In November 2015, I learned I needed open-heart surgery. Surprised and a little shaken, I was naturally drawn to think about the possibility of death. Were there relationships I needed to mend? Were there financial matters I needed to attend to for my family? Even if the surgery was successful, it would be months before I could work. Was there work that could be done ahead of time? And what about work that couldn’t wait; who should I hand that off to? It was a time to both act and pray.
Except I couldn’t do either.
My body was so weary and my mind so fatigued that even the simplest of tasks seemed beyond my strength. Perhaps most surprising, when I tried to pray, my thoughts would drift to the discomfort, or the shallow breathing caused by the damaged heart made me fall asleep. It was frustrating. I couldn’t work and I couldn’t even ask God to let me live so I could spend more time with my family!
The inability to pray troubled me most. But as with all other human needs, the Creator knew this was happening to me. I would eventually recall He made two preparations for such occurrences in our lives: the prayer of the Holy Spirit for us when we can’t pray (Rom. 8:26); and the prayer of others on our behalf (James 5:16; Gal 6:2).
What a comfort it was to know that the Holy Spirit was even then raising my concerns before the Father. What a gift also to hear from friends and family as they prayed for me. Then came another surprise: As my friends and family asked me what to pray for, it became clear that my answers to them were also being heard by God as prayers.
What a gift it is in a time of uncertainty to be reminded God hears our heart even when we think we can’t call out to Him.
While removing the price tag from an item of winter clothing I had purchased, I smiled at these words on the back: “WARNING: This innovative product will make you want to go outdoors and stay there.” When properly clothed for the climate, a person can survive and even thrive in harsh and changing weather conditions.
The same principle is true in our spiritual lives. As followers of Jesus, our all-weather spiritual wardrobe has been prescribed by the Lord in His Word, the Bible. “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. . . . Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:12-13 emphasis added).
These garments that God provides—such as kindness, humility, and longsuffering—allow us to meet hostility and criticism with patience, forgiveness, and love. They give us staying power in the storms of life.
When we face adverse conditions at home, school, or work, the “clothing” God tells us to wear protects us and enables us to make a positive difference. “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (v. 14).
Dressing according to God’s guidelines doesn’t change the weather—it equips the wearer.
A man named Refuge Rabindranath has been a youth worker in Sri Lanka for more than ten years. He often interacts with the youth late into the night—playing with them, listening to them, counseling and teaching them. He enjoys working with the young people, but it can be disheartening when promising students sometimes walk away from the faith. Some days he feels a bit like Simon Peter in Luke 5.
Simon had been working hard all night but caught no fish (Luke 5:5). He felt discouraged and tired. Yet when Jesus told him to “put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch” (v. 4), Simon replied, “Because you say so, I will let down the nets” (v. 5).
Simon’s obedience is remarkable. As a seasoned fisherman, he knew that fish move to the bottom of the lake when the sun is up, and the dragnets they used could not go deep enough to catch those fish.
His willingness to trust Jesus was rewarded. Not only did Simon catch a large number of fish, he gained a deeper understanding of who Jesus is. He moved from calling Jesus “Master” (v. 5) to calling Him “Lord” (v. 8). Indeed, “listening” often allows us to see the works of God firsthand and draw closer to Him.
Perhaps God is calling you to “let down your nets again.” May we reply as Simon did: “Because You say so, Lord, I will.”
Singer/songwriter Robert Hamlet wrote “Lady Who Prays for Me” as a tribute to his mother who made a point of praying for her boys each morning before they went to the bus stop. After a young mom heard Hamlet sing his song, she committed to praying with her own little boy. The result was heartwarming! Just before her son went out the door, his mother prayed for him. Five minutes later he returned . . . bringing kids from the bus stop with him! His mom was taken aback and asked what was going on. The boy responded, “Their moms didn’t pray with them.”
In the book of Ephesians, Paul urges us to pray “on all occasions with all kinds of prayers” (6:18). Demonstrating our daily dependence on God is essential in a family since many children first learn to trust God as they observe genuine faith in the people closest to them (2 Tim. 1:5). There is no better way to teach the utmost importance of prayer than by praying for and with our children. It is one of the ways they begin to sense a compelling need to reach out personally to God in faith.
When we “start children off” by modeling “a sincere faith” in God (Prov. 22:6; 2 Tim. 1:5), we give them a special gift, an assurance that God is an ever-present part of our lives—continually loving, guiding, and protecting us.
After attacking my husband with hurtful words when a situation didn’t go my way, I snubbed the Holy Spirit’s authority as He reminded me of Bible verses that revealed my sinful attitudes. Was nursing my stubborn pride worth the collateral damage in my marriage or being disobedient to God? Absolutely not. But by the time I asked for forgiveness from the Lord and my spouse, I’d left a wake of wounds behind me−the result of ignoring wise counsel and living as if I didn’t have to answer to anyone but myself.
There was a time when the Israelites had a rebellious attitude. After the death of Moses, Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land. Under his leadership, the Israelite’s served the Lord (Judg. 2:7). But after Joshua and the generation that outlived him died, the Israelites forgot God and what He’d done (v. 10). They rejected godly leadership and embraced sin (vv. 11–15).
Things improved when the Lord raised up judges (vv. 16–18), who served like kings. But when each judge died, the Israelites returned to defying God. Living as if they didn’t have anyone to answer to but themselves, they suffered devastating consequences (vv. 19–22). But that doesn’t have to be our reality. We can submit to the sovereign authority of the eternal Ruler we were made to follow−Jesus−because He is our living Judge and King of Kings.
As a teenager, when I became overwhelmed by enormous challenges or high-stakes decisions, my mother taught me the merits of putting pen to paper to gain perspective. When I was uncertain whether to take specific classes or which job to pursue, or how to cope with the frightening realities of adulthood, I learned her habit of writing out the basic facts and the possible courses of action with their likely outcomes. After pouring my heart onto the page, I was able to step back from the problem and view it more objectively than my emotions allowed.
Just as recording my thoughts on paper offered me fresh perspective, pouring our hearts out to God in prayer helps us gain His perspective and remind us of His power. King Hezekiah did just that after receiving a daunting letter from an ominous adversary. The Assyrians threatened to destroy Jerusalem as they had many other nations. Hezekiah spread out the letter before the Lord, prayerfully calling on Him to deliver the people so that the world would recognize He “alone . . . [is] God” (2 Kings 19:19).
When we’re faced with a situation that brings anxiety, fear, or a deep awareness that getting through it will require more than what we have, let’s follow in Hezekiah’s footsteps and run straight to the Lord. Like him, we, too, can lay our problem before God and trust Him to guide our steps and calm our uneasy hearts.
“Will we see any snakes?”
Allan, a young boy in our neighborhood, asked that question as we started on a hike by the river near our home.
“We never have before,” I answered, “but we might! So let’s ask God to keep us safe.” We paused, prayed together, and kept walking.
Several minutes later my wife, Cari, suddenly took a quick step backward, narrowly avoiding a poisonous copperhead partially coiled on the path ahead. We waited as the snake left the trail, giving it a wide berth. Then we paused and thanked God nothing had happened. I believe that through Allan’s question, God had prepared us for the encounter, and our prayer was part of His providential care.
Our brush with danger that evening brings to mind the importance of David’s words: “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always” (1 Chro. 16:11). This advice was part of a psalm celebrating the return of the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. It recounts God’s faithfulness to His people in their struggles throughout history, reminding them to always praise Him and “cry out” to Him (v. 35).
What does it mean to “seek [God’s] face”? It means we turn our hearts toward Him in even the most mundane moments. Sometimes our prayers are answered differently than our asking, but God is faithful come what may. Our Good Shepherd will direct our paths and keeps us in His mercy, strength, and love, and we may declare our dependence on Him.
During the spring and summer, I admire the fruit growing in our neighbor’s yard. Their cultivated vines climb a shared fence to produce large bunches of grapes. Branches dotted with purple plums and plump oranges dangle just within our reach.
Although we don’t till the soil, plant the seeds, or water and weed the garden, the couple next door shares their bounty with us. They take responsibility for nurturing their crops and allow us to delight in a portion of their harvest.
The produce from the trees and vines on the other side of our fence reminds me of another harvest that benefits me and the people God places in my life. That harvest is the fruit of the Spirit.
Christ-followers are commissioned to claim the benefits of living by the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16–21). As God’s seeds of truth flourish in our hearts, the Spirit produces an increase in our ability to express “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (vv. 22–23).
Once we surrender our lives to Jesus, we no longer have to be controlled by our self-centered inclinations (v. 24). Over time, the Holy Spirit can change our thinking, our attitudes, and our actions. As we grow and mature in Christ, we can have the added joy of sharing with our neighbors the benefits of His generous harvest.
My niece convinced me to play Pokémon Go—a game played on a smartphone, using the phone’s camera. The object of the game is to capture little creatures called Pokémon. When one appears in the game, a red and white ball also appears on the phone’s screen. To capture a Pokémon, the player has to flick the ball toward it with the movement of a finger. Pokémon are more easily caught, however, by using a lure to attract them.
Pokémon characters aren’t the only ones who can be lured away. In his New Testament letter to believers, James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us that we “are dragged away by [our] own evil desire” (1:14, emphasis added). In other words, our desires work with temptation to lure us down a wrong path. Though we may be tempted to blame God or even Satan for our problems, our real danger lies within.
But there is good news. We can escape the lure of temptation by talking to God about the things that tempt us. Though “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone,” as James explains in 1:13, He understands our human desire to do what’s wrong. We have only to ask for the wisdom God promised to provide (1:1–6) to avoid losing more than a video game.