Thursday, February 27, 2014

"The Prayer of Jabez": Part 3

We've made it through the first two parts of Jabez's prayer model based on Bruce Wilkinson's book, "The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life."  I've mentioned some of the controversy over this book, as some critics claim it to be too much of a "feel good" message.  Personally, I have found nuggets of truth in this book that have challenged me within my own personal prayer life.  I want to stress that  along with our petitions and supplications, a good balanced prayer life should include adoration to God, confessions and repentance of our own sin and shortcomings, and a hefty dose of thanksgiving laced within.

Part one of the Jabez prayer model, ("Oh, that You would bless me indeed!"), suggests that we are to boldly pray for God's blessings in our lives.  That this is a spiritual act in which we are "crying out for the wonderful, unlimited goodness that only God has the power to know about or give to us." And when asking for His blessings, we are to trust in the fact that it is God who determines exactly what those blessings are, and where, when, and how we are to receive them.

Part two of this prayer, ("Oh, that You would enlarge my territory!"), encompasses the idea that we are to ask God to provide us with more opportunities to minister and influence others for the sake of His kingdom.  That we would have increased opportunity to make a mark for Him on this world.

Today, we will introduce part three of the Jabez prayer model:

"Oh, that Your hand would be with me!"

Wilkinson explains that "'the hand of the Lord' is a biblical term for God's power and presence in the lives of His people."  He calls God's hand on us "the touch of greatness."  And stresses that it's not us that become great, but rather it's He who becomes great through us.  The author mentions that, "asking for God's hand upon us is our strategic choice to sustain and continue the great things that God has begun in our lives."

He then cautions and urges us to pray for God's hand upon us, because many believers who have dared to ask for an enlarged ministry end up faltering once God has placed a blessed opportunity onto their laps.  How sometimes we plummet under the rush of wind once God has stretched the limits of our influence and opportunities.  Our dependence on God, and our need for His hand upon us, is highly stressed and should be sought after daily.

This portion of the prayer spoke volumes to me.  And although Wilkinson didn't touch upon some of the things I will further mention, I've personally found that I am lost and desperate without God's hand upon me.  Above the blessings and enlarged territory of ministry and influence, His hand upon me (His power and presence) is vital to breaking through to a blessed life.  Without it, I am ineffective and doomed.

For instance, we may ask God for opportunity and for His leading and guidance.  He may bless us and open doors and we may obediently walk through them.  But, too easily, we can veer off the path (or the assignment) He has for us and find ourselves no longer under His hand.  God may enlarge our territory and place an assignment before us in which He wishes to use us for His purposes.  And quickly we can turn God's purpose into our own agenda...trying to take on His role, as if He needs our help and assistance.  We can take it a step too far, and when we do, our own motives and plans can sweep in and override His initial calling for us.  One misstep in our own direction, apart from His hand and guidance, and we may find ourselves off the intended path He had us walking.  Even in instances in which we started out in complete obedience, we are not exempt from straying from His path and creating our own.  And seldom does it accomplish what we had first set off to do.  This is why it is so critical to continuously pray for His hand to be upon us.  Not only does it equip us with His power to accomplish that which is before us, but it also steers us from slipping off His path and tripping on our own plans and bruised egos.

Thankfully, God never expects perfection from us.  He gently nudges and patiently waits for us to turn back to Him with every step we take.   He whispers and He humbles.  And He is gracious with us in the process.  I've found that a spoonful of humility is often gulped down quick and sour.  The taste is bitter on our palate of pride and burns around our hardened edges.  But once properly digested, it ends up coating and covering those acidic holes in one's heart leaving in us a spirit that's a bit more soothed, pliable, and refined.  Dulling those sharp, jagged areas.  He uses these tripping moments to teach and grow us so that we may be more effective in future callings.

And as a result, we more fully understand our dependence on Him and our moment-by-moment need for His hand upon us.  Apart from it, we are nothing.  If ever there be a cry of our hearts, let it be for more of Him, more of His power, and more of His presence in our lives.

Oh, that Your hand would be with me!

Monday, February 24, 2014

"The Prayer of Jabez": Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about Bruce Wilkinson's book, "The Prayer of Jabez." The author dissects 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 and divides it into a 4 part "breaking through to the blessed life" prayer model.  The first part examines the concept of praying for blessings. Today we will look a bit closer at part 2 of this prayer:

"Oh, that You would enlarge my territory!"

Wilkinson writes, "A plea for more territory is where you ask God to enlarge your life so that you can make a greater impact for Him."  It isn't to be mistaken with asking for a larger home, yard, possessions, or economic prosperity...but rather wanting "more influence, more responsibility, and more opportunity to make a mark for God." In essence, it's asking God for more ministry.  And for more opportunity to promote Jesus and share the hope we have in Him with those we encounter.

The author explains that when you pray for God to enlarge your territory, "people will show up on your doorstep or at the table next to you.  They'll start saying things that surprise even them."  They may end up asking questions, disclosing information to you, and doors will be opened for you to share your faith and be used by God.  He writes, "whatever our gifts, education, or vocation might be, our calling is to do God's work on earth," and "when you start asking in earnest for more influence and responsibility with which to honor Him, God will bring opportunities and people into your path."

If you are anything like me, you've felt disheartened when God has given you an opportunity to be a light that shines for Him and then you hesitate and miss out on it, (or end up walking through that door and blowing it completely.)  I've experienced both, and it's left me feeling as if I've wasted a good opportunity, blown my witness, or failed entirely.

Thankfully, with God, His mercies are new each morning, and every day presents us with the chance to try again...even if we missed the boat or messed up yesterday.  Now is as good a time as any to remind you of this blog's theme and inspiration based on Philippians 1:6, "Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion."  We are all a work in progress.  I find comfort in knowing He isn't finished with me yet.  That when I fail and make mistakes, He doesn't judge or discard me as a lost cause.  He's patient and merciful, picks me up, dusts me off, and gives me second chances.

"Oh, that You would bless me indeed...that You would enlarge my territory..."

I've been praying this prayer over my life since I first picked up this book last week.  I find there is nothing in life that fills me with more joy and purpose than knowing I am being used by God.  And as I shared the disheartedness of missed and failed opportunities, let's not forget the joys experienced when someone contacts you, and unbeknownst to you, shares how you have impacted and inspired them in their faith.  These moments encourage and propel us forward to continue pressing on in our own faith walk.  And I'm ever grateful for them.

Wilkinson describes some pretty significant and moving examples of how God has answered this prayer and "enlarged his territory." I am certain we, too, are capable of being part of some of these big things.  But, after praying this prayer, I was surprised at how my perspective shifted in the way I go about my day.  I don't want to lose sight of the little ways that God can enlarge our territory and allow us to plant seeds in the realms of "ordinary" life.  I believe these small ways are equally significant and to be valued.  And we are to seek after them as well, believing that God will use as as He sees fit.

For instance, Saturday I snuck off by myself to the mall to look for a new bathing suit.  I dread bathing suit shopping. Yes, I said it.  I dread it for it always leaves me depressed.  But, my cheap Target-bought swimsuits are a few years old, stretched out, and falling apart at the seams.  We've been taking the kids to our gym's indoor swimming pool 2-3 times a week since the first of the year and I've found myself in need of a new one.  I decided it's time to invest in one of better quality that may actually last longer than one Michigan summer.

As I collected a handful of suits to try on, I made my way to the crowded department store's fitting room.  Every room was occupied and there was a wait line quickly forming.  Before I knew it, I found myself chatting with a 67 year old woman behind me.  With the knowledge that I had prayed this prayer that very morning, I was on alert for any opportunities God may send my way.  This prayer has a way of allowing you to slow your pace and soak in all that happens around you.  Instead of rushing around consumed with your own schedule, looking to quickly check off your daily "to-do" list, you begin to take notice to those around you and embrace encounters of the ordinary.  For each encounter may just be an expansion of your territory, if you take notice and make yourself available.

So there in the wait line to the fitting room, the lives of two women (from distinctly different ethnic backgrounds and generations) intertwined, as we shared a few moments of life together.  Small talk of children and marriage surprisingly, yet naturally, led to discussions of faith and God.   I didn't initiate these topics, but I was on alert to their possibility, and walked through that door when it was opened.  And, right then and there, within the small, confined space of dressing room, I watched God expand my territory.  It may have only been an inch, or a millimeter, but I knew His hand was in that encounter.  And I left that fitting room with a heart of peace, (even despite my failure to find that decent overpriced swimsuit.)

If there is anyone out there still following this blog, I encourage you to try out this prayer, and stick with me as we move onward with it.  In the next days ahead, I will discuss parts 3 and 4 to this prayer model. Both have been tugging tightly on my heartstrings, as He has used them to whisper hard truth and strike a chord within my spirit.

Until then, be a light and ask God to expand your territory.  When we are available, He is always able.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"The Prayer of Jabez": Part 1

The other morning I picked up a book that had been collecting dust on our book shelf for nearly a decade and decided to read it: "The Prayer of Jabez" by Bruce Wilkinson.  In an hour's time, I read through it.  I know there has been controversy over this book in the past, as some claim it to be a "feel good" message that can too easily mislead.  The book, in its entirety, is based off of 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 (emphasizing verse 10).

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez,[a] saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.”10 Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

The reader is encouraged to pray this prayer over one's life, and Wilkinson breaks it up into four parts:

1)  Oh, that You would bless me indeed
2)  Oh, that You would enlarge my territory
3)  Oh, that Your hand would be with me
4)  Oh, that You would keep me from evil

Today, we will look at the first part of this prayer:  

"Oh, that You would bless me indeed."

Wilkinson touched upon the fact that many believers feel it selfish or greedy to continually go to God asking for blessing.  However, he states that God's nature is to bless and He longs to bless His children with His goodness.  

Wilkinson explains, "To bless in the biblical sense means to ask for or to impart supernatural favor."  He points out that "a radical aspect of Jabez's request for blessing was the fact that he left it entirely up to God to decide what the blessings would be and where, when, and how Jabez would receive them," and "when we seek God's blessings as the ultimate value in life, we are throwing ourselves entirely into the river of His will and power and purposes for us.  All our other needs become secondary to what we really want- which is to be wholly immersed in what God is trying to do in us, through us, and around us for His glory."  

Wilkinson challenges his readers to change the way we think and to take on an expectant faith, expecting God's best for our lives.  However, critics of Wilkinson claim that "there is no hint in this book that that 'best' might sometimes seem less than a blessing to our human eyes."

For those of us who have endured pain, struggle, and sorrow, it's easy to look around and feel as if we've missed the blessings boat.  I like how Spurgeon dug deeper into the concept of blessing, as it isn't always wrapped up neatly with a pretty shiny bow.

Spurgeon writes, "not unfrequently our griefs are more salutary than our joys. The pruning knife is best for some of us," and in the end "this light affliction may work out for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory," a "blessing indeed."

"To a great extent we find that we must sow in tears before we can reap in joy . …You may expect a blessing in serving God if you are enabled to persevere under many discouragements."

"As he thought about what Jabez might have meant by 'blessing indeed,' Spurgeon reminisced on his own life: 'I have oftentimes looked gratefully back to my sick chamber. I am certain that I never did grow in grace one half so much anywhere as I have upon the bed of pain.'  In light of his own experience of growth through suffering, Spurgeon could affirm that pain may bring the greatest possible blessing—eternal fellowship with a loving Christ."
"Sorrow can strengthen faith. Affliction can be, as Spurgeon elsewhere put it, 'the best book in a minister's library.'"

A blessing indeed.

If you find yourself discouraged, take heart...God may be using this season to bless you in the ways you need it most.  Often, it's not until a season of hardship is over, that we can better know and understand the purpose of it and the blessings given in the midst.

I think it's important that we go to God with our needs, dreams, and desires...and to expect and trust that He was good plans for us, and that His ways are better than our own.  That His best is better than any best we could imagine for ourselves.  I also believe we should be seeking Him, His spiritual richness, and more of His glory as the blessings in which we wish to receive above all other earthly things.  And, we are wise to remember that our asking should never trump our thanking and praising.

Heavenly Father, thank You for being a God who longs to bless us.  A God who stores up goodness and chases us with mercy.  Help us to trust that You know what is best for us, and that You determine what, when, and how we shall receive Your blessings.  Strengthen our faith and help us to persevere through our discouragements and hardships, and to seek You and more of Your glory working in, around and through us, as our greatest blessings indeed.  In Jesus' name we pray.  Amen.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

calling "shotgun" to this "narrow-road" living

"Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow (and difficult) the road that leads to life, and only few find it."
Matthew 7:13-14

This "narrow-road" living isn't always easy.  It takes boldness, courage, and steadfastness to hold firm to our faith, convictions, and the ways of God.  Unfortunately, it's not the 6-lane, smooth-sailing, straight-shot expressway the majority hops on.  But rather the potholed, bumpy, winding backroad that few travel.  That's the narrow road.

His way.  Not the highway. But the "Higher" way.  

Too easily the world confuses this "narrow-road" with a "narrow mind,"  blind-sided by the difference.  Take heart, for their mirrors may be a little foggy.  It grieves my spirit that Christ-followers are labeled as "haters," "judgers," and "condemners."  Speaking the truth is not always an easy or comfortable thing to takes courage, humility, and trust in God when you place His ways and His truths above your comfort and your feelings.  Ironically, it often leaves others to believe you are "closed-minded," "prideful," "uncomfortable" "fearful," or "insecure."  Ultimately, they judge you for assuming you are judging others.

Don't buy it.  It's okay to stand alone.  As long as you are standing on the Word of God.

Just take a look at Duck Dynasty.  The media has had a field day painting a picture of hate and judgment over this family as they stand firm and declare their spiritual convictions against the court of public opinion.  

Unfortunately, you don't have to be famous to face such ridicule.  And the ridiculers aren't always the left-wing liberals either.  Sadly, it happens every day within and amongst believers too.  What troubles me the most isn't the fact that we disagree.  Because we can agree to disagree.  The real disheartedness comes from the lack of mature, honest, and open dialogue.  For refusing to acknowledge or hear another's heart and dismissing altogether any validity to their voice.  To eliminate the opportunity to exchange a God-honoring conversation.  It leaves no room for grace to rise and understanding to ensue.  

In the book of Jude we are urged to defend and fight for our faith, because there will be others who will try to slip in unnoticed to pervert and twist it.  It will become watered-down and others will try to shape and mold God into a god that feels good and works into the comfort of their lives and the beliefs of the public majority.  Defending our faith has nothing to do with us or the need to prove our point and justify our feelings; it has nothing to do with pride or self-righteousness.   It has everything to do with God and desiring to promote and glorify Him in and above all things.  

"I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people."  
Jude 1:3

"I have to write insisting—begging!—that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish." 
(The MSG)

There is reason we are called to stand firm and hold tight to our faith. To be on guard. To not be shaken.  Our faith is a gift we are to protect and cherish.  This is part of the "narrow-road" living.  

"Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."
1 Corinthians 15:58

"Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love."
1 Corinthians 16:13-14

The truth spoken in love can be misunderstood and leave one open to judgment and rejection just because it differs from and doesn't embrace the patterns of this world.  Yet being in this world, doesn't mean we have to be of this world and polluted by it.  There is a distinction, and we are wise not to cross over that line.  Our God is about transformation, not conformation.  Conforming may spare you from ridicule, judgment, and rejection...but it may also rob you of discerning His will, fully receiving His peace and promises, or fulfilling the purposes He has for you.

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."  
James 1:27

"Don’t copy (conform to) the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." 
Romans 12:2 (NLT)

"I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one."
John 17:14-15

Even if I must stand alone, I will fight for my faith.  My approval and confidence comes from the LORD alone.  He strengthens and encourages me to stand firm in my convictions, despite the judgment that is formed against me.  I don't mind being the unpopular one or looking foolish.  There is only One in whom I will seek approval, and one day I will stand before Him to answer.   We are the salt of the earth.  And what good is salt if it has lost its saltiness? (Matthew 5:13)  

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ."
Romans 1:16

"So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded."  
Hebrews 10:35

"So don't throw away your bold faith; it will bring you rich rewards."
Hebrews 10:35 (NIRV) 

Take the backroad with me.  The "Higher" way.  Guard and cherish your faith through the potholes and twisting turns.  Be bold and confident in this "narrow-road" living.  Let God take the wheel, steer you, and pump gas into your heart with holy, Spirit-filled conviction.  I'll ride along with you.  (And when we do, I call "shotgun.")

Thursday, February 13, 2014

to be WHOLE

Have you ever heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?”  Well, isn’t that just a lie?  There is life and death in words, and they most certainly can leave you feeling more broken and bruised than a couple of twigs and rocks thrown your way.  This world is filled with people and experiences that will leave you feeling much the same, chipping away at your heart and your worth one small injury at a time.
When I was a young girl Jordache jeans were all the rage, and I desperately wanted a pair.  Growing up in a family of 7 didn’t leave much wiggle room for designer clothing, so there was a period of waiting before this longing was fulfilled.  My mom says she remembers the first day I wore those beloved new jeans to school.  She claims that as I was getting ready that morning I confidently declared, “Mom, now that I have these jeans, nobody on the bus will call me fat anymore.”  Decades later, this breaks my heart for two reasons.  First, it is evident that hurtful words had wounded and left their mark.  Second, it is obvious that I was clinging onto false hope that a material possession could fill the newly broken cracks in my heart.  

I still remember those purple Jordache jeans and the hot pink threading woven throughout her seams.  Perhaps something in my young heart felt that the stitching in those jeans would somehow perfectly stitch my life together.  Sometimes we place our hope into things that easily unravel and temporarily place a patch over the empty, broken cracks in our lives.  We use people, possessions, and success to fill these voids.  Sadly, they never do.

Like so many others, I come from a broken home.   I have great memories from my childhood, but I can recall the dysfunction within the home that left a certain chaos within my heart.   I longed for peace, stability and security.   My home life didn’t always provide this.  My parents were married for 24 years, and there were seasons in which my father was very distant and withdrawn.  When I was 11, my parents were on the brink of divorce.    Although much of this season I don’t recall, I learned a lot about my adolescent self years later after coming across an old journal I wrote during this time.  As I read through some of these pages, my heart broke for the little girl I once was.  I sobbed through these entries as I realized that much of my self-worth was wrapped up in my relationship with my father and the health of my home life.  These things became the basis of my identity, worth, and self-esteem.  It also became the source of much of my brokenness.  As a result, I looked to the world to heal and fill these voids.

As an adolescent, my friends became my life.  While there was still brokenness within my home, I was able to disconnect from this and found new worth and security within my peer group.  People and friendships gave me a sense of stability, significance, and helped fill the voids in my wounded heart.  I have very fond memories from this season in my life.  However, once I graduated from high school and moved onto college, I left my hometown and the friends I had in it.  These changes ushered in a new season of instability, insecurity, and a lost sense of identity.  Instead of longing for a pair of jeans to mend my life and stitch it up straight and neat, or finding a new core group of friends, I longed for love.  Unfortunately, I looked for it in all the wrong places, and in all the wrong ways.  I felt that a relationship would fill those bleeding cracks and crevices and suture me up whole and complete.  But, it didn’t.  I still felt broken, empty, and furthermore, lost.  

We are broken, messy people in a broken, messy world.  We put our best faces forward and plaster them on Instagram, Facebook, and other social media sites.  But, underneath the touched-up, edited smiles, and the “feel good” posts and tweets, we all have something in our lives that we wished we could change.  Something we wished was different, never happened, or could be made better.  We all have varying degrees of brokenness, and the same need for healing and wholeness.  It’s too easy to look at the person next to us and think that they have it all together and their lives are perfect.  Can I tell you a secret?  They don’t.  None of us do.  We can chase after wealth, beauty, image, success, and popularity, but even when we reach the top of those things, there will always be a void in our lives that only God can divinely fill.   

It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I finally began to understand this, and it drastically changed the course of my life.  As a young girl, I wished I had a mentor to guide me through life’s struggles and point me to this truth.  I wished I had known that only in God will we find our true sense of worth, identity and purpose.  Our identities need to be rooted in Jesus Christ, where healing and wholeness begins.  I grew up going to church, but I never fully understood what it meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus.   In my search for wholeness, worth, and significance, I chased after fleeting things and made choices that made my life messier and more complicated than God ever intended for it to be.  

Even in my wandering, God was relentlessly pursuing and chasing after me.  Romans 8:28 states that God works all things out for our good.  He can take any broken person or messy circumstance and bring healing and beauty out of it.  He can redeem anything and anyone.  He did this in me, and He can do this in your life too.

Dear one, do you know that God is chasing after you and loves you beyond reason?  His passionate pursuit of you won’t stop until you are wholly His.  Oh, what I would give to sit down with you, listen to your heart, and share His truth with you.  If I could save you from making some of the same mistakes I have made in chasing after useless things, I would.  Things of this world will temporarily fill you and act as a bandaid on a wound that hasn’t been cleaned.  Only God can heal those wounds and fill the voids of your heart.  Life constantly shifts and changes, providing no real stability or security.  It will fail and disappoint, as will people.  But, God never will.   He is your Healer, Helper, and your Constant.  He never changes.  He is the one sure thing you can count on in this world.  Genuine and lasting peace, joy, and security is found in your personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  This is where you first must look.   If you don’t already, find and attend a Bible-believing church, join a small group, fellowship with other believers, ask someone to be your spiritual mentor, read the Bible and discover His truth and His promises for you.  Do whatever you can to find this truth and grow in your knowledge and relationship with Him.  He has great plans for you.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord.  ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Jeremiah 29:11

If you feel bruised, broken, lost, and wondering if your season of pain or struggle will ever end, know that it will.  God has a bright future for you.  Your hope is found in Christ who can redeem and restore you in the midst of your brokenness.  Nothing is beyond His reach.  When you trust God, hold onto His promises, seek and follow Him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, you will find fulfillment and healing.  
When you truly lean into Him and the work He is accomplishing within and around you, you will find lasting joy, peace and security.  One that the world can’t manufacture or take away.  You will understand your purpose more fully.  Hand Him your brokenness and let Him do the healing.  You can be made whole, because you are being wholly held by God.  He is in all things, and holds all things together (Colossians 1:17).  Including you.  Let God become the greatest adventure of your life.  This is where your healing begins.  The world may hand you hot pink threading, but don’t settle for it.  It will fray and unravel at the seams.  Trade it in for a holy and divine stitching that won’t fray or unravel, but will perfectly stitch your heart up and make it whole again.