From “Aw” to “Ugh”

A few weeks ago, a video went viral after a woman posted herself going out of her way to do a good deed. In this video, the “star,” who was an Uber driver, went out and bought her female client some clothes, after learning of her passenger’s need for clothes before dropping her off that morning at her fast-food job. The driver even delivered them to her right there in the drive-through, and she did all of this while running her phone’s camera. My initial reaction to this video was, “Aw, that’s so sweet,” but my feelings whip-lashed before I knew what was happening. My thoughts went from “Aw!” to “Ugh!” in a matter of seconds. And here’s why: I started thinking about the logistics of this scenario, about exactly what transpired in order for this woman to have her good deed recorded.

If we’re going to be the kind of people who sit and watch life happen on tiny screens in front of our faces, the least we can do is actually *think* about what we’re watching, and this video had me thinking about how desperate we can often be for acknowledgement and/or attention. Take this “videographer” if you will. Here is a lady who had a very, very kind and generous idea to provide her client with something the client was unable to provide for herself. Nothing wrong with helping a person in need! That’s taking a page out of Jesus’s own book for crying out loud. However, things took a turn the second she began setting up her camera so that she could record and then post her goodness. Granted, I’m guessing here because I don’t know her, but if you take video of yourself doing something good and kind and then post said video, the person you’re attempting to highlight and for whom you’re looking to gain notoriety is Y-O-U.

This lady did many nice things, some on-camera, some off. She listened to her passenger and engaged with her passenger enough to identify a need. She then went one step further by providing for that need, exactly as Jesus expects us to do. But. The moment that she began setting up that camera just right in her car so that she could capture her generosity on camera, things went south. And that’s what I was thinking about, the staging, the orchestrating, when I shifted so rapidly from aw to ugh.

The good thing to come out of this, though, was some time spent considering how often I want recognition for the good things I do for others (and it’s way more often than I’d like to admit). God knew that as humans we’d be largely tempted to take moments like these and soil them. At our core, we tend to be selfish and vain, but God’s not shocked by that, nor is He upset with us. He made us; He knows exactly what we’re like and what worldly challenges can, and do, trip us up. He also wants to make sure we understand the error of our ways and our thinking, and in an effort to do that, He’s tucked some lessons and guidance into His Word. (Psssst! There’s not a single issue you have faced, are facing, or ever will face that’s not addressed in the Bible. So there you go.)

I’d like for us to look at a few key verses on this topic, and I’d like start with Luke 14:7-11. In these verses Jesus is directly speaking and warning us against thinking too highly of ourselves. In verse 11 He cautions, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Excellent advice for many, many a situation.

Then, Proverbs 25:27 says this: “It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory.” It is not glorious to seek one’s own glory. Let that sink in for a minute.

God doesn’t stop there, though. He offers us more wisdom on this topic of self-glorification later in Proverbs when He encourages us to “Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth” (27:2).

But the verses that really caught me, the ones that seemed to speak directly to the heart of my human need to brag on myself or seek recognition any time I do something that I think might exalt me in the eyes of others is from Matthew 6: 1-4. Read this carefully, friends. It’s packed full.

“1 Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in Heaven.

2 So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets…to be honored by others…3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Wow! In other words, your good deed should be so private between you and God alone that even your non-giving hand, the one not handing out provisions to the needy, has no idea what’s happening. Videoing our “righteousness” and posting it online for others to like, comment on, and share? Yeah, not so much.

In one of her publications, Joyce Meyer tells a story about this exact concept that is so practical and relevant it’s always stayed with me. (I’m going to do a pitiful paraphrasing of her story, but hopefully you can track with me enough to get the gist of it regardless.) In her story, Joyce (I call her by her first name because we’re BFF’s) goes into a salon to get her nails done, and on that particular day, she’s wearing a broach on her blouse (maybe it was coat? I don’t know.). A fellow nail-salon patron sitting next to her comments on this beautiful piece of jewelry, and Joyce says she feels the Lord urging her to take off the pin and give it to this lady. She starts to obey, but about the time she plans to hand it over to the woman, both of the nail technicians leave the room. Wanting to make sure they see her act of generosity, Joyce waits until they are both back in the room before giving this woman her broach. Of course, as expected and desired, everyone oohhs and aahhs over Joyce’s kindness. She feels good about herself, but for only half a second because as soon as exits the nail salon, she hears God say, “I hope you enjoyed that because that’s all the reward you’re going to get.” Think that wasn’t God speaking to her? Take a quick second to re-read Matthew 6:1 above. I’ll wait.

You see, our job as Christians is to glorify God and direct others to Him. That’s it…full stop. We have no other purpose that tops pointing unbelievers to Jesus Christ, and as soon as we turn something loving and kind and gracious and compassionate into something that’s all about us, we’ve damaged that. If we exalt ourselves, we get the glory that should’ve been used to shine a light directly on Jesus. We can’t glorify ourselves AND God simultaneously; it’s a one-or-the-other kinda deal. As followers of Christ, we are to use our lives to become more like Him, to behave more and more like He did, and Jesus never once glorified Himself. Not once. And look at what all He did.

Before I close, I want to share with you a quote from Dr. Tony Evans that I ran across while preparing for this post. I felt like it was both a simple and a very profound way of looking at our desire for self-glorification. I pray it’s one that sticks with you, too. I love you all, and I think you’re all REALLY great.

“If you want to lead the orchestra, you have to be willing to turn your back on the crowd.” -Dr. Tony Evans

Dear Lord, thank You so very much for continuously drawing to my attention the areas in my life that can use a little work. Father, I understand and recognize fully that my purpose here on this planet is to bring others to You and to glorify You in all I do, think, and say. I need help with that, though, Lord, because sometimes I want recognition and accolades for my good deeds. Please help me, God, to spend much more time focused on the honor and attention given to You than to myself. Help me to worry only about glorifying You so that You can be responsible for glorifying me. I know that life will be much better and my blessings much larger that way. Let others see You through me, Lord. I love You, Father, and I am so grateful for Your constant love. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

 

One Foot In Front Of The Other

I have been working very hard getting a blog post prepared. I’ve been thinking about my wording, which scriptures to include, how to get started, etc. This, however, is not that blog post. For whatever reason, I’ve felt a burden on my heart to say a few things that aren’t planned, that haven’t been prepped, but that I feel God truly wants me to share. Basically, God wants me to tell you this: YOU ARE DOING JUST FINE! We are so often so hard on ourselves, assuming everyone is doing life and all its parts perfectly while we’re over here drowning, wearing floaties in a tsunami and trying to survive it. You know what though? You’re doing a good job.

You are a good person.

You are a good parent.

You are a good spouse.

You are a good friend.

You are a good coworker.

You are a good neighbor.

You are a good son or daughter, niece or nephew, brother or sister.

You are good.

I know that we’re not all right in the midst of the greatest seasons of our lives. I know that some of us are struggling to get up each morning, to show up for work, to mentally tune in to what’s happening in front of our faces. But you know what, it’s a season. It’s ONLY a season. And the God of the ENTIRE UNIVERSE who holds galaxy upon galaxy in the palm of His hand is lovingly aware of you. He is working for you. He is moving and shaping in order to work ALL THINGS you are facing into good for you!

Hear me, please! He isn’t mad at you. He isn’t teaching you a lesson. He’s not punishing you because of some sin–whether real or imagined. He’s not letting you suffer. He’s not causing your pain.

As you face whatever’s on your plate, as you continue to put one foot in front of the other, Friends, God is proud of you. He sees your heart, He notes your progress, and He loves you with a love you cannot even possibly comprehend. So hang in there. Good days are coming. Answered prayers are coming. And in the meantime, God promises to be right there with you, to give you His strength, His courage, His power to get through the day.

And when you think you just can’t get through whatever you’re facing, when you feel beaten down or overwhelmed or just defeated by life, remind yourself that you don’t have to currently possess what it takes to make it through the trial. The Bible tells us that God provides us DAILY with the strength and grace we’ll need to get to the next day. So today, Friday, you’re absolutely right–you do not have what it takes to even make it through the weekend. You do, however, have exactly what you need to make it through Friday. And then, when you wake up on Saturday and seek the Lord, He’ll show right up and give you exactly what you need to make it through Saturday, too.

He loves you, Friend. He delights in you, and He looks forward to blessing you after this storm has passed and your faith has held strong. He looks forward to showing you just how much you grew in Him while your faith was being built through the waiting. You’ve got this, and God’s got you. Praise Him, thank Him, bless His holy and mighty name even when it seems you’ve nothing left, and watch what happens. First one foot, then the other. You’ve got this, and the best is yet to come!

Did God Really Say…

To start this blog post, I’m going to need a little class participation, umkay?

When I say “Girl Scout cookies,” you say “of the devil”! Got it? Let’s go!!!!

Me: “Girl Scout cookies!”

You: “Of the devil!”

Me: “Girl Scout cookies!”

You: “Of the devil!”

{clap!clap!clap!clap!clap!}

Y’all, what is it about those things? I have a sneaking suspicion that those sweet little Girl Scout pushers know their products are crack-infused and are purposefully keeping it a secret. I literally can not even like a particular type of Girls Scout cookie, but if that flavor is sitting on my counter (I’m talking to you, Tagalongs!), I will eat it anyway. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?! And you know what’s even worse? I will sometimes eat the first one, think to myself, man, that wasn’t as good as a I wanted it to be, then eat another dadgum cookie like they’ll miraculously get better with a second one! Believe it or not, in most situations, I’m an intelligent person! Ugh, so stupid.

But, friends, isn’t this exactly how temptation works? We are such smart people. We make smart decisions in our lives; we understand how cause and effect works; we fully realize when foods/people/relationships/thoughts aren’t healthy for us, but you get us around any of those, and suddenly we are partaking of said temptation like it’s suddenly become a great idea.

Luckily for us, God knew we were weak. He knew that we would give in, that we would struggle to hold strong and steady when faced with something–big or small–that we really wanted but that we shouldn’t have. Remember that whole “And lead us not into temptation” part that Jesus taught His disciples to pray? Yeah, there was a reason for that. He knew that for His children temptation was going to be a big issue.  In fact, just like 99.9% of everything else we’ve discussed on here, God made sure to give us guidance and insight into temptation and how we’re expected to handle it within His Word.

There are a couple of scriptures I’d like us to examine, so let’s first start with James 1:13-14: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” If God is not the source of our temptation, then who is? We are! Y’all, James is so good about coming right out with it, telling us the truth about our actions without sugar-coating it for our tender egos. In these verses, I imagine him pointing his finger in my face and telling me to stop tempting myself; stop putting myself in situations where I’m likely to face temptation and then blaming God for the temptation I face. It. Is. Not. His. Doing. Thank you, James, duly noted.

Fortunately, like all earthly roads, we aren’t expected to travel this one alone. Paul encourages us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 with these words on temptation: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” This verse is a little denser than the one previous, so let’s take a minute to unpack it.

First, Paul wants us to rest in the fact that regardless of the temptation we are facing–no matter how many, no matter how serious–we aren’t alone. There exists not a single temptation that hasn’t already tried its hand on someone else.

Second, GOD. IS. FAITHFUL. (I say “God!” You say” Faithful!” HAHA! Kidding! We did that already.) In all seriousness, though, God isn’t going to suddenly decide you don’t need Him. He created us to need Him. He desperately wants us to recognize our need for Him. If you reach out to Him in the midst of temptation, He literally cannot be unfaithful to you. It’s not possible.  Being the God of abundance, He’s going to go even one step further. Not only will He make absolutely certain that you don’t topple over into this temptation, but He promises to provide for you a way out. I love how His saving of us is described here: “He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Friends, we will not be crushed by our temptations. We will not be defeated IF we make sure God’s facing off against it with us.

In the face of temptation, you and I have essentially two options: choose the temptation or choose to walk away. Let’s state this another way, though, that really drives home the fact that our choice in the midst of temptation is truly about whether or not we opt to let God be God. In the face of temptation, we have two choices: Trust (believe God and His promises for deliverance) OR Doubt (believe Satan and his lies that God can’t save us from whatever pulls so strongly on us).

As our verses from James told us, temptation isn’t from God. It’s from us, from our own inherently evil desires. And guess who ALWAYS has his nasty little serpent hiss right in our ears when our ungodly temptations get amplified. This isn’t new. In fact, this is the very oldest strategy of the enemy’s. You don’t even have to turn many pages in the Bible before you see Satan first whispering lies into the ear of Eve as she faces the first ever temptation. In Genesis 3:1, we are warned that “the serpent was more subtle and crafty than any living creature of the field which the Lord God had made,” and we see his plan for creating doubt begin with four simple yet life-altering words: “Did God really say…” How often I’ve fallen for this strategy. How often I’ve thought I was a believer only to realize, when the going got tough, that maybe I believed in God but didn’t believe God would do what He said He would. That’s exactly how Satan likes it. He knows that if he can plant that doubt in our minds, our temptation will sound out louder than the still quiet voice of our Father who offers so selflessly to help us through the fire.

My dears, let me share with you a list: doubt, confusion, anger, immaturity, resentment, lust, greed, unforgiveness, gluttony, depression, isolation, loneliness. Do any of these encompass what you’re feeling/facing today? Here’s a little secret…not a single one of these is from or of God. Not. One. However, every single last one–plus a whole bunch of other, equally awful ones–is straight from Satan himself. Aren’t you tired? Aren’t you fed up with deciding to stand strong against a temptation, caving, feeling awful about yourself, struggling with your shame, deciding unequivocally never to find yourself in that spot again…only to end up right back there time and time again? I am. I want to stop this cycle and tell Satan once and for all that YES, God really DID say that!

So how? When staring temptation in its dangerous eye, how do we ensure success over failure?

1. KNOW GOD–I mean, personally. Daily. Know Him well enough that your first knee-jerk reaction in the face of trouble (of any sort!) is prayer. Know Him intimately so that you can shut that devil up the second he comes at you with that “Did God really say…” nonsense.

2. KNOW THE WORD–Know what the Bible says about God because that’s the only way you’ll learn what His character and His heart are all about. Know what precious, faithful promises God includes in the Bible. Declare those at your temptation! Talk back to it and that jerk of a serpent! Let them both know that God won’t let you fail. You will NOT be sucked in this time. Stand on any and every promise that points you straight past failure and on to success.

3. KNOW YOURSELF–Know when you are most tempt-able. Is it mid-day when you’re home alone? Is it late at night when everyone else is in bed? Is it while you’re out running errands? Know your areas of weakness, be they physical, sexual, spiritual, mental, or a combination. Friends, it is imperative that you know yourself, because let me tell you this, you can bet Satan knows you. “Satan is the counterfeit god of perfect timing.” I recently ran across this statement by my other BFF Beth Moore, and I could not get that quote written down fast enough. Such truth. And we are absolute fools if we think otherwise. Know yourself and do something with that knowledge to protect yourself.

One last thing before I close us out with a prayer. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s another little dose of fabulous word selection and point-making from Mrs. Beth. “No weaker house exists than one that lacks authority. Lack of authority is a breeding ground for untold recklessness and sin.” Yes, this quote was written about our literal houses, but isn’t this also very true for our bodies? Friends, we have to let God have authority over our bodies and our minds, our hearts and our desires. We have to let His Word be law in our lives so that temptation and its pusher know their place. “And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20). Know it. Declare it.

Dear Lord, thank You so much that when I am faced with a temptation of any sort, I am not alone. Thank You that You have promised to walk with me past that evil desire and to provide for me a way out. Help me, Father, to learn all I can about You, to develop such a closeness with You that Satan and his lies have no power over me. Help me to know Your Word so assuredly that I can declare it (out loud!) against the evil strategies of the enemy. Thank You, Lord, that You have already ensure my success if I simply hand my life over to You. I love You, and I am so thankful that You hear my prayer. It’s in Jesus’s name that I offer it. Amen.

Plant Killer

“Hi, my name is Lindsey, and I’m a plant killer.”

{mumbled group response}: “Hi, Lindsey.”

So, is “black thumb” a thing? If it is, I have it. Maybe it’s not “black thumb.” Maybe it’s “dead thumb”? “Shriveled-to-actual-dust thumb”? Anyway, whatever the thumb that I have, it’s apparently not going anywhere. Roses left in my care? Dead. Plants given to me with the promise that I can’t kill them? Ha! Give me seven to ten days and watch the magic. And don’t get me started on my venture into fall-inspired mum-dom. That mum was full and beautiful and yellow, and I killed it. I don’t get it because I did exactly what the less-than-specific tag said!  I watered it. (Did I over-water it? Likely. Did I water it too little? Also possible.) I even nurturingly pruned it ON THE REGULAR, taking time to carefully snap off the dead blooms so that new, healthy ones could grow up in their places. Did it help? Did my mum grow big and beautiful and glorious like my neighbor’s from across the street? Negative, Ghost Rider. See what I mean. You know, I’m thinking “dead thumb” might be most accurate.

Given my pruning skills–or lack thereof, for the ten-thousandth time I’m reminded of how fortunate we all are that I’m not God (can I get an AMEN?!). That promise of “beauty for ashes” would’ve clearly been DOA. As it turns out, the Bible confirms for us that God is, in fact, a VERY “green thumb.” Check out Jesus’s words from John 15: 1-2. “I am the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Any branch in Me that does not bear fruit He cuts away (trims off, takes away); and He cleanses and repeatedly prunes every branch that continues to bear fruit, to make it bear more and richer and more excellent fruit” (AMP). Look at all that life and pruning and growth–no dead mums anywhere!

A few short years ago, I knew absolutely zero about process mentioned in the verse above that God puts us through during the growth and development in our walk with Him. I didn’t know it existed; I didn’t know its name (sanctification). I recognized that God was working on me. I noticed that every time I experienced issues within my life, instructions for how to overcome those exact struggles suddenly appeared within my readings of the Word and/or my devotionals. It was too often and too dead-on not to be God at work on and within me, but I didn’t know it had a name. I had never heard the term sanctification. I had never heard a sermon on it, never read a book about it, never discussed it in small groups or Sunday school classes. But you know how once you hear a word you’ve never heard before it’s suddenly everywhere and being used by everyone? This is how the concept of sanctification was for me. That term showed up in Bible verse after Bible verse, scripture lesson after scripture lesson.

In an effort to shed brighter light on this process in which God plucks off our non-fruit-bearing parts in order for growth and healthier fruit to bloom, let’s turn (yet again) to my dear friend Joyce Meyer (some might even call us BFF’s). In her book How to Succeed at Being Yourself, Ms. Joyce explains sanctification as, “the state of perfect holiness, reached by degrees through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives” (pg. 254).

There are a couple of very important take-aways from her definition that, to me, help make this unfamiliar term a little more understandable. 1) Our end-goal is holiness.  2)We will never reach holiness all at once. It requires lots and lots of tiny steps (by degrees) in the right direction. 3) Most importantly, we cannot be sanctified of our own doing. The pruning of our destructive areas, our dead areas, MUST be done by God via His Holy Spirit.

Just to show you how important and essential to our spiritual maturity this process is, I want to provide for you several pieces of scripture where God speaks to us about it. I’m sorry to be list-y (ten points to Lindsey for excellent word creation!), but I truly believe that seeing and reading these verses will help God speak to you about this process so that you can better identify it and allow it fully into your own walk with Him.

Let’s begin with Leviticus 19:2, because, in my opinion, it truly explains WHY we need to go through this sometimes-uncomfortable process. “Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Surely this is clear enough. Our job as a child of God is to become more and more and more like Him, to strip off those things that encumber us, those sins that entangle us, that hinder us from preaching His message to those unsaved and unfamiliar with Jesus (Hebrews 12:1). If we keep all of our human faults, all of our “dead blooms” then this becomes impossible. As we learned from the Joyce Meyer definition earlier, our end-goal is holiness. Thus sayeth the Lord.

But of course God doesn’t just mention sanctification one time and hope we understand its necessity and importance. In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 it states, “…God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in truth.” Back up a little to 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and you’ll find this: “And may the God of peace Himself sanctify you through and through [separate you from profane things, make you pure and wholly consecrated to God].” Again and again, our Heavenly Father reminds us that sanctification is something we all must go through, that it’s something only He can initiate and complete within us, that we must allow this process to occur so we might become more like Him. “Sanctify them by the Truth; Your Word is Truth. As You have sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. I sanctify Myself for them, so that they also may be sanctified by the Truth” (John 17: 17-19).

The final scripture I want us to look at is Joshua 7:12-13, where God speaks to Joshua about the necessity of personal sanctification and the very real distance and danger we let into our lives when we aren’t constantly working WITH GOD toward great holiness. “I will cease to be with you, unless you destroy the accursed things among you. Up, sanctify (set apart for a holy purpose) the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow; for those says the Lord, the God of Israel: There are accursed things in the midst of you…You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away from among you the things devoted [to destruction].” Okay, so maybe you and I aren’t standing before golden idols as were those who this scripture references. However, you and I have PLENTY of strongholds: destructive habits that lead to our demise and keep us separated from God. And careful reading of this portion of Joshua 7 makes it very clear that not only do strongholds make us vulnerable to Satan and his attacks, but they make it impossible for God to draw near to us. I don’t know about y’all, but that is the OPPOSITE of how I want my life and my relationship with God to go! I want ZERO to do with Satan and his lies. I want EVERYTHING to do with Jesus. If that’s my true desire, there’s only one way to make that happen: sanctification via the Holy Spirit.

Chances are good that at least one of you reading this has had or is about to have a thought like this: well I don’t really think there’s any area that I need to work on right now because God’s not really pointed one out. To that I can only reply: GET BEHIND ME, SATAN! With all due respect, that’s the enemy talking to you and through you, friend. How do I know? Because you’re not holy. Relax, I’m not saying I am or others are either. None of us are…hence the need for personal sanctification in our lives. Prayerfully consider these areas in your life where God might be urging you to loosen some strongholds:

*Pride                       *Unforgiveness             *Hate/Prejudice/Racism

*Anger                      *Judgment                     *Worry/Fear

*Bitterness               *Selfishness                   *Doubt

*Worldliness           *Addiction (of all kinds)

And, y’all, this is just a very general list. It’s not person specific. God, however, is very individual. When He addresses issues with you that need work, He’s not going to give you a broad category. He’s going to be very, very specific to your behaviors, your beliefs, your strongholds.

Friends, our goal is progress; it is not perfection. Yes, holiness is what we’re straining toward, but we know we can’t reach that while here on this earth. But. We can get better. We can improve. We can work hard on ourselves, letting the Holy Spirit minister to us by pruning off those dead blooms. We can’t do it alone, and honestly, we don’t want to. We like comfort, and boy, sanctification is NOT comfortable. It does, however, bring us closer to Jesus, the same Jesus who promises to uphold us and walk hand-in-hand with us. The same Jesus, also, who restores to us, in degrees, everything that Satan steals from us.

It’s understandable to ask ‘why bother working so hard to rid my life of this stronghold or that stronghold when I know I have 12 more to address once it’s better controlled?’ but as with everything else, the answer is simply JESUS. Think about it like this: each stronghold is a wall, an opaque barrier between you and Jesus and all the good God has in store for your life. With each conquered stronghold (Romans 8:37), your mind gets stronger, your heart gets stronger, your earthly relationships get stronger, and most importantly, your relationship with Jesus and your testimony as a Christian gets stronger. While studying this subject, I came to understand something crucial: when we tear down in the name of Jesus the walls put up by our strongholds that stand between us and Jesus, it creates the opportunity for Jesus to re-erect those walls, instead, between us and Satan, protecting us further from the lies and schemes of the enemy.

Maybe you don’t feel like you’re currently working on yourself in any way in response to God’s process of sanctification. Maybe you feel like God hasn’t spoken to you so you’re good. Again, I don’t mean this like it probably sounds (although, I kind of do) but you are absolutely wrong. God is right there. He doesn’t teach us time and time again in His Word about the need for Holy-Spirit-led sanctification in our lives only to sit back and wait for us to do it ourselves. As He patiently reminds us, it requires the Holy Spirit, and more often than not, the Holy Spirit doesn’t yell. Being the wonderful, loving, provisional God that He is, tucked in Psalms is a portion of scripture that directly addresses what we’re talking about. If you know you need God’s sanctification in your life but you’re not sure how to even begin that process, adopt this scripture as your prayer (I’ve gotten you started below). God is waiting. God’s blessings are waiting. And Satan is REALLY hoping you won’t be brave enough to begin.

Holy Father, thank You so very much for loving me too much to leave me as I am. Thank You that I can grow and mature in my walk with You, that I don’t have to stay bound to these strongholds any longer. Father, I know that there are areas in my life where I desperately need the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that I might untangle myself from the enemy’s lies and strengthen my relationship with You. Just like it says in Your Word, Lord, search me and know my heart. Point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Help me not to hear those lies of the enemy, the ones that tell me I’m fine like I am and the fault lies with others. I want to take responsibility for eradicating unfruitful areas of my life, Jesus, and I know I need You to help me make that happen. I thank You for hearing my prayer. Be with me, sanctify me, and help me become what You have designed me to be. It’s in Your holy name that I pray, Jesus. Amen.

 

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. 

 

Help.

Okay, everybody, who’s ready for an experiment?? {pretends all the hands are raised}

Keeping with my promise to always be upfront and honest, I’d like to say I have no idea how this blog post is going to go over. I’ve never done one like this before, but the concept it (hopefully) discusses is so very valid and useful; therefore, we’re going to just go forward with this, trusting God to help me clearly communicate and you to clearly understand. Off we go!

In the past couple of weeks, two of my dear friends have been dealing with very different but equally overwhelming struggles within their families. Talking with and praying for these friends has me thinking about those times in life when we are so entrenched in struggle, so eyebrows-deep in worry and darkness that we don’t even know what words to form to bring our requests to God. While talking it all over with one of those friends I mentioned, she expressed even feeling scared to pray because of the fear that with an already bad situation, things were going to get worse before they got better. And she wasn’t sure she could handle that.

We have ALL been there. Not one of us has escaped those treacherous times in our walk with God where we feel so overwhelmed and He seems so far away that we don’t even know the way back to closeness. When we feel so alone and so separated from God’s intervention and guidance that we’re not sure He’d hear us even if we did find the words somehow. And you know what I’ve noticed, too? Often times it doesn’t have to be dire circumstances that make us feel that way. Sure, it’s a lot harder to stand boldly before the throne of God when your back is so very heavily weighted down with the crosses you’re bearing, but it’s also complicated and challenging to face God in prayer when we’re at a crossroads… when we’re so struggling to detect God and His lordship that we don’t know what to do or where to go or even exactly what to pray for.

But there’s good news! Romans 8:26 brings us, during times like these, encouragement and hope. When you’re too upset, hurting too much, or your head is too full of noise to be able to focus enough to pray, you have help. “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” Take a deep breath, my friends, because the Holy Spirit is speaking to God on your behalf, and He knows EXACTLY what to say!! Please tell me you’re listening to this major benefit that accompanies the gift of the Holy Spirit, given to us upon Jesus’s ascension into heaven. YOU DON’T HAVE TO KNOW THE WORDS! People, you could literally bow your head in reverence and whisper “Help.” You could simply say, “Jesus.” Or if you really want to get crazy and choose a lengthy prayer you could put those two together: “Help, Jesus.” Simplicity is okay. Admissions of feeling unsure of what to say is okay. Just do whatever you can, no matter how much, and let the Holy Spirit do what He does best: intercede on your behalf.


Another thing that is so valuable and useful in developing knowledge of the scriptures and strengthening your prayer life (especially during these darker days) is to pray scripture. Using the already-formed words of the biblical greats when you can’t find your own words is incredibly effective. Often times, I will pray scripture, not because I’m upset or worried or bothered, but simply because, while reading my Bible, I come across a particular section that really speaks to my soul. In an effort to internalize that Truth and use it to bring myself closer to God, I will use that scripture as my own prayer, borrowing those sacred words as my own.

So, here we are at the experimental part I mentioned before. I want to simply show you how I pray scripture and what I mean by that term. All those years growing up in church, Sunday school, and youth group, I never once heard about the concept of praying scripture. It wasn’t until I did the Bible study by Beth Moore called Living Free: Learning to Pray God’s Word that I began to understand exactly how scripture-praying worked and how useful it is for my own spiritual growth. So for our purposes (our experiment), the scripture that pressed upon my heart and which I am going to pray is Psalm 34. Because I am not going to use that chapter in a word-for-word way, I highly recommend that either before or after you read my written scripture prayer (or both?!), you take the time to read Psalm 34. It’s not very long, but, especially for those of you going through challenging circumstances, it’s so very worth it. Your soul will feel rehydrated, your hope restored. Reading the scripture in conjunction with my prayer is really the only way to fully understand. These aren’t really my words; they are, but they’re not. These are David’s words, personalized for me. Trust me, I think if you just take the time to read Psalm 34 AND the prayer below, you’ll get what I mean. So, with no further ado, please share my prayer with me…

Dear Lord, I will praise you at all times, constantly throughout all circumstances, and I will boast only in YOU, not in myself. Father, I will exalt your name so that whether it is I who feels helpless or someone else, I will effectively correct those unreliable feelings with talks of your greatness and might.

Thank you, Father, that when I pray to you, you answer me. Every time. Even when that answer is different than what I want or understand.

Thank you, Father, for freeing me from my fears, for taking my shame and replacing it with your perfect joy, unreliant on situation or mood.

Thank you, Father, that when I am troubled and desperate, I can pray to you, you will listen, and you will save me from my troubles.

Thank you, also, Lord, for the angels you send to guard and protect me, for their surrounding comfort and defense.

I desire to taste and see that you are truly good, Lord, to be joyful in my refuge in you. Thank you that as long as I respect you and uphold my relationship with you, I will FOREVER have all I need, lacking in no good or beneficial thing. Thank you for this promise, Lord!

I desire, Father, to have a long and prosperous life, and I pray for your help in keeping my tongue in check, from speaking evil and/or telling lies (of all sizes). Father, aid me in turning from evil and help me settle solidly in doing good.

I praise you, God, for your peace! I cry out to you with a sincere desire for your perfect peace in all areas of my life, as well as in my heart, mind, body and soul. God, I recognize that peace requires constant, intentional effort, so please help me to desire it, to search for it, and to work to maintain it–especially when my human, knee-jerk reaction is far from peaceful/peace-keeping.

Thank you, Lord, for keeping your eyes on your children–on me!–and for keeping your ears attuned to my cries for you.

Thank you that when I am broken-hearted and crushed in spirit, you are always right near me. Always.

Father, please continue to rescue me from my troubles…every. single. time. Thank you for your refuge, your freely-given salvation, your redemption, and your constant love and protection.

I love you, Father, and I thank you for the scriptures which help me draw nearer to you. It’s in the matchless name of Your Son Jesus that I pray. Amen.

 

 

Shadrach, Meshach, and a Billy Goat

I began writing this blog post a couple of weeks ago, pretty much immediately after posting the most recent one about secrets. However, about the time I got ready to sit down and actually type it out and upload it, my sweet 92-year-old grandmother passed away. As weird as it sounds, her passing actually made this post even more special, and I can feel God’s hand on it after seeing how these events aligned. I’m about to tell you a story that begins with an old country church. It just so happens that this very church is the one where we laid her to rest–right beside my grandfather–last week. Because of her death, I was able to visit the exact spot where my story took place all those years ago. Isn’t it amazing how God uses regular life events to confirm His presence and activity to us?

So back to this super cute, very quaint country church. It was in this church that my dad, as a boy, attended both Sunday school and church services, although it wasn’t really Sunday school like many of us think of it. This church, Beaton United Methodist Church, was only one building: the sanctuary. That meant that Sunday school was conducted right there where they’d later hear the sermon and sing their hymns. All of the Sunday school classes. Right there together. The adults gathered up at the front near the pulpit; the older kids gathered in one back corner, with the young children in the other. Needless to say, that level of focus and attention has dissipated with our generation.

Well, it was during Sunday school one Sunday that my six-year-old dad overhead some of the adult class’s lesson. He explained to me that while he was “listening” to his teacher, his attention was caught by the adult teacher (which was likely my grandfather) discussing some very strange names from the Bible. He said he heard Shadrach. Then, he heard Meshach. But it was this next one that had him really tuning in, because after naming these two guys, my dad heard, “and a billy goat.” He then continued to listen closely to figure out what a billy goat had to do with anything, but obviously the Bible never addressed that within the story. So time passed, and young Ricky went on wondering about these two oddly named men from the Bible and their billy goat.

As the years passed and this story was told in Sunday school and church from time to time, my dad carried that mental image around in his now teenaged head of this strange group: two men and a billy goat. He said he always listened to hear that explanation of why these guys lugged this goat around everywhere with them, but he just never did catch it. Then, during one sermon in which he was following along with his Bible, the truth was illuminated (in my head this involves bright lights and singing): there was no billy goat! It wasn’t Shadrach, Meshach, and a billy goat. It was Shadrach, Meshach, and ABEDNEGO…a third strangely-named guy! Pretty incredible what you can sort out by opening that Bible, huh? 🙂

As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I want to spend some time with you today talking about these three guys (no billy goats included!) and the story from Daniel that shows what mighty men of faith they were. All of today’s discussion is coming from Daniel 3, and if you’ve not read this chapter for yourself (no excuses–it’s pretty short), I highly encourage you to do so. But before we start in on the circumstances facing these men and the decisions they made, as much as I hate to spend your time simply summarizing the Bible for you, I think that’s best so we have a clear picture of what’s taking place when these men enter the picture.

Daniel 3 begins with King Nebuchadnezzar instructing the creation of a golden idol. And not just a small gold statue for people to bow before. It was enormous: 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide. And with this idol, King Neb (no way am I typing that name multiple times) created this rule: when those within his kingdom heard any of a variety of musical instruments being played, they were to immediately “fall down and worship the golden image” (vs. 5). And being a narcissistic king, there was, of course, a consequence for anyone who refused to do as he commanded: “And whoever does not fall down and worship shall that very hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (vs. 6). Okay, so clear enough. Music plays, you drop what you’re doing and bow to the golden statue. If not, you burn. No questions asked, no excuses accepted, no exemptions made.

Enter our three main characters. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were brought before King Nebs because it was brought it his attention that they refused to bow to his idol, and it infuriated him. Once they’re before him, he questions their refusal, reminding them again that a fiery death awaited anyone who met his command with disobedience. To me, I picture the king with his puffed up chest, convinced of his own power and ability to scare these men into doing exactly as he desires. However, these three aren’t having it. They serve ONE God, and ole Nebby’s idol is NOT it. I love their response to the king’s threats. It says that they answered him saying, “…it is not necessary for us to answer you on this point. If our God Whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up!” (vs. 16-18) I love that first sentence: it is not necessary for us to answer you on this point. In other words, King, this is not up for discussion. Ha! We don’t care what you threaten us with, we don’t care what you demand, we aren’t even considering doing what you’re asking us to do because we serve God and that’s that.

How often do you and I get this part wrong? How often do we find ourselves selling out and worshiping those “golden images” of wealth, status, popularity, self, convenience, fear, worry, etc.? How often do we bow our heads and bend our knees in front of those things while pushing God aside? Thank you, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for lesson number one: if we expect God to save us from pain and anguish and even certain death, we must bow to Him and Him alone. He must have first priority in our hearts and our lives, no matter what it appears to cost us.

In those verses above, I was also struck by another indicator of their attitudes in the midst of difficulty. You’ll notice that they have full confidence in God’s ability to deliver them from the fire they’re facing. HOWEVER, they’re also convinced that it’s fine no matter what God chooses to do. “But if not…” I don’t know about you, but I need to adopt this mindset much more often. When I’m facing something unknown, something uncertain and upsetting, I need to set my mind on the mighty God I serve and His ability to deliver me, but at the same time, I need to remember that if God chooses not to remove this fire from before me, I will still believe in His goodness and His love. I will still trust His plan and His promise to do good for me. Pssst…that was lesson number two.

Okay, so surely by this point you know enough about King Neb’s personality to know that an outright refusal by these three guys to do as he commanded wasn’t met with happiness. He was furious, and in an effort to punish them even more for their disobedience (because apparently burning to death isn’t tough enough), he demands that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than normal. Just to give you an idea of how hot this was, the king’s men who were tasked with throwing Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the furnace were killed immediately by the radiating heat. And then the miraculous happens…

Starting in verse 24, King Nebuchadnezzar is astounded, in total disbelief because, despite being clothed and bound, these three men are still alive! But that’s not even the most shocking part! Looking into the furnace, the king declares, “Behold, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt! And the form of the fourth is like a son of the gods!” (vs. 25) Hmmmm, wonder who that fourth man is in that fiery furnace with our three friends? Hint: IT’S JESUS! And just like that, we have lesson number three. Friends, no matter what “fire” you’re facing or even right smack in middle of walking through, you are not alone. The God that these men served, the God who literally protected them from the fire under their feet is the exact same God you serve. He is the same today as He was yesterday. There’s NOTHING that He can’t save you from, and if He allows you to face that fire, it’s because He has a plan and because He knows you can do it with His walking right beside you.

Because of Jesus’s protection, “the fire had no power upon their bodies, nor was the hair of their head singed; neither were their garments scorched or changed, nor had even the smell of smoke clung to them” (vs. 27). Look at what your God can do for you! With His help and His presence and your trust in Him, He can not only get you through that fire, He can do so without any harm coming to you. You can emerge victorious on the other side of that furnace without a single injury, even without the smell of smoke clinging to your skin. Because our three friends clung to God’s power and refused to turn their eyes from God no matter how dire their circumstances looked going in, their faith allowed God’s power to be recognized and glorified. After witnessing this miracle, the king declares, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who believed in, trusted in, and relied on Him!” (vs. 28)

Lesson number four, my friends. Can you imagine what God is doing through whatever affliction you’re facing right now? Can you imagine the pride and thankfulness you’ll experience if you hold steady to your Jesus, to your faith in Him, through your “fire” so that He can be glorified through YOU?! Can you imagine the life-changing lessons your circumstances and your decision to trust God can teach your children? Your coworkers? Your spouse? Your friends? God is working. God is for us! Some of us might get to avoid that fire altogether…this time. But for most of us, God’s simply going to walk right through it side-by-side with us, holding our hand if need be, so that when we come out on the other side, we’re greeted by His abundant blessings. Not only will we be alive when it’s all said and done, but like these three guys with funny names, we’ll be unbound from anything holding us back, anything meant for our harm; we’ll be unharmed by those around us and those circumstances that seem to be lapping at our ankles; we’ll have been so protected through it all that there’s not even a leftover hint of that trouble that threatened to do us in. There will be no baggage for us to carry, no smoky smell to wash from our clothes. And most importantly, others will know Him because of what they’ve witnessed through us. Praise the Lord!

Dear Lord, thank you so much for loving me so much that You’ll never abandon me. I ask, Father, for Your deliverance from the fire I’m currently facing, but God, mostly I simply ask that, no matter what, You help me to feel and recognize Your constant presence. Help me not to question You and Your plan but to trust that at all times and in all situations You’re working for my good and protecting me when the going gets tough. I love you, Lord, and I ask that You use my life to witness to others, no matter what that might cost me. Help me to stay strong in my faith so that I don’t ever give in to the temptation to bow my knee at worldly idols. I declare today, Father, that You are my number one, and I ask that You guide me through Your Word to be strong enough to make that choice despite the furnace in front of me. Thank you for the faith of these three men and the lessons I can learn from them. Thank you for hearing my prayer. It’s in Jesus’s name that I pray. Amen.

(No billy goats were harmed in the writing of this blog post.)