A Greater Work

I tell you the truth: whoever believes in Me will be able to do what I have done, but they will do even greater things, because I will return to be with the Father.  – John 14:12 (The Voice)

I read a wonderful devotional in My Utmost for His Highest this week. What did Jesus mean when He told His disciples that they would do greater works than those they had eyewitnessed?  Does this mean His followers will be doing greater signs and wonders than raising the dead or calming the storming sea?

What if this promise is about prayer? My devotional reading taught that prayer does not prepare us for a greater work, it is the greater work.

He lives His resurrected life forever. From such a vantage, He is able to save those who approach God through Him for all time because He will forever live to be their advocate in the presence of God.  – Hebrews 7:24-25 (The Voice)

Jesus has returned to His Father and is now interceding for all of us as we approach God’s throne of grace. When we pray, we now have complete access to our Heavenly Father. This is a new condition that occurred only after Christ ascended. There are no more sacrifices to make in order to gain access to the holy presence of God. That has been done once and for all by Christ.

Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.  – Romans 8:34

But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.  – 1 John 2:1

Our prayers are empowered because they have the Son of God personally taking them before God on our behalf. Our prayers have the potential for even more earth shaking consequences. The work of prayer is a greater work because we have Jesus Christ joining forces with us.

But that’s not all. When Jesus left the earth He promised His followers that he would not leave them alone.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. – John 14:16-17

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.  – John 14:26

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.  – Romans 8:26-27

When we pray, we do not pray alone. We pray in a spiritual partnership with the very Spirit of God. In every place of weakness, ignorance, frailty and fear, the Spirit of God intervenes and fills in all of the gaps. He makes our prayers perfect. He empowers our prayer life by guaranteeing its effectiveness. With this kind of promise, why aren’t you praying all of the time? Why are you worrying? Why are your friends and family burdened with so many cares?

So own up to your sins to one another and pray for one another. – James 5:16 (The Voice)

Did you ever consider that failing to pray for others might be a terrible sin? Who wouldn’t fall on their knees knowing that what we can accomplish in prayer would be even more powerful than the great miracles performed by Jesus himself?

“Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” ― Oswald Chambers

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Why Are You Praying Like That?

  1. The first question we must ask ourselves, WHY are we praying?
  2. Next, why are we praying the way we do?
  3. When we pray, what shapes our expectations?
  4. Is your prayer life a religious custom or the most powerful activity on earth…one in which you have been invited to participate?

What is it that shapes your prayers?

Your prayer life is a direct reflection of your dependent relationship with God. How dependent are you? What kind of an independent existence have you carved out for yourself?

“Every time we pray our horizon is altered, our attitude to things is altered, not sometimes but every time, and the amazing thing is that we don’t pray more.”    – Oswald Chambers

How does prayer work?

By prayer, I mean intentionally conveying a message to God. It’s frustrating—isn’t it?—how unclear language can be if we are not careful. Why do I say “intentionally conveying a message to God? Why don’t I just say that prayer is talking to God? Well, because Romans 8:26 says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” I take this to mean that there are groans of our hearts that the Spirit inspires that are sometimes wordless. So prayer is usually talking to God, but there are times when you can’t talk and can still pray, that is, convey a message to God. – John Piper

More ways to pray…

Piper gives even more counsel about how we should pray. Take a look at some of the Biblically based directions about how to pray:

Pray for the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:13; cf. Ephesians 3:19)

Pray for the healing of wounded comrades.

Let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. (James 5:14-15)

Pray to know God better.

[We have not ceased to pray for you to be] increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:10; cf. Ephesians 1:17)

Pray for power to comprehend the love of Christ.

I bow my knees before the Father . . . [that you] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. (Ephesians 3:14, 18-19)

Pray for a deeper sense of assured hope.

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers . . . that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. (Ephesians 1:16, 18)

Pray for signs and wonders.

And now, Lord, . . . grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness . . . while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:29-30)

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:17-18)

Pray deeper sense of his power within them.

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers . . . that you may know . . . what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe. (Ephesians 1:16, 18-19)

Pray for greater faith.

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24; cf. Ephesians 3:17)

Prayer means waiting

I tell the Lord my troubles and difficulties, and wait for Him to give me the answers to them”, said one man of God.  “And it is wonderful how a matter that looked very dark will in prayer become clear as crystal by the help of God’s Spirit.  I think Christians fail so often to get answers to their prayers because they do not wait long enough on God.  They just drop down and say a few words, and then jump up and forget it and expect God to answer them.  Such praying always reminds me of the small boy ringing his neighbor’s doorbell, and then running away as fast as he can go.  – E.M. Bounds

Build Yourself a Levee

“You gotta build yourself a levee deep inside, gotta build yourself a levee deep inside.
Build yourself a levee girl, when the waters run high.”

Now, when I was just a little girl my mamma said to me, “Beware of the devil my child.
But if by chance you should meet, beware of his cold dark eyes full of bold and unholy deceit.
He’ll tempt you with a whirling pool of lies and promises he’ll deny or that he will never keep.”

“You gotta build yourself a levee deep inside, gotta build yourself a levee deep inside.
Build yourself a levee girl, when the waters run high.”

Natalie Merchant / Build a Levee

Fighting cancer is a full time job.

  • There are medical appointments all through each and every week.
  • There are sacks full of medications to organize and take throughout each day.
  • The insurance companies and doctors offices all have to be spoken to and need to have the most simple of things explained over and over again.
  • There are invoices in the mail each day – almost all will not need to be paid but will need to be addressed in some way.
  • Who really knows what new symptom will appear in the morning.
  • Every new symptom is an adjustment to living that must be made, from transportation to meals to sleeping and making plans for the future.

Of course, there’s the full time job that needs to be managed as well. The career that keeps one going and living every single day. It’s like an inner tube to which we cling while shooting down the whitewater river of circumstances.

The floods come and wreak so much disaster in everyone’s world. Living seemed to be working just fine, until that unexpected storm arrived.

In order to keep the flood of fear, disease, and despair from filling our dwelling with the inevitable mold and ruination we must build ourselves a levee of some sort – a barrier of faith that will not be breached.

Faith is the assurance of things you have hoped for, the absolute conviction that there are realities you’ve never seen. – Hebrews 11:1 (The Voice)

Fighting cancer, just like living a full-time life, never stops. There’s always a flood raging just down the road. We’ve all got to build ourselves a levee to keep the evil at bay.

What matters most is to build your levee out of what will last for eternity.

God’s unfailing love for us is an objective fact affirmed over and over in the Scriptures. It is true whether we believe it or not. Our doubts do not destroy God’s love, nor does our faith create it. It originates in the very nature of God, who is love, and it flows to us through our union with His beloved Son.  ~ Jerry Bridges

Bind My Heart

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.  Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.  (Luke 10:38-42)

After all the tribulation in our lives, the petty concerns of each day, the cares that keep us up at night and the lingering fear that creeps around in the dark – Jesus tells Martha, there is only one thing to fill our concerned hearts with. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened. He scolded Martha and said that Mary had found the one thing that could never be taken away.

One thing in my life that can never be taken away.

What is it that you have filled your life with that can so easily be taken away? What did you think was so permanent? On what did you lay your hopes and dreams? Upon what does your future gaze rest?

Our time each day at the feet of Jesus is building something eternal in our lives that will never be taken away – not even by an 800 year flood.

Come Thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise

Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy redeeming love

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here by Thy great help I’ve come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home

Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
Here to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

Oh, that day when freed from sinning
I shall see Thy lovely face
Clothe it then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace

Come my Lord, no longer tarry
Take my ransom soul away
Send Thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless daysOh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to TheeProne to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts aboveHere’s my heart
Oh, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above
– Chris Rice version

The Rains Keeps Coming and the Bird Still Sings

Here we sit on day three after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. While the hurricane itself passed west of us here in Houston, we have been experiencing record setting rainfall and flooding. Today, on day three, as I walked to the end of the street to take a look at the flood swollen creek, I heard the song of a bird through the rain and dread. I couldn’t see it, but as I peered up from under my umbrella it made me think about the days before and those that would surely come after.

Storms come and rock the boat, but they don’t last forever. 

I’m sitting here in the house and I can hear the rain hitting on our skylight in the kitchen. It always makes tremendous noise and acts as our very own weather channel whenever there is something falling from the heavens. During Harvey, it doesn’t seem to have gone quiet for very long. Yet as I sit here listening to this constant sound, I can hear a bird singing outside. Where has it been during these days of storm? What has it to sing about?

I’m thinking about Jesus and Peter walking on the water.

  1. Jesus sent his closest followers away in their boat – about their business
  2. He left them to go about His business, praying alone on the mountain
  3. They sailed right into a storm – their special place didn’t save them from the normal problems of life
  4. The disciples became equally afraid of Jesus approach – does God’s method of deliverance (or not) cause fear because it’s not of our choosing?
  5. Peter is ready to follow Jesus, but then he doubts – the disaster in our life isn’t the raging sea and dark clouds, it’s the doubt that lurks in the shadows.
  6. The big lesson here is that there is a storm on the horizon. Your Savior will come, at times ready to deliver in ways that might seem frightening. The real danger you face isn’t the darkness all round, it’s the doubt deep within.

 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
Emily Dickinson

Walking on Higher Ground

I’m pressing on the upward way
New heights I’m gaining every day
Still praying as I onward bound
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Lord, lift me up and let me stand
By faith on heaven’s table land
A higher plane than I have found
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

I’m Pressing on the Upward Way, Johnson Oatman

Do you remember this hymn? These days I hear and sing so few from my younger days. When I do the experience always seems to fill my spirit with all sorts of emotions. Today our pastor recited these lyrics that he had recently sung with his mother. It was another perfect moment for me, another immediate answer to prayer.

  1. It never goes away, people that treat you in terrible ways
  2. Circumstances out of your control come crashing down and capsize a carefully built life
  3. Somebody in charge thoughtlessly pitches whole chapters of your life right out the window
  4. A relationship you put so much trust in falls apart right before your eyes

So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on. – 2 Corinthians 4:18 (The Voice)

Sounds like a nice thought, but what does it mean? How do we put it into practice? Is it really possible to not pay attention when your hair is on fire and to instead only focus on a promised future? This is a hard path to walk. it

STOP

When you start to smell the smoke, don’t go into a panic mode and follow your natural inclinations. Remember Peter when he took his eyes off his Master and began to notice the storm and waves all around him? He did what was normal.

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink.  – Matthew 14:29-30

If you plan on walking the higher ground, you’re going to have to STOP that defeated, discouraged, depressed attitude. I walked into worship on Sunday very much in this terrible state. I was praying and this time got hit right in my broken heart with several wonderful reminders that there indeed was a higher ground to walk. My spirit was challenged to focus on things that I was not seeing.

DROP

Right now, I am more frequently faced with the challenge to stop getting bogged down with so many troubles du jour. The practice continues until I learn to see what’s really happening and drop these “momentary, light afflictions.” How much effort is wasted stewing and steaming over some daily disaster that you probably won’t even remember in a few weeks?

…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  – Hebrews 12:1

The next time someone strikes you on the cheek, threatens your well-being, makes you feel worthless, or takes away another dream – don’t keep it in your belly one more minute, drop it and keep your hands empty and raised in supplication.

ROLL

One last step, this is probably why I’m still having so much trouble with all of this. The cares of this world, small and large, don’t just disappear because we practice a greater will power. Dropping our “present troubles” over the side of the boat doesn’t last. They keep coming back to haunt us. I can’t sleep anymore, I’m tossing and turning, rehearsing all sorts of scenarios to fix my current problems. They don’t ever really go away until I complete the act of surrender, the step of faith.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.  – 1 Peter 5:6-7

By acknowledging how much God loves me, how well he really knows what’s going on and admitting my complete inadequacy, I am more able to “roll” each and every disaster, disappointment and defeat onto his shoulders. Until I do this, they continue to plague my soul. Dropping isn’t enough because I’m really, really good at picking things up (just ask my wife). When I am willing and able to turn my anxieties over to my Heavenly Father – the rule of emotion is broken. That peace that is almost impossible to understand comes to rule over my life.

“The reason some of us are such poor specimens of Christianity is because we have no Almighty Christ. We have Christian attributes and experiences, but there is no abandonment to Jesus Christ.” ― Oswald Chambers

I really thought at this stage/age I’d be a better specimen. What’s so encouraging about what’s going on in my life these days is that our Heavenly Father continues to transform each one of us. He does not give up, His mercy is endless, His great plan will come true.

Plant my feet on higher ground, one step at a time…

God is Good All the Time

 

God is Good, All the Time…All the Time,God is Good

We say this with our pastor when we gather to worship every Sunday. It’s an important reminder. It doesn’t matter what kind of situation everyone right then is experiencing – we come together and say with one voice, God is good, all the time…all the time, God is good. 

When things are going according to plan, this is always easy to say. It’s almost automatic. Even when there’s a bump or two in the road, we all grin and bear it and repeat with a little more determination and a twinge of hope.

But when the wheels have come off the wagon, it won’t stop raining, and bad news is delivered like an Amazon Prime order…is God still good? Or is it just something that’s said to make us feel good, like a cute and clever card in the mail?

When I think about my own life’s journey I see significant decisions along the road that have helped me when sea billows roll, to keep holding on to my faith and be less distracted by the storm. By the way, these are certainly not once in a lifetime choices – but forks in the road I face all the time. Choosing gets easier as I keep walking in faith.

I have to turn away from thinking that God is my faithful employee who is responsible for keeping my life ordered in all the ways I hope.

He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.  – John 3:30

This is John the Baptist, pointing to Jesus and telling his own disciples that he is not the Messiah, he is only a groomsman. John realized his place because he understood where his cousin (Jesus) had really come from – heaven.

God is good all the time not because he faithfully follows my directions but because I am coming to understand that what I want matters less and less. Until I can let go of my own fear and desires I won’t be able to think about God’s will and see things eternally.

He is taking my life away from me and exchanging it for Himself. God is good and better than anything I could ever imagine for myself.

My thinking about who God is must change – He isn’t a good luck charm. 

Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.  – Romans 12:2 (The Voice)

What a terrible feeling to realize that I have been trying to use God like an emergency medication each time I have a bad spell. Am I really just keeping him in the medicine cabinet? Have I reduced him to an amulet hanging about my neck?

All of the time God is good because He is transforming the way I think about Him. He has a path for me to walk in and it is the right way. Once my ways of thinking begin to change – so will the ways I see reality.

All too often God is an emergency switch that I pull only when I smell the smoke.

So we have no reason to despair. Despite the fact that our outer humanity is falling apart and decaying, our inner humanity is breathing in new life every day. You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here. So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on.  – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (The Voice)

I’ve got a real problem if I believe that God is good only when it looks as if he has saved the day. My definition of “saving the day” is so short-sighted. Too often I believe that God is only located behind that “break glass in case of emergency” boundary. The reason that God is good all the time is because my perception is changing – I’m trying, more and more, to look at what lasts forever.

All the time, God is good, is forever.

 

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul
It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul
– Horatio Spafford