in our lives – He knew about them before they ever surfaced and He has already worked out an answer for you. Ask Him!

Jeremiah 32:27, “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?”

We all have been discouraged by people – maybe your spouse has let you down; or your son or daughter; maybe your parents or a friend or a co-worker. When we place our trust in people, we will get discouraged because they will let us down. It is human nature.

Events in our lives can discourage us too. A job offer you thought you had; the closing of your business; a rejection letter from the college of your choice; a foreclosure notice; or health issues. When we place our trust in occurrences, we will get discouraged because things do not always work-out as we planned.

Sometimes discouragements are so big, people don’t even know how we are standing; sometimes discouragements are so small, no one even notices; but, you do.

Tim Irwin in his book IMPACT writes about the false beliefs we put in our minds – those voices that we hear in our heads. He tells us “Having an early-warning system can keep false beliefs from lodging in our core.”

Discouragement is the voice inside our heads that tells us WE ARE HOPELESS.

God is the voice inside our hearts that tells us HE IS HOPE and because of HIM we are not “less” but “MORE”.

Whatever He Says

John 2:1-7, “On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.”

I love the miracles of Jesus. Of all of them, this is probably my favorite because it says so much for us today. When Mary goes to Jesus with the dilemma, she instructs the servants to do whatever He tells them to do. Think about that for a moment. These are not Mary’s servants. They do not know who Jesus is or what He is capable of doing; and yet, their hearts are willing to do whatever He tells them to do.

There are some stone water jars nearby used by the Jews for ceremonial washing. These are not small jars when you consider they are capable of holding 20 to 30 gallons of water. That’s heavy. When He tells them to fill the stone jars with water, the servants filled them to the brim.

Some of you are looking for God to move in your life miraculously. Maybe you need healing or an answer to a financial problem or help with your children. Maybe your home is near foreclosure or in foreclosure. Maybe your business is going under or you need money for an education or you lost your job. Whatever the issue, whatever the need, are you filling your stone jars to the brim? When I think about these servants, I realize, Jesus didn’t tell them how much water to put in the stone jars. Some of you would probably only put 1/4 of the way full; some of you, only 1/2. But they went the extra mile and filled it to the brim.

I know I’m speaking to someone out there, God has asked you to do something very specific but you aren’t doing it. If the servants had not filled the stone jars with water, there wouldn’t be wine. Jesus needed them to do something so He would do something.

There have been times in my life when God has instructed me to do something and I really didn’t understand at all why He would asked me to do that; but I did it anyway. I filled my stone jars to the brim and received His blessing.

I want to encourage you today to listen to what God is instructing you to do. You can hear Him through prayer, the Bible, the peace within you, through others, or some other way. God is limitless. Do what He is telling you to do!

I recently visited a friend in the hospital. He told me God had been telling him to lose 50 pounds for over a year and he didn’t do it. Now he faced by-pass surgery and his physician told him if he didn’t lose 50 pounds he was going to die. Through tears he explained he knew God wanted him to do a particular thing for the Kingdom. We prayed together and as I left the hospital he asked me, “Do you think God will give me the chance this time to do what He asked me to do?”

Don’t miss your miracle because you are too stubborn or too frustrated or too unwilling or too whatever to fill your stone jars to the brim. Your miracle awaits. Don’t lose your chance.

Is God different today?

2 Kings 6:6-7, “‘The man of God asked, ‘Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there and made the iron float. ‘Lift it out,’ he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it.”

A servant of Elisha the prophet borrowed an ax so that he could cut down trees near the Jordan River to build a place for the company of prophets to live. Elisha is there helping. Suddenly, the ax head separates from the handle and falls into the river. You know as well as I know that the ax head sank pretty quickly to the bottom of the river. We can assume it was in a very deep part of the river or he wouldn’t have been so despondent.

In the days of Elisha, there wasn’t a Lowes or Home Depot in every city. So, the man knew to replace the ax head would not be an easy task. He was deeply troubled because the ax was a valuable tool, and it was not his but belonged to someone else.

Elisha cuts a branch from a nearby tree and throws it where the man indicated the ax head sunk. God defies gravity, and the ax head becomes visible so that the man can reach it.

Is God different today in our modern world? Can He still defy gravity and make ax heads float? What does Elisha have that we don’t have?

Hebrews 13:8 tells us, “He is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Luke 18:27 reads, “Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.’”

Elisha was an ordinary man with extraordinary faith. He took God at His word. Because of it, he did miraculous things to glorify our Father’s name.

Believe today that God can do the impossible in your life. Believe today your God can defy gravity to help you.

He Will Deliver You!

Deuteronomy 7:21 -23, “Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God. 22 The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you. 23 But the Lord your God will deliver them over to you, throwing them into great confusion until they are destroyed.”

At the time of the writing of this scripture, the Israelites are threatened by many nations: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites – seven nations who are much larger and stronger than they are.  Some of you may say, “That sounds like my life right now. I feel like I’m being hit from all sides.” And some of you are under great fire right now.

Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God For me, this is the most powerful part of this scripture and our lives. Acknowledge and accept that the power with you is our great and awesome God. You are not alone in your problems. You will not be fighting this battle alone. God has a solution. He has a plan. He is rolling up His sleeves. You have no reason to fear. God is near.

You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once – This is the tough part of the scripture. Even though God could flick His fingers and everything would go away, He doesn’t. Because He knows what is up ahead. Something far worse. Something that will harm His plan. Something that needs readjusting. Whatever the reason, He isn’t going to wipe out all your trials at once; because He sees a better way.

or the wild animals will multiply around you – God knows that if He just flicks His finger and destroys seven nations, a greater problem awaits the Israelites. The wild animals will multiply and the Israelites will be overcome by them. Sometimes we just want an answer. We want God to take it all away. What we don’t realize is a bigger trial is lurking on the outside we don’t know about yet; but God does. I’m sure the Israelites just want their enemies to ‘GO AWAY’! They aren’t thinking about the wild animals around them because at the time, the wild animals are of little concern. There is enough population to keep them away. God doesn’t do anything haphazardly. He sees the whole picture not just the part we are in.

But the Lord your God will deliver them over to you, throwing them into great confusion until they are destroyed – Understand that God sees you. He knows you exist. He knows your pain, your problems, your dilemmas. He has not forgotten you. He may need to take care of things a little by little; but, He will deliver you.

I want to encourage you, God has heard your cries at night. He sees the problems you face and He knows the outcome. He is preparing the way for you, little by little.