November 29, 2011

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Mark 11:24

Prayer in the Bible is bold. It’s big. It’s without ceasing, in Paul’s words.

I constantly catch myself doing more wishful thinking than praying. I read David’s prayers in the psalms, and I’m a little uncomfortable. Did he just ask that of God? Yet David was a man after God’s own heart. Flawed, broken, redeemed — that’s a man who knows about boldness in prayer.

God has already answered our prayers. He’s just waiting for us to receive it.

Earnest love

November 22, 2011

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

1 Peter 4:8-10

I had a sweet opportunity to serve and bless one of my sisters this week. I had it all planned out. But then it didn’t go quite the way I wanted and things were being asked of me that weren’t part of my plan. I wanted to bless her but only within my parameters. “I want to bless you and here’s how I’m going to do it” is never the right attitude, but it’s the easiest way, isn’t it? As much as I’m an individualizer, and as much as I thrive on learning about others’ needs and strengths and hopes and fears, I often jump too quickly to serving them without first figuring out how they need to be served.

And once the plan crumbles, the grumbling starts. But in this case, I had read 1 Peter 4 the evening before, and it appeared in my mind as instant conviction. It’s not hospitality — or using my gift to serve — if I’m whining. And it certainly isn’t loving that person earnestly.

earnest, adj: serious in intention, purpose, or effort; sincerely zealous; showing depth and sincerity of feeling; seriously important; demanding or receiving serious attention.

There’s no space in deep and sincere feeling for grumbling. When you’re earnest, you’re way too busy giving serious intention to something seriously important. Complaining does nothing but steal attention that could be put to much better use. I want to be that good steward of God’s varied grace, stewarding his earnest love and the gifts I’ve received, experiencing the joy and awe of being covered by love.


October 25, 2011

And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Luke 8:43-48

Every year, my church has a women’s night in prayer. We stay up all night and we pray. We pray in small groups, in large groups, in tiny groups of two or three. We pray while washing each others’ feet, while sitting in a Sunday school classroom, while walking around the parking lot at 4 in the morning.

Last year, they gave us each a postcard with a name of God on it. Their prayer was that God would specifically reveal himself as that name to each of us individually. My card was physician.

When our Haiti team was formed, we were each asked to pick two names of God to study in preparation for the trip. We were tasked with writing a devotional about each name. One of mine was logos, the word. After writing about the word, I felt that it was really meant for you and me and not as much for the women of Haiti. But the other name I picked was physician. And that name is for you and me but is most definitely also for the women of Haiti.

Faith that Heals

ἰατρός (PHYSICIAN)

At our church back home, we are fond of talking about how, if God can raise Christ from the dead, he can do anything. Scripture tells us that God’s last enemy is death. If he can conquer death by bringing Jesus back to life, what could be impossible for him? It’s the ultimate demonstration of Matthew 19:26 — “With God, anything is possible.” We serve a God who can (and does!) do the impossible.

In my daily life, I often have to stop and ponder this truth. The truth that Christ has been raised is at the center of my faith. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” And still, even though I believe this is true — that we serve a big God who can do things that to us are impossible — I constantly struggle to entrust things to him in the day to day. My mind believes but I fail to live in that belief. I pray without genuine faith that he can do it.

I’ve had a sleeping disorder since I was a little girl. My mom can tell stories of how I was on an offset sleeping schedule even as a baby and toddler. When most babies were asleep early in the evening and awake early in the morning, I fell asleep much later and slept late into the day. When I was a toddler, there was a running joke in my family that every night, I had so much energy that I had to run around the house, making laps around the dining table, until I tumbled and ended up in tears.

As I grew into adolescence and my teenage years, my sleep schedule became more and more of a problem. I was expected to be at school and in class at 7 o’clock in the morning, which was often only a couple of hours after I’d fallen asleep. In college, I was able to craft my class schedule around my sleep cycle, to some degree; I enrolled in every 7-10 p.m. class I could find and avoided anything that started before 10 or 11 a.m. But early morning classes were often inevitable, and it was a struggle every single day. After college, I started working in a traditional professional environment where I had to be at my desk and ready to work early in the morning five days a week. On the weekends, I would sleep 10 or 12 hours each night, trying to create a sleep reservoir. It would keep me going strong for the first few days of the week, compensating for nights with only three hours of sleep. But by Friday, my reservoir was empty and I was exhausted.

Everyone had plenty of ideas for how I could be healed. Some doctors prescribed sleeping medications of all shapes and sizes, while other doctors simply encouraged me to find a different job with a more flexible schedule; naturopathic physicians gave me teas, supplements and other homeopathic remedies; a sleep specialist even had me staring into a blinding, bright light for 30 minutes every morning. Books spoke of the importance of creating a bedtime routine; magazine articles banned television or computer use before bed; very thoughtful friends gave me soothing bedtime candles, soothing bedtime music, soothing bedtime body lotion. And of course, there were many people — like my boss at work — who simply thought I lacked self-discipline and maturity, that I could grow out of it if I put my mind to it and forced myself to wake up at the same time every day.

I tried all of these solutions. I took medicine, drank tea, turned off electronics early in the evening, lit candles, played specific music, followed an exact bedtime routine every single day. I enforced extreme discipline on myself, giving up my indulgent weekend sleep to maintain a consistent schedule. Nothing worked — or even made a difference.

A few years later, I was at a dinner birthday party for one of my good friends. After dinner, we started talking about my sleep and how much of a challenge it was for me. I don’t like talking about myself — and I particularly dislike talking about my struggles — so I was uncomfortable and kept trying to steer the conversation in another direction. But my Spirit-filled friend had a purpose. She wanted to pray for me — specific, intentional, faithful prayers. And she wanted to encourage me to pray the same kind of prayers.

She asked me a simple question: Have you given this to the Lord? At first, I started to respond that of course I had given it to God; that was the right answer! But it wasn’t true. In the years before, I prayed for healing, but I didn’t really believe, in my heart of hearts, that he could (or, perhaps more accurately, wanted to) heal me. I didn’t claim the truth that the God who raised Jesus from the dead was my God, the God who lives in me. I was praying half-hearted prayers, not allowing the power of faith in prayer to truly penetrate to my heart.

My friend went on to tell me about her own miraculous story of healing. She had an illness that modern medicine tells us is incurable, and yet she has been cured. This friend is a woman marked by her faith in prayer — by her knowledge that prayer moves the hand of God. That God wants to heal his people. That God calls us to the kind of bold faith that believes we can be healed just by coming into contact with Jesus.

In his gospel, Luke tells us a similar story of miraculous healing. His story is about a woman who had a bleeding disorder for 12 years. She was desperate. Not only had she been suffering for over a decade, but she was also a complete outcast in her society because of her condition. To make maters worse, she was destitute. The story tells us that she spent all she had on physicians, and no one could heal her.

I read this story, and I feel for her. We don’t know anything about her — her name, her age, her ethnicity — and yet my heart is heavy for this woman. Obviously, my circumstances were far less severe, but I too had a long-term condition. I wasn’t an outcast from society, but I spent much of my life criticized by various people who thought I was just lazy or undisciplined or immature, and I worked for many people who were completely unsympathetic to my requests for a flexible or augmented schedule. In my imagination, I see her working to be a productive member of her society but still being pushed to the fringes — not because of any failings in her work but because of her illness. I’m there with her. But where we differ is in her response.

“She came up behind Jesus and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased.” (Luke 8:44) Can you just see her? There are people pressed all around Jesus as he walks through town, and she is being shoved from all directions, perhaps even getting shocked and disapproving looks from people who know who she is and what’s wrong with her. But she keeps reaching out because she knows if she can just brush the very tips of her fingers against his cloak, she will be healed. This is a woman defined by faith.

Jesus immediately knows what has happened, and he asks who touched him. The woman — the poor outcast — comes to him trembling and falls down at his feet. She’s terrified because she has crossed the lines of what is socially acceptable. Her faith was bold. And yet she has no reason to fear; Jesus responds by commending her faith. “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” Imagine standing before Christ and hearing him call you daughter and having him tell you that the miraculous things he has done in your life are because of your faith!

She is afraid because of who he is and who she is by comparison, and yet she’s exactly the kind of person Jesus wants to spend time with. As he explained to the scribes and Pharisees, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Mark 2:17) Jesus didn’t come to hang out with people who are well — in the body or in the heart. In the same way that Jesus came to heal the sick, he came to save the sinners. He is the healer of the whole person.

This woman’s story is such a beautiful picture of redemption. When something is broken in me, I tend to want to hide from God. I try to heal my hurts in isolation, by myself, away from both God and other people. And then when I’m “found out,” I shrink away even further. But this woman brings her brokenness to Christ and lays it bare, surrendering everything, knowing that he is the only one who can heal her — and when she’s found out, she falls at his feet in complete humility, praising him for his healing.

God wants to heal us, to make us whole, to sanctify us, to restore us. We just have to reach out in faith and touch his cloak — to intersect our lives with his and surrender it all to him.