More Than Talking

Don’t you love the open, honest prayers of children? Not just the prompted ones that we’ve taught them to recite at dinner time or before bed. But the prayers that touch a nerve, like the following ones posted on our cmalliancekids Facebook page:

The subject of prayer—how I talk about it with my own children and how I teach kids at church—has been bubbling up over and over for me during these past few months.

“Prayer is talking and listening to God.” When discussing prayer with kids, that’s been my previous go-to description. But that definition changed a few months ago as I read Wesley Duewel’s Mighty Prevailing Prayer and came across this quote:

  1. T. Forsyth (a Scottish theologian) warns that we dare not reduce prayer to talking to God or even dialogue with God, “mere walking with God in friendly talk.” We will not only lose the aspect of spiritual conflict, of wrestling and prevailing, but we may lose prayer’s ultimate reality. We make it conversation, rather than the soul’s great action.

And this got me thinking. What do I truly think about prayer? Do I really believe it is powerful—that God answers prayer and that I should expectantly wait for His answers? Is it just me talking and listening to a God I have reduced to being only my friend—not the powerful, awesome God that He is? Matthew 7:7–8 says:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

As I’ve examined my attitudes toward prayer, I’ve been challenged to pray bolder prayers—ones that stretch my faith and make me seek Him in all things. Yes, prayer is getting to talk and listen to the God of the universe. But it is also our opportunity to participate in His greater work of bringing the Kingdom of God here to earth.

I want my prayers to make a difference in this world, and I want my kids—both my own and those I serve in ministry—to know that theirs do to. Let’s ask, seek, and knock together!

Catch Me!

Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

—Psalm 9:10 (NIV)

“Catch me, Mom!” Looking up from inside the pool, I saw a tangle of arms and legs flying toward me. There was no fear—just an absolute trust that I would be there to catch my son before he went under water.

As an adult who prides herself in doing constant risk assessment, I marvel at this level of abandonment and sheer trust. I test the water temperature before I ever stick a toe in the pool. I check to see how deep and clean the water is, looking for creatures that might have fallen in. When everything checks out, I cautiously slip into the pool, gradually lowering my limbs in one at a time. Sometimes, I think that I trust God’s promises in the same way. I take them one slow step at a time. I check to see if what God said could possibly be true—then, and only then, do I venture out in faith.

I have noticed that young children aren’t plagued with this reserved trust. If God says He answers prayer, then they expectantly look for His answer. If God promises to forgive them, then they confess and move on. If God calls them to tell others about Jesus, they boldly tell the grocery clerk about Him. No wonder Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14).They understand what it means to trust God freely—unreservedly.

Lately I have asked myself, What if I abandoned my caution and broke away from my adult-onset wariness? What would it look like if I trusted God wholeheartedly to be who He says He is? How would I act differently if I uninhibitedly trusted in the promises of His Word? These answers came to mind:

There is an amazing freedom that I am finding in this type of reckless trust in God that I never experienced in my previous cautious reliance on Him. I am starting to discover just how much fun it is to say, “Catch me, Father!”

How is your heart?

I have struggled with writing this blog post for months as I’ve wrestled with the Holy Spirit. He has been working in my heart, revealing to me that, despite my best efforts, I am prideful, envious, and filled with thoughts of comparison.

I’ve now started to realize the core of my sin: I have cared too much for what others think of me—or my ministry—and not cared enough about who Jesus is calling me to be or who He says I am. My heart screamed with fear that I have not been doing enough—that I am inadequate.

But then I read 2 Corinthians 10:12–18.   

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand….For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. (NIV)

Ouch, Paul!

As I read that passage, I had to reorient my perspective and repent of the comparison, judgement, and boasting in my heart—and my lack of wisdom. In 1 Corinthians 1:5–7, Paul says:

For in him [Christ] you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

It is not the works of my hands and the things that I do that I am to boast of. I am to boast about the work of Christ. He chooses to use me and to use you. I am to give glory, thanks, and praise in all situations. He gives me all I need, and I lack no spiritual gift.

As I’ve begun to understand that it is to be less about me and more about Him, my heart has started to heal. I’ve also found David Benner’s book The Gift of Being Yourself quite helpful in reorienting my heart back to the truth of Jesus.

“In order for our knowing of God’s love to be truly transformational,” Benner says, “it must become the basis of our identity . . . An identity grounded in God would mean that when we think of who we are, the first thing that would come to mind is our status as someone who is deeply loved by God.”

Can you imagine how much we could show the world God’s love if we were not concerned about our own accomplishments and instead felt deeply loved by Jesus? Knowing who we are in Christ can set us free. That is why it is important to know the truth of who the Bible says we are. It says we are:

And so much more. The C&MA has a wonderful resource that details all that the Bible has to say about who we are in Christ. You can find the downloadable resource here: http://cmalliance.org/about/family/leadership/books. It is a great place to start meditating on the truth of God’s word as we examine our hearts.

Pressing In

Originally published on July 13, 2018 at www.melissajmacdonald.com 

For the last 7 summers I have done camp ministry. I travel from camp to camp as a speaker to kids. I love it. By the end of this summer I will have done a total of 39 camps in 7 years.

Yes, I absolutely love the kids. I love speaking to them. I love helping make the Bible come alive to them, I love pointing them to Jesus, I love hearing their stories, I love journeying with them. It is a blessing.

These camps, however, always involve more than just kids. Inevitably, I end up sitting on a porch or deck or bench talking to adults. The staff who help make these camps run every week are amazing. They’re also people. They have their own hurts and struggles. I cannot tell you just how much I love talking to them, hearing their stories and speaking into their stories. A lot of my conversations are with adults in their late teens into their 20’s.

This year, I have been sensing a theme in the counsel I give these young adults. If I could put it into one sentence it would be this, “stop making stupid choices and start pressing into Jesus.” Profound right? Mind blowing. I should hang a shingle and do this for a living.

Let me preface what I say next by saying I don’t want to make light of anyone’s story. Our stories are hard. We live in a sinful world. Horrible things happen to us and are a part of what shapes us. Good and bad. I would never make light of the hard in anyone’s story. That being said, as I’ve been talking to young people I, quite unexpectedly, began to believe the same lies that they’ve been believing. “Life is hard, it’s just too hard to stick with Jesus. The world pulls at me and I try, I really do, but I keep losing.” “I sin because I can’t help it.” “I want Jesus, but I just can’t find him.”  I actually feel like I began to become numb to what they were telling me. Not that I didn’t hear it or care, because I do. However, I found myself going numb to their messaging. I didn’t even realize it, but I was buying it and I was discouraged. I even found myself thinking, “it is hard, it’s too hard. The cycle can’t end.” And, “maybe I’m just an exception, maybe I’m not normal.”

Then I had an encounter that put a spotlight on all of the icky and the dark I was buying into.

I talked to a 19-year-old girl at a camp recently. After I talked about hurt people hurting people and how we can stop the cycle (Pineapple People, for those who are aware), she waited until I talked to the line of campers eager to share their story and pray with me and then she came up and sat by me sobbing. I patted her arm and let her cry. She looked at me through her tears and her eyes had an undeniable look of joy. She poured out her story to me. Her story was tough, I mean really tough. Possibly one of the hardest I have heard recently. Divorced parents, multiple ugly custody battles, suicidal thoughts, suicidal attempts, abuse, anger, brokenness, etc.

She poured it all out and I just listened. It was beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, it was heart breaking and it was so messy, but it was beautiful. You see, this 19-year-old had joy in the midst of her story. Instead of being bogged down with excuses and apologies and martyrdom she was clinging to Jesus and He was making her story beautiful. With tears in her eyes she beamed at me and said, “I’ve come to the realization this year that I cannot do life without my Jesus. I just cannot do it. I need him.”.

She found Jesus through the love of a church, a youth group, a friend, and a youth conference. She spent her freshman year at a secular college. Instead of allowing the world to pull her away she pushed into Jesus. She told me, “After about 2 weeks I realized I couldn’t do it without my Jesus. I needed him with me. So, I tried to spend about 90 minutes every day (or week, because #collegelife) talking to Jesus. I journaled, I read my Bible, I talked to him.” She made it through her first year of college and came out loving Jesus more. MORE, not less.

Her summer is hard. Really hard. Family is tough and she, like all of us, desperately longs for parents who genuinely care about her and act like parents. She’s sad, she’s mourning, but she’s growing closer to Jesus. Does that not just bless your heart? I’m still over here smiling about it. I love this girl. More importantly, I love what she reminded me of. We serve a BIG God who pursues us and longs to be in deep relationship with us. He is, however, beautifully a gentleman and will not force himself on us. He doesn’t move, we move. He doesn’t quit, we do. He doesn’t give up, we do. He is there waiting to lavish his love on us. Oh, that we would press into Him. It’s not easy, but very few good things ever are. He redeems, He renews, and He creates beauty out of ashes all the time.

I want to be more like this girl. I want to press into Jesus more. I want to say proudly, “I cannot do life without my Jesus.”

You guys, at the risk of sounding simplistic, all you need is Jesus. He is more than enough. He’s there waiting for you. Now, it’s up to us to stop wallowing in our sin, in our past, in our mistakes, in the shadow of our story and start pressing into Him. Passivity in our relationship with Jesus has us circling the same issues day after day, year after year. You have all the power of the Holy Spirit available to you. Press into it, allow Him to fill you, allow Him to change your patterns and start writing new patterns for you.  Let’s stop making stupid choices and start pressing into Jesus.