Tuesday, January 29, 2013

praying for change

"Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."  Matthew 17:20

"The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective."  James 5:16

When I was growing up (and admittedly, still in the concrete stage of thinking, developmentally), I read the verses about how if we ask anything in Jesus's name, God would do it.  And I believed it.  So I remember one time in my room just laying there on my waterbed and praying that God would make me float in the air, in Jesus's name.  

As you can imagine, he never really answered that prayer.  And I know now that I didn't really understand what it meant to pray in Jesus's name--or to pray according to the things that are in his character and that would accomplish his purposes and his will.

But as I pray now for my friends, it often seems like my prayers are just as ineffective as those prayers that I would float.  I pray daily that the Holy Spirit would break through into my friends' lives--that he would pour out his spirit on them, that their hearts would soften, that they would come awake spiritually, that the wounds caused them by Christians would heal.  And I have no idea if those things are happening--sometimes I just can't see a bit of difference.

I think though, that although we are invited to rest on the promise that our prayers are effective and that God can (and does) move mountains, there is no sense of time in those Scriptures.  We aren't told that if we pray today, the mountain will be gone tomorrow.  And in a world of instant gratification of lightening-speed internet and microwave ovens, I don't think we have to wait very often.

But I think it takes a long time--years even--to melt a heart of stone.  I think it takes a long time for people to change and be transformed.  And I think those changes are made up of microscopic changes over a long period of time.

This is one of those areas where we have to have faith.  We should persevere because we know that God is hearing our prayers, and if we are praying that God's will would be done, that his name would be glorified, and that his kingdom would come, we know that he will answer those prayers.  He is answering those prayers.  One day at a time.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Staying Connected

Where I live in West Michigan, there's a huge cultural divide between people who go to church and people who don't.  And there are so many religious people that the religious people rarely hang out with those who aren't part of their faith community.  Sure, they go to work with people of all different faiths, but all their time outside of work is spent with family (who all live nearby) or the people from their church.  So talking about evangelism in this context is a little tricky.  It often seems like a huge, scary, unknown thing to walk outside of the familiar to branch out to those who don't know Jesus.

Yet Jesus modeled the incarnation for us.  He left his place of comfort and security and perfection and came to earth to demonstrate the love of God.  Not to say that church or faith community is always comfortable or secure--and it's certainly not perfect!  But still, we should be following in Jesus's footsteps and looking outside the comfort of hanging out only with those who share our values and beliefs.  We should be building real, sincere relationships.  But how? 

Kevin Harney writes in this weeks Outreach Magazine some tips for staying connected to people outside your church community.  What do you think of his ideas?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Fencing God in

I've started reading The Message translation of the Bible--just as something different.  And there are things that it says that just really stand out.  Like the first chapter in Hosea.  It says,

    "The first time God spoke to Hosea he said:
     'Find a whore and marry her. . . .'"

I just about dropped my Bible.  I mean, I know the story of Hosea.  I know what it's supposed to teach us about God and his faithfulness even in light of our unfaithfulness.  But really.... the first time God spoke to Hosea, this is what he said?  And Hosea just went out and did it?  Incredible.  There aren't even words that could contain all the thoughts and feelings I have about that.

So many times we put God into nice and neat parameters that we've created for him.  We dissect and explain and sanitize and fence him in.  We make an object of him in our heads so that we can have a sense of control--so we know what to expect.  And when we talk to others about God, we introduce them to that god--the one we made up and put in our own minds, the one we think we can control like a puppet.  Is it any wonder that so few people seem interested?

What if, instead of that, we introduced people to the Person of Christ--this being who exists apart from us and outside of our own minds?  What if we modeled prayer and submission to this Person, but we let our friends get to know him themselves, as we would if we introduced them to any other person in our lives?  What if we prayed for Jesus to show up through the Holy Spirit and touch their lives in a real and personal way?  What if we demonstrated what radical following looks like?

When we talk about Jesus, it's so easy to slip into the abstract, to talk about our beliefs about who Jesus is like our beliefs define him.  They don't.  Jesus exists whether I believe in him or not.  Jesus is who he is whether I know that about him or not.  And if he is alive, living, and active in my life, then I can expect that he is working in the world around me as well.

What about you?  What kind of fences do you put up around God?  How do you communicate that to others when you talk about God with others?  How might you be able to introduce people to Jesus as a Person instead?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Tough Questions

I had a frank conversation with a friend recently that I wasn't well prepared for.  We were hanging out talking about other things, and somehow his emotional barriers to faith came up - he was struggling to understand how good people could be condemned to hell just because they don't believe in God, or if they believe in the wrong God.

This is a question that comes up fairly regularly with various friends, but I still wasn't prepared.  I didn't have a neat answer to share.  I didn't have any books in mind to recommend.  All I could do is speak from my own experience with God in trying to answer that question in a way that I can live with.  But even as I was sharing from my experience, I could tell that it wasn't actually hitting him where he was struggling.  The answers that I've come to within my relationship with God that allow me to be close to him didn't reach him where he was at.

So I left that conversation feeling like I'd missed an opportunity.  But even after I had time to reflect on it, I wasn't sure what I could've said differently.  I felt like maybe I needed to listen more, to hear more about the deeper issues behind the questions as he presented them.  I definitely came away feeling like I needed to keep talking to him and walking beside him.  I've also been made aware of the tip of the iceberg on his barriers to faith, so I'll be praying that the Spirit will show me what stories to tell or how to help him take the next steps.  Most of all, I'll be trying to model what faith looks like in my own life, even when there are doubts and difficult things.

What about you?  Would you have been discouraged by the conversation if you'd had it with a friend?  What are the things that you would be praying for as you continued in relationship with this friend?  What would you hope God would show you?