My Buddy Bart

Let me ask you a little question. When was the last time you prayed? I mean really prayed. This morning? Last night as you put your kids to bed? Lord, PLEASE let them stay in the bed this time. Not too long ago, my answer to this same question at any given time would’ve been this: the last time I prayed was whenever I needed something I couldn’t make happen for myself. Shockingly enough (<–that’s sarcasm), that’s not at all how our prayer lives should exist. To help make my point about what God’s been teaching me recently about prayer and how my prayer life should look, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Bart. My buddy Bart–that’s just what I call him ’cause we’re buds; his real name is Bartimaeus–used to be blind. Yep! It’s true. He was blind until an encounter with Jesus healed him and restored his eyesight.

The story of blind Bartimaeus can be found in the tenth chapter of Mark, verses 46 through 52. Because it’s only a few verses long and because there are critical details within those verses that we really need to discuss, please take a quick second and read the following story so that my buddy Bart can become your buddy Bart.

46 Then they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar…was sitting by the roadside.

47. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, saying Jesus, Son of David, have pity and mercy on me [now]!

48. And many severely censured and reproved him, telling him to keep still, but he kept on shouting out all the more, You Son of David, have pity and mercy on me [now]!

49. And Jesus stopped and said, Call him. And they called the blind man, telling him, Take courage! Get up! He is calling you.

50. And throwing off his outer garment, he leaped up and came to Jesus.

51. And Jesus said to him, What do you want Me to do for you? And the blind man said to Him, Master, let me receive my sight.

52. And Jesus said to him, Go your way; your faith has healed you. And at once he received his sight and accompanied Jesus on the road.

As it turns out, you and I have a couple of things in common with Bartimaeus: we both have needs that we can’t meet ourselves; we both have desires that must be taken to Jesus; we both agree that Jesus is a healer, a restorer, and He alone can solve our problems. But oftentimes, I realize, I’m not as smart as Bart. Oftentimes I try to “regain my sight” of my own power. Thankfully I have a Heavenly Father who is too interested in perfecting my faith to let me stay as I am. And lately, He’s really been working with me to develop a more substantial prayer life, one that sustains and emboldens my relationship with Him, instead of one that comes and goes as needs arise. It was during this time that God led me to this story about Bartimaeus and some of the very substantial lessons it teaches His children about prayer.

Per my usual, let me give you a little precursor before delving into the few points I want to make. First, I have always prayed. HOWEVER. My prayer life has ebbed and flowed depending upon my circumstances. Over the last few years I have gotten better about my prayers; I’ve prayed more often, prayed for more people, asked for God’s voice and spent time listening, but I’ve always struggled with the consistency. For me, part of the issue is that Nathan and I pray together every night before going to sleep. We pray for everything from our daughter to our friends and family, even offering up prayers for celebrities whose lives appear to be floundering. (They’re people, too. We got you, Demi Lovato!) Just being completely honest, I sometimes felt like that was enough. Actual truth: it is not. God wants personal time with each of us. Yes, PRAY OUT LOUD TOGETHER WITH YOUR SPOUSE! (Your marriage depends on this!) But don’t let that be the only time you spend with God. In other words, don’t be like Lindsey. Be like Bart. And speaking again of our joint friend, let’s take a minute to see why God felt it necessary to include his story in our Bibles.

So what exactly can we learn from a blind beggar’s story?

1. Speak up and speak out…loudly if necessary.

*In verses 47 and 48 above, the Bible says that when Bartimaeus heard Jesus was coming, he began to shout to the Lord. It also says that many around him tried to shut him up, urging him to be quiet and get it together in the presence of Jesus. But did Bart get self-conscious or start questioning his own faith? NOPE! It says he cried out even louder. Take that, haters! Y’all, we have GOT to be like Bartimaeus here. We must call out boldly to our Lord when we need Him. In fact, we must get to the point where we are willing to risk it all if necessary to be in the presence of Jesus. If those around you shame you or try to quiet you into apathy about your needs or desires, do not let yourself be held back; do not let your faith atrophy because you are afraid to exercise it in the presence of others. SIDENOTE: if the people you’ve surrounded yourself with make you feel uncomfortable about crying out to Jesus publicly or boldly, it is time to reconsider your relationships. (Amen? Amen.) Friends, big faith is born of taking big risks in the name of Jesus. When we have unmet needs, we must speak up. We must cry out, and we’ve gotta get okay with getting loud if need be. Jesus isn’t afraid of our voices. We shouldn’t be either.

*With regard to this same point of speaking out, it’s absolutely necessary that we purposefully vocalize our needs before God. WE CANNOT EXPECT GOD TO READ OUR MINDS AND CONSIDER THAT PRAYER. It is not. Our prayer activates God’s power. It is not the other way around. We must step out in faith and call on our Father. We must tell Him what we need. Check out verse 51 above. After calling out and being heard and recognized by Jesus, Bartimaeus approached the Lord, to which the Lord replied, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Um, hello. As if Jesus didn’t already know that ole Barti needed his sight restored. Of course He knew! But Jesus isn’t in the wish-granting, magic wand waving business. He requires and desires direct communication from us of our needs. What is it that you need from God, today? Have you been direct? Have you intentionally (and boldly and expectantly) approached God through prayer to ask very specifically for what you need? Simply wishing this, that, or the other will change isn’t enough. We’ve got to speak up, speak out, and verbalize what we need. Yes, God already knows, but our sitting and waiting on Him to answer prayers we don’t offer up is foolish. At the risk of being redundant, our faith activates God’s power. Prayer is an excellent projection of that faith (even if it’s a tiny mustard seed of faith). Speak up, friends, and be specific.

2. Share your outcomes!

*I’m sure we all know that AMAZING feeling when we’ve been praying and praying for something that finally we see come to fruition. What a joyous weight-lifter that is! But how often do we see and feel the hand of God move in our lives, only to keep quiet about it? After Jesus healed blind Bart’s sight, the story closes with this statement in verse 52: And at once he received his sight and accompanied Jesus on the road. You’re probably substantially less dense than I am and have already realized the significance of this last verse, but it took my slow self three full readings of this story before seeing it. After my second read-through, I thought the ending was kind of anti-climatic. I mean, here’s this guy who is blind, who gets loud and boisterous despite being hushed, who cries out to Jesus faithfully in his time of great need, who is fully healed for crying out loud (you see what I did there!), and then all of a sudden Jesus and Bartimaeus leave and the story ends. I couldn’t make that make sense. So I tried again, and…lightbulb! Bartimaeus accompanies Jesus on the road. Do you think for one second that our good buddy Bart went with Jesus on to the next stop and never told a single person about what Jesus did for him? NOT. A. CHANCE.

*You and I must do as Bartimaeus did. When we cry out to God, when God hears us and answers, we have a duty. It’s our job as His children to further His Kingdom, to win souls for Heaven. Y’all, answered prayer can do exactly that! And it doesn’t even have to be our own answered prayer. Yes, the prayers that you offer up and receive answers to are definitely used by God to strengthen your relationship with Him and build your faith, but your testimony can be used to build others’ faith, too. Share your story! Share your victories and help others understand that if God helped you, He’ll help them, too. Accompany Jesus on the road. Help spread His message so that others can see Him better.

~~~~~~~~~

While praying over this blog post, I asked God to help me communicate His message through it. The two points above are those from the Bible reading that I felt He’d placed on my heart. However, I also felt Him leading me to two others that weren’t necessarily from Bartimaeus’s story, but points that are definitely biblical truths about prayer. {Serious voice} Let us continue.

3. Don’t forget to praise God!

*As believers and children of God who want to grow closer to Him and get to know Him better, it’s crucial that our prayer time not be simply a presentation of needs. Yes, as we’ve seen, God truly desires that we bring our needs and lay them expectantly at His feet. However, if all we ever do is come before God with a “laundry list” of wants and needs we’re missing the point of prayer. If all we ever do is come to God ONLY once we’ve exhausted our own resources and avenues, we’re missing the point of prayer. Friends, PRAYER IS POWERFUL! Prayer was created by the CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE so that you and I could personally contact Him any time we wanted. Take that in for a second. But if we only ever exercise this immense privilege as a last resort or when we need something, we are handicapping our relationship with God. This is a lesson I’m currently in the very midst of learning, but it’s one of those that I can already tell is a HUGE game-changer in my walk with Jesus. We must devote time to simply praising God, regardless of what our circumstances look like. Y’all, I am testifying to this first hand: Praise is a heart-changer. It strengthens our bond to the Father in a way that nothing else can. It changes us from the inside out in a way that simply getting an answered prayer (that we quickly move past and often forget about) cannot.

*Recently I found myself praying about an overwhelming situation pretty often. On one hand I was doing well–I was taking my issues to the Lord instead of trying to work things out in my own power. But I was missing the boat still. I was so focused on what I needed and how much I needed and showing God that I was doing what I was supposed to (look at me, God! I’m praying and showing I have faith. Look, look!) that I forgot to praise God in the midst of my storm. I felt so convicted about my behavior that I decided for the next day, despite a great need, I would offer up only prayers of praise. Instead of begging for God’s hand, I simply thanked Him for His power. Instead of calling Him into action, I simply thanked Him for the work I was determined to believe He was doing even though I couldn’t see it just yet. I even made sure to thank Him for the incredible privilege of being able to cast my cares onto His shoulders so that I didn’t buckle under their weight. Words cannot describe the impact those prayers of praise had on me. No, my situation didn’t immediately change. But my heart did. I am not articulate enough to describe the internal shift within me after purposefully choosing prayers of praise, but I can promise you that if you’ll do the same, it won’t take long and you’ll know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.

LAST ONE! Hang in there!

4. Be real and get real

*Can we all just agree to talk like normal human beings when we talk to God? I promise He can still understand you if you hum-haw around or stutter or talk in circles. You don’t have to sound like the King James Version of the Bible in order to get your message across. You don’t have to sound like Beth Moore for God to answer you. Just be you. Say normal words in a normal way.

*Also, tell God what the REAL you is feeling. Do you feel too overwhelmed or upset to pray? Tell Him that and let Him help you. Are you too exhausted (mentally/spiritually/emotionally?) to pray? Tell Him. Do you feel too confused, too sad, too crushed, too hurt? He understands. Just be up front. You don’t have to hide those feelings from Him. Try this with me: Father, I want to pray because I know Your goodness and might are exactly what I need the most, but, Lord, I just feel too hurt to get my prayers out. I don’t know what to say because my emotions are too strong right now. Help me, Lord. I don’t want to feel this way.

*Are you so busy and your life so cram-packed that you truly do not know where to begin with praying regularly? I mean, sure it’s easy for this person or that person, but they don’t have your schedule, am I right? They don’t have your responsibilities. Let me ask you this: Have you talked to God about that? Here’s a start: Father, I truly desire to spend more time with You, but I don’t really know how to make that happen. Can you help me, please? Show me times in my day, Lord, that I can use for prayer. Help me, Father, to be obedient in using those times you show me to communicate with You in prayer instead of doing other things. Thank you for your help, Lord.

Before I close, let me apologize for this post being so lengthy. The topic of prayer is such a personal one because of how intensely God’s working with me on it right now, and obviously I had lots to say. If you’ve made it this far, thank you. You guys all bless me more than you know. Until next time…

Dear Lord, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the privilege to come to You in prayer any time. Thank you, Father, that I can be myself, that I can speak plainly and You will still appreciate my words. I want to do better with my prayer life, but I need Your help with it, Lord. Help me to seek You, not just what You can do for me. I love you, Lord, and I desire to be closer to You. I recognize that prayer is how to do that, and I ask that You work with me and within me to refine this area. You are so good, God, and as Your child, I worship You. It’s in Jesus’s name that I pray. Amen.

How To Be Miserable

Full disclosure: I have been struggling with my attitude lately. With the recent start of school, we have faced some new challenges, and because they seem so large to my limited thinking, I’ve let myself get consumed by them at times. Per His usual, however, God has been making this trying time work for my good by helping me see how crucial time spent with Him in prayer is, and He’s leading me into losing more of my focus on myself (man, I am SO SLOW at this lesson!!!).

Recently I was listening to a Joyce Meyer sermon (Y’all, if you don’t already know, she has a FREE app with radio shows, full sermons with video, various resources, etc. GET. IT.), and she was teaching on the dangers of being so caught up in ourselves, specifically the dangers of self-centeredness. This really struck me because I wouldn’t describe myself as self-centered. But you know what? I am! I focus on myself, on my life, on my problems, and on my wishes a lot. A whole lot. Even an embarrassing amount at times. Through this sermon I really felt God pressing upon my heart the necessity of getting outside my own feelings and my own mind. I felt Him encouraging me to stop ruminating on my problems. Ephesians 5:15 says, “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.” Praising God is wise. Celebrating His work in my life is wise. Pushing my emotions to the side and not allowing them to dictate how I’m going to go through my day or my life is wise. Keeping my mind stayed on God, the fixer of all my problems, is wise. Allowing my circumstances and my emotions to determine my course for the day/the week/the month? Very, very unwise. And even more importantly, it’s not just unwise, it’s sinful!

So, after listening to this sermon, I broke out my pen and paper to write down a little good-humored list that Mrs. Joyce gave during her teachings. No matter what’s going on in my life, I can usually (and unfortunately) find myself doing at least one of these things. Even on days when things are going well, I find that this list is a great reminder of what to avoid so that I can be the best me and share God more vividly with others I come in contact with throughout the day. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (Prayer is below list.) So without further ado…

HOW TO BE MISERABLE (By Joyce Meyer)

*Think about yourself constantly.

*Use “I” as often as possible.

*Mirror yourself continually by the opinion of other people.

*Listen greedily to what other people say about you, and if it’s not what you want to hear, get angry.

*Expect to be appreciated by everyone.

*Be suspicious.

*Be jealous and envious.

*Be sensitive and easily offended.

*Never forgive criticism.

*Trust nobody but yourself.

*Insist on respect and consideration at all times.

*Demand agreement with your own views on everything.

*Sulk and feel sorry for yourself if people are not grateful to you for what you do for them.

*Never forget how much you’ve done for other people; think about it at all times….BUT, always remember what they have failed to do for you.

*Shirk your duty and seek at all times to entertain yourself, and do as little as you possibly can for other people.

Dear Lord, I see myself so much in this list above. I am so thankful, though, that I can come to You for help in getting over myself and that You always hear my prayer. Gently guide me, Father, so that I might be able to lose my grip on my own self-centeredness. I know that when I’m focused only on my life and my wants and needs I’m less useful to You. Help me to see those times when my focus needs to change, Lord, and help me be immediately obedient to You when You point those out. I love You, Lord, and I am so grateful to be Yours. Help THAT to be my focus, even when things are challenging and upsetting. Help me to keep my mind stayed on You; give me an attitude of gratitude, Lord. Thank You for the life I live, for my many, many blessings, and thank You for teaching me how to better serve You. I offer this prayer in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.

 

Put On Your Jesus Clothes

Turns out I’m a liar. Not an intentional one, mind you, but a liar all the same. At the close of the last blog post (part one about the resurrection of Lazarus), I told you that I’d have part two ready for you soon. Ha! Clearly four weeks later isn’t soon. In my defense, my only child did start kindergarten last week, so surely that buys me some good graces and extra time, right?? At the end of last week I mentioned something about really needing to get my blog completed, and my sweet child said, “Oh wow, you still haven’t written that yet? Part one was a long time ago!” Such an encourager.

So, in keeping with my long-ago issued promise, let me provide for you a part two. But first, let’s have a quick review since it’s been so long and so much life has happened you probably totally forgot I even write a blog. (Back to school shopping anyone? Start of new morning routines, yes? Heart palpitations and tears? No one else? Just me? Okay, great.)

As we left off in the post entitled “Don’t Get Fooled By The Stink,” we saw that Jesus fulfilled His promise to Mary and Martha by resurrecting their brother Lazarus four days after he was declared dead and subsequently buried. We discussed how important it is for us, as Christians, to maintain our faith in what God’s doing for us and in our lives, no matter how dead something seems. To us we might see our marriage as dead or our will-power as dead or our ambition or our job or our creativity as dead, but Jesus is the Resurrection. In John 11 we are reminded that NOTHING it too dead that Jesus can’t heal it and restore it, better than it ever was before.

But our story of Jesus breathing life back into Lazarus doesn’t end there. It doesn’t stop with his reminder to Martha that nothing is impossible for Him (John 11:40). For this second half, this final portion of the story, I want us to start with John 11:41-43. As is His usual, Jesus sets the example for us in how to approach any situation into which we need God’s divine intervention: He starts with prayer. He lifts His eyes, lifts His hands, and thanks His Father for listening even before a single action has been taken, before any stirring in the grave had begun. While this isn’t the main focus in this post, I’d hate for us to pass up the lesson here. How often do we begin praying with just a list of demands we’re bringing before God? How about instead of that, we start with thanking Him? I say we should get all manner of wild and crazy and even thank Him for answering our prayer before we ever even see any change! What?! I know, pretty wild. Consider what kind of faith that displays before God. And even better than that, it focuses us on worshiping Him, on recognizing His mightiness and His glory without our need to see Him “perform” first. More God, less selfish ambition. Such a simple yet excellent example.

Let’s get Brother Laz outta that grave, though, shall we? In John 11:43 it happens. The verse tells us that after Jesus prays, “He shouted with a loud voice, Lazarus, come out!” Bet you can’t guess what happens next…“And out walked the man who had been dead, his hands and his feet wrapped in burial cloths (linen strips), and with a [burial] napkin bound around his face. Jesus said to them, Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Okay, so we have officially made it to part two, our next step. Yes, we must thankfully and prayerfully submit our seemingly dead areas to Jesus, allowing Him to do what no other can. Yes, we must trust while we wait. But then. Then, when we see that He’s answered our prayer, that our formerly dead relationship/self-worth/career/hope has been resurrected, we must go one more step toward the land of the living and take off our grave clothes.

You’re right; our grave clothes don’t look like Lazarus’s. In place of the burial linens that, for Lazarus, symbolized his once-dead existence, we have negative qualities and emotions. We often wrap ourselves in those negative emotions during those  days/months/years we spend nursing our dead/dying circumstances, and sometimes, even once we walk out of those metaphorical graves, we keep those grave clothes with us. Jesus tells us, just like He’s instructing Lazarus, to take off those grave clothes.

What do our “grave clothes” look like, you ask? It’s pretty simple. We are wrapped for dead in those qualities and emotions that we incorrectly believe shield us, that we incorrectly believe protect us from more hurt, more disappointment. See if any of these sound familiar to you:

*Anger               *Bitterness                 *Rejection               *Shame

*Hurt                 *Guilt                           *Unforgiveness      *Distrust

*Worry              *Disbelief/Doubt       *Addiction               *Distractions

*Negativity/Pessimism                         *Isolation                *Hate

So what’s the truth? Do you see any of these “grave clothes” in your own life? While it doesn’t say this directly in the Bible, I feel pretty confident that Jesus didn’t resurrect Lazarus so he could walk this earth in misery, spreading his rejection (he literally died after all!), his bitterness, and his anger over how things turned out. There’s just no way that God has that plan in place for us, either.

So now what? If you aren’t dead anymore but you can’t wear those same negative emotions anymore, then what? Well, we get purposeful. We start thinking about what our lives should look like, what our attitudes should be like now that we’ve been saved (yet again!) by the grace of God. PUT ON YOUR JESUS CLOTHES, PEOPLE! Romans 13:14 states that, instead of living in the dark (or the dead), we should, “clothe [ourselves] with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Get rid of those stinky, moldy grave clothes and put on some Jesus clothes. That sounds great, but what exactly do these Jesus clothes look like, and where do we get them?

Throughout the Bible you’ll find example after example of Jesus’s own interactions with others, showing us how we should treat people, the ones we like and the ones we would rather not even look at. But for me, Colossians 3:12-13 provides a simple list of the characteristics of Jesus we should be wearing daily. It reads, “Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.” Maybe we could collectively decide that this list, along with the addition of a few more such as joy, gratitude, compassion, trust, and love is a pretty full wardrobe of Jesus clothes.

And, of course, that other question, where do we get these Jesus clothes, pretty much answers itself: Jesus. Y’all, we aren’t miracle workers. We get hurt and angry and bitter, and despite a desire to change those feelings, we just can’t get past them. So instead of deciding that you’ve been hurt and this is just how you are now, or you’ve been rejected and now you’ll never be loved again, how about we spend some time talking to the single most qualified person to help us clothe ourselves in a way that blesses our lives, the lives of those near us, and that glorifies the Savior who brought new life into our mess in the first place. This world and its issues cannot be handled without prayer. No relationship can be sustained, no body controlled without the help of Jesus. (Did you catch that? You literally CANNOT DO LIFE without prayer!) Yes, Jesus showed up for you (or will show up, if you’re still praying), but it’s our jobs to sustain that new life He’s given our dead areas. It’s up to us, now. It’s time to take off those grave clothes, pray to our Resurrector and Savior for His help throwing off all our old garb, and put on our Jesus clothes (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Yeah, okay, so maybe they’re a little scratchy, a little tight, a little uncomfortable at first. Hang in there. It may not be fast and it may not be easy, but those Jesus clothes will feel like years-old sweats in no time, and I can PROMISE you, no matter how long you wear them, you’ll NEVER be able to say that about those grave clothes. Friends, it’s time for an outfit change, don’t you think? I’m pretty sure that other one is starting to smell.

Dear Lord, as Jesus taught me to pray, thank You in advance for hearing my prayer, for always hearing my prayers. I ask, Lord, that You help me to throw off my grave clothes and clothe myself in You. I continue to pray that You breathe life into any dead areas in my life, just like You did for Lazarus, and I ask for help throwing off those negative emotions that might cling to me because of those areas. Help me to successfully trade those for the qualities of You, Jesus, so that I can glorify You with how I live my life. I want others to see what You mercifully did for me, to see that change in my life and my attitude as well, and to recognize that it can only have come from You. Thank You, Father, that in my weakness I can come to You, be made new, and have my “clothes” completely transformed. I love You, God, and I worship Your greatness and love. It’s in Jesus’s name that I ask these things. Amen.

(1 Samuel 2: 16) So stand still and see this great thing the Lord will do before your eyes now.

 

Don’t Be Fooled By The Stink

I feel like I have started off multiple blog posts by saying something like, “let’s try a little experiment,” and yet, here I am doing it again. (I am obviously incredibly spontaneous and creative.) Over the last few weeks, I have been mentally wrestling with the Bible story I’ve felt God leading me to address and the specific points within it that I hoped to make. I had too much I felt I needed to discuss; a good problem to have, but with a story that spans more than 45 verses, it was clear I had to figure out a more reader-friendly approach. CALM DOWN. I came up with a solution. I mean, who has time to read 45 Bible verses when all those unseen Facebook posts await, am I right?! (insert good-natured eye-roll emoji here)

In this post, I’d love for us to spend some time going over the story of Jesus resurrecting his good friend Lazarus, which can be found in John 11. So in order for us to dig deeper into the goodness of these scriptures, we’ll consider today a “Part 1” if you will, with “Part 2” to follow soon. Sound okay? As I told you…I’m super creative.

At the risk of repeating a story many of you already know, let me take a quick second and summarize our main characters and the situation taking place as we enter the 11th chapter of John.

We are back with our friends Mary (of feet-washing-with-her-hair fame) and Martha (of griping-about-her-sister-not-helping-in-the-kitchen fame), and they are urgently reaching out to their dear friend Jesus, asking for his healing help for their dying brother Lazarus. Because Lazarus is literally on his deathbed and because Jesus is the Messiah and because they are all three very dear to Jesus’s heart, they contact him for his help, fully expecting his immediate arrival and subsequent answering of prayer.

Verse four tells us, “When Jesus received the message, He said, ‘This sickness is not to end in death; but [on the contrary] it is to honor God and to promote His glory, that the Son of God may be glorified through (by) it.'” (Side note: Have a seriously sick friend? Are you dealing with a scary, challenging illness? This is a FABULOUS scripture to pray over it!) Now to me, this sounds exactly what I would expect Jesus to say. I mean, after all, his dear friends have reached out to him, asking for his healing, which he can easily give, and it’s all in an effort to save someone very special to him. I read a reply like that and think yep, Jesus has got this. But wait! In verse 6, it clearly says that although Jesus was aware this was a dire situation, he still remained TWO DAYS longer in the place where he was. Do what?! WHY???? Maybe Jesus knows something we don’t? (Um, yes, always true.) Maybe ole Laz isn’t quite as sick as his over-reactive sisters made it seem? Sadly, no. In fact, it was serious. It was VERY serious. “So then Jesus told them [the disciples] plainly, Lazarus is dead” (vs. 14).

Unfortunately, I know exactly how Mary and Martha must feel. They had been faithfully praying and praying for God to hear them, for Jesus to show up and heal, to prevent the death that was getting more and more eminent. And yet nothing. No arrival of Jesus. No healing of Lazarus. Only death, with its dark cloak and sharp scythe appeared at the door of their dusty home.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who knows what this feels like…to watch things within our lives that once were so full of life, so healthy, wither and practically die. Let me tenderly ask you today, because man does this subject often hurt, what in your life has that look of death, that feeling of hopelessness? Let me guess…

*your health?                *your marriage?               *your ambition?

*your career?                *a particular relationship or friendship?

*your self-worth?         *your will power/self-control?

*your relationship with God?               *God’s favor over you/your life?

*your future?                *a particular dream you’d held onto for years?

*your will to live?

Friends, Lazarus was IN THE GRAVE dead when Jesus finally arrived. In fact, he was so very dead (four days dead…with ZERO embalming fluid, might I add) that when Jesus approached Lazarus’s grave, which was basically a cave with boulder against the entrance, and demanded that the stone be rolled aside, the Bible says “Martha…exclaimed But Lord, by this time he [is decaying and] throws off an offensive odor…” (vs. 39). In all her grief and upset, Martha is so aware of the finality of her brother’s condition that she warns Jesus: What are you thinking, Lord? He’s gonna stink so bad! Amen, girl! This sounds like some common sense I can get behind.

What is your marriage, your career, your self-worth smelling like these days? Are you convinced that Jesus didn’t get there in time to save whatever it is you’ve been begging him to heal for so long? Mary and Martha felt just as you do, as I have. You’re too late, Jesus. I cried out to you, and you delayed getting here and now look! I’m too sick. The love between my husband and I is too far gone. My current circumstances have completely killed my dreams and plans. You’re too late, Jesus. It’s dead.

Y’all there is NEVER an absence of hope, of possibility, when it’s Jesus who’s in charge. You and I? We are Mary and Martha. We can pray all day and beg and plead, but ultimately, we have no power within ourselves. We can’t heal, and for those circumstances having already crossed over into the grave, we certainly have no ability to resurrect. But let me hook you up with someone who does. When you and I allow Jesus to handle our dying parts in His way, with His power, He fixes things that we swore could NEVER be fixed.

“Jesus said to her, I am [Myself] the Resurrection and the Life…” (vs 25). What in your life desperately needs The Resurrection HIMSELF? You see, for us, things look dead. For us, things even smell dead. But for Jesus, death is no big deal. He’s already overcome it. How can Jesus, who mastered death and for whom death holds no power, be limited by it? He. Isn’t. He. Cannot. Be. Don’t stop praying and expecting! Don’t stop taking to Him your marriage or your career or your zest for life simply because in your human weakness you have decided it’s past the point of help. Lazarus was dead for four solid days. He was buried and starting to literally stink. His skin would have been beginning to decay. But then Jesus arrived. Mighty, mighty Jesus. And he simply spoke, “He shouted with a loud voice, Lazarus, come out!” and out walked Lazarus (vs 43-44). Whatever you think is dead and buried, friends, it is not. There is nothing too far gone for The Resurrection Himself to breathe life back into.

And for those of you going through something like this, I’m sure you’re feeling hurt and frustrated and confused about why God is even allowing something like this to happen to you, to your family, to your body in the first place. Mary and Martha certainly were. When my marriage was all but dead despite our praying and our counseling and our trying (see previous post), I felt so abandoned. I felt like God had turned His head and His ear; I felt like, instead of coming to help in response to my urgent requests, He was staying those extra couple of days where He was, just letting death win. But He wasn’t. He just wasn’t on my schedule, and Satan used that to whisper doubt into my heart and my head. The same was true for Mary and Martha, and the same is true for you.

You probably feel like screaming WHY WOULD HE LET THIS HAPPEN?!, and I get it. I’ve been there. Chances are, I’ll be there again someday. But God knew we’d feel this way. In fact, if you read this Bible story carefully, He even explains Himself to us.

If you look back at verse 15, before Jesus ever leaves to go to Mary and Martha’s, after telling his disciples that Lazarus is already dead, he says to them (and he says to us, too), “And for your sake I am glad that I was not there; it will help you to believe (to trust and rely on Me).” My friends, God is most interested in our relationship with Him. If when we have a problem, we pray, He snaps His fingers and all is set right, we don’t develop much character and we don’t develop a very deep relationship with Him, do we? It would make us happier and it would make our lives easier, or so we think. But you know what? Sometimes God isn’t interested in only affecting you and your family through your challenges.

The Bible tells us that others’ lives were changed when they witnessed Lazarus’s miracle. Mary was changed, no doubt. Martha was changed, for sure. And there’s zero debate that Lazarus was completely changed. But a number of other lives were affected for God as well. “Upon seeing what Jesus had done, many of the Jews who had come with Mary believed in Him” (vs 45). Whether you realize it or not, people are watching you. They’re watching your decisions and your life and your faith. Because you are Jesus’s friend, because you are a joint-heir to the throne of God with Jesus Christ Himself, you are a testimony to His power and His love. Yes, Lazarus was dead. Yes, it appeared Jesus was too late. But God is never late. He’s never without the ability, and He’s always able to use any situation, any circumstance, no matter how stinky it might be, for His glorification. Will you let Him use you? Will you stop declaring a time of death and prepping for a funeral and instead let Him breathe the breath of life back into your life? Keep your faith, friends. Don’t be fooled by the stink.

Dear Lord, thank you so much that I can ALWAYS count on You, that I never have to believe that it’s too late for Your power to work. Father, I bring to You today those parts of my life that I’ve mistakenly declared dead. I ask that You do what only You have the power to do: resurrect them, please. Help me to keep my faith, to trust that You’re at work even when it’s impossible to detect. Use me, Lord, use my life and my situations so that others may witness You and Your goodness and grace. Father, help me to remain patient, to stand firm when challenges and trials don’t get resolved as I’d like. Heal my dead parts, Lord. May all I go through in my life ultimately bring You glory and honor. I love you, God. Thank you for hearing my prayer. It’s in Jesus’s mighty name that it’s offered. Amen. 

 

You Do You

Disclaimer: actual scripture-focused post coming very soon!

Each Wednesday morning during the summer months, our local library hosts an arts and crafts activity for young kids. My tiny buddy and I love these and have gone to them all. Last week, as we stood lined up in the hallway, awaiting the opening of the meeting-room door, I overhead two moms talking. Both ladies were mothers to 3-4 kids each, of varying ages, and both were wholesome-looking moms with natural faces and adorably messy mom-hair. They were discussing the quintessential “stay-at-home mom” topics: essential oils and diets free of unprocessed foods, gluten and sugar (by choice, not necessity). One of these moms not only managed to feed her children and presumably keep them happy while running a sugar-free establishment, but she even disallows sugar substitutes (i.e. Splenda, Stevia, etc.). Despite it being abundantly clear that this mom was a witch (maybe both moms?), I began playing that deadly game of comparison. Y’all, my kid eats a popsicle and a cookie EVERY DAY OF HER LIFE. She’s never met a Lucky Charm marshmallow she didn’t annihilate, and I can only pray she loves her future husband to the extent that she loves as a French fry. Compared to these moms (of more than one kid!), man, I was falling far behind the curve.

So, time came for us to go into the craft room and put together our mosaic. While waiting for my child to stop people-watching long enough to actually complete our task (she get it from her momma!), I happened to glance behind us where these two earth-mothers and their broods were clustered. One of the kids (of the sugar-nazi mom), a boy of about three years old, was sitting in the floor, very near a large dark stain that for my own peace of mind I decided HAD to be a previous crafter’s spilled drink. As I looked at him, this kid reached out, plucked a piece of something right off the top of that mystery stain, AND ATE IT!!!! Zero exaggeration. Obviously, I continued watching until I was finally able to determine what he found so utterly irresistible: paper. Yep, this child who ate only clean, unprocessed foods, who was refused sugar and sugar substitutes except on Friday night family nights, was eating pieces of paper straight off one of the nastiest, dirtiest floors in this city.

Now, let me clarify. We’ve all been there. If it’s not paper off the public library’s decades-old indoor/outdoor carpet, it’s a booger. I mean, kids are weird. They’ll eat anything. Seeing this, I had ZERO judgement toward this mom. Instead, this let me off the hook with regard to judging and comparing myself. No matter what it seems like to someone else, none of us are 100% awesome. None of us are total rockstars. But you know what? We try hard. That lady, those ladies, are doing a great job as moms. And as hard as it is to say it and as much as it chokes me on the way out, I’m doing a great job, too. Hey, you…yes, you…the mom who questions herself and feels inadequate pretty often…you are doing a great job too! We don’t all make the same choices, but that’s okay. We aren’t the same people, and we aren’t raising the same people. God gave us the kids He chose for us ON PURPOSE. No one could be the mom to your kid(s) that you are.

So for us here in the Thomas household, we’ll continue eating that daily popsicle, and we’ll have those cookies. As for those others folks, well, you do you, kid…eat that paper off the floor. All my money says you turn out just fine regardless.

Ps. Our mosaic took forever, but it turned out beautifully.

I Will Walk In Freedom

Happy 4th of July, everybody! I know you guys are all super busy, so I promise I’ll make this short and sweet. WHO JUST CLAPPED?!

I owe you guys a gigantic THANK YOU! A couple of weeks ago, just before Father’s Day, The Samaritan Woman blog had her very first birthday. There are no words (ironic indeed) to explain how grateful I am to those of you who have read even half a paragraph of what I’ve written. Blogging this past year has taught me about God in a way that I didn’t expect. He’s broadened my understanding of His character and His heart in such an expansive way, and because you’ve shared in this with me, I just wanted to thank you. I want to especially thank those of you who have read every single post, and if you aren’t related to me by blood or law and you still read every post, you get an even bigger thanks! This has been such an incredible blessing to me, and you guys are all so wonderful. I don’t feel God pressing me to stop the blog at this time, so I’ll just keeping reading and studying and sharing with you, if that’s okay. Thank you for being receptive to straight-forward truth that isn’t always very comfortable or pretty. Thank you for sharing the posts on social media so that others can read scripture, maybe for the very first time. Thank you for sharing the posts with your families. It still absolutely blows my mind that even one person would spend his/her time reading something I write, and I pray that God helps me to continue to find messages to share that are useful to you and relevant to what you’re going through. I am forever grateful for this blog experience, and that gratitude extends to each of you (all 5 of you) as well. 🙂   Just…thank you. Truly. From the bottom of my heart.

And while we’re on this topic of thanks, I’d like to take a second to thank any of you who might be reading this who serve, have served, or whose spouse serves in the military. You guys are beyond-words incredible, and you do what those of us living in the freedom you provide cannot do: you make it happen. I would like to take a moment before closing and simply pray over you and your families:

Dear Lord, thank you so very, very much for our military personnel and their families. Father, I ask that You provide Your mighty, mighty hand of protection over each of those serving our country, and I ask that You also protect their families back home in the wake of their absence. God, we lift them before You, asking a special blessing on them for the sacrifice they each make on our behalf. Thank you that You have personally selected each person and his/her family to do exactly what they’re doing, that You have a plan in place. We pray Jeremiah 29:11 directly over them, Father, that no harm would come to them and that You would deliver abundant blessings over each and every military family. We are so very grateful for the freedom to worship and live as we choose, and we take this moment to thank You and all branches of our armed services for that precious privilege. It’s in Jesus’s name that we pray. Amen.

And one last thing. Y’all, we know who is ultimately responsible for our freedom: Jesus. During this holiday, while we’re celebrating with our friends and family, let us take a moment to be grateful not only for the freedom that comes from being blessed to live as a citizen of the United States of America, but let’s intentionally lift a praise to the good Lord whose death set us free from the bondage that comes with being human. There are so many fabulous scriptures (constantly re-amazed at the gloriousness of the Word!) regarding the freedom that is provided for those of us who recognize Jesus Christ as our Savior. I encourage you to simply Google “Bible verses about freedom” and read those promises for yourself. But until you get the chance to do that, let me leave you with a few of those that really stood out to me. May we all take a moment to pause, recognize ALL of our freedoms, those provided by our military and our country AND those provided by our Savior. God bless you all. Thank you all so very, very much. Happy 4th of July, and may God continue to bless America (the land of the free and the undeserving)!

Psalm 118:5–In my distress, I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free.

Psalm 119:45– I will walk in freedom…

John 8:32–You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

John 8:36– So if the Son sets you free, you will really be free.

Galatians 5:1– So Christ has truly set us free.

2 Corinthians 3:17– Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

1 Peter 2:16-17– Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules. Treat EVERYONE you meet with dignity.     (Emphasis mine)

Go Again

This past Sunday was one of those days where nothing special really happened, but it was a glorious day all the same. It was one of the first weekend days in a while were my little family of three got the whole day to ourselves. We spent the day just playing and spending time together, but it was while we were outside in our “pool” (it’s a 4×4 blow-up kiddie pool that the adult–it only fits one at a time– must vacate if Her Majesty wants to “swim”) that I took a minute to simply praise God and be intentionally thankful. I was thankful for my covered back porch, for my shady backyard, for that $15 kiddie pool that was keeping my feet cool, and I was so overwhelmingly thankful for the sweet girl swimming around in it. My greatest thanks at that moment, however, went up on behalf of the amazing man I get to share my life with. Despite being enamored with all of his muscles, I was somehow able to look past those and think about his character, his heart, and all of the qualities that make him so wonderful. But before I cause you all to throw up in your mouths a little with more syrupy sweetness, let me fast forward. Somewhere between thinking about what a great husband and father Nathan is, I started thinking about what it means to be a godly man. That line of thought had me thinking about a couple of men in the Bible who are either a little less well known, as in one case, or almost too well known, as in the other, and what they have to teach us. So, a little more thinking along those lines, and here we are.

Now, I know that 99.9% of the twelve of you who read these blog posts are female. I know that men in the Scriptures get way more than their fair share of the focus, but bear with me. With Father’s Day right around the corner, it’s worth a deeper look at two men in particular; however, let’s worry less about the gender of these two individuals and more about the lessons they learned, and most importantly, what we can learn from them.

ELIJAH

There are many scriptures and stories in which Elijah is discussed, but for our purposes I want to focus on his story found in 1 Kings 18:41-46. I know this is kind of long, but let’s look at these verses together first.

“41 And Elijah said to Ahab, Go up, eat and drink, for there is the sound of abundance of rain. 42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 And said to his servant, Go up now and look toward the sea. And he went up and looked and said, There is nothing. Elijah said, Go again seven times. 44 And at the seventh time the servant said, A cloud as small as a man’s hand is arising out of the sea. And Elijah said, Go up, say to Ahab, Hitch your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you. 45 In a little while, the heavens were black with wind-swept clouds, and there was a great rain. And Ahab went to Jezreel. 46 The hand of the Lord was on Elijah. He girded up his loins and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.

I know that the constant “go up, go down” is a little distracting but try not to get bogged down. They’re on Mount Carmel, hence the upward and downward movement, and for our focus, it’s unimportant. We want to zero in on Elijah starting in verse 42. It’s clear that he’s separated himself from the others for the purpose of prayer. We see him bowing reverently before God, and although we don’t know what he asked of God, the following verses make it pretty clear he’s asked for rain. Here’s where Elijah’s behavior becomes so elevated beyond that of what you and I often do. He’s expectant and he has faith that God will bring him rain (that’s even apparent in verse 41). If you’re like me, you’re even good at this yourself sometimes: you go to God, you ask, you expect, you have total faith in His response. But a couple of days pass and still nothing. Around day three of waiting on God, we start backpedaling on our faith, wondering why God’s not answered, berating ourselves for not praying the right words or in the right way, blaming our mistakes for getting between us and that prayer we were so sure God was going to answer. Check out Elijah, though. He sends his servant to go see if it’s raining yet, and the servant comes back, “that’s a negative on the rain, sir.” And Elijah sends the servant again. Nope. And again. Still nothing. SEVEN TIMES Elijah says “Go again” in earnest anticipation before the tiniest cloud appears far out on the horizon, “a cloud as small as a man’s hand” as it’s described in verse 44. Take a second to search the above scripture again for missing details between verses 43 and 44. Surely God left something out, right? Surely there are major details here about what Elijah did every time the servant returned with a potentially discouraging report about Elijah’s as yet unanswered prayer. But there’s nothing missing, is there?

How do you act when you pray expectantly and faithfully for something and God doesn’t deliver it when you think He should? Or in the way you think He should? Y’all, I’m here to tell you I revert back into a baby Christian with toddler-esque emotions. I get irritated and frustrated. I get mad and tearful. I start feeling sorry for myself, wondering why God’s out there answering all these other prayers while mine–WHICH WAS PRAYED IN FAITH, HELLO!–is being ignored or dismissed. I get mouthy and doubtful. Do you recognize these behaviors, too? Elijah does not. At no point does he change his prayerful, respectful positioning. At no point does he get up, start walking and mouthing about how he doesn’t understand why God isn’t answering his prayer when it was prayed so earnestly. He simply maintains his faith, maintains a respectful posture, and he waits. He KNOWS God is faithful. He KNOWS God will answer. He knows that rain is coming, and even when the sky is void of clouds, he continues to rely on faith, not sight.

And would you look at that? Not only did Elijah’s faith earn him that small-as-a-man’s-hand cloud, but verse 45 reports that he got so much rain–such an abundant response from God–that the heavens were black and it poured from the sky. Praise God that His faithfulness doesn’t mirror our own, amen? Praise God that He’s willing to wait on us with love and patience instead of growing angry at us when we trade our faithfulness for doubt because He doesn’t do what we want or think He should. I pray that I grow to be more and more like Elijah, that when I boldly approach the throne of God, I trust Him to answer me. I pray that when I don’t get a reply as quickly as I’d prefer, I’m able to simply tell my spirit, “Go again,” maintaining my faith, my expectancy, and my respectful posturing until that answer, no matter how small it might seem at first, appears on the horizon. Lord, help me to be more like Elijah.

NOAH

While Elijah might not be a biblical figure that you easily remember, I’d be willing to bet that Noah is. Since we were all knee-high to a grasshopper (where did this ridiculous saying come from?) we’ve heard the story about Noah building the enormous ark, his loading up two of every animal and sailing to safety as God flooded the earth. We know that eventually the waters went down, a dove indicated that dry land was indeed available again, and after disembarking, Noah was given the rainbow as a symbol of God’s promise never to destroy the earth by flooding ever again. So, in an effort to avoid repeating all the parts of the story we all already know, how about we talk about the man named Noah? How about we focus on the small details, the ones that so often get overlooked because we’ve all heard the story a million times and know all of it by heart. But do we really?

The story of Noah, a good man who trusted God and believed in God, can be found starting in Genesis 6. If you’ve never really read the story for yourself, if all of your knowledge of Noah is based on children’s books or your 1st grade Sunday school teacher, I highly recommend that you read it for yourself from its original source. I can’t really explain it, but it’s just different when it’s read that way for some reason.

There’s a lot of scripture that covers the story of God choosing Noah, God instructing Noah, Noah building the ark, and the subsequent flooding, water recession, etc. Because of this, I’ll leave the scripture reading up to you, and we’ll spend our time focusing on the details that make Noah a man from whom much can be learned. For example, did you know that while scholars and theologians aren’t in total agreement, they do agree that somewhere around 100 to 120 years passed between when God instructed Noah to build the ark and when it actually began to rain? WAIT, WHAT?! Can you believe that?? Do you know what kind of mess would be happening in my head if I heard  what I believed was a word from God only to have ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY YEARS pass before it came to fruition?! How wise God was that He didn’t choose Lindsey Thomas to build His ark! (Can I get an amen??) Y’all, think about this small, frequently overlooked detail. Think about the faith that this conveys. Noah didn’t get all up in his feelings when he finished that ark and the rain didn’t start. He didn’t get himself convinced two or even fifty years later that he’d misheard God, that he’d fabricated the vision God had given him and the Word He’d placed in his heart. I do NOT handle things this well. I get frustrated and doubtful and impatient. Why is this not part of the ark story when they teach it?

But as remarkable as it is that Noah waited so long to see his contract with God fulfilled, there’s something even more significant that I learned from his story. God said, build an ark. Noah said, okay, I’ll get right on that. And at no point did Noah say, maybe I’ll wait until I see there’s a little rain starting before I totally decide to believe that God’s going to do what He said He’s going to do. Nope, Noah was immediately obedient. Oh how I desire to have that level of immediate obedience in my life! I so often fail at being immediately obedient because I need those first sprinkles for my sight to confirm that God really is doing what His Word says He will. I need to think it over for myself, reason out God’s plan and make sure I’ve ruminated on all aspects of His instructions. And sometimes, more than any other reason for stalling, I need to consider what everyone else would think if I did whatever it is that God’s asking me to do. But not Noah. God said, build an ark because I have a plan. Noah said, yes, God. He didn’t worry that it wasn’t raining. He didn’t worry that his neighbors and friends and family might think that this giant boat he was building under a sunny sky was absolutely insane. God spoke; Noah obeyed. Immediately. Now THAT is worth a Sunday school lesson or two, is it not?

Dear Lord, thank you so much for the examples You have given to us in both Elijah and Noah. They have such strong, long-standing faith, Lord, and I ask that You help me to study Your Word and develop my relationship with You so that I, too, can be an example of unwavering faith and belief. I want to take the time right now, Father, and state that I KNOW You do as You say. I declare that I KNOW You are always faithful. Help me to listen to Your promises and close my ears and my heart and my mind to Satan’s lies. And maybe above all, Lord, I want to be the kind of Christian who is immediately obedient when I hear Your voice. When You speak, Father, I will listen. When You instruct, I will obey…immediately. Thank you for Your patience with me, for continuing to work with me in order to help me develop into a mature believer. Thank you for hearing my prayer, Father. In Jesus’s name I pray this and all my prayers. Amen.