Passive Prayer

I found out today that I am somewhat of a “passive-prayer”, or what is more generally known as a “worrier”. Let me give you an example:

A few months ago my company decided to issue a mandatory furlough for all employees during the last week of July. This week long furlough was mandatory time off without pay. Due to the economic situation, they decided to take this approach to saving money as opposed to having another layoff. In effect, this furlough is basically a 2% yearly pay cut (1 week/52 weeks = 1.9%), or a 22% pay cut in the month of July (5 days / 23 total days in July = 21.7%). For most this news was alarming in the fact that despite getting a week off of work, you would be missing half of your paycheck come August 1st. This could mean in an extreme case that it could be tight on paying bills, or in a less extreme case that you have less spending/saving money that month. For us, it meant that we were going to have to plan ahead for a few months in order to ensure that we wouldn’t feel this mini-deficit as hard. I took it in stride at first, almost happy to receive a week off. Then as the weeks went on, I started to do calculations to see how difficult it could be for us making our mortgage payment in August. I trusted that God would provide during that week. And I believed that everything would be fine and turn out okay despite missing nearly 22% of our July income. I didn’t have a problem trusting in God on a grand scale about this, but I had some small doubts about paying all the bills on time and buying diapers and going to family nights at Chic-fil-a. So I started to say quick, small, prayers in the back of my mind. These prayers sounded like this:

“God, I know that you will provide for us. I know that you are in control…. But I don’t know what to do about this furlough thing. Thanks God. I love you.”

“Father, I love you….Thank you for giving me a job. I love you for that… What’s going to happen in July? Should I try to find some other form of income?”

“God, you are good. You are holy. Thank you for loving me. I trust in your provision… but, how is this furlough thing going to play out God? What will I do if I don’t pay my entire mortgage payment?”

I found out two weeks ago that the mandatory furlough was cancelled and we do not have to take a week of without pay. PTL!! (Praise the Lord, in txt language) I was relieved to find out my prayers were answered. I was talking with a friend this morning about this and how I’m happy that I’m not going to be missing out on a paycheck after all. I said that I hadn’t prayed aggressively about it because I knew that God would take care of us in some way. I had only prayed passively about it. And when I said I “prayed passively”, he said that I was just basically worrying about it and not actually praying at all. I paused for a moment. Hmmm…. He was right. I hadn’t prayed at all. God didn’t answer my prayers because I never really prayed. I just worried about it. I wasn’t depending on God, I was depending on myself and my checking account and my savings account and what the world could offer. I hadn’t depended on God and relied on God to provide, I was just worrying about it and passively praying about it. Interesting huh? You see, I don’t depend on God because I don’t have to. Why do I have to depend on God? I feel safe without depending on God. I feel safe when passively worrying. I feel safe when slightly offering up my anxiousness to Him. I feel safe with what the world can offer. That isn’t biblical at all. In contrast, the early church depended wholly on God because they had to…they didn’t have 401K’s, grocery stores, savings accounts, two vehicles for transportation, hospitals, brand new lawn mowers for their yards, refrigerators with ice machines in them, direct deposit, laptops with wifi, clean drinking water, neighborhood watch programs, freezers in the garage full of frozen meat. We have all that so we don’t have to depend on God, we depend on ourselves. We create ways to kick God out of the realm of our dependency. Who needs God when you got a BlackBerry and health insurance?

Don’t get me wrong. BlackBerries are all well and good. I have one. And it’s okay to have all that stuff listed above and more, it really is, as long as we are overflowing with thankfulness and gratitude – and overflowing with HUMILITY towards the gracious, loving, merciful Father of Lights, Glory, and Hope. And that humility should drive us to aggressively pray for dependence on Him and not ourselves, our house, our world, our society, or our miniscule checking accounts. And if something is hindering your dependence on him, get rid of it. We need to be overflowing with thankfulness and gratitude for everything that we have been given and entrusted with. Having thankfulness and gratitude promotes humility. And being humble promotes dependence on God. God shows grace to the humble.

Colossians 2:6 – “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

Proverbs 3:33-34 “The LORD’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous. He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.”

A Fierce Battle

Today, Kristen is in the midst of a fierce battle. There will most definitely be crying and screaming and defeat and possibly the pulling of hair. But there will also be clapping and rejoicing and hugging and victory. That fierce battle will consume her emotions and spirituality. She will be stretched thin and made vulnerable to weakness and surrender. She will be fighting with all her strength and mental tenacity. It is tough and harsh battle located in the rough terrain of life. The struggle began this morning and will continue as long as it takes until the gloriousness of victory is at hand. The sweat and tears shed today will ultimately build character and discipline. She is in the battle, head first, determined, unwavering, and armed for the worst. I on the other hand, am far removed from the battlegrounds. I can only imagine what the front lines look like right now. And what is this fierce battle you ask? This fierce battle is none other than the infamous, the notorious, the legendary battle known as: Potty Training.

I will not be able to provide physical support or backup today for this fierce clash, because luckily I am at work. But what I can provide might be of upmost importance – more important than the actual fighting and gnashing of teeth – and that is prayer. I must pray continuously this morning without ceasing. I am like Moses in Exodus 17 up on Mt. Horeb with my hands lifted high holding the staff of God. And Kristen is like Joshua down in the valley fighting the battle against the Amalekites. As long as Moses’ hands were raised high, Joshua and the Israelites prevailed. As soon as Moses lowered his hands, Amalek prevailed. The core of the battle wasn’t on the frontlines at all. It was actually up on the mountain top with Moses. I have to pray for victory and lift my hands up to God. I will pray for understanding and learning and celebrations. Kristen is armed with Dora fruit snacks, Capri Suns, M&M’s, stickers, goldfish, and the most beautiful Elmo training toilet you have ever seen. We are all on new ground here, experiencing new emotions and thoughts. So pray with me for my wife. Pray that she finds tranquility and communion today in the midst of this necessary struggle. Her peace and joy will be threatened today by frustration and possible small setbacks. But, perseverance is key. Discipline and character will be the natural results of that perseverance. And pray with me for my daughter. Pray for learning and understanding. I am already so proud of Kristen and Ella. By 7:30am this morning they had already plunged deep in combat –so I must keep my arms up.

Pictures

I love this little outfit of Ella’s. I have been waiting for her to be able to wear it. It is a little Nike tennis skirt and shirt. I bet Ella would play tennis like John McEnroe – throwing the racket all over the place.

Tennis anyone? Hey Buffy, ha ha ha.


Ben is the most smiley baby in the world. Just make eye contact with him and he will light up like a firecracker. He can’t control his smile sometimes and it turns into a convulsing body move like something you would see on the show So You Think You Can Dance.

Well Done Good and Faithful Servant

I am not perfect. Far from it actually. I constantly deal with pride and fear. I constantly deal with being the husband that my wife needs me to be for the sake of Christ. I constantly deal with passivity as a father. I constantly deal with self-dependence and not relying on God. I constantly deal with complacency and laziness. Should I go on?

I have studied a lot lately about the Israelites going into the Promised Land in Canaan in the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua. The reason the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years and the reason Moses and that whole generation didn’t enter into the Promised Land wasn’t because they were constantly dealing with some sort of sin in their lives. It was because of their unbelief in the power and sovereignty of God. Hebrews 3:7-19 says:

7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'”

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice,do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

I don’t want to wander around and end up with my body falling in the barren wilderness when my true home lies in God’s rest, the Promised Land. The Israelites didn’t need to be perfect to enter into Promised Land. They just needed to believe. I don’t have to be perfect to enter into the Promised Land, I just have to believe. Matt Chandler, pastor at Village Church in Texas, said this, “If you’re waiting until you’re perfect to live life on mission, you’re going to die without much mission.”

God wants to use ordinary, uneducated, common sinners to go on-mission to redeem the world. Acts 4:13 says, When they [the Jewish Sadducees] saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. If you believe in Jesus Christ as your savior and redeemer who died on the cross for your sins, then Jesus is with you just like he was with Peter and John. Take hold of God’s grace and believe. Believe, and enter into God’s Promises and live a life worthy of this response: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)

The Johnson Project

Our neighbors across the street, the Johnson’s, have two dogs. Both are about the size of my two month old son. But I think my son could take them. Have you seen him lately? He is a tank. Like a tiny Michelin man. Well, Ken and Renee Johnson are almost done building a fence in their backyard so that they can let the dogs out back without chaining them up. This fence project got grouped in with a garden project, a patio project, a small deck project, a sitting wall project, and a triple-bypass open heart surgery project. The heart surgery thing was a surprise. Most projects come with their fare share of small surprises, but open heart surgery is no small surprise. A small surprise would be finding a ten dollar bill in your jacket pocket, or getting 20% more shampoo for free, or finding a mechanical pencil with an eraser that’s bigger than the size of a large ant that you can use more than 2 times without it falling out and basically ruining the worthiness of the pencil altogether. Heart surgery is a big surprise. And one of the things that you are supposed to avoid when you are in need of heart surgery is… stress. And one of the things that automatically comes with multiple projects at the same time is… stress. Not a heart-healthy combination huh? So in the wake of Ken’s surgery he attempted to assemble a crew of workers to finish all the projects, which have a tight deadline due to some events happening later this summer (i.e. his son’s wedding). Over the last three weeks he was able to band together multiple laborers from several different walks of life. Ken was intent on getting laborers from different churches, different communities, different streets to join in the work together. There were 6 laborers from my church, 3 laborers from our small group study, 2 laborers from Ken’s daughters circle of friends, 3 laborers from our street, 2 laborers from my circle of friends, and Ken’s three sons. That is a small battalion of laborers all combined to work towards the same goal. Each laborer came when he/she could and spent time working in Ken and Renee’s backyard. Ken wanted to combine communities and churches and lives in his backyard. I was encouraged by the underlying purpose in this. It was to promote community and love between people whose paths would not have crossed had it not been for his failing arteries. He desperately needed the help too, otherwise his backyard would still look like Home Depot’s outdoor projects section with piles of stone, wood, dirt, and bricks. Just a bunch of piles, with nothing to show for it.

The foundation of the Johnson Project, as I will call it from now on, is very profound. I was reminded of that foundation this morning during my weekly Tuesday morning coffee meeting my old college roommates. The foundation of the Johnson Project is from Philippians 1:3 when the Apostle Paul says:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Ken Johnson had created a partnership in his backyard. And his goal was to mix people together with the purpose of co-laboring together. Not to work at odds or to work separately, but to mingle together and blend communities. This is similar to the work that church communities should be doing. I have the privilege of staying close with my college roommates. We have a strong friendship bond that goes deep. But, we all attend separate churches. The four of us all currently live within a 5 mile radius of each other in Cuyahoga Falls, but we all belong to a different church community. We are all fully invested into each of our communities. And on Tuesday mornings we converge on Starbucks to chat over grande coffees. This morning Jarrod mentioned that we are co-laborers for the gospel despite the fact of where our tithes go. He encouraged me through this scripture passage from Philippians and by offering up himself in anyway needed for my church. And I did the same for him. We are partners for the same gospel, the same God, the same Savior. And we don’t want to miss out on feeding off of each other and providing support for each other whether it be encouragement or insight, a service project, prayer, a time commitment, or even a financial need. Church communities should be networking more and uniting together for the sake of Christ. The “unchurched” (and even some “churched” people) often see churches as separate entities, at odds, working against each other, even competing in some ways. What does that say about the gospel? What would Paul say in a letter that he would write to the churches of Northeast Ohio? Would he be exhorting or rebuking? We need to pray more for the churches down the street – the churches you pass by in your car, reading the marquee sign out front with the awkward message – or the large church you pass by with massive children’s ministry. There is a person who faithfully goes out each week and changes that marquee sign. He/She is your partner in the gospel. There are volunteers that sacrifice time and money to serve the hundreds of kids in the massive children’s ministry. They are your partners in the gospel. Don’t pass by a church without praying for them. Don’t dismiss the efforts of other churches as petty or out-dated. Pray with joy that they are partnering in the gospel with you and be confident in the work that Christ is completing there.

The gospel has come to you on it’s way to someone else. And that responsibility is true for all churches. So, co-labor, combine, mingle, unite, merge, and partner with each other. The Johnson Project was successful. Ken had a vision for what it was going to look like. And he was confident that God would work in the midst of his ailing heart and ailing backyard – to the glory and praise of God. He realized that we are all partners in the gospel. Paul prayed for the church in Philippi, his partners in the gospel, and this was his prayer (Phil 1:9-11): that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.