Thursday, July 23, 2009

Unhindered Prayer

One of the things that I have been dealing with, in all that our family has been going through, is my prayer life. I have always had one. For over 10 years now I have been getting up before everyone else and making sure that I get that time with the Lord. My prayer life has never been non-existent yet I have sensed in the past couple of months that God wants it go to a deeper level—a deeper place of intimacy with Him. He wants me to really grasp what “unhindered” prayer is all about. Of course, I don’t believe this is something just for me. He desires that all of us would have unhindered prayer.

So what exactly is unhindered prayer? A couple of definitions that I found for the word unhindered are:

o Not prevented or obstructed (unhindered access)
o Not hindered, slowed, blocked or hampered

Prayer can easily be obstructed, prevented, slowed, hampered or blocked for a few reasons. Here are some of them:

• Our prayers are for man rather than God – And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full (Matthew 6:5).

• Our prayers are nothing more than babbling – And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words (Matthew 6:7).

• We don’t believe – If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer (Matthew 21:22) and Therefore, I tell you whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mark 11:24).

• We have unforgiveness in our hearts – And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins (Mark 11:25).

• Our prayers are reserved only for our loved ones – Pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:28).

• We give up too easily – Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up (Luke 18:1) and He is always wrestling in prayer for you… (Colossians 4:12).

• We only pray for those things we want, “gimme” prayers – Pray that you will not fall into temptation (Luke 22:40) and “Why are you sleeping?” He asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:46).

• We worry instead of pray – Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6).

• Our prayer life is inconsistent – Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful (Colossians 4:2) and …pray continually… (I Thessalonians 5:17).

• We are not confessing our sins – Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other… (James 5:16).

This is a list worthy of taking special note of. If you have ever felt that something about your prayer life just isn’t clicking, it could be that one of these areas is an issue in your life. God did reveal to me the area that I needed to work on and as I have begun to do so, I have felt a deeper connection to Him.

It is amazing how quietly these things can slip in and begin to put up walls between us and God and we don’t even realize it. Examine your heart and ask the Lord to reveal to you anything in your prayer life that needs to be changed.

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints – Ephesians 1:18

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Are You a Pharisee?

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Luke 18:9-14

Are you a Pharisee? Now at first you might be taken aback by this question. I know I would be if someone were to have asked me this! At least…that is until I discovered the truth. That yes, there is some degree of Phariseeism (I made that word up) within me. It’s an ugly truth to come to reckon with. In fact, I would rather tuck that truth away and move onto bigger things. But God won’t let me.

I think He won’t let me because it’s an issue that I am not alone in. It’s just that I have become recently aware of it. As of Tuesday, July 7th our family legally became a foster family. As you know for nearly two months we have been helping to take care of two children who were removed from the daycare that I work at. My boss had emergency temporary custody of them but we became their legal foster parents this past Tuesday.

I have had limited contact with the birth mother up until this point. Now I am going to be responsible for transporting them to their visits with mom three times a week. This has created an opportunity to be a witness to her. Well, at least that’s what I was thinking until God stopped me dead in my tracks and put the brakes on.

He began to show me that I couldn’t truly be a witness until I got rid of my Phariseeical (another word made up) attitude. You see, even if my life reflects Christ, the way our family lives, the choices we make, the love we offer…it will all mean nothing if I continue to think the thoughts that I have thought.

It has been quite easy to look down upon this birth mother. After all, she is the one who has lost her children and I know of the reasons why. At first I felt anger about her choices, then I began to see that I was no better…I could just as easily have been in her position…it’s just that I came to know the Lord. I came to know His grace, love and forgiveness. She is not there yet.

Although this might be a more severe issue because she has lost her children, I think moms can easily fall prey to Phariseeism with other moms. We can look down upon other moms because they have not made the same choices. It might be that one has chosen to educate her children one way, we might not like another mom’s discipline methods, or perhaps we don’t agree with the way a mom runs her household.

I was recently participating in a discussion board exercise through an online class that I am taking. It’s a class about effective communication and the topic was regarding the roles we play. One of the students had commented how when she is out in public, in her role as a mother, she is more cautious. She has two small boys and fears what others will think of her. I think this is very common for mothers. But why do mothers have that fear of what others think? It could be that for some they aren’t strong in the area of confidence. But I also think it is because moms can be so critical of other moms.

I have preached for years that moms should not try to put on other moms what their family’s choices have been. We are all unique and we have been called to different things within our families. At the same time, I failed to recognize that even if a mom is doing something obviously wrong, who am I to criticize? Have I not failed in some way with my own children? God isn’t judging our mistakes as moms in different levels. This birth mother’s choices are not at a higher level of sin than my own. The difference is that I have the blood of Christ who covers my sins. I have a relationship with the One who forgives.

Who am I, or who are any of us, to think, “At least I am not like….” “At least I don’t…” Does it make me feel better to think I am more righteous? That is putting confidence in my righteousness rather than in the One who made me right with Him. I can spout off a list of all my achievements as a mother but can I also say that I have been perfect, that I have been sin free?

If I am going to stand any chance at being a witness in this woman’s life, I need to first let go of the Phariseeical attitude and humble myself. If you are going to make a difference in anyone’s life, especially someone who does not know the Lord, you must do the same. I Peter 5:5 makes it clear: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Deeper Love

The deeper your love, the higher it goes…Psalm 57:10 (The Message)

Sometimes a scripture verse will hit me a certain way. Its meaning could be one thing but oftentimes you will find that a verse can be applied in other ways.

I got a new Bible last Christmas which I love. It’s a parallel Bible, one side has the New American Standard version and the other side has The Message. I love the way verses in The Message speak so clearly.

Now in our bathroom we have this flip book with Bible verses for each day. Last Sunday the scripture verse was the one above. Then Monday morning I opened my Bible to continue my reading in Psalms and guess what? Psalm 57 was the very next chapter I was on. I read that verse again and suddenly, I knew God was trying to tell me something.

Last week was a bit rough for me. Life has just really been ramming its ugly head against me and I definitely feel like I am in a battle. I am in a battle for my emotions, my thoughts, and my relationships with others. It is usually very hard to avoid struggles in relationships when you are warring against other things in life.

I thought about the fact that in my marriage we have gone through many, many times of testing—just as I am sure all you married ladies have gone through. The difference this time is not that we are being tested in our marriage but I think we are in a proving ground. I think we are beginning to see what we are really made of. Our marriage has passed many, many tests…from the early days of our marriage when we were unsaved to the journey that we have gone through for the almost 18 years of our marriage.

The proving ground is a deeper facing of what our marriage is really all about. It has not been easy. At times I have felt the work of it all—everything going on—has just been too much. Maybe it’s just my personality but when things are really tough, I would prefer to slink away and be alone. I would prefer to be left alone, to not be bothered by anyone. I don’t want to talk about my feelings, about what is going on…I just want to be by myself.

Loving someone is not a feeling, not an emotion. It is a choice. At times, when things are difficult, you may feel that loving is a choice you don’t want to make or you may feel you don’t have it in you to do. Frustrations, irritations, miscommunication, all of these things can create blockages in relationships.

So through all of this, I have learned that I need to make the choice to love. It has not just been in my marriage, as we have been going through this period of what I call our proving ground…it has been with others. Because like I said, I would prefer to be left alone. I would not choose to also be taking care of five children in the midst of this. So I must make the choice to love. But here is where the above scripture verse comes in. The deeper I choose to love…the higher it goes. To me, that means the more love I give, the more selfless I am, the more I give up to meet the needs of another—the closer I get to God. The higher up is Him. It is connecting to Him in a deeper, closer way because I have chosen to love others.

Dear, children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. I John 3:18

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. I John 4:7