Prayer + “The Ripple Effect” = An Ocean Of God’s Love

I have to admit that I find myself cringing whenever I hear someone say, “Well, I guess all we can do is pray.”  I cringe, not because I am judging that person–God knows I have thought and said the same thing many times in the past.  No, I cringe because I have learned, in my thirty-plus years of walking with Christ and after twenty years of Counseling, that prayer must be our first priority and should never be left as a last resort.  When we are more about “doing”–and therefore make prayer secondary–we miss out on participating in the mysterious and wondrous workings of God.  The simple wisdom and counsel of Isaiah 55:6 says it all,

Seek the LORD while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.

Seek the Lord NOW through prayer; call upon Him NOW!  When we seek God with prayers large and small, we become part of what I like to refer to as “the ripple effect.”  Ordinarily, the term “ripple effect” refers to when a stone is thrown into a still pond . . . after the ‘plunk’ comes the myriad of ripples that move across the otherwise still water.  Merriam-Webster.com defines it this way,

The Ripple Effect

Ripple effect: “a spreading, pervasive, and usually unintentional effect or influence.” 

In Christian circles, the term is used to describe when God works in an individual’s life . . . and how the resulting “ripples” from that action impacts the lives of many othersHowever, when God works in response to our prayers, there is nothing “unintentional” or random when it comes to the “ripple effect.”  One of the blessings of serving a God who is both Sovereign and Good, is in knowing that He is as much at work in the smallest ripple, as He is in the larger things.

Even though it has been thirty-four years, I still remember how profoundly impacted I was by the “ripple effect” when, at twenty-five weeks gestation, I was hospitalized due to complications with my pregnancy.  Back then, we were attending a wonderful church where we had met Christ a few years before.  Each Sunday my husband gave an update so people knew our specific prayer needs.  During the weeks prior to our sons birth, an interesting pattern emerged.  When things were looking bad, the fervency of people’s prayers never failed to carry us through.   However, when we did better and people eased up on praying, we seemed to go downhill.  When our pastor visited me in the hospital, he commented on how God was using our situation to teach our congregation about the importance of being steadfast in prayer.

As the days passed and Luke was born nine weeks premature, it continued to boggle my mind when I thought about God using our three-pound little boy (such a tiny little “pebble”) to ripple blessing to several hundred people who were faithful to pray.  Luke’s birth opened the door to a world of machines and buzzers, bright lights and busy doctors and nurses tending tiny babies in the hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).  Since our home was over an hour away, I was encouraged to stay in the hospital as long as they had a bed available. The nurses were especially kind and helpful, but that first week was rough.  All week, Luke’s nurses expressed concerns about his blood gas levels.  He had already received one blood transfusion of what they referred to as packed cells; yet by day seven, he was paler and seemed to be losing ground.

Realizing that I was becoming overwhelmed, my husband took me home for a few hours that evening.  I will never forget the night sky that greeted me when I went out to our backyard to pray.  I can only describe it as “expansive” as the darkness surrounded me and a myriad of stars shone down.  I prayed . . . confessing my fear of losing Luke.  I reflected on what my pastor said about God using Luke to encourage steadfastness in prayer in our church.  I was comforted as I recognized that, if God chose to take Luke back, his short life had accomplished what God intended.  With that realization, I surrendered Luke back to God.  As I did, a peace settled over me that freed me to trust Him no matter what happened.

When I returned to the hospital, Luke was asleep in his isolette and had a lovely rosy glow–the doctors had agreed to a second transfusion.  From that point he became a “grower” and several weeks later we were able to take him home at four pounds, two ounces.

The “ripple effect” of the prayers of so many and our learning to pray has continued to bless our family to this very day.  James 1:2-5 became a special lifeline during that time that has carried us though many a trial since:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

As I write this, our family is being carried by the prayers of countless people as Luke undergoes chemotherapy.  This time though, the ripples of the past have combined with the countless prayers being offered for Luke, his wife Shannon and our family resulting in a whole ocean of God’s love.

Wherever you are . . . whatever you may be facing . . . my prayer is that your faith in Christ will deepen and buoy you in the ocean of His love and tender mercies.  He is so very worthy of our trust!

All to His Glory!

 

Shadows . . . .

As a kid, I loved dreams where I went on crazy adventures and got to be the heroine–“Kathie to the rescue!”  In my teens, I remember waking up and trying to go back to sleep to continue an adventure that involved one or more of the Beatles–ala A Hard Days Night.  But not all dreams are created equal.  Even then, I dreaded those scary, shadowy dreams where the people I loved got hurt and I woke up filled with despair.  I remember resisting sleep after waking in the middle of the night while having one of those dreams–scared of what might be lurking in the shadows if I allowed myself to go back to the darkness I had fled.

There are seasons in life we wish were but a dream; when the lurking shadows of reality cause us to wonder where to turn next for the answers to our problems.  Part of my job as a Counselor is to help Clients face those menacing shadows with the light and hope of the Scriptures. As their Counselor I do not pretend to have all the answers to their problems . . . there is so much more to navigating the mysteries of life than that.  When it comes to understanding that making our way through challenging seasons is more than coming up with answers, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias says it best with this observation:

 “Having the answers is not essential to living.
What is essential is the sense of God’s presence during dark seasons of questioning.” 

Living in the “information age” we crave answers; yet what is needed is that sense of our Shepherd’s presence.  It is our faith in the saving work of Christ, that moves us through the shadows and dark places of this world.  Psalm 23 is a reflection of such confidence in the Shepherd’s presence, as He guides us through seasons of shifting shadows:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.
(Verses 1-4)

Whether we live in times of ease or we suffer severe trial, the Shepherd faithfully tends to His sheep.  It is no small comfort to know that even “the darkest darkness . . . is as light”* to the Shepherd of our souls.  We fear no evil, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, because He is watching over us.

In Mark 4:15-17, the contrast of darkness and light take center stage with the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy** having been realized in the person of Christ,

“’Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.’
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Jesus continues to call all people living in the shadow of death to enter His light through repentance and faith. When surrounded by shadows and fear grips our hearts, Jesus urges us to cry out to the One who saves . . . confess your fears and receive His comfort and rest.

Just as not all dreams are created equal, the same can be said of shadows.  One of my favorite places to go is Psalm 91 (referred to by many as “the 911 Psalm“) as it calls God’s people to find refuge in the shadow of Almighty God,

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
(Verses 1 and 2)

Where is your dwelling place right now?  Are you frustrated at the direction life is taking you, perhaps fearful because of the direction the world appears to be going?  No matter how shadowy life may appear, give thanks to God for His Sovereign Goodness as He lights your way.  Looking for answers?  Look no further than Christ who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  John 14:6

Light penetrating shadows–by Jordan Ball

All to His Glory!

*Psalm 139:12

**Isaiah 9:2

Faith Breathes . . . .

 

This morning I woke up in a panic . . .

my chest pounding hard within . . .

that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach . . .  

fear gripping my heart as I struggled to take a breath . . . .

Does that ever happen to you?  Sometimes the source of what causes such a panicky state is identifiable–in my case, it was “seeing” hundreds of golden spiders lowering themselves toward me in a dream.  But such panic can hit without warning and without a cause that is readily apparent . . . what then?  Having had to confront my own personal issues with fear and anger–yes, the two are often related–and having worked with countless others in the Counseling Room, I have learned:

WHEN FEAR (OR ANGER) GRIP THE HEART, FAITH MUST BREATHE DEEPER STILL.

Faith breathes?  It may sound a little crazy, but hear me out.   In the Counseling Room, when talking about dealing with fear or anger as Christians, we look to the Scriptures for guidance.  Many times we talk about how to walk by faith (not just by sight like the rest of the world does) and learn to view tough times as opportunities trust God more.   In Chapter Two of his letter, James concluded,

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”* 

Thus, according to James, it is as faith is worked out in our lives that the evidence of genuine faith is revealed.

The Bible also commands that we be a thankful people before our God and King . . . thankful no matter what our circumstance.  I Thessalonians 5:16-18 encourages,

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Now, here is where breathing ties in with faith:

One of the best ways of energizing faith, when overwhelmed by on-going problems or facing the unexpected, is to take a deep breath as you mentally stop whatever you are doing.   As you take in that first breath (making it as deep and long as you can), mentally turn to God and give thanks to Him for His love.  Continue on that vein (recalling every wonderful thing you know about God from the Scriptures) with every breath:

Thank You God that you love me–even when I do not feel or deserve it.

Thank You that You are with me–even though I feel totally alone.

Thank You that You have a plan and a purpose for my life–even though I cannot fathom how this fits into what that might be.

Thank You God for being faithful, even when I fail You . . .

Thank You, thank You, thank You–that You are my God of HOPE!

After reading an article on How to Breathe Properly, written by Karen Lee Richards–patient advocate and co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association– I was struck by how our physical breathing and learning to breathe spiritually are similar.  Richards wrote.

“Breathing affects virtually every part of the body.  It oxygenates the body, revitalizing organs, cells and tissues.  Breathing properly:

  • Fuels energy production
  • Improves focus and concentration
  • Eliminates toxins
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Improves bowel function
  • Reduces stress, tension and anxiety
  • Increases feelings of calmness and relaxation

As important as breathing is to our bodies faith, as it is applied with every spiritual breath we take, is every bit as beneficial.  With every spiritual breath we take, faith fuels our spiritual energy.  Faith improves and narrows our spiritual focus as the toxicity of sin is eliminated through repentance.  Also, as faith is lived out, our spiritual immunity is strengthened as we honor Christ in our lives.  Every spiritual breath we take improves . . . yes, even our bowels(!) as it reduces stress, tension and anxiety.

In the article, Richards differentiates between shallow chest breathing (what sufferers of chronic pain do to minimize pain) and slow, deep abdominal breathing. Richards says, “Shallow chest breathing makes people feel tense” and can induce symptoms that include “mental fog, dizziness, irritability, chest pain, feeling numb and more.”  Yet with slow, deep abdominal breathing, ‘feelings of calmness” are the resulting benefit.

Just as how we breathe impacts our bodies and perceptions, faith as it is applied (or not) also affects our bodily functions as well as our minds and hearts. 

In the final chapter of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote to encourage believers living in perilous times to run not from difficulty, but to instead run to the One they loved and served.  Paul wrote to remind his fellow believers that our strength is not in ourselves; that our battle strategy is to stand by faith against evil as God works out His perfect plan through us:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devils schemes.  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.”

No matter what your circumstance, you can know and trust that our Sovereign and Good God will provide the strength and wisdom you need to honor Him with your life.  NOW . . . READY . . . SET . . . BREATHE!DSC01298

All to His Glory!

 

*James 2:26

Innocent But Not Naive . . . .

 

As we face the uncertainty of our times. I write to encourage you with the words of Jesus who warned His disciples in Matthew 10:16, 17a:

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Be on your guard against men . . . .”

The world has not changed!  To make our way in such a world requires that we be innocent–refusing to involve ourselves in sin–but we cannot afford to be naïve.

Twenty years ago, an estimated one million people were brutally murdered over the course of one hundred days in the Rwandan genocide.   I still remember seeing a photograph of the blood-smeared walls of a small church where its entire congregation perished.  The story that accompanied that picture described how the members of a church had gathered together to give support to one another.  As they were meeting, a bloodthirsty mob intent on killing entered the church.  The mob demanded that the congregation identify fellow members who belonged to the Tutsi minority (the principle target of the genocide.)  The church refused to turn them over as one young girl stood up to the mob and challenged them to not go through with what they were intent on doing.  The crowd responded by killing everyone in the church.  Sadly, not all churches stood so boldly. There were other churches during that awful time who turned over their Tutsi brethren to save themselves.

I cannot say whether the love and courage demonstrated by the young girl and her church later impacted any of those who carried out the butchering of innocence that day.   What I can say is that hearing the story and seeing the blood-smeared walls very much impacted and convicted me to evaluate my faith.  Would I have the courage to stand in the love of Christ as that young girl did?  (Would you?)

Too often Christians wrongly confuse naivety with innocence–choosing to insulate themselves from the rest of the world.  Yet God has gifted us with the Scriptures to equip us to deal effectively–even sacrificially–with a sin sick world.  Consider and be blessed by the wisdom of II Timothy 3:16-17,

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

To serve God well and to love our neighbors as He would have us do, requires that we invest ourselves into knowing and living out the Scriptures daily.

So how are we to strengthen our faith as we live out our lives in a crumbling world?

  1. Faith steadfastly refuses to doubt God’s goodness as it remembers . . . “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son . . . . “  (John 3:16)
  2. A steadfast faith gives thanks to God for the miracle of redemption . . . “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  (I John 4:10)
  3. A maturing faith depends on God’s Spirit and His Word to provide godly wisdom . . . “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.”  (James 1:5)
  4. A strengthened faith refuses to bow down to fear . . . “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me . . . .”  Psalm 23:4
Shepherd with lamb in Negev riverbed

Sent out “like sheep among wolves . . .”

All to His Glory!

When Evil Appears To Have The Upper-Hand . . . .

We live in a frightening world where the thought of turning on the news can fill us with dread.  I was stunned last week as I watched and  listened to the testimony of a man who had escaped the atrocities being committed against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.  The man went into grim detail about what he had witnessed–entire families being buried alive, young and old suffering torturous deaths–because they refused to abandon their faith.  The man was obviously dismayed by the retelling, yet it was as he described the perpetrators of such evil as “animals” devoid of their humanity, that he sobbed uncontrollably.  As I watched I realized that he was crying out to God–not for the people who were killed or for those who are still trapped or have been displaced from their loved ones and homes–the man wept as he begged God to save the perpetrators of evil from themselves. As I watched I remembered Jesus crying out on the Cross:  “Father forgive them . . . for they know not what they are doing.”  (Luke 23:34)

When evil appears to have the upper-hand, how are Christians to respond?  It is tempting to react in kind--“an eye for an eye”that’s biblical, right?  Here is what Jesus had to say about that:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”  Matthew 5:38-42

With regard to dealing with our enemies, Jesus went on to say:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”  (verses 43-45a)

To turn the other cheek, to offer one’s cloak or go the extra mile are not passive acts–they are examples of an intentional Christ-centered love that is not of this world.  Such love and prayer should always go hand-in-hand when it comes to dealing with evil.  The man in the interview saw the deadness in the eyes of his perpetrators and wept for them–and so should we.  We should weep and pray as we remember that it is from such deadness that we have been saved.

When evil appears to have the upper hand, Christian love reaches out intentionally and sacrificially to help those in need.  The entire chapter of Romans 12 gives instruction on how we are to respond when evil threatens.  It says in part:

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
(verses 9-13)

The Apostle Paul also warns against repaying evil for evil, but encourages the faithful to trust God to bring about ultimate justice;

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right . . .
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath . . .
If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. 
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. 
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  
(Verses 17,19-20)

 As I reflect on all of this I am struck by how much courage it takes to love as Christ has loved us.  Over the years I have listened to many a testimony given by people who came to Christ after serving on the side of evil in World War Two.  I trust that there are such people caught up in the ugliness of sin, who need our prayers today.  Join me in praying for repentant hearts to overtake the evil that appears so rampant.  Also, pray for wisdom and a deepened faith as we resist the temptation to repay evil with evil–God IS in control and is worthy of our trust!

All to His Glory!

There’s No Place Like Home . . . .

Call it what you will–

Utopia . . .

Heaven on Earth . . .

Paradise . . . .

There is a longing in the human heart to regain what was lost at the Fall when sin entered the world.  Humanly, we go to great efforts to construct our own version of “home”, but it can never last apart from being reconciled to our Creator through the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  I have had to break this news to many a struggling Client (and have reminded myself when dismayed by the attitudes and/or actions of myself and/or others): “This is not heaven!”  

In the final hours before His arrest, Jesus talked to His disciples about HOME in John 14:1-3.  Knowing He would soon be leaving them and the world He had dwelled in for thirty-three years, Jesus encouraged them with these words:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me.
My Father’s house has many rooms;
if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.”

It is our hope of heaven that gives us peace in trying times . . .

In Christ we look forward to what, one day, will be our Forever Home

Truly . . . there’s no place like HOME!

But what about now?  How are we to respond to the pain and suffering of those we love brought on by disease?  What are we to do when men blatantly commit unspeakable acts that overwhelm our human sensibilities? It is scary to face the realities of pain and heartache in this world; to think about evil and the end times,  Yet the Bible speaks of such things to encourage and strengthen God’s people.  I found comfort in the words of Jesus that in previous days have made me uncomfortable.  Jesus sought to enlarge the vision of His disciples’ thinking about HOME in Matthew 24:

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pains.  Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of Me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  And this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (verses 7-14)

There's no place like HOME!

There’s no place like HOME!

The Apostle Paul underscored the temporariness of our earthly bodies by referring to them as “tents.”  In II Corinthians 5, verses 1 and 5, Paul ministered to the hearts and minds of his fellow-servants of Jesus Christ with these words about our Forever Home:

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God Himself and not by human hands. . . . God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee He has given us His Holy Spirit.

No matter what you are facing or may face in the future, hold fast to the faithful provision given us by God through His Son, our Lord Jesus.  Truly, there’s no place like HOME! 

All to His Glory!

 

To Feel God’s Pleasure . . . .

One of my all-time favorite movies is Chariots of Fire–the true story about Scotsman Eric Liddell.  Born in China to missionary parents, Liddell became famous as a runner and rugby player across Great Britain in the 1920’s.  Chariots of Fire focuses on Liddell’s journey to the 1924 Olympic games in Paris.  What made Liddell famous around the world, was when he refused to run the 100 meter race he had trained for because of a conflict with his religious convictions–the heats were scheduled to be run on a Sunday.  Eric ended up winning an Olympic gold medal when he ran the 400 meter race and a bronze medal for the 200 meter race instead.  One of the lines in the film that stands out in my mind, is Eric’s response to his sister Jenny when she expressed concern that he was investing too much of his time running.  Eric, looking tenderly into his sister’s face, reassured her as he said, “Jenny, Jenny . . . I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast.  And when I run I feel His pleasure.”   

Being confident in knowing that God has a plan and purpose for our lives is what compels us as Christians to move forward in challenging times.  I believe that, “to feel God’s pleasure . . .” is more illusive but ties in with our desire to honor God.

We feel God’s pleasure when we use the gifts and abilities He has given us to love our neighbor and to glorify Him. 

Speaking from experience, God has gifted me with the ability to help people dig into the Scriptures for the wisdom and perspective they lack.  In the Counseling Room, I feel God’s pleasure when working with a Client who is in a whole lot of trouble and thinks God has abandoned them.  Many times when I listen to their stories my heart breaks for them.   Over time, I have learned that while empathy is nice, what they need is the strength and perspective the Scriptures offer.  There is nothing more powerful than God speaking truth and hope into the lives of hurting people.  I especially feel His pleasure when He leads us to two, three and sometimes four passages of Scripture–glorious fare for the hungry soul!

There are other instances when I have recently felt God’s pleasure.  One that especially stands out to me has been in witnessing the next generation take on responsibilities serving in my Church.  This summer several young men who have grown up in our church have blessed the musical aspects of worship with their humble leadership. To witness the Spirit of God working in their lives has given me hope for the future.

We feel God’s pleasure when we are broken yet choose to give Him thanks.
His pleasure becomes ours when we are awed by all He has made . . . 
when we learn to walk by faith and not by sight.

Ephesians 1:9-10 provides a much broader picture of the working out of God’s pleasure across His universe:

With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to us the mystery of His will
according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect
when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Galatians 5:16

After the Olympics Eric Liddell returned to China as a missionary.  Throughout his life I trust that he felt God’s pleasure many times as he married, had children and served the Chinese people with the Good News of Christ.  His wife and children left China when the Japanese were taking over in WWII.  Eric chose to remain and was ultimately interred by the Japanese in a detainee camp with 1,800 men, women and children in 1943.  There he continued to honor Christ by serving others until he died of a brain tumor in 1945 at age 43.

Liddell was a man after God’s heart, who lived out his life like he ran his races: with patient dedication he honored Christ at every turn.  When he fell, Eric got up and ran harder to follow the path God laid out for him until he finished his race.

To trust God more than our instincts or the opinions of others, moves us in the direction of feeling God’s pleasure as we walk/run in obedience to His Spirit and His Word. 

So what are you waiting for?

All to His Glory!