Enter into the Presence of God (Philippians 4:6-7)

Philippians 4 6

“Don’t be anxious” = don’t worry!

“In everything prayer” = pray about everything!

“Supplication” = tell God what you need!

“Thanksgiving” = thank God for your blessings!

“Be made known to God” = share your feelings with God!

Then what will happen? Verse 7 says, “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (NLT).

Do you want to experience peace? Do you want God to guard your hearts and mind? Then you need to do what Paul says to do in verse 6! Basically, he says to pray about EVERYTHING!

But when we hear that, we think, does he really mean everything?

I knew a guy who told me that he didn’t want to pray for himself because he didn’t want to burden God with his insignificant problems (he said this even when his problems were not insignificant to most). He said he felt greedy or selfish when he prayed for himself. Do you feel that way sometimes?

Let’s think of it a different way. Think of your best friend or maybe your spouse or child. What’s the longest you have gone without speaking to them? Hopefully, not too long, right? Why is that? Because we need to communicate and share with the people we love. Our words and presence build the relationship. Without communication and presence, how can the relationship grow?

In order to grow and nurture a relationship, presence and communication are required. We can see it in our human relationships, and it’s the same for our relationship with God. God WANTS us to communicate with him. God WANTS to spend time with us in prayer and worship. And he WANTS us to share with him what’s going on in our hearts. If it’s important enough for us to worry about or even think about, then it’s important enough to share with God.

Prayer is not about giving God a magic wish list; it’s about building an authentic relationship with our Father.

Finding New Strength

You caught me. I’m still engaged with those eagles! (http://www.dickpritchettrealestate.com/eagle-feed.html#) But this time I’m thinking about this verse from Isaiah 40:31:

But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles.

2016 was a very difficult year for many people. There were certainly some cultural issues, whose effects are still being felt. But there were also personal struggles – illness, financial hardship, heart break, and loss. What I see in this verse is that when we put our trust in God, God will give us new strength. And not just any strength, but strength like eagles soaring in the air.

When you look at the baby eagle in the video, though, you don’t see much that you would want to aspire to. At just days old, the baby barely moves around and is totally dependent on mom and dad. Yet that’s how we all start out in our faith. We don’t yet have wings that will carry us through the hard times – we are just babies. It takes time and perseverance to develop the wings of an eagle. And even after the wings develop, it is still a challenge to learn how to use them.

If you’re going through a tough time right now, I would encourage you to not lose hope. Rely on God to get you through this, and have faith that he will. In saying that, I encourage you to seek the counsel, support, and love of your local faith community and pastor. They will be there for you as you walk through this troubling time. And as you traverse the valley together, you will come out the other side stronger in your faith and feeling more like an eagle whose wings will carry you through your next journey.

If you’re struggling to have hope for the future, take a little time and write down in a journal or even a Word document, how God has blessed you. Make this gratitude list so that you can see the many ways God has been faithful in the past. This will help encourage you for the future. God will never leave you nor forsake you – even if it feels like it sometimes.

Whatever your struggle, I pray that God would bless you and help strengthen you in the days and weeks ahead. If you have a personal situation that you’d like me to pray for, please contact me (kevin@hayschristianchurch.org) and I will pray.

Grief is a Strange Thing

Grief is a strange thing.

For those of you who don’t know, we have begun the process of adoption. We decided to foster to adopt, so we went through the process of becoming a licensed foster home. During this journey, at two different points we were told that a child was going to be placed in our home. And at two different points, we were told that that was not going to happen.

With the first child, it was a situation where the kids and I never had visits with him, and so it never felt real to me. I purposely didn’t want to know much about him and I never wanted to meet him until I knew that we were moving further in the process. I guess I was trying to protect myself from getting attached.

With the second child, we had already had family visits with the child, and were, as a family, actively talking about the possibility of adopting him. Due to some things outside of our control, we now know that that boy will be placed with another family as well.

Though the circumstances were different, it still makes me wonder what God has planned for us.

When I shared our situation on Facebook, many of my friends committed to praying for us, and I am grateful for their prayers. I truly do feel a peace that I didn’t have when I initially posted. But now I’m faced with the grieving process. I know that I didn’t know the boy for very long, but there’s something different about meeting someone who you are told could be added to your forever family. You think differently. You feel differently.

I’m feeling stuck now between feelings of peace and sadness and anger. Honestly, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be feeling. There are times when I feel OK, and there are times, like when I took Kamryn on a daddy-daughter date yesterday, that I feel happy. Yet in that happiness, I felt a tinge of guilt. Can I truly feel happy when this has happened? I asked my friends and family to pray, and I genuinely feel saddened by the situation – I feel the loss – yet now I find myself feeling joy with my daughter. Is that OK?

I’m going this weekend with Logan to Seattle for a guys’ weekend for the Seahawks playoff game. Am I allowed to feel happy and excited to take my son to his first home Seahawks game? If people see me being happy, posting pictures of our fun, will they feel like maybe I wasn’t so heartbroken after all? Should that matter? I don’t know.

All I know is that my emotions are wide-ranging right now and all I can do is be honest about them. I can’t control what people think about me, and I’m going to try not to worry about that and just live in the moments that I have with Logan this weekend.

God sees the whole picture and has a plan. I choose to trust in that and trust that God will never leave me, and that God loves me no matter how I might be feeling at any given moment. Thank you, friends, for your continued love and support! It means the world to me.

Seasons Change, God Remains

I can’t believe we have entered the first week of August! This summer has certainly flown by! In just another week and a half school will begin, and before you know it, it will be time for Thanksgiving and Christmas! As I say that, I’m anxious, saddened, and excited all at once!

In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Solomon tells us: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (selected verses).

Of course we all understand this. We go through seasons of life – some good, some bad, and some “normal”. But we know that whatever we’re going through is just for a season. Seasons change and so do our circumstances. That can be encouraging when we’re going through hard times, and that can be disheartening when we’re in the happy times.

No matter what is happening in our lives, Scripture tells us that we are to “be joyful always, pray at all times, and be thankful in all circumstances.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18). True joy is not mere happiness and smiles, in fact, sometimes you can be joyful and profoundly sad at the same time. Joy has to do with our attitude in the midst of our life experiences. No matter what we are going through we can choose to rely on God and trust in his plan for our lives.

A counseling professor of mine, Dr. Greg Delort, drilled into us that the question, “How does that make you feel?” is a very bad question to ask. The reason? Nothing has the power to MAKE us feel anything. No matter what we’re experiencing, we ALWAYS have the choice to make about how we will respond. As a Christ-follower, I can take comfort that God is always with me, so no matter what I’m going through, I’m not alone.

But how do we find true joyfulness, a true attitude of joy, in the midst of suffering and pain? The answer is in the second and third parts of the passage. We are to pray and be thankful.

Prayer is our direct link to the Creator. It’s the primary way we have fellowship with God. When we pray, we speak with God, telling him our hearts, and we also listen to God, asking him to speak to us through the Holy Spirit. Often we think that prayer is only the time we are actually talking to God, but in reality, some of the most rewarding times of prayer are times spent being still, simply listening for God’s voice. As we pray, we connect to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the giver and sustainer of life. Through this connection we start to get a picture of the eternal matters of God’s heart. When we are able to recognize what’s really important through prayer, we begin to be thankful for the many blessings God has given us. That can give us the encouragement we need to make it through whatever season we may be going through.

Prayer History Begins (My Prayer Journey, Part 2)

The history of prayer and worship begins with Genesis 4:26. “At that time people first began to worship the LORD by name.”

At the beginning of chapter 4, Eve gives birth to Abel and then Cain. As we read through the chapter, we find the familiar story of the brothers and the first murder in history.

Cain and Abel both offer sacrifices to the Lord, but Cain’s is rejected and Abel’s is accepted. Scripture is vague about why the sacrifice of one was accepted and one rejected, and there is much speculation. Suffice it to say, Cain is upset that his worship is rejected and kills his brother Abel.

The Lord punishes Cain by banishing him from his family and territory and he is forced to start a new life. Through Cain’s descendants, the world was introduced to the arts and industry. He was a worldly man and indeed brought great benefit to the world around him. What was missing was worship and respect for the Lord.

On the other hand, Eve was blessed with another son, Seth, who was to take Abel’s place and carry on the family’s heritage as the new firstborn son. It was through this lineage that public worship was formed.

The paths these two brothers were on could not have been further from one another. One valued the world and one valued his relationship with God. There is a stark contrast between the ways of the world and the ways of worship, prayer, and following God. Enosh, the son of Seth, helped form and shape the way in which people expressed their desire to follow God. While Cain went his own way through disobedience, beginning with the rejected sacrifice, Seth (Abel)’s son followed God.

We have to be careful to not allow the world around us distract us from truly worshipping God through prayer and service. The things that the world offers can certainly be good, but they cannot become the sole focus of our lives.

As we seek to pray and grow closer to God, we have a choice to make: Do we follow the world and its priorities, or do we follow the Way of God? A life of worship and prayer stands in stark contrast to the life of worldly priorities.

I wonder, what in my life is keeping me from worshipping and praying? There are so many distractions and things that attempt to pull me away from true worship and prayer. Some of these things are even “good” things. But if I allow myself to be taken from my highest calling, that is, prayer and worship of God, then I have missed the mark, just as Cain missed the mark in his sacrifice. God doesn’t want my seconds – he wants the first and best parts of me.

So what about you? What keeps you from worshipping and praying the way you would like?

Lord, Teach Me to Pray (My Prayer Journey, Part 1)

As I sit this morning in a local coffee shop, I am reading my prayer devotional (Draw the Circle: The 40 Day Prayer Challenge by Mark Batterson), and I’m struck by one particular story.

A grandfather was walking by his granddaughter’s room one evening and he hears her praying, “Dear Lord, a, b, c, d, e, f, g…” and so on, all the way to “z. Amen.”

He asks her why she prayed the alphabet, and she answers simply, “Grandpa, I didn’t know what to pray for, so I prayed all the letters and let God put them together.”

That story strikes me more and more as I consider it.

One of the things that Batterson encourages you to do is make a prayer list of prayers to circle. Circling a prayer simply means that you are going to continue to pray for those things that the Lord impresses upon your heart, and those things that are important to you.

I have quite the list of prayers that I am circling. They are all written, as I am much more comfortable with the written word that my somewhat random and rambling prayers. But the story of the “alphabet prayer” touched me. Would I ever have the courage to pray like that?

You may be thinking that courage is not the right word, but in many ways it is. You see, at least at some level, I have believed that there are “rules” for prayer. It sounds strange to write that and admit it. If someone were to ask me about the rules of prayer, I would say that the only rule is that you’re genuine. That is, believe what you’re saying and be honest with God. The specific words you use are not as important as your heart.

Yet I consider my own prayer life, I see that at some level I have been following “rules.” Where these rules came from is a subject for another time, but suffice it to say, I want to change that.

I was with a family over these past few weeks who was grieving the loss of their mother. She was ill and admitted to hospice. As a pastor, I try to provide God’s comfort in those times. But I also pray. And that part has always been awkward for me. I don’t want to pray the wrong thing or offend someone or put too much of the blame/responsibility on God. It can be quite stressful for me, the arguments going on in my head.

In this particular case, however, the family members also prayed. And one person in particular *prayed*. I was in awe of her prayers. I was listening to someone who had a deep relationship with God that was intimate and powerful. And I want that. But I don’t know how. I don’t know how to pray like that.

I’ve read many good books on prayer. I’ve tried praying in different ways. But I don’t believe that I’ve actually prayed, “Lord, teach me to pray.” That simple prayer hit me like a ton of bricks. The disciples didn’t ask Jesus how to preach, they asked him how to pray. I need to do the same thing.

So I’m beginning a prayer-learning journey. And it begins in Genesis. I found a list of “All the Prayers in the Bible” by Herbert Lockyer. I’m going to read and study them. And I started today with the first one. My hope is that as I do this, I will learn from the fathers and mothers of our faith, those found in the pages of Inspired Scripture, and that I would be transformed by the Word of God. I’ll post at least a few of these as I go, and I hope that they can be an encouragement to you as I go.

Lord, teach me to pray.

Does Habitual Spirituality Work?

This year is leap year. That means we get one extra day in our calendar, and it got me thinking, what are we supposed to do with it?

I recently saw a television show devote an entire episode to leap year day. One family took the day off from work and school and did only fun, crazy, and adventurous things for the day. One person actually had his birthday on February 29, so he had a 10th birthday party.

I don’t know that I am going to go all out with a special day of adventure, but I do want to honor the extra time God has given me in some way to worship and praise Him. Each and every day we are to praise God, and this year we get one extra day to do just that. But am I really praising and worshipping God each day of my life? That’s a hard question to answer.

You’d think that since I am a pastor, the answer would be an easy and hearty yes. Virtually every day of my life I am involved in some aspect of ministry. Whether that be composing sermons, visiting the sick, calling on members and guests, or studying the Bible, my activities generally have some aspect of ministry and should inherently involve worship of God.

The problem is that sometimes I do these things out of habit instead of with admiration and awe for my Creator.

In thinking about this, I think we are all guilty of falling into habitual forms of virtually everything we do. We go through the same routine each morning. We drive the same way to work each day. We may even go to the same place for vacation each year. We get into a routine. And for the most part, we’re OK with that. We may even like that. It’s comfortable; it works.

The problem with routine is that we can do it without really engaging our brains or our emotions. We do it almost automatically and don’t consciously think about what or why we’re doing it. In Mark Batterson’s prayer devotion called Draw the Circle, he says that after singing a song 30 times, we stop thinking about the meaning of the words. We sing it out of rote memory, and the conscious thought process we once had with the song is gone. It doesn’t mean we don’t love the song – it just means we’re not thinking about it anymore.

That familiarity and disengagement of our brain’s thought processes has some pretty interesting implications for worship on Sunday mornings. It also highlights the need for us to reexamine other areas of our habit-filled life.

Habits, of course, are not bad. They allow us to do things quickly and more easily. But when we allow our spiritual practices to become habit, we are in danger of losing their meaning and true purpose – connecting with God in a personal way.

My challenge for you (and for me) is to examine your spiritual practices and ensure that you’re still engaging your mind and your heart when you do them. Are you praying the same prayer you’ve always prayed? Are you reading the same book? Are you just making donations without really thinking about or praying for the charity you’re supporting? If yes, change it up somehow so that you can really engage all of your being in the task. Try standing when you pray. Try reading outside, or a new book. Try writing a letter of thanks or support to send with the donation check.

Habits are not a bad thing – but they can become a trap for us when we allow our brains to go on auto-pilot when it comes to matters of faith and practice. Our relationship with God needs to be a matter of the heart and the mind – we must take care not to neglect either.

What is good enough? A reflection on the responses to Paris

This past week the world experienced a great tragedy in Paris. Over 120 people were killed and hundreds more were injured. It was horrific. Evil seemed to have won the day.

Yet as many of my friends on social media turned their profile pictures to one of the French flag, others turned their sights on those who did so. I saw post after post talking about how terrible it was that people were showing signs of compassion for the French when these atrocities are happening every day in developing countries.

This frustrates me; angers me, even.

An international tragedy has struck, the media is covering it extensively, and people don’t know what to do. They want to help in some way; show some sign of support – and Facebook provided that. They temporarily changed their profile photos to the French flag and prayed for all those affected. How dare people attack them for doing so!

I know that there are terrible, evil things happening all over the globe. I know that people are dying every day from AIDS, malaria, hunger, sex trafficking, and terrorism. Tragically, those issues aren’t getting the attention they deserve or the media coverage that is worthy of problems of that magnitude. I wish it wasn’t so. I wish that we could all open our eyes and see the atrocities of the world so that we could truly be making positive change in the world.

However, when an attack happens and the world is taken aback, that is not the time to shame people and try to guilt them into feeling differently about these other issues. Instead, let’s applaud them for being good, decent human beings who care about the loss of human life. Just because they aren’t posting about other issues, does not mean that they are bad people or need to be shamed.

Perhaps we need to be looking at the media in general, asking why they aren’t covering these other issues? And why is the Church silent? Those would be very good places to start. Because as we’ve seen, when people gain the knowledge of atrocities, they often respond with sympathy and with prayer.

Let’s put down the guns we’re aiming at each other, and work together to solve some of these problems. It doesn’t do any good to attack other Christ-followers when they are doing something good, just because in your estimation, it’s not good enough.