When You Don’t Know What to Pray

My friends, there are many joys and blessings that are given to followers of Christ, but there are also many frustrations and heartaches experienced by individuals yielding to Him. Many know what it is like to lose friends—even within church settings—when they are serious about the Bible and their walk with Christ. Sometimes God permits dreams to be dashed into pieces or desires unfulfilled. Sometimes God allows things to happen which breaks one’s heart to the core. 

When these happen, one can find himself in a place of not knowing what to pray. After all, he has prayed many times, and he has confessed of any known sin. Why bother praying? What good is it? 

We are far more stubborn, idolatrous, and autonomous than we care to think or admit. While I am not saying every hurt which comes is a result of these, but we must take these into consideration. Jesus desires for us to desire Him above all else, but if we are honest there are often plenty of other desires and loves surpassing our desire and love for Him. It is easy to sing a song saying that He is all we want or need, but when one had persons, things, plans, hopes, and dreams taken from him, his sincerity of passionate singing is put to the test. What is one’s honest reply when God speaks to him, “Child, you still have Me”? It’s okay for the heart to break and for a person to experience grief. This comes with being human. God is not angry with a person feeling disappointed. sad, or even angry necessarily. However, will a person continue to trust God, and even love Him, despite the inner ache? Every true saint must experience this to some degree. But what does one do when they are so broken and wearied that they just don’t know what to pray?

We are like wild stallions who must be broken if we would desire to be used for God’s good purposes, and one of His good purposes is to conform us to the image of His Son—to make us more like Jesus. This is a painful process of squeezing, molding, pruning, chipping, grinding, and purging. Are you and I willing to let Him do what only He can do? Will you and I yield trustingly to Him, knowing He is God and we are not? Still, what if we do not know what to pray? We are told,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. ~ Romans 8:26-27

Go ahead and groan wordlessly. Cry, mourn, and grieve. Yield to the breaking, for it serves Kingdom purposes. If you and I should desire to be like Jesus, can we be so without hurt, disappointment, or suffering? Isaiah says, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” (53:3). And just as we benefit from His suffering (see Isa. 53:4-6), so others are helped by ours. We are told elsewhere,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

When you and I go through difficult situations, bombarded by perplexity, hounded by questions, and frustrated by the agony God gives comfort in mysterious ways. Sometimes all this seems senseless, heartless, and arbitrary. Yet, God brings you and I into the lives of others experiencing these, and we are able to be ministers to them, applying the balms of both grace and empathy.

What does any of this have to do with prayer? Everything! We are utterly dependent on God, but too often we really do not believe this. But when we do, we don’t always know how or what to pray. This is okay. Just groan. The Holy Spirit will intercede through these, and conform us more into the likeness of Christ in the process.

Friend of Sinners or Doctor Among the Sick?

My friends, I hope you have been having a blessed week.

It is often said of Jesus that He was a “friend of sinners,” but what is meant by this? Does this mean Jesus had a table in a corner at a local saloon, toking on cigarettes and while guzzling down brews with the boys, and flirting with the “ladies” of the night? Did He have a big tattoo of the temple on His back or a Star of David on His arm? Is this what comes to your mind when you hear that Jesus was a “friend of sinners”? Such thinking is preposterous!

The title wasn’t necessarily a compliment. In fact, from some it was said with disgust. “He’s hanging out with them? How revolting.” Mind you, Jesus did not take this as an insult. The writer of Hebrews says of those who are sanctified by Christ, “he is not ashamed to call them brothers” (2:11).

But how did Jesus see such situations? Did He see Himself as just one of the boys, one of the homies of the gang? To those who saw themselves as morally superior to others and who were critical of the company Jesus kept, He said,

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick … For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. ~ Matthew 9:12-13

When one goes to a doctor’s appointment, the doctor is not there to join in on the sicknesses, nor does he treat diseases as no big deal. He recognizes that those in his care are not healthy. Likewise with the Great Physician. Although He was to be seen with the sinners, He was not there joining in on their sins, nor did He treat their sins as of no consequence. Jesus recognized those around Him were extremely sick with sin. The prescription He gives is repentance—to turn from sin and to turn to Him.

My friends, each of us is infected with this virus called sin, and its symptoms are manifested in many ways: selfishness, pride, immorality, covetousness, lying, mean and belittling words, threats, violence, idolatry, laziness, partiality, etc. This disease is lethal. In fact, the Bible tells us that we were born into this world spiritually dead. Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus,

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world. ~ Ephesians 2:1-2

But our situation is not totally hopeless. In Jesus Christ we can have life.

He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. ~ John 8:23-25

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. ~ John 14:6

Some are turned off by Jesus’ exclusive claim. But if you were dying and a doctor said a certain pill or shot is your only chance of living, would you refuse it with such disgust? If, indeed, Jesus is the only way to Heaven (who else is like Him?), then why be offended for speaking truth? My friends, He offers Himself to you. If you do not know Him as your Savior and Lord, why do you continue to reject the One who loves you most?

The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the very foundation of Christianity. The apostle Paul states that apart from the resurrection our faith is meaningless. The resurrection is neither allegorical or symbolic, but literal! Jesus bore our sins on the cross, yes. But the grave could not hold Him! Death could not defeat Him! Our King is alive forevermore!

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. ~ 1 Corinthians 15:14, 20

There are times when we have little to give. Yet, if surrendered to God, even our little can go a long way. A warm smile, sincere smile, a kind note, a hug, a conversation over coffee, a listening ear, or an acknowledgment of someone’s existence and worth can go a long way. Society tells us we need “stuff,” but it is the little things that give us purpose and hope.

There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many? ~ John 6:9

Not Too Far Gone

My wife and I used to be involved in jail ministry. Those incarcerated are often viewed as monsters or worthless. While such a ministry has its challenges, my wife and I did not minister to monsters or worthless ones. We ministered to men who made poor choices, yet had families they loved and cared about. 

Many of the men we talked to grew up in the tough parts of a notorious city. Numerous times persons would tell us, “My daddy is a gangbanger, and my uncles, and my brothers, and my cousins are all gangbangers.” Such criminal living is all they have ever known. I remember looking at my wife one night and saying, “If I grew up in this city and all my family was gangbangers and drug dealers, I doubt my choices would be any bit different.”

Something that broke our hearts is how many men would say something like, “Don’t pray for me, I’m too far gone. But pray for my kid(s), that they don’t make the choices I’ve made and wind up here.” Numerous times we would have to tell them, “We will certainly pray for your kid(s), but you are not too far gone! Jesus loves you so much He died for you!”

No one, no matter what they have done, is too far gone if they truly turn from sin and turn to Christ in faith. The apostle Paul writes,

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. ~ 1 Timothy 1:15-16

Understand, Jesus is not a “get out of jail free” card. His love does not minimize the seriousness of sin or its consequences. However, His love and compassion reveal at least two things. First, they reveal the great value of the souls of people; and second, they reveal that human depravity does not come from a vacuum. Besides the complexity of original sin, there is the intricacies of personal makeup and various life experiences.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. ~ Hebrews 4:15

Perhaps you feel that you are “too far gone.” If so, Jesus gives this promise:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. ~ John 6:37

Do not let your fear or shame of feeling too far gone prevent you from responding to Jesus’s good and gracious promise.

Wonderful Love

The wonderful love of Jesus is quite welcoming of misfits, ragamuffins, and scalawags. He is not indifferent to our pasts, failures, hurts, or shame. While He will not condone sin, He is not harsh with one’s shortcomings. His love is all inclusive. His mission? To seek and find those who are lost (see Luke 19:10).

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. ~ Matthew 11:28-29

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. ~ John 6:37

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16

While His love is transcending, it is not intrusive. Jesus welcomes any and all who will come to Him in genuine faith, but He will not force His love on those who do not want it. His love is able to cover the most vile and evil of sins, but He will not force a person to loosen their grip on their beloved sin in order to take His saving hand. His wonderful love grants each of us the choice to respond it or reject it.

Jesus is gentle with persons. For example: Peter (who had denied Him); the centurion who had sent one of his servants (a foreigner); the Samaritan woman (a multi-divorced “half-breed” who was an outcast even of her own people); Zacchaeus (a tax collector, considered a traitor to the Jewish people; and the woman found in the act of adultery. Each of these received warm and honest acceptance from Jesus.

Still, Jesus did not pander to people or cater to their expectations. He let persons reject Him and His love. For example: the Pharisees and Sadducees (the religious leaders of the day); the rich young ruler (who wanted salvation on his terms); Herod (a leader addicted to his own lusts and who wanted Jesus only for entertainment); and Judas (who, apparently, was disappointed with the kingdom Jesus had in mind).

Nevertheless, Jesus extends His love to each of us. The question is, is His love worth surrendering ourselves and our sins? For many, this is too much, too demanding. Still, others feign to receive His love while holding firmly to their sin. However, in doing so, they have not really received anything at all. It is a shame that sin is so deceptive in that it can bring pleasure, all the while leaving so much destruction in its wake. Sometimes we are unaware of the destruction that it brings to others later.

But then there are those who do recognize the hideousness of their sins. How on earth can God love them? Oh, but He does, my friend! There is not a sin God is unwilling to forgive, if we will but look to His Son Jesus Christ in genuine faith.

I hope that you have come to know this wonderful love of Jesus!

Hope for Troubled Hearts in Troubled Times

The days in which we are living in are so uncertain. Some talk about a great economic collapse that will be felt around the world. In the midst of discussions and rallies crying out for peace there is so much anger, unrest, and violence. The news consistently reports acts of terrorism around the world. As the world grows smaller because of technology, ironically, people are feeling more isolated. And with Covid restrictions, there has been an alarming rise in depression and suicide.

Many questions are floating around. Will America experience another civil war? Is our economy going to collapse? What’s going to happen to churches and Christians? Will things ever return to normal? What is God doing? Is He even there?

When Jesus was speaking to His disciples, He is also speaking to us:

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. ~ John 14:1

 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. ~ John 16:33

We live in a fallen world, and Jesus teaches that as His return draws closer there is going to be a rise in lawlessness, lovelessness, and chaos. Just hearing this and observing the world around us can cause an increase in one’s heart rate and anxiety. Nevertheless, in Christ we can experience genuine peace.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. ~ John 14:27

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. ~ Philippians 4:6-8

While requiring self-discipline and effort, the key to acquiring His peace which He abundantly offers, we must fix our eyes on Jesus and not on the troubles around us. We must pray and bring our anxieties to Him, along with thanksgiving. We are granted so many blessings, but how often we take them for granted!  And finally, we are to shift our thoughts on what is true, lovely, pure, etc. How easily we can fill our minds with “stinking thinking.”

God’s people are not forsaken by Him—never! 

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” ~ Hebrews 13:5

Today, may your attention be set upon Christ, His sacrifice, and the living hope that only He can give. And may He grant you His peace that passes all understanding, and the richness of His presence.

Blessings upon you, my friends!

First They Came

In my previous post, “I’m A Patriot, but…,” it would seem as though I am saying the righteous are to be passive. However, just as in the days of Nehemiah, while there was certainly the need of prayer and repentance, there was also work to be done—and that work would be opposed by ungodly men.

Today, just as then, the godly are opposed by the ungodly and wicked. Still, there is much more happening behind the scenes that we do not see. The Bible reveals to us:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. ~ Ephesians 6:10-13

There is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9), and this is undoubtedly true concerning the schemes of evil. It is interesting how the wicked today accuse others as being “Nazis” (among other slanderous things), all the while it is they who use many of the very methods of Adolf Hitler to push their agendas (the use of controlling what was taught, use of the media, the stripping of rights, the use of the manipulated and brainwashed youth, etc.). Even though there were godly men such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer who saw what was happening, but those like him were viewed as the enemies. America is facing a similar situation, as wicked individuals who lust not only for power, but the advancement of a godless and evil one world government—a “New World Order.”

Many might be familiar with the poem I spun the following words from, but the truth remains. This is not about a political party, but a darkness rising to strip the rights, voices, and very personhood of a people. 

First they came after bakers and they did not speak out because they’re not bakers. 

Then they came after gun owners and they did not speak out because they don’t have or like guns. 

Then they came after pro-lifers and they did not speak out (although a percentage claim to be pro-lifers).

Then they came after conservatives and they did not speak out because they are not conservatives.

Then they came after Trump supporters (such deplorables!) and they did not speak out because they are not Trump supporters.

Then they came for Christians and Jews whom they have increasingly, brazenly mocked and they did not speak out because they are not Christians or Jews.

Eventually they will trample and rob them of their voice and freedoms and there will be no one left to speak out, and they will be greatly perplexed as they wonder, “What happened? We supported the very ones who trampled upon us!”

The nature of evil is not only that it is corrupt but it also corrupts, poisons, distorts, steals, and destroys (see John 8:44; 10:10). We are witnessing the rise of evil as it seeks to destroy the family structure, freedom, the Constitution, and personhood. It rages against Christ and all who would oppose, scoffs at whatever is holy and right, and tramples on whatever is sacred. This evil transcends political parties, and is not only being applauded but also assisted by many. Understand, evil hides beneath a cloak of deception until it gains the upper hand.

While the battle belongs to the Lord (see 1 Sam. 17:47), the godly and righteous are not to sit idly and do nothing. We must pray for God’s intervention, and we must repent of our own wicked ways (see Neh. 1). We must engage in this spiritual battle being waged and decry the deception, hypocrisy, greed, violence, and blasphemies taking place. My friends, if the plans of the wicked come to fruition, mark my words, misery will be afflicted on many. No, now is not the time to be slothful or passive. We must pray urgently, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and stand to fight. To do nothing is not only wicked in itself, but it is to passively join the ranks of the spreading evil. We are caught between a rock and a hard place, and whatever choice we make will have consequences. But know this, we stand not only for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren. If we do not challenge the evil that is rising, then we will deserve the misery inflicted on us. Let me be clear, finally, that this is not a call for violence; rather, the battle we wage is fought on our knees in prayer.

I Am A Patriot, but . . .

I am a patriot, but above this I am a Christian, a citizen of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. No, I don’t like seeing what is happening in our country, but I also know this hasn’t “just happened.” For years, as a country, we have defied and denied God in politics, entertainment, media, education, science, and even in many churches. Personally, I believe we, as a nation, have been experiencing judgment for quite some time (read Romans 1). Not only has the world rolled more deeply in the mire, but how much have we, as Christians, prayed and pleaded for revival and awakening? You hardly hear the words anymore.

With this said, our God remains sovereign. We can become irate, join together, and lift our guns and voices, but our efforts will come to nothing if, in fact, we are simply striving against God’s judgments. Oh, that God will give us hearts of wisdom in these dangerous days. Fellow citizens, of both America and Christ’s kingdom, we must humble ourselves, pray, repent, etc. Furthermore, whatever happens (which it might get really bad), we are still to be light in the darkness, salt amidst all the rot, balm for the hurting, and evangelists to the lost, directing (and praying—even for our adversaries and persecutors) them to the Lord who died for us all.

We desperately need the wisdom and love of Christ. With all that is happening in our country and world, may the Holy Spirit help us to respond appropriately, to not lose our heads but to remember our higher priority must always be to Christ and His kingdom, regardless what happens in the here and now, come hell or high water.

Let us bow our knees and hearts, lift our gaze, pray, and seek His face. Apart from these no good can come from our anger (see James 1:20).

A Word of Encouragement for Someone Who Needs It

I do not know who this is for, but I feel the need to write this for you. Darkness feels like it is prevailing and the flame of hope seems close to flickering out. I do not know what you are going through—loneliness, bullying, guilt (false or real), financial ruin, a break-up, job loss, excommunication, or something else. Whatever you are going through, you might be toying with the idea of taking your life. While it might not seem like it now, please know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Your life is worth the living and you have so much to offer a world that is also hurting.

I am not going to tell you I know how you feel. I can only say that you are not alone in feeling such hurting. A couple of years ago I was in a pit of darkness that I could not get out of. Although I am a Christian minister, God seemed to be a million miles away, leaving me to wither in the darkness alone. I felt friendless and forsaken. It seemed anything I touched was damaged. Guilt, shame, regret, and a sense of failure rumbled like thunder within my mind and soul. I longed to die. I found out later that I was beginning to have a plan in place (to take my life) without realizing it. I came very close to being hospitalized due to severe depression.

In time, light did begin piercing the darkness and God displayed His faithfulness. While all the pain did not go away, I have found there are so many who are hurting too. My friend, whoever you are, please know that you are not truly alone. I hope you will hold on. Light will shine again. All this shall pass. Your life is worth the living. Most importantly, there is hope in the Lord. Look to Him with trust. He will get you through. Also, what you are feeling is not a sign that you are weak; rather, it signifies you are human. Hang in there, friend, you are worth it.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255