Prayer’s Unexpected Answers

I don’t know about you, but as a Christian, I’ve heard that God doesn’t always answer our prayers in the way we expect. Maybe that feels ambiguous at best to you. If so, I’d like to share a concrete glimpse of what that can look like from a moment in my life just last week.

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As many of you know, we have an eight year old who is on the spectrum. For those of you not sure what that means, it means that she was diagnosed with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder, or Asperger’s; and that translates into a level of anxiety and rigidity that most of us are unfamiliar with in our day-to-day lives.

For my daughter, right now, it translates into compulsive behaviors and meltdowns resulting from an elusive search for perfect that does not exist on this side of heaven: lining her chair up just so at the dinner table, wearing only one pair of shorts because none of the others feel right to her, wiping her face and hands repeatedly to avoid being dirty.

She knows perfect is not possible, even so, she seeks it with a fierceness that is too often heartbreaking. Like last Wednesday.

Because a trip to the indoor play space on Monday had not gone as planned or hoped, we left shortly after we arrived. This also led to my sweet girl wanting to go back and try again, and, because that in itself was an incredible victory (because she didn’t write off the play place due to one bad experience), we decided to return on Wednesday.

As I got ready Wednesday morning, I prayed; I poured my heart out to God, as I’ve done so often, lifting my daughter up and asking God to go before us and make a way for us, especially for my daughter. I prayed for peace, I prayed for His presence, I prayed for calm and for a lessening of the anxious compulsive need for perfect.

DSC04430Even so, she sat on the floor amidst seven or eight inside out socks cast aside because they didn’t feel right and her eyes welled with tears, her face betraying her anxious doubts as guttural sobs filled the space between us, piercing my heart.

Really? I thought. This is how God is choosing to answer my prayers. Really?

Anger that bordered on rage coursed through me, in an effort to beat back my tears, and the pain of my mama heart. Just one day, I begged Him. Just one day without all of this.

But in spite of my best efforts to remain calm and to guide her and to coax her and to sort through socks with her, the perfect her brain demanded eluded us both.

And so, my youngest daughter and I set forth for the indoor play space, leaving my oldest at home with her father and her favorite video. It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and we’d been pretty certain that the most people would be traveling or otherwise preparing for the Thursday holiday.

We couldn’t have been more wrong.

There were more people – kids and parents and grandparents and babies (a real challenge for my eight year old because of their unpredictability and crying) – than I’d ever seen before in that small space. Standing there, just inside the doors, Truth rushed over me and through me along with the deafening crush of noise: God had answered my prayers.

God had answered my prayers. But not in the way I was planning, expecting or hoping.

He’d made a way for us. He’d made a way for my daughter to avoid the very things that would have caused increased anxiety and deep disappointment. Instead, she was at home, enjoying a favorite video, loved on by her daddy and her sister got some much-needed time away from her sister and some one-on-one time with me.

It can be tempting to want to step into the place that God has and to answer our prayers our way. I was working diligently to manipulate the circumstances, and God, to get my eight year old out the door for a fun day at the play place. But God knew better.

And this time, He showed me with amazing clarity exactly what that looked like.

Just one day, I’d begged Him. Just one day without all of this.

That is exactly what He gave us. That, and the reminder that my life is always better when it’s in His hands.

Winsome, Amazing Grace

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5)

What is it about Jesus that draws us to Him?

When He walked through the world, crowds followed Him and people crushed in around Him because they wanted to be near Him, to see Him, to touch Him, and to hear Him speak. They couldn’t get enough of Him.

I’d suggest it’s because there was a winsome quality about Him that was unlike the rigidity and line-towing condemnation of the religious elite, the Pharisees and Sadducees. He cared about people and they could feel it. Where the religious elite focused on the rules, Jesus focused on grace and unconditional love.

And often, he sought out the lost, the lonely, the misfits and the miscreants.

For example, when he walked through Jericho one time, Jesus befriended one of his culture’s lowest sinners: a chief tax collector named Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). Though the crowd was thick around Jesus, Zacchaeus, who was much shorter than the majority of the crowd, was intensely interested in getting a glimpse of this man called Jesus.

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We don’t know his motivation but we know Zacchaeus put a lot of effort into seeing Jesus that day on the road, including running ahead of the crowd and climbing up into a sycamore tree. Clearly, like everyone else, Zacchaeus had heard of Jesus, so perhaps it was nothing more than wanting to catch a glimpse of celebrity.

But I’d suggest it was something more.

I’d suggest Zacchaeus had a deep longing to be included, to be a part of something that mattered. Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector and that put him at the top of the lowest sinners and outcasts. Tax collectors were known for cheating people and getting rich by taking more than what was theirs. Perhaps, for Zacchaeus, his money and his things filled in for the connection to and relationship with people for which he truly yearned.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt like Zacchaeus at times, felt like I don’t belong, felt like I’m not sure how I fit in or if I fit in or where I fit in. And, like Zacchaeus, I’ve filled the hole where relationships belong with other things: busyness, Netflix binges, FaceBook scrolling, eating.

And, then, Jesus.

Jesus entered his town and Zacchaeus needed to see this man for himself and to be a part of this moment along with everyone else; the everyone else who typically shunned him and ignored him and judged him. When he couldn’t get through the crowd or see over the crowd, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a tree as Jesus neared the spot.

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Like Zacchaeus, I’ve needed to find Jesus, to see Him, to hear from Him, to be in His presence. And so I’ve climbed my own version of a sycamore tree, desperate to see this Jesus: an early morning prayer time, a late-night seeking from the dark bedroom of my 8 year old who can’t fall back to sleep, a teaching sermon on a podcast.

And, then, Jesus.

When Jesus comes to that sycamore tree, he stops and looks up and sees Zacchaeus. Because when we look for Jesus, He find us. And not only does Jesus see Zacchaeus, He calls out to him. There, in front of the crowd, Jesus chooses Zacchaeus, singling him out: “hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”

Jesus doesn’t say I’d like to stay at your house or I was wondering if I could stay at your house; He says must stay at your house. Jesus feels compelled to join Zacchaeus in his home and Zacchaeus receives him joyfully even as the crowd grumbles and rolls their eyes that Jesus would choose such an awful sinner to visit.

And, then, Jesus.

Jesus says the same to us in the same winsome way: must stay at your house. I see you and I am delighted that you are looking for me. Here I am. Let’s spend some time together.

Will Zacchaeus be received better by his neighbors now? Will Zacchaeus now be included instead of excluded? We don’t know but I would suggest that at least he will find a place among others who were found by Jesus and His winsome, amazing grace.

I once was lost, but now am found,

Because Jesus.

Rejoice Always?

Habakkuk

This verse, read independent of its surrounding verses, speaks of joy and worship and delight in the Lord. And yet, when taken in context, it is an even richer testimony of faith and giving thanks in all circumstances, especially circumstances that appear less than, that appear intended to undermine our hope and our trust in God’s promises.

Here is the verse in its full context:

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. (For the choir director: This prayer is to be accompanied by stringed instruments.)”  Habakkuk 3:17-19 NLT

Read in the context of these surrounding verses, the fact that the writer exclaims his vow to rejoice in the Lord as well as to be joyful takes on a much different interpretation, doesn’t it? It’s one thing to rejoice in the Lord because He is the Lord; it is another thing altogether to rejoice in the Lord despite circumstances under which we typically would not give thanks or be joyful. Under circumstances, in fact, that might cause us to shake our fist at the Lord rather than to give Him thanks.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty. Did you catch that phrase? Even though.

Of course, the things described within these verses do not hold as much meaning for us as they did for the writer, but we have our own lists of things that are equally important to us, don’t we? Things that define who we are in the world and to the world: our job; our income and finances; the home in which we live; the cars we drive; the successes we’ve had; the accomplishments of our children. The list of what matters to us and what defines us is long.

And from within the comfort of the things on these lists, it is easy to give thanks and be joyful. But, what if that list of things begins to dwindle? What if the even though statements the writer makes in these verses were applied to us and our list of riches and blessings?

Even though I lose my job and do not know what tomorrow brings;

Even though our income is cut or our finances take hits because Wall Street falters and stocks plummet and we thought we had it all figured out;

Even though we lose our home and our cars and we all we can do is declare bankruptcy;

Even though all we see is loss and emptiness and failure and fear, God is with us still and therefore we can rejoice and, yes, even be joyful.

God is our refuge and He is sovereign and He knows the number of hairs on our head. God is with us, still and always. Because He loves us and He cares intimately for us.

If we turn to Him, He is our strength. If we turn to Him, He will raise us up and lead us on paths of righteousness and we will see His goodness. Achievements and financial stability and carving out a niche for ourselves in this world are good things; but they don’t define us and they do not provide us ultimate security.

When we become a child of the One True King, we become so much more than a list of the things we have collected. We become an heir to the promises of the eternal, sovereign God. We become an heir to His righteousness and His kingdom. In other words, we are defined by His love, His grace, His delight in us.

Even though I have not all I thought I would or should, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

I pray that these words will remind you today how much you are loved and that the God who created the world cares intimately for you.

A Hope for the Ages

IMG_6048Five-Minute Friday: Hope. And go:

The things I hope for have changed through the years.

There were the hopes of my childhood:

I hope we go to the amusement park this weekend.

I hope my mother makes chocolate pudding for dessert.

I hope my friend feels better soon.

There were the hopes of my teenage years:

I hope he likes me.

I hope he’ll ask me to the dance.

I hope there’s no quiz in algebra today.

There were the hopes of my youth:

I hope I make a good impression.

I hope I make a difference some day.

I hope nobody finds out about this.

Now, there is the Hope of my daily life. A Hope born of grace and mercy and love and sacrifice; first in Christ, now through me, as a wife, as a mama, as a woman, as a writer. I hold it out and up and hold it fast because without it I would sink beneath the brokenness.

It is a Hope that burns in the dark valleys and the shadows of shame and guilt and doubt and fear.

It is a Hope that came as a gift more than 2000 years ago when God sent His Son into this broken and fallen and hurting world. It is a Hope born of blood and tears and agony and woven with the threads of Truth and pressed upon altars of stones and souls laid bare who have long waited in faith for the promises only Hope can bear upon its shoulders.

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(This post is part of Kate Motaung’s Five-minute Friday at Heading Home. She gives us a word and we write for five minutes. This week’s word: Follow)

How Then Shall I Live?

My husband, David, recently talked about having a life verse and I realized that even though I didn’t think I had one, I do. And it’s this one: Whatever you do, live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:27)

Phil 1-27

Reflecting on this, I also realized that too often, if I am not diligent, if I am not intentional, life will squeeze Jesus out of my mind. My focus will shift to the things of this world: me, my efforts, my needs, my ability to influence or encourage or stand out. And these things will not grow strangely dim like when I am focused on Jesus, but they grow bigger and more oppressive.

When I read the stories of Jesus, I so often identify with Peter; bold, impetuous Peter. The first to say he believed Jesus was the Messiah and the first to deny Him when Jesus was on trial. The first to be called to follow Jesus and the first to get out of the boat when Jesus called him.

But lately I’ve been thinking about what Peter’s life looked like after Jesus returned to His Father.

Did he just go about his life as if nothing was different for his having known Jesus? Did he go back to life as he knew it before he knew Jesus? Was he satisfied to go back to a life of fishing and mending nets and nothing more?

Or was Peter changed?

Did Peter live out his remaining days in a manner worthy of the Gospel? The book of Acts indicates that he did. His words, his actions, his life and even his death pointed others to the risen Christ and the Gospel of Grace.

And this prompts me to consider how I am living out my days. Am I living with an eternal purpose or with an average purpose? Am I pointing others to Jesus and His grace or am I calling out, “Look at me, look at me, look at what I’m doing.”

If I am honest, too often, it is the latter.

And so today I’m asking myself, what does it mean to live a life worthy of the Gospel?

Today I’m Looking Up

darknessFive-Minute Friday. And go:

It’s Good Friday.

Will you join me for a few minutes over here, by the cross.

Because I don’t know about you, but I need to see Him. I need to absorb this moment, His final moments.

Despite the chaos of life that swirls into a cacophony around me.

Despite the loudness and laughter and bickering of my two little girls.

Despite the messy living room and the surface clutter that beckons me to tidy up.

Despite the myriad demands on my time in this moment, I need to be right here. At the cross.

It hurts to look up, doesn’t it?

Sometimes, it hurts to look up instead of at the world around us.

But right now, I need to look up.

I need to see Him. To see Him in His pain. To see Him in His sorrow. To see Him gazing down with love despite what He is enduring in this moment for me.

For me.

I need to see His last ragged breath and to feel the darkness that descends as He breathes His last.

I don’t want to think about Sunday.

I don’t want to think about colored eggs or frilly dresses or candy or Easter baskets.

I don’t want to think about Hallelujah choruses or rejoicing.

I want to be here, like His disciples, and acknowledge this moment.

Because in this moment, for His disciples, there was no anticipation of the empty grave.

And I need that today.

I need that so that I don’t take lightly that Jesus died for me.

For me.

I need that in the middle of my ordinary life. I need to look up.

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(This post is part of Kate Motaung’s Five-minute Friday at Heading Home. She gives us a word and we write for five minutes. This week’s word: Good)

Truth Be Told

Isaiah 53-5

In the quiet. In the in-between moments of parenting two little girls. In my heart. Truth stirs and beckons to be heard.

Today is the day. Today is the day that the end of Jesus’ life and ministry began.

It began with a meal.

It began with the washing of His friends’ feet.

It began with serving and loving.

It began with grieving and pleading and praying. With praying with such fervor that His sweat was drops of blood.

It didn’t end there, but we don’t know that yet.

In fact, we don’t even know that the end is coming.

All we know as we sit at this table this evening with Jesus and break bread with Him is that we are celebrating. Celebrating the Passover.

But we are celebrating so much more.

We are celebrating His love.

We are celebrating that He walks among us.

We are celebrating God with us.

From where we are today, we know that we are celebrating His sacrificial love. His mercy. His grace.

But for right now, I choose to sit with Him at table and share this moment. To share one more moment with Him as He teaches and laughs and loves.

And later, when He falls to the ground in the Garden to plead with the Father, when He is arrested, when He is scourged, then I will choose to reflect on what it will cost Him. Then I will choose to reflect on all that He lost.

Then I will choose to reflect on all that I gained. That because of His death I am redeemed. That because of His death, I live.

That I live with Him and in Him and that I know Him and am known by Him.