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Category Archives: Musings and Stories

“Deep Dive” by Fred Smith

Please take a moment to read this blog post by Fred Smith before reading my prayer below.

Dear God, reading this blog yesterday morning gave me a lot to think about. It came out on a Thursday morning, and on Wednesdays I meet with a sixth-grade boy in a mentoring program at the local middle school. The boy has some particularly difficult circumstances and I’ll confess that I’ve wondered if I’m doing him any good at all. We get about half an hour a week together and I’ve been talking with him a little while he eats and then playing ping pong with him. I have no idea how he sees our time together, and I’ve been trying to think through if I need to do anything different. Then I read this blog post and it helped me a little. I even sent the link to the leadership of the mentoring program so they could see it too.

So what did I get out of it? I really liked how Fred Smith focused on the depth of character that anchors you in an upright position. It’s the first step to address before you start working about where you are going or how you’re going to get there. Do you have that character to anchor you in an upright position first?

It reminds me of the CPR class I took. When someone is in trauma they told you to remember A-B-C: Airway, Breathing, and Cardiovascular. Is the airway clear? Are they able to breathe? Is their heart pumping? In that order. The leg that is broken and pointed in the wrong direction is unimportant in that moment. First, A-B-C. I think that concept can be applied to this. As his mentor, my first concern should be how I can influence his keel. I don’t need to focus on how he’s doing in his classes or what he wants to be when he grows up. I mean, sure, those are things for us to discuss, but if I don’t spend some time purposefully talking about character things with him then I will be missing the point.

Father, help me to be what you need me to be for him. Now that you’ve given me this insight, help me to seek out people who can teach me how to do it. Show me exactly what you need for me to do for this boy. Do it all for your glory, sweet Jesus, so that he might be a reflection of you and experience your love, joy, and peace.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

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The Value in Suffering

The son of one of the nouveau riche, Francis of Assisi, was raised as a spoiled and privileged young man. Imprisoned for a year for being on the losing side of a war with a rival city, his friends noticed a change. He found a little abandoned church and spent whole days there praying. He renounced his inheritance and all claims on his family. 

From “The Inconvenient Elder” by Fred Smith

Dear God, I read Fred Smith’s blog this morning and, while this wasn’t the point of his peace at all, something struck me. It was a follow-up thought to a conversation I had with a friend yesterday. Suffering is an important tool that you use to teach us and help us grow.

In Francis’s case, I knew that he had renounced his family’s wealth out of devotion to you, but I didn’t know that his transformation included a year in prison. Apparently, he got arrested being part of a military expedition (prisoner of war?) and this changed his life. In his older life, I’m sure he regretted his participation in the military expedition, but I also wonder if he was ultimately grateful for the fruit of that suffering. It changed his life.

Isn’t it funny? We all know that the only way we grow is through struggle and yet we do everything we can to avoid it personally, and our temptation is to interfere with our children’s lives so that they will avoid it too. I’m as guilty as anyone. Maybe not as much in my personal life, but certainly at work. I like to build a very comfortable, low-stress environment, sometimes at the expense of expanding our services. I talk a good game, but does my reality reflect what I say I believe?

Father, make me sensitive to any action you’re calling me to. Maybe it will mean struggle for me. Maybe you’re calling our nonprofit to grow and serve more, but my fear keeps it small. Maybe I let my ego and desire to get the approval of others keep me from pushing the envelope. I’m sorry. Give me your vision and the courage to follow it. And please bless my path, not for my comfort, but so that others will be served from you working in my life.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Friendship

A few years ago, a colleague mentioned to me that he was going to meet with David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and author of some of my favorite books. I gave my colleague an assignment: “Ask him what he would do with several million dollars. What does he think the world really needs right now?”

A few weeks later, David published his answer in the New York Times, which really surprised me. His answer surprised me, too: “…friendship is not in great shame in America today [so]…I’d try to set up places that would cultivate friendships.”

Why? Friends help each other make good decisions. They bring out the best in each other. They hold each other accountable.

Good friends help each other become better people.

David Rogers, President, H.E. Butt Foundation
Echoes Vol. 4, No. 3

Dear God, I was trying to think of what I wanted to talk to you about this morning when I sat down to breakfast and I saw the latest issue of the H.E. Butt Foundation’s magazine/newsletter on the table. I opened it up with the intent of being inspired, and the first thing I saw on the inside cover was David Rogers’s editorial on the inside cover. The importance of friendship seemed like something good to pray to you about.

Friendships have been harder to achieve as an adult than I thought they would be. It is so easy to isolate. Even when I’m out in public, it is easy to have a hundred casual relationships that at one level are friends, but they certainly aren’t on a deeper level.

I suppose I’m grateful not only for my wife, but also for a friend with whom I visit every week on the phone. We share our lives with each other. We talk about accountability issues. I wish he lived closer, but, on the other hand, if he lived closer would we make the time to visit like we do now? Is the distance actually good for us in how we discipline ourselves to visit?

I don’t know how many levels of friendships there are, but let’s say I break it simply into three: Superficial, Moderate, and Deep. Superficial are the relationships I have with most of the people in this town. They know me, but they don’t really know me. And I’m the same way with them. Moderate friendships are like the ones in my church group. They are people with whom my wife and I meet once a month and we talk about our lives in those settings, but we don’t really see each other outside of that. Then there are the deep friendships, of which I only have a couple. I’m grateful for them, but I wonder if I shouldn’t have more.

Father, help me to find the relationships you want me to have so that you can use me in other men’s lives and so that you can use them in mine. Help us to sharpen each other so that we might be the men you need us to be for our families, our work, and our community. And most of all, for your glory.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
 

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Suicide Prevention Month

Dear God, I was scanning through The Athletic for some college football news (it’s Saturday, after all) and I found this video series on Suicide in college athletics and what some schools are doing to address mental health. I’ve put a link there. Since it is a pay site, I don’t know if people will be able to click on it or not. I would hope that that The Athletic would make the series freely available.

Anyway, it got me to thinking about suicide. It must pain you to see us in such pain. When you’re watching people attempt or succeed in taking their lives, are you weeping? I imagine you are. Our lives are so precious. Our time here is so short. It must be maximized, at least to some extent. To cut it short for any reason seems like a slap in the face.

But having been around enough people who have struggled, I can see how people would get to the point where they just give up. I never considered myself suicidal at the time, but looking back to some of the struggles I went through six years ago, I can tell you that there were times when I was on a bike ride that I would think that if a car were to hit me then the pain I was experiencing would be over. Even typing that makes it sound much more stark or powerful than the thought felt at the time. I would actually compare it more to the little thoughts Satan plants to tempt us. “Hey, wouldn’t it be nice.” No, sorry, Satan. You can’t get rid of me that easily. But he must have sensed that I was at a weak moment to throw that at me.

I’d like to sit here and come up with what is going through people’s minds when they are suicidal and then think about your response, but the truth is that I don’t know. I know that, for my own mental health, the best things that I do include these prayer journals to you and exercise. I know that when I put myself in the mindset that “I consider my life worth nothing to me,” (Acts 20:24a) then I start looking for ways to use my life for your glory and not give up because there is no glory for me. I know that when I am feeling good physically and getting the right hormones going through my brain then the brain you gave me responds and clears up a lot of bad thinking. You designed our bodies for motion and activity. You designed us to move, give, love, and serve. If we aren’t doing those things then our bodies will not respond correctly.

Of course, I’m not trying to minimize clinical depression or other forms of mental illness. I know that it’s not always as easy as just saying a prayer and hopping on a bicycle for some situations. But I also think that we are over consuming antidepressants in our country simply through lethargy and selfish, self-indulgent lifestyles.

Father, I pray over my own mental health, the mental health of my family, and the mental health of those who are in my sphere. Help me to be a source of your love and hope to them. I will spend some time with a friend later who is walking a dark road. Help me to know what to say and how to be there for him. Help me to love him. Help me to reveal your essence to him.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
 

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Revelation

Dear God, I was speaking to a young man in my office yesterday who is heavily influenced by pastors that focus on the rapture and tribulation. He gave me a website to check out and a DVD to view. I watched a little of the DVD and looked at the cover of the website. I’m thinking about writing the young man today with my thoughts.

My first thought is that any time anyone around Jesus was afraid he told them to fear not. Jesus didn’t sell his message using fear. He offered mercy. If I believe what I say I believe and if I share that with others then the rapture and the tribulation will take care of themselves. My job isn’t to scare anyone into Heaven. That isn’t much of a sales pitch anyway.

While we were in my office, he referenced the fruits of the Spirit and said that the first one is love. I agreed with him, but then we listed through the others and I tried to point out peace to him. I’ve told you this many times before, but peace is the one thing that I can’t fake. I can pretty much put up a facade and fake the other fruits. To other people, I can make myself look loving, joyful, kind, gentle, etc., but I am unable to fake peace. When I am truly in you is when I am at peace, and if I am not following you then I have no peace.

Father, I could go on and on, but I guess the thing I really want to say is that I am grateful that you take away all my fear. Your love drives out all my fear. (1 John 4:18). I don’t have to fear the rapture, the tribulation, a one world government or the anti-Christ because you are my God. You have this. I am in you and you are in me. You gave me a great bridge to reach you through coming to earth through the part of your essence that is your son, Jesus, and showed me not only how much you love me, but also how to love and live. Thank you for all of this. I need you.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Just a Prayer

Dear God, sometimes I forget to just spend some time with you. I was sitting here this morning trying to think of what scripture/song/image/story to use as a starting point for my journal and then I thought, “What if you just talk to God without any of that stuff?” Hmm. Interesting concept.

Of course, there are concerns on my heart, but I don’t want to start this prayer there. I want to start by simply saying that I trust you. And when I don’t trust you, I really intend to trust you. I have said this many times before, but I’m like that father asking you to heal his son: “I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) Father, I trust you. Help my distrust. Help me to accept the fact that you are doing things I cannot see and that your plans are good. When I am disappointed that my prayers are seemingly going unanswered, help me to let go of what I think the answers should be.

I’d also like to say that I’m sorry for my hubris. I’m sorry that I think too much of myself and what I have to offer you. I’m sorry for sinning. I’m sorry for coveting, lying, lusting, and lethargy. I’m sorry that sometimes I feel sorry for myself. I’m sorry that, even for brief moments in my heart, I complain to you. I’m sorry that I don’t always bring my burdens to you, but try to solve things on my own. I’m sorry for judging others instead of trying to see them with your eyes and loving them. I’m sorry for being downright selfish. Thank you for making a bridge for me to reach you through all of my pain and using that bridge to make me a better man.

In talking about trusting you and complaining about my circumstance, I’m reminded of your words to Job in Job 38 when you say:

It’s funny, but after praying all of that about trust and repentance

“Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? “Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’ “Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east? Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth, to bring an end to the night’s wickedness? As the light approaches, the earth takes shape like clay pressed beneath a seal; it is robed in brilliant colors. The light disturbs the wicked and stops the arm that is raised in violence. “Have you explored the springs from which the seas come? Have you explored their depths? Do you know where the gates of death are located? Have you seen the gates of utter gloom? Do you realize the extent of the earth? Tell me about it if you know! “Where does light come from, and where does darkness go? Can you take each to its home? Do you know how to get there? But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced!
Job 38:2-21

Oh, how I hope you never have to speak that way to me (again). I know you’ve had cause to in the past because I have grumbled against you. I am truly sorry.

It’s interesting how starting a prayer talking about trusting you regardless of my situation and repenting changes the rest of the prayer. Yes, I have a list of supplications I’d like to bring to you, but they seem wrong now. I have children, nieces and nephews, siblings, and parents on my heart. I have work. I have friends. All of these things are on my heart. Some of them are tragic and some are in life-threatening situations. But in the grand scheme of your sovereignty and your plan, the prayers for solving these various issues seem wrong. No, what I want to pray for is that you will bring all of us into perfect relationship with you, and that you will make any pain that is being suffered by someone count. Don’t let it return void, but use it for your glory.

Father, that is my prayer today. It’s largely the Lord’s Prayer. My Father in Heaven. Hallowed be your name. May your kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give me this day my daily bread, and forgive me of my sins as I forgive those that sin against me. And lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours forever and ever.

It is in Jesus’s name and the power of what he did that I dare to approach you and pray,

Amen

 
 

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The Holy Spirit in our Daily Lives

Dear God, as I read the story of Pentecost, I couldn’t help but take the “It’s a Wonderful Life” take on the story and wonder what our lives would be like if you didn’t send your Holy Spirit to us. What if Pentecost never happened? To reset the stage, Jesus has just ascended and all they are left with is the Old Testament and their memories of Jesus. They weren’t sure what to do next. In fact, they were so directionless, they decided that one of their priorities was to replace Judas (Acts 1:15-26). Without the Holy Spirit filling the 12 of them (we’ll assume Matthias, the newly appointed apostle was among those at Pentecost), would they have just stayed in their room? Would thousands have been reached that day through Peter’s preaching?

So we have the Holy Spirit, and I think that the modern church completely underestimates his role in our lives. Even in the apostles’ creed, he gets only a brief mention:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

The Nicene Creed is somewhat better:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

So let me try to try to figure out through scripture what the Holy Spirit has done, currently does and will continue to do for your people and your world.

First, it’s important to note that this is not just a post-Jesus thing to have the Holy Spirit involved with humanity.

  • Psalm 51:11 (the one David wrote after he was confronted by Nathan about Bathsheba). Davis asks that your Holy Spirit not be taken from him.
  • Isaiah 63:10 & 11. Both verses mention you taking and imparting your Holy Spirit from and to your people.

Part of what makes your existence mind-blowing is that you want to be among us and involved in our lives. You want us to know you and you want to know us. You cared that the life of Jesus moved beyond those 12 apostles and you sent your presence to not only indwell them, but as I saw a couple of days ago, you intend to send it to everyone who calls on you. A part of your essence is always with your creation. It’s amazing.

So let’s look at what the Bible says about what the Holy Spirit’s role is in our lives:

  • John 14:26 – Teach us and help us remember. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” 
  • John 15:26-27 – Testify about Jesus and help us testify. “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, 27and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”
  • John 16:7-11 – Convict us. “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.
  • John 16:13-15; Mark 13:11; Luke 12:12 – Guide us with God’s direction and for God’s glory. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” / “When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit.” / “…for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” 
  • Acts 4:31 – Boldness. And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled wi thte Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.
  • Acts 7:55-56 – Peace in the storm. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
  • Acts 9:31 – Comfort. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.
  • Acts 19:6; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 – Gifts such as tongues, prophesying and healing. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. / Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
  • Romans 15:13 – Hope. Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will about in the hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Romans 8:26-27 – Intercession. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

So in summary, the Holy Spirit’s role in my life and in our world is to teach me (us); testify about Jesus to me (us) and through me (us); convict me (us); guide me (us); intercede in prayer for me (us); and give me (us) boldness, peace, comfort, gifts, and hope.

Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, please help me to make room in my heart to receive all of these things from you. Help me to live in this victory so that my life is fully yours and I will never miss you.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

 

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