The best way to show you love someone is to pray for them

Have you got someone in your life who you want to love but just can’t? Either because they are difficult to love in general or because they won’t let you love them at all?

I think everybody does. We all have those people in our lives. Maybe they’re friends. Maybe they’re family. Maybe they’re even what you could call your enemies. Whatever role they fall into in your life, you’re trying to do what God tells you to do and love them. But loving someone is hard enough when they love you back. How do you manage loving someone who doesn’t want it–or worse, how do you love someone who just doesn’t like you right now?

apart_bridgeToday’s verse is 1 Timothy 2:1.

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.

Prayer is the go-to answer for most questions in our life, especially the questions we don’t know how to handle. It’s easy to say that you’ll pray for someone. It’s easy to say that you’ll take it to the Lord in prayer. But it’s easier said than done.

Have you tried to pray for an hour before? Have you tried to pray for someone for more than five minutes? Not so easy. Five minutes doesn’t seem like a long time, but sit yourself down in a quiet room and try talking out loud for five minutes. You might run out of things to say.

The point is that prayer isn’t easy. We talk about it like it is, but that’s probably because most of us haven’t really tried it seriously. It’s a habit you have to get into.

Praying for someone is the best thing you can do to demonstrate how much you love them. Think about it. You’re approaching the God of the Universe and asking Him to help this other person in your life. That’s better than giving them money. Granted, they may not see it that way… at first.

The thing about prayer is that it’s rarely immediate. You don’t always see results right away. Often, you have to pray for something for years before you see God’s hand at work, although that doesn’t mean God waits for years to start working. It just takes us years to notice.

Prayer takes persistence, because quite frankly it feels like you’re not doing anything at all. It’s hard for me because I’m a doer. I’m a fixer. I want to get up and work. I want to go show somebody I love them instead of just telling them from a distance. But in the situations where you have people in your life who don’t want anything to do with you, you can’t exactly rush up to them, hug them, and start talking about life with them. I mean, you can try, but it probably won’t be well received, especially if it’s someone who doesn’t like you right now.

If you’re trying to reach out to someone who has cut you off, jumping back into his or her life and boldly exclaiming your love for them won’t come off genuinely.

It doesn’t feel like you’re doing anything to love someone by praying for them, but it’s truly the best thing you can do. And, frankly, you can’t do anything anyway. That’s the point.

Want to make a difference? Pray for the people in your life that you love. Pray for the people who love you and the ones who don’t. It’s the best gift you can give them. It’s the best way to show them how much you care. Maybe they don’t understand what it means. Maybe they don’t understand what prayer actually is. And that’s okay. Keep praying for them, and someday they will.

Cheer for ones who screw it up because you’re not perfect either

I actually sat down and watched a basketball game on television on purpose last night. In the last three years, this has happened on more than one occasion, mostly because my college, Wichita State University, has a pretty awesome basketball team.

Both teams did a fantastic job, and while I was definitely rooting for the Shockers, I was impressed by the Jayhawks too. The game was great, but something happened that really broke my heart.

It was in the final minute of the game. WSU was going to win. It was unavoidable by that point, but the Jayhawks were still trying to get a basket. And someone on the court (I don’t know who) got in a last-second three-pointer. It was a beautiful shot!

And nobody cheered.

Maybe a few did. But the vast majority of the KU fan base that was in the crowd didn’t cheer at all. Or if they did, I didn’t hear it.

Seriously? One of guys on their team scored a three-pointer at the last second and nobody cheered? Sure, it didn’t win the game. Sure it wasn’t going to help them win the game. But it was still a really impressive shot. Don’t they deserve recognition and encouragement for that?

Maybe it didn’t bother anyone else. But it bothered me. Because I see the same thing happen in our own lives over and over again.

NCAA2015_vanvleet_greeneToday’s verse is 1 Thessalonians 5:11.

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

It’s easy to give up on people, isn’t it? It’s so easy to just write people off, because the less you get your hopes up, the less you risk being hurt. And while there is wisdom in distancing yourself from truly foolish people who never learn, God never calls us to give up on anyone.

Just because you think you have it all together doesn’t give you the right to point out the failures in someone else’s life. But for the grace of God, you might be in the same place.

Following Jesus is a process. Yes, when you make the choice to follow Him, your sins are forgiven fully and immediately. That happens all at once. But learning to live for Him? Learning to turn away from your old life and cling to the new one? That takes time. And, unfortunately, it takes falling down frequently.

Maybe you know someone who has screwed up their life. Maybe you know a Christian who has screwed up their life. That doesn’t make them not a Christian anymore. Even the Prodigal Son got screwed up in Luke 15 because He had his eyes on something His Father hadn’t intended for him, but that didn’t mean he was no longer a son. He started in the Father’s family, and when he came to his senses, the Father was waiting for him.

Christians are going to screw up. We’re going to fall flat on our faces because we’re human and we’re not perfect. When that happens, it’s our responsibility to repent. We need to change our thinking and recognize that what we’ve done is wrong and not what God wants for us. That’s part of being a Christian. But the last thing a Christian who’s stumbled needs is another Christian refusing to support them because they’ve messed up.

No, don’t deny the sin. Call it what it is. And don’t make excuses for their choices. They had a choice, and they made it. But if they’ve turned away from it, if they’ve changed their mind about that behavior, don’t keep rubbing it in their face. God has forgiven them. Why can’t you?

Instead, encourage them. Remind them how much God loves them. Remind them what it means to cling to God’s grace. Tell them what God has done in your own life, and love them unconditionally–the same way Jesus loves you. And when they make a choice that will bring glory and praise to God, cheer them on.

No, one good choice can’t make up for all the bad stuff they’ve done in the past. But the same is true for you, Christ-follower. Maybe they lost the battle, but that doesn’t mean they should give up. Just like you shouldn’t give up on them.

Do you know someone who’s struggling? Do you know a Christian who has completely screwed up his or her life? Are they doing all they can to follow God? Cheer them on.

They might have lost a battle, but the war isn’t theirs to win anyway. And it’s not yours either.

We aren’t called to live in chaos

Have you ever been in the grocery store and picked up an apple or a green pepper from the bottom of a stack and watched the whole mountain above come crashing down at your feet? Sad to say, I’ve seen it. I’ve done it. And that’s a pretty fair picture of my life right now.

I am currently living in chaos. Just being honest. When you’re sick for a month, life and responsibilities just stack up, and then when you’re well enough to put things back together again, it feels like you cause an avalanche of apples or green peppers with every project you decide to work on.

But one thing I learned a long time ago is that God doesn’t call His children to live in chaos.

This is not my picture.... Not my office either, but I'm almost this bad

This is not my picture…. Not my office either, but I’m almost this bad

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 14:40.

But be sure that everything is done properly and in order.

This verse is actually part of the first letter Paul issued to the Church of Corinth. Man, you think your church has problems? Oi. Nobody has problems like the Church of Corinth. It was a mess, and Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, addressed the issues in the book of First Corinthians.

While this message is primarily directed at a church gone haywire, I think there’s truth in it for our everyday lives too. So how do you live life properly? How do you live life in order?

So what is proper? That word always makes me think of Jane Austen novels and Victorian etiquette. Obviously, that’s not what it means. And in order? There are lots of ways you can put something in order. Which one is this talking about?

You guys know I love a word study.

The word we translate properly in this instance in the Greek is εὐσχημόνως (Strong’s Concordance word 2156, if you want to check it out yourself), and this word only appears in the New Testament three times (Romans 13:13, 1 Corinthians 14;40, and 1 Thessalonians 4:12). It always talks about behavior, especially behavior that is in good form. Decorously becoming. What’s respectable, modest, noble.

The word we translate in order in the Greek is ταξιν (Strong’s Concordance word 5010). It’s a little more frequently used in the New Testament–9 occurrences total for the root word. But what’s interesting about this one is that it’s a military term used in ancient Greece, suggesting a detailed ordering of a group of soldiers.

So what does that tell us? Proper behavior isn’t sipping tea with your pinkie crooked. It’s making choices in life that are respectable and modest. If we are to live properly, that means we live a life that is worthy of respect.

And living a life in order means we need to know what’s happening in our lives, as specifically as a soldier knows his duties. I also think it’s interesting that soldiers live a very simple life usually. They don’t have a lot of possessions, and they don’t usually take on more duties than they are assigned. At least, the soldiers I know don’t.

Living a life that’s worthy of respect and that is clearly defined in its responsibilities? Sounds pretty nice to me.

In my experience, we tell everyone yes. We want to help everybody. We want to make everyone happy, so we rarely say no. And as a result, our calendars are so overfilled with appointments and responsibilities that we can’t keep anything straight. So step one is to learn how to gently say no to the extra activities that stress us out.

Get the basics down. Know your responsibilities–your duties. What you have to do today. What you have to do tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that. And don’t just know it–do it. The basics of life are like the foundation of a building, and if they aren’t properly cared for, the whole structure will come crashing down. Prioritize.

Don’t have so much going on that you can’t keep track of everything. And if you simply have to have lots happening, find a way to organize it. Keep track of it. The more that slips through the cracks, the less respectable you’ll be. And part of living the kind of life we’re called to is to be worthy of respect.

We aren’t called to live in chaos. God calls all of us–our churches, our families, our personal selves–to live orderly lives worthy of respect. It’s not an easy calling. It means we have to make difficult decisions. We have to say no sometimes. We have to cut things out of our schedules that we might want to do.

So think about it. Do you really enjoy chaos? I don’t. Nobody is going to make you do it. It’s a decision you have to make on your own. It’s between you and the Lord. But nothing is going to change until you make up your mind.

How does God give us strength to face life’s challenges?

I don’t like social events with people I don’t know well. Just being honest. I know that’s usually the point of social events–to get to know people better. But I am a classic introvert. I detest small talk, and I have very little talent for starting a conversation with someone I don’t know.

But if I can go to a social event with someone I know well, things are different. Or if there is someone in attendance at the event that I know well, my comfort level goes through the roof. Why is that?

Whether it’s my brother or my best friend or just someone who I’m close to, as long as they’re by my side, I feel ten times stronger. I don’t know if it’s the comfort factor of knowing they’ve got my back. Maybe it’s knowing they can help me pick up the conversation with a stranger if it starts to lag.

All I know is that when someone else is by my side, it’s not so hard to do the things I need to do, whether that’s as an accountability partner or as a sidekick in a socially awkward situation.

too_heavyToday’s verse is Haggai 2:4.

But now the Lord says: Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

This isn’t the only verse in Scripture that makes the correlation between being strong and God’s presence. The Bible is full of instances where God tells His people to be strong because He’s there. And I guess just practically speaking what does that mean for us today?

It’s all well and good to say, “Be strong because God is with you” when you’re going through a tough time in your life, but that doesn’t mean God is going to show up and fix your problems for you. That doesn’t mean He’s going to do that scary job interview for you. That doesn’t mean He’s going to do the heavy lifting in your life.

Is it just a generic feel-good statement? “Hey, God’s here, so don’t be afraid!” Great for comforting people in an ethereal, religious sense, but what does it actually mean?

I like practicality. I like useful statements. And what I’ve learned about the Bible (and about God) over the years is that He is both practical and useful. There’s nothing fluffy about God. He doesn’t waste words. So if He feels the need throughout Scripture to make a connection between His presence and our comfort, there must be a practical reason for it. And there must be a practical application for our lives.

Have you ever been in the situation where you had to face a terrible challenge? Maybe it was an illness or the loss of a loved one. Maybe you lost your job or the funding for your school bills didn’t come through. We all have those moments in life where it feels like everything comes to a standstill while we deal with the grief and the disappointment and the anxiety.

In the aftermath of those moments, or even while we’re still dealing with them, where do you get the strength to keep going? Where do you draw your strength to face those challenges without giving up?

Some people do give up. Some people throw in the towel and walk away, and that’s certainly their choice. But the heroes of our world are the ones who stick to it and face impossible odds and overcome, but where does that strength come from? Sure, maybe some people have a moral strength of character that’s superior to others, but nine times out of ten, the people who have overcome the impossible things in life are drawing from a well of faith.

God’s presence doesn’t mean that He’s going to take our troubles away. No, most of the time, we need to face those troubles to learn something. But knowing that God is by our side throughout those struggles should bring us comfort and peace in the midst of them. Why?

If we trust that God is with us, that means we aren’t facing these troubles alone. If God is with us, He knows what’s coming and He’s someone we can turn to for guidance and wisdom and unconditional love no matter what.

God has ways of communicating with us. It’s not voices in the clouds or religious portraits in grilled cheese sandwiches. It’s through the Bible. It’s through His servants. And it’s through His Spirit in us.

There have been so many times in my life where I’ve been going through a difficult time and didn’t know what to do, and all I had to do was ask God for help and suddenly I’d know the answer I was looking for. Or I’d find it in Scripture. Or a mentor or friend would say something to me that helped me see the problem in a different light.

Having God by my side means He knows what is coming in my life. He’s God. He’s seen it. And He knows I can get through it. And that gives me courage to face whatever comes. No, God’s presence won’t magically imbue us with superpowers. I mean, it could. There’s no limits on what God can do. But generally speaking He doesn’t choose to act that way frequently in our world nowadays.

God loves us unconditionally. God has seen the plans He has for us, and they’re good, by the way. And for those who love Him, He’s working out the details for our benefit and His glory. That’s who God is. That’s who has your back, because He’s also promised to never leave us.

Knowing that, we can all be bold. We can all have courage. Because, seriously, who wouldn’t want to go to a party with Somebody like that?

Dreams are impossible until God gets His hands on them

One of the biggest blessings we have as Americans is the ability to be able to chase our dreams. You realize that, right? If you have a dream, you can pursue it. You’re free to do it.

Sure, it may cost you some money. It may take a lot of time. It will certainly take a lot of effort. But you are free to chase whatever dream is building at the back of your brain without the interference of government (for the most part). No one in this country is going to tell you that you can’t do it because you’re a certain race or a certain status. Well, maybe some will, but generally speaking they don’t know what they’re talking about anyway. And in my experience, the more unlikely a success you are, the more your real friends will support you in your decision to chase your dream.

I’m living a dream right now. Working from home. Supporting myself through writing. Crafting novels. It’s a dream come true. It’s a dream I’ve had my whole life.

But there is one important thing to remember about chasing a dream. If you want to be successful–which to my mind means lasting success–you need to first make sure that your dream is the life God wants for you. Otherwise, you’re just chasing the wind. You’ll never catch it, and all you’ll do is wear yourself out.

6940-balloon_edited_630w_tnToday’s verses are Psalm 37:4-7.

Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him.

God gives everyone a dream or a goal or a purpose for their lives. I do believe that. It’s just that some of God’s more practical children don’t get caught up in dreaming, so it’s hard for them to call what God’s given them a dream. For them, they have a goal or a purpose for their life. Either way, that reason for being or living or achieving comes from God.

At least, it should. And surely for Christ-followers, it should. But are the dreams we’re chasing really from God? Are our ambitions really from God? Does that goal or that achievement you’re working so hard for really come from Him? And how do you know if it does or doesn’t?

Dreams are dangerous. Goals are dangerous. People will risk everything to achieve them, and that’s why it’s so important to make sure you’ve got permission to chase that dream or goal before you set a single foot on that path.

One thing I’ve learned about chasing your dreams is that God won’t allow you to succeed if the path you’re following will take you away from Him. It won’t work. You can try your hardest. You can work through the night. But if you’re chasing a dream without God’s permission, you’re going to fail. Maybe not right away. Maybe you’ll bleed out slowly. But at the end of your finances and your resources and your relationships, you’ll be just as far away from achieving your dream as you were when you started.

God will never give you permission to pursue a dream if it means going against what He says is a healthy life. He will never tell you to put your ambitions higher than your relationship with Him. He will never tell you to prioritize your dreams higher than your family.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, especially when you want your dreams to come true so badly. I remember the day vividly in 2006 when I had to go back to work, the first time I tried freelance writing.

Or did you think this was the first time I’d tried this ridiculous idea? Oh, no. I’ve been here before. And I failed. Sure, God used it. I learned a lot. But mostly I learned that it wasn’t time for me to be chasing my dream yet.

When I had to go back to work again, I can’t even tell you how crushed I was. I didn’t know what I had done wrong. It felt like giving up. And it felt like I wasn’t even worthy of pursuing my dream because I would never succeed. All I would do is fail.

And I was right. Because what Christ-followers need to understand about pursuing a dream is that they’re not our dreams. Those ambitions or purposes or goals or dreams or whatever you want to call them–if they’re in your heart, God put them there. He designed those desires for a reason, and you shouldn’t ignore them. But you also shouldn’t go chasing them half-cocked because without God’s help, you’ll never achieve them.

Dreams are impossible. Until God gets His hands on them. But that means you have to let them go first.

If dreams were achievable on our own strength, we wouldn’t have to trust the Lord. We wouldn’t have to commit our ways to Him. We wouldn’t have to wait patiently. But that’s the first step to achieving your dream: Recognize who gave it to you and give it back to Him.

Trust God with your dream. It’s hard to let it go. Believe me, it’s like ripping your heart out. But once you give it to Him and you walk away from it, He’ll give it back. And it will be bigger and better than you ever imagined.