Photo of SEA-TAC airport's security line (not mine), Seattle, WA

How God used TSA to remind me not to worry

I’ve been traveling for the past week, first to Seattle for an executive writing conference and then to Chicago for a regional meeting for my company. It’s been a crazy week of high stress, even though I’ve been doing my level best not to be stressed out. But travel is stressful, especially for a control freak, because there’s so much about airplane travel that you can’t control. The biggest stress factor is getting through security.

Getting through security in Wichita, Kansas, isn’t difficult. Maybe it takes 10 minutes. Maybe 15 on a bad day. But people in Wichita think 15 people is a line, sort of like we think we have traffic. If you’ve never tried to get through security in a major international airport, you won’t understand. But if you’ve travelled at all, you can identify with the photo I put up for today’s blog. I didn’t take it, and it actually doesn’t even demonstrate how busy the Seattle airport was on the day I was there. But you get the idea.

I came around the corner and saw the line in front of me and thought: “There’s no way on Earth I’m going to get through this in less than two hours.” And that’s how much time I had before my flight started boarding. Immediately, I knew I was going to miss my flight. It was going to be a nightmare. And I told myself that I should have been more demanding of the shuttle driver that he stop dawdling and get us to the airport when he’d told me he would, instead of stopping to pick up random passengers and then not dropping me off at my gate until the very last. But no, I had to be nice and sit in my seat and just take it. And what did I get for it? I was going to be late.

I was so irritated at myself. And then, I heard this little nagging voice at the back of my head. It said, “Stop being silly and pray about it.” Ever had one of those moments? When you know you should pray about something but you hesitate because you feel like a moron that you hadn’t thought of it sooner? Yeah. That was me. Moron. So I prayed (quite ashamed of myself) that God would help me somehow–miraculously–make it to my flight on time. I even texted my mom.

Then, something miraculous happened.

Just after I asked Mom to pray, I got to the little kiosk where the security dude was checking IDs. He checked mine and then inexplicably waved me to a different line than anyone else. At first, I thought something was wrong. I thought I was in trouble or I had done something I shouldn’t have. And then I saw the signs that read TSA Pre-Check. It’s a new initiative that they’re starting up apparently, and in this expedited line I didn’t have to take off my shoes, my belt, my jacket, or my hat. I didn’t have to pull out my laptop, my tablet, my phone, or any other electronics. And I didn’t have to pull out my little bag of cosmetics. I just got to throw everything on the belt and walk through the scanner, and I was done.

I texted my mom at 3:14 p.m. and asked her to pray and guess what? In a mere 12 minutes, I was through. Completely through security with no problems, no hangups, no delays, and no trouble. By all rights, I should have been in that security line for the next hour and a half easy. But somehow my boarding pass had been marked as approved for TSA Pre-Check, something the airline did without my knowledge (and only on that flight and none of the others).

I made my flight with time to spare. And I sat at my gate sipping a coffee and kicking myself, today’s verse circling my brain.

Photo of SEA-TAC airport's security line (not mine), Seattle, WA
Photo of SEA-TAC airport’s security line (not mine), Seattle, WA

Today’s verse Philippians 4:6.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

I’ve posted on this verse before, and I took up a lot of time with the story in the introduction. So I’m not going to belabor a point. I just needed to remember this. I need to remember this every day. Shoot, I need to remember it every hour.

There are so many things in my life that I want to worry about. There are so many things in my life that I want to be in control of. There are so many things in my life that I think I need to fix. The plain and simple truth is that I’m powerless to really do anything at all, and I need to fully rely on God for every step I take, every breath I breathe.

My first reaction at the length of that security line was to worry. Tell me, exactly what good did worrying about the length of that line do? Nothing. It stressed me out. It upset me. It frustrated me. I had no control over it and no way to take control. My only option would be to push through the line and ask people to move out of the way so I could get through, as if my flight was more important than theirs. Yeah, not the best witness ever.

I guess what I’m trying to get at this morning is that God already had it sorted out. I just didn’t know it. And it took TSA to help me remember that when I’m facing a challenge that I can’t control, sometimes you just need to keep moving forward and trust that it will work for the best. I was in the right place. I had done everything I could (while keeping my testimony intact) to get there on time. I just had to let God take care of the rest. And He did.

So, next time you need something, ask God for it. Don’t worry about it. Tell God about it and let Him handle it. It’s easier to say it than to do it, but whenever He works something out, it’s a lot better than when we try to go our own way.

Pretty yellow flower covered in rain drops at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Have a conversation with God

How do you pray? Do you repeat memorized text by rote or do you read prayers out of a book? Do you use flowery language when you pray or do you pray the way you normally talk? Do you pray in Jesus’ name? Do you end with a hearty “Amen”? Do you only pray at church or do you pray over your meals or in your morning devotionals or at some other specified time?

Prayer is one of those things that Christians talk about a lot, but I’m not sure if that many people do it. And I’m not sure any of us really take it as seriously as God intended.

Pretty yellow flower covered in rain drops at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Pretty yellow flower covered in rain drops at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s passage is Matthew 6:5-13.

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! Pray like this:

Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
    as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need,
    and forgive us our sins,
    as we have forgiven those who sin against us. 
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
     but rescue us from the evil one.

This passage comes out of one of Jesus’ most famous sermons, the Sermon on the Mount, which you can read for yourself in Matthew 5-7. The second part of this passage is more commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer, and I’ve been in churches where everyone stands and recites the Lord’s Prayer, although usually that tradition takes place in churches that use a different translation.

It’s not that reciting the Lord’s Prayer is wrong. It’s a great tradition. But it was never meant to be a prayer repeated. The Lord’s Prayer is a guide, a template for what our prayer should look like. So if you’ve ever wondered how you’re supposed to pray, Jesus already explained it.

The Lord has been teaching me a lot this year, especially about how to let go of things. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know I’m a control freak, and worrying and anxiety tend to follow control freaks around. It’s so easy to worry about things you can’t control, which is ironic because worrying doesn’t give you any more control over a situation. It just lets you feel like you’re doing something about it, even if that’s only turning your hair gray.

I caught myself a few months ago when I was worrying about something. I thought to myself: “The only thing I can do is pray.”

Why do we wait to get to that point? The only thing I can do is pray? Guess what, folks? The best thing you can do is pray. I don’t know about any of you, but I have this weird issue where I’ll pray about something but I still try to take care of everything on my own. And don’t get me wrong. Sometimes that’s good. If you have the ability to change a situation and what you feel led to do agrees with Scripture, you should do it. But what about those times when you can’t do anything? What about those times when you can’t fix it? Why do pace the floor and fret before pray about it? Why do pray about it and then go back to pacing the floor?

Has anyone else been there?

This month, I want to study what prayer is because I want to remember why it’s important for me. And I want to get to the place where I stop worrying and fretting and pulling my hair out and putting my stomach in knots, even though I’ve already “given to God.” And the first fact about prayer that everybody needs to know is that it’s not some mystical, ethereal, fuzzy, emotional experience of faith. Prayer is talking to God.

If you want to recite verses, go for it. If you want to read out of a book, that’s fine. But how many friends do you have who you communicate with that way? My friend in England would worry about my sanity if all she received from me was a bunch of cute little rhyming stanzas. My paramedic friend would probably try to put me in her ambulance if the only words she got from me were written by someone else 100 years ago. Is that how you communicate with your friends?

No. Not if you want your friendship to last. If you’re talking to your friend, you just talk. You tell them what’s going on in your life. You tell them how you’re hurting. You tell them what you’re worried about. You tell them how they can help you. You tell them that you love them. You tell them that they’ve made a difference to you. You tell them they’ve made you a better person. You’re real with them. You don’t use language that’s not normal for you. You don’t use someone else’s words; you use your words. Otherwise, it’s not you.

So if you want to know what prayer is, it’s having a conversation with God. And if you’ve never done that, I recommend it. If you’re a follower of Christ, you have a unique opportunity to go into the presence of God and just talk to Him. Do we get that? Do we grasp how awesome that is? I cry just thinking about it.

So don’t throw away your liturgy or your cute little prayers about food or sleeping or whatever. Those are fine. Those are great traditions. But don’t let your traditions become more important than your relationship with God. If all you say to Him was written by someone else or is muddled by confusing language that you don’t even understand, you’ve missed the point. God already knows what you’re going to say, but the beauty about a friendship is that when you open your heart to someone who loves you unconditionally, you grow.

God already knows what you need. You aren’t going to surprise Him or shock Him or frighten Him. Just talk to Him. Talk to Him like He’s standing right next to you, and even though you aren’t going to tell Him anything He doesn’t already know, the act of your saying it out loud will change you.

Bright flowers on Bolivar Island - Galveston, TX

Witnessing how God works

Sometimes it’s difficult for me to believe that God is actually willing to listen to our problems. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that my life is so important to Him that He would take time to pay attention to my petty issues. But what really amazes me is that God doesn’t just listen to me, He actively gets involved in my life.

Bright flowers on Bolivar Island - Galveston, TX

Bright flowers on Bolivar Island – Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is Isaiah 65:24.

I will answer them before they even call to me.
    While they are still talking about their needs,
    I will go ahead and answer their prayers!

Remember we’re talking about God here. God who made the stars, who made air, who made water, who made time itself. God cares enough about us that He’ll answer our prayers before we even know to pray them? That’s huge.

After reading all of Isaiah 65, though, I think this one verse may be taken out of context (but that’s a topic for another devo). But there are other verses throughout Scripture that state this very thing: that God knows what we need before we need it. There’s a verse in Matthew where Christ is talking about the differences between earthly fathers and our Heavenly Father, saying that if human fathers know to do good things for their children, God knows to do even better things for us.

I had an experience with this recently. I had a problem. I mean, it wasn’t a problem problem. It was just going to be something that would cause issues in the future, but it wasn’t something that I could do anything about. I know everyone has probably been there, stuck with a situation that you can’t control that’s going to make your life difficult. But instead of worrying about it, I decided that I was going to just let God take care of it.

Well, surprise surprise, He did.

I found out a few weeks later that the problem was taken care of. And not only was it not even an issue anymore, everyone involved was happy about it. And I didn’t have to do a single thing. God arranged everything to work out in exactly the way it needed to. And what’s more, after I thought about the timing of the whole issue, I realized that He was actually working it out before I had even asked Him to do anything.

If you follow Christ, this is the God you have on your side. If you believe in Jesus, this is the God who wants to be part of your daily life.

But this concept brings up a question. If He already knows what we’re going to ask for, why do we need to ask?

Maybe this is just me, but I think it’s a pride issue. I know it’s a pride issue in my life. I don’t ask for things. I do them myself. If I have to ask someone for help, that’s an indication of weakness on my part, and in my mind, that’s unacceptable. It shouldn’t be that way because everyone needs help, and I’m learning how to ask for things. But for me to humble myself and realize that I can’t do it all on my own is an act of worship.

If I can look at my life and step back and tell God that I need help, that’s me recognizing that I can’t control my life. That’s me letting go, and that’s healthy for me, emotionally and spiritually.

How do you treat your friends? Your real friends? If you never talk to them, if you never express a need to them, how will they ever know you? And how will they ever have the opportunity to prove themselves true friends if you don’t give them the chance? It’s the same way with God. Expressing a need to God not only helps you remember that you aren’t all-powerful but it also gives you the chance to witness how God can work.

If He answers your prayer after you ask, it’s amazing. It’s the most amazing experience to know that He’s listening. But what will really blow your mind is how He works things out before you even know they’re going wrong. And He does that all the time.

Don’t be afraid to ask. He knows what you need, but He wants to hear you ask for it. Because half the time, I’m convinced we don’t realize we need it until we ask. And then He’s there to gently bop us on the head and remind us that He’s got everything under control … and that He always has.