6 Reasons We Are Called to Pray

By Ellery Sadler

Prayer is simply a conversation with God – a union of your soul with His heart. Sometimes it can be frustrating though and the guidelines either seem too rigid or nearly non-existent. Exactly how do we pray? Why should we pray? And when we do, how do we know that God hears us?

This is not a complete list of the purposes of prayer, but here are a few of the main reasons we are called to pray.

  1. Seeking God’s Face

“Seek the Lord your God with all your heart, and you will find Him.” Deuteronomy 4:29

One of the most incredible gifts of prayer is seeing the face of God. When you seek not just His hand, but His face. It’s the desire to know Him – His heart and His nature and His will. Sometimes we short-change our prayers and fill them with just our words, when one of the best things to do is to listen. God is speaking. His voice is a quiet whisper on the wind and if we are too busy talking, sometimes we miss it. So take a few minutes to sit before the throne of grace in silence, listening for His voice, seeking His face.

  1. Renewing Your Strength

“Look to the Lord & His strength. Seek His face always.” 1 Chronicles 16:11

In the chaos of life, there is only one place that promises perfect peace: at the feet of Jesus. When we look to the Lord and His strength, He fills us with His spirit. In our weakness, we realize how desperately we need His strength. Prayer is the place where our spirit is renewed.

 

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If I Don’t Feel Called, Should I Still Go?

{By Ellery Sadler}

It would be nice to have a message directly from God every once in a while, wouldn’t it? Handwriting in the sky telling you which job to take or who to marry or which mission trip to go on or whether or not you were cut out for this thing called faith. It would be nice to be called. To feel called.

And sometimes that happens. Sometimes you’re one of the lucky few to get a specific call from the Lord, probably not audibly, but so deep in your soul that you can’t ignore it. A calling that leads you to chase Him across the ocean to the bare brush-covered lands of Africa or the grey, city streets of New York, or to the backroom of a film studio in California or into the arms of a little kid in foster care who needs a home. Sometimes His calling is as clear and repetitive as your own heartbeat. He leads you, step after step, heartbeat after heartbeat.

But what if He doesn’t? Or what if it feels like He isn’t?

What if you don’t feel called or led or inclined to do anything great or grand or humble in His name? What if one mission trip looks as good as the next and you don’t care where you go? Or if you go at all? What if one girl is great and the other is great too? What if both jobs seem like solid choices?

The answer is: they both are probably great. Great girls. Great jobs. Great mission trips. Great decisions to make. But you have to make the decision.

I was struggling with this with about going on a mission trip. Somehow it feels like mission trips should be hyper-spiritual decisions, something that needs glaring neon lights pointing you in the right direction. But I didn’t get those lights. I didn’t get that feeling of destiny waiting for me on the other side of the ocean. And I wondered if I should go at all. My first thoughts were maybe this wasn’t right, maybe I wasn’t being led, maybe this wasn’t my job. Fast-forward six weeks and I still didn’t feel anything different. But maybe this trip wasn’t supposed to be all about me? I just know that I am called to love people, and I think that calling means people on the other side of the world, as well as in my neighborhood.

You can’t waste your life waiting for a warm fuzzy feeling from God.

You can’t wait for Him to constantly pat you on the back, telling you you’ve made the perfect choice. Because most of the time, there won’t be a perfect choice.

If you marry Andy, there will be times you might wish you’d married Peter. And if you marry Peter, there will be times you might wish you’d married Andy. If you go to Honduras, it probably isn’t going to be any easier or more perfect than if you go to India.

If faith was all about feelings, it wouldn’t be called faith.

You get to choose. The fact that you get to choose is a gift. It’s called free will and God gave it to you so that life would be rich with real love and real purpose and real relationships. So choose.

This is not to say you shouldn’t be wise and seek God while making your decisions. You should. You need to. Talk with your mentors. Pray. Talk with your close friends. Pray more. Make a list of pros and cons for each option if that’s your style. Consider carefully your options and seek counsel. See if your decision is aligned with scripture. If you’ve done all this, and have peace that you are making a wise decision: make the decision.

Don’t let the devil dissuade you from loving people in Jesus’s name simply because you haven’t felt the feeling you wish you would feel.

Feelings have no intellect. Emotions are not based on Truth. Your decisions need to be.

You can’t go wrong loving people like Jesus does. You can’t go wrong honoring God, whether that’s as a med student, a lawyer, a photographer, a missionary, or an artist. Don’t let indecision paralyze you. Don’t let fear of stepping outside of God’s ‘will’, keep you sitting in the bleachers.

Bleachers will bore you to death.

Sitting in the bleachers slowly disintegrates your faith. Faith was meant to be lived. To be messy. And dirty. And beautiful.

Honor Him. Love others. And move forward.

 

 

Why You’re Afraid to Pursue Your Art (And What to Do About It)

{Guest Article by Mark Casper}

When I was a kid, I was fearless. No hill was too steep, no tree too high. Ok, so maybe my dad was a safety freak and made me wear a six-inch-thick Styrofoam helmet whenever I rode my Big Wheel. But still, when it came to life, nothing seemed too risky or too dangerous. I didn’t care about the opinion of others, or about the consequences of failure. I lived fully and whole-heartedly in every moment.

But a funny thing happened as I got older: I became less and less inclined to do anything that could result in failure, rejection, or mediocrity. I even shied away from pursuing things I was supposedly gifted at, like writing. It just seemed too risky, like putting all your chips on the table.

The Fear of Failure

The uncomfortable truth is, I’ve spent most of my life either seeking the approval of others or fearing their disapproval. This is especially true when I’m faced with the thought of a new artistic endeavor. I’m haunted by certain questions:

What happens if I fail? What if no one likes what I’ve created? What if no one buys my art?

As a result, I often avoid the project altogether, preferring the safety and comfort of thinking about what could have been if I had really tried. I know I’m not alone here. Most of us try to justify ourselves by our performance, so we’re terrified at the thought of failure.

art and the gospel creative christians

The Safe Route

Ironically enough, sometimes we’re even afraid of pursuing the calling we have a natural ability for. At first this seems counterintuitive—you would think pursuing your gifts would be the path of least resistance.

But I’ve found that it feels much safer to do things I’m not naturally good at or haven’t put much time into. For those reasons, I give myself lower expectations in these “ungifted” areas. Failure isn’t as soul crushing because it wasn’t “my thing” in the first place (see my performance on the golf course for a real-life example of this).

This is the biggest reason why I’ve been afraid to write. Since I have some natural ability in it, I expect more of myself. I fear what will happen if I actually pour my heart and soul into a piece of writing. What if it gets rejected? What if people say it’s garbage? What if someone is much better? If I’m not approved or affirmed in the very thing people say I’m “good” at, where does that leave me?

The Gospel and Your Art

In my counselor’s office a sword hangs on the wall (intense, I know). Beneath it lies one of my favorite quotes from the film Braveheart:

“All men die. Not every man truly lives.”

Whenever we listen to our fears and cease to pursue the risky art we were called to create, we cease to truly live. And the only way we can find the freedom to recklessly pursue our art is to place our identity, worth, and value in something else–namely, the gospel of Jesus.

Though our culture tells us that our identity comes from our performance, the gospel tells us that our identity stems from Jesus’ performance. Because I trust that Jesus lived the life I should have lived and died the death I should have died, I have been adopted into God’s family. The Father now looks at me with a smile and says, “You are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Do you see what this means? If your identity doesn’t come from your work, you are free to live, love, and pursue your art whole-heartedly, knowing that your worth, future, and identity are perfectly secure in Christ. You are free to fail. You are free from having to prove yourself to others. You are free from comparison. You are even free to produce your art in obscurity, knowing that whatever becomes of your life’s work is the perfect, loving will of your Heavenly Father.

Consider this quote (one of my all-time favorites) from Donald Miller’s book, Searching for God Knows What:

“Imagine how a man’s life would be if he trusted that he was loved by God. How he could love his wife easily and not expect her to redeem him, he would be slow to anger because redemption was no longer at stake, he could give up on formulaic religion, knowing that checking stuff off a spiritual to-do list was a worthless pursuit, he would have confidence and the ability to laugh at himself, and he could love people without expecting anything in return. It would be quite beautiful, really.”

So friends now I put the question to you: how would your life and art be different if you had nothing to lose–if you trusted that you were completely loved by God?

 

mark casper

 

Mark Casper is a writer and graphic designer who lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife. Find him online at markrobertcasper.com and on Twitter here.

 

 

The One Thing You Need to Remember Heading Into 2016

{By Lana Jackson}

“But as for me the nearness of God is my good; I have made the LORD God my refuge that I may tell of all your works.” –Psalm 73:28

Be encouraged. Jesus is near to you. He wants you to be near to him. This Christmas season is a reminder of how God became near to us, when Jesus Christ was born into our world. At that moment everything changed. The Son of God, became the Son of Man, so men could become sons of the Living God.

new year resolutions

God the Father, the Creator became Immanuel, God with us. God with you. And in doing so he gave a part of this creation (i.e. humans) the right to become his relation, to become related to him as his children—sons and daughters. As John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

What other part of the creation has that privilege?

Who else has that right to move from being a creation to a relation?

Does a tree have the right, does a lion or a bird? No. It’s just you, it’s just for you.

It is as if, Jesus left heaven and went camping on earth, and decided to pitch his tent right next to yours. His tent became your refuge—the safe place to go when the world outside raged around you. This is the love of God: he comes to where you are so that you can be where he is.

He pitched his tent next to yours so you could have access to him. God loves you, he loves you . . . You are the one he loves. He is near you, so very close to you. And his nearness is your good.

Don’t forget to remember.

The Inconvenient Truth About Pursuing God

{By Ellery Sadler}

Pursuing God goes beyond Bible study. It goes beyond service. It means facing the inconvenient truth that on your own, you aren’t good enough. And remembering that day in and day out. But even more than remembering you aren’t enough, to pursue God well, you have to remember that He is.

It is so easy to ease into apathy; so convenient to stay where we’re comfortable. The issue is, when we’re comfortable we feel like we’re in control. When we feel like we’ve got this thing called life figured out – we’ve got a great girlfriend or a job we love or good grades – we begin to feel like we don’t need God. I mean, hey, we’ve done pretty well on our own right?

Wrong.

Oswald Chamber’s, in his devotional My Utmost for His Highest, dares his readers to pray to be desperate for Jesus. I like a challenge, so I accepted his dare and began to pray that God would make me desperate for Him. I didn’t exactly realize what that would entail. Desperate means frantic, at your wits end, when you’ve tried everything and nothing works, when you have nothing left to lose. It’s that creeping feeling in the pit of your stomach when you’ve done your best but it isn’t enough. Being desperate for Jesus still means being desperate.

So I prayed. I didn’t feel anything change. My grades were still good, my freelance writing job was going well, I was making new friends. Hey, this whole desperately pursuing God thing wasn’t so bad after all. I kind of imagined giving Mr. Chambers a smug smile. But I love this about God: He never does what’s expected. I pictured some sort of instantaneous change in my soul when I prayed to be desperate.

But instead, it was a slow growing realization that I am not enough on my own.

I’m not superwoman. I can’t juggle twenty things without getting crabby and stressed. I don’t know how to always have joy. I haven’t mastered the art of finding peace. I don’t know how to love people like He does. Slowly, I realized that the things that I thought made me who I am, were not mine at all. They were Jesus in me. Joy? Without Jesus, forget it. Peace? Without Jesus, it’s not happening. Serving? Without Jesus, I want some applause for my ‘servant’s heart’. Courage? Even with Jesus, that’s a struggle. I began to see that I am not enough. I can never be the best version of myself, unless I am actively, desperately pursuing God. Without God, I am nothing.

Pursuing God is scary. Not because God is scary – He is beyond amazing – but because I am. Because human nature is. I was beginning to see that I had become so comfortable in my relationship with Jesus, that it wasn’t really a relationship at all. It was kind of just co-existence. And God deserves more than that.

He deserves our entire being, our entire heart, our whole desperate, messy, gloriously insufficient existence.

To pursue God well, you have to admit you need Him. You need Him every single day, not just for the big moments, not just when there is a crisis, not just when that promotion comes up or that final exam is due, but in every nitty-gritty, detail of every ordinary day. It also requires faithfulness.

Pursue means to shadow, to chase, to trail, to hunt, to practice.

A shadow never leaves its object and we are to shadow the Father. A hunting dog doesn’t stop trailing until it finds its prey. A musician doesn’t stop practicing until they have mastered the piece. This is how we are to pursue the heart of God.

Pursuing God means continually investing in your relationship with Him. It means understanding the deadly power of apathy and fighting against it. It means seeing God in everything, look for Him constantly because He never disappoints.

Most of all, pursuing God is understanding that He is more than enough.

 

What Scrubbing Bathrooms for a Month Taught Me About God

{By Ellery Sadler}

No one told me loving Jesus would mean cleaning bathrooms.

This summer I spent a month at a Young Life camp in Virginia. It was one of the best – and hardest – months of my life. Dropped off in a group of about fifty people from across the country, and I didn’t know a single soul. Within a week though, this group of strangers became a team of best friends.

what cleaning bathrooms taught me about God

Pictured Above: The Best People in the World

I signed up to help at the crafts (I mean, how hard can making bracelets for a month be, right?) but ended up doing a lot of other things as well. (And made so many bracelets my hands got blisters.) One of our jobs was, every morning, to go from cabin to cabin cleaning the campers’ bathrooms. It was hard work and, with no air conditioning in August, hot. But it taught me more about loving Jesus and what it really means to be a Christian than I ever thought it would.

1. Loving Jesus Is Messy

Sometimes, in the grand old US of A it’s easy for Christianity to be so sterile, so convenient. If you can’t make it to church, or don’t feel like it, just click a button and you can listen to the podcast. If you don’t like the Bible study you’re doing, just browse Amazon and a new one will be at your doorstep in two days or less. But loving Jesus is messy. It isn’t always convenient. It sometimes requires getting up at five o’clock in the morning. It sometimes means saying no to good things in order to say yes to the best things. It sometimes means scrubbing throw-up of bathroom walls (like a couple summer staffers had to do).

2.  You Serve Jesus First With Your Attitude

I can’t say I was thrilled with the whole bathroom cleaning job. To be honest, I basically hated it for the first week. When we were heading out to our different cabins, I found myself thinking ‘I hate cleaning. I can’t believe I’m doing this for free. I can’t believe they get fifty people to sign up for this!’ It was so easy to commiserate, to complain, to mumble about all the other more fun things people do in the summer. I kept thinking to myself ‘Seriously, I gave up going to the beach so I could clean bathrooms?’

Yeah, you did. Because I gave up My life, so that you could.

My love for you led Me to a cross, and your love for Me lead you here. 

Wow. Attitude readjustment. I made a commitment that night that the next day I would not complain. Not a single complaining word or sigh would come out of my mouth. It would be a test, to see how much my words really impacted how I felt. And so I didn’t complain the next day. And it was one of the best days of camp. Not because the bathrooms were any easier or it was any cooler outside or the hours were any shorter, but because in my mind all I could see was Jesus. Jesus dying, so that I could live.

How could I possibly complain about cleaning bathrooms, if it meant that every week, five hundred kids, would get to hear about Him?

3. Being a Christian Isn’t Glamorous

I think sometimes we believe in a glam-gospel.

I don’t know where the idea of a glam-gospel came from, but it isn’t biblically sound. Glamping might be fun, but Christians are called to rough it. Life includes a lot of mosquitos and mud and cuts and bruises. Being the next Mother Teresa might sound great, but in actuality her life wasn’t all that thrilling. She washed dirty feet. She took care of the sick, the dying, the unwanted. It wasn’t easy and it certainly wasn’t glamorous.

I so often have this vision that serving Jesus is going to be something big and grand. Something that goes down in the heavenly history books with a gold star next to my name. But scrubbing bathrooms made me change my mind. I think the proverbial gold stars often go to people no one has ever heard of. Being a Christian means being faithful to love people like Jesus does. Loving them when they don’t notice. Loving them even if you never meet them. Wiping mirrors and cleaning showers again and again and again.

4. God’s Love Is Big Enough for the Little Things

Sometimes I wonder if my prayers annoy God because they are for such little things. Sometimes I feel like my serving Him isn’t good enough. I didn’t save the world, I just made a bracelet with a braces-wearing middle schooler.

But to God, that middle schooler is the world. 

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to realize, but God loves details. He loves little things – like rain drops and loaves of bread and children and tiny, random acts of service done in His name. No smile is too small. No job is too unimportant. No word of kindness is too simple. God’s love is big enough to create an entire universe, to create billions of people. But it’s also big enough to care about the little things.

Is Loving My Body a Spiritual Issue?

{Guest Post Kati Rae}

“Love given is courage gained.”

I have recently discovered insecurities I thought I ‘dealt with’ a long time ago are still influencing my actions. It turns out, I’m just as insecure as I was ten months ago, it just looks differently today. No longer eroding my physical appearance taking the form of an eating disorder, my insecurities have chosen to burrow themselves into the deepest parts of my being and make their way known from the inside out.

My lack of love for myself is based on my lack of being ‘perfect.’ Somewhere in the past twenty-one years (age six sounds about right) I let man define a state of being only God can define- the definition of it being immeasurable as He is- and only the Trinity can possess. Basically put: I didn’t love myself, so I became whomever it was I believed people would love. A complete give and take, this lifestyle became an addiction: I was an addict shamelessly selling everything I had to get a hit of ‘glory.’

My spirit was decaying.

I read somewhere that learning to accept yourself takes an abundance of “self-love” and “self-care.” Like “standing-bare-naked-in-front-of-a-mirror-and-complimenting-yourself” kind of self-love. The kind of stuff that bully victims in Lifetime movies do. The radical stuff.

In the past fifteen years, I have tried everything but the radical stuff, and although it sounded like a preteen’s manifesto, I was desperate. At twenty-one years old, I’ve tasted and seen glimpses of a life that I dream of enjoying every single day- not just on days that I’m feeling thin or desirable or perfect. What did I have to lose?

So I found myself in front of a mirror: pale, raw, and real.

Typically at a time like this, I diverted my eyes from my reflection. Ironically enough, I praise God’s creative hands for carefully carved canyons, and the delicate tenderness felt in flower petals, the mysteries hidden in the night sky, and the infinite watercolors of sunrises and sunsets.

Yet with the same breath, I curse His creativity when I’m not a copy of a copy of a copy of every airbrushed girl I see a photo of.

God, I need(ed) courage to love myself the way You love me. I need(ed) courage to walk forward in Gethsemane and up the hill of Calvary. I need(ed) courage to die to myself the same way that You died for me.

Inhale; exhale. I prayed through waiting. Eyes closed, I put away the claws and asked for gentle, strong hands; scarred hands courageous enough to love through pain; and skilled in creating and restoring. Hands that could help me build a body I could love: The Carpenter’s hands.

They came slowly but faithfully. He helped me build strong arms to embrace and serve my neighbors. He crafted a rib cage wide enough to protect a pair of lungs to sing and breathe in emerald Oregon pines. He tenderly built a soft tummy able to produce deep belly laughs and hold ice cream, something that was made to confidently wear scars telling a remarkable story of redemption.

I am not naive; I know it will take time. I know there will be days I forget, but that’s all it will be – a day.

Psalm 139 says I have been “knit” together. Much more than simply being spoken into existence like the rest of creation, The Lord, in His dangerous untamed glory, “knit” me together. With His breath, He shared His wild holy magnificence with me, and I want to set fire to those wild holy fibers and let them consume me and illuminate the world around me.

“Love given is courage gained.” The courage to be myself: His poiema.

 

 

katie rae insecurity body image Christian perspective

 

Kati Rae is an avid reader, poetry writer, breakfast enthusiast, and explorer of the world. She designs floral arrangements and is envious of astronauts. You can check out her blog here.

 

Why Tables are Sacred to Christians

{By Alexandra Presley}

“May there be singing at our table before the night is done, and old broad jokes to fling

at the stars and tell them we are men.”

– Robert Farrar Capon

Tables. They are sacred places.

Your table is a sacred place. Maybe it is your family’s table, the one you have come to for your entire life: old, sprawling, and wooden, gouged with years of loving and always crowded around with clamor. Maybe it is your own little table: brand new, and quiet, and tentative, because there are still only two mouths to do all the talking and eating above it. Maybe you don’t have enough time and your table isn’t so much for eating as it is a place for setting things down as you hurry in and out the front door.

Every table will either be neglected or beautiful depending on what you decide to do with it.

But, neglected or beautiful, it is still sacred. Remember that as you scoot in all the chairs, as you fold each napkin and put a fork at every place. Make habits and make rituals. No matter how simple, no matter how brief, no matter how loud or wild or messy, a meal at a happy table is sacred and more than sacred: it is beautiful.

Holy things happen at the table.

why christians should eat together

At the table, there are cups flowing over with mercies while enemies watch, dismayed. There is poured-out perfume on perfect feet, the scent heavy and sober in everyone’s nose. There is a rejected cripple who is made a son and given a place. There are broken halves of bread and a cup passed from hand to shaking hand. Jesus ate at tables, so many sinners’ tables – imperfect and wonderful. They called Him, begged Him, to come and eat with them, because they knew that a meal is a beautiful gift. He threw tables over, too.

And He knelt beside them while washing dirty feet. There are tables that are full of fatness, and tables that are empty and lean. Tables are where speeches are made and prayers are said, and where milk often gets spilled. A table is one of those places where a betrayal is most shocking, because you can’t help but trust the people you eat with. The table is where affection grows up into love, as food is made and meals are shared.

To sit and eat with people, brushing elbows and passing butter, is to make communion

The table is where we get filled up. This is definitely not so that we can quickly eat and quickly forget. The table is meant to be marvelous enough to pull us back, again and again, wanting more. A man once wisely said that “we were given appetites, not to consume the world and forget it, but to taste its goodness and hunger to make it great.”

The table is a place where we go because deep down our hearts still long, more than anything else, to taste goodness. And anyone who comes and truly tastes goodness will always hunger for more. And people with that kind of hunger can learn to make beautiful things.

The table is home. Songwriter, Josh Garrels, recently released a beautiful album about coming home, and one of his songs is called “At the Table”. In profoundly simple lyrics, he tells the glory of that place: “There will always, always be/ A place for you at my table/ Return to me.”

A place at a table means belonging. It means being wanted.

It means there is some part of life missing when you are not there. It means that, for things to be right, the chair must be filled and the plate must be set. The table is where they seat the prodigal and where he suddenly knows without a doubt that he has truly come home.

But, as nice as it sounds, it is actually not easy to sit down at a table with the people you love. It’s much easier to hurry your separate ways and gulp down your separate meals. The table takes time. It takes effort. It takes you.

The table is where we have to open up our clenched, sweaty fists, where we’re hoarding away that little lump of bitterness. And we have to wash our hands before we sit down.

Coming to the table means we must first forgive completely, so that we can look them all right in the eyes without any shame. Coming to the table means we have to stop everything else and be still, and that might be the hardest part of it all. Sitting still makes you incredibly vulnerable. The table makes you incredibly vulnerable. Sacred places have a way of doing that. But vulnerability is not a bad thing, so don’t be afraid to sit down. Come and eat. Laugh out loud and make your table good.

Make it holy. Make it great. And know, with joy, that it is strength to sit still there.

When Living a Saved Life Isn’t Safe

{By Yolanda Jackson}

As summertime settles in, I’ve been praying for many of my friends, including my sister, who are about to head out on foreign mission trips this summer. In my prayers for them I always ask that God would keep them safe so they can carry out his work in the country they are serving.

No sooner did I finish one prayer where God convicted me that safety is not always His plan for our lives.

safety and the christian life

The conviction should not have been so shocking for me, but it was. I want to share what God put on my heart about this particular conviction. I hope that it will encourage any of you InsideOut readers that are also heading out on mission for the Lord this summer.

When I was probably 7 or 8 years old I received my first Bible, it was one of those leather-bound Precious Moments Bibles. As of today, the binding is hanging by a couple feeble threads that I’m tempted to snip off so I can superglue the whole thing back together. Anyway, when I received it the first scripture I memorized was Psalm 91. Most Christians know that Psalm 91 is an often quoted Psalm about safety and the Lord’s protection; it is often referred to as the soldier’s prayer for those fellow members of the faith who are also in the armed forces.

As I memorized this Psalm I mistakenly believed that God would always keep me safe from the “bad things” in life.

As Psalm 91:9-10 says: “Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place, No evil shall befall you.” And that is emphatically true, I believe that with my whole heart but I think I misunderstood this scripture to mean that nothing bad will ever happen to me.  This is not what the Psalmist means, what he means is that when we encounter danger (because we will encounter danger)  we can be certain of God’s presence whether to comfort us or to rescue us because we have made the presence of God our safe place, our refuge. There literally is no evil, no danger that can occur or “befall us” that the sovereign presence of God does not permeate.

As we practice the presence of God through spiritual disciplines like mediating on scripture, praying, and praising God in worship, we enter into the “dwelling place” of God.

He becomes our immediate safe place in times of trouble.

But I know that in my life, as well as in the lives of many faithful people in Scripture (e.g. Jesus, Paul, Esther, Job, Naomi, etc) that sometimes God allows us to encounter great tragedy and danger for purposes that we have yet to understand. This made me think that perhaps safety is a benefit of being in the presence of God, but not the destination for the people of God as we live in the world. One of my favorite passages of scripture, affectionately referred to as the Hall of Faith affirms this by saying:

“. . . and others were tortured . . . others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated, wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground, men of whom the world was not worthy.”

–Hebrews 11:35-38

Men of whom the world was not worthy . . .

This was the conviction I was given during my prayer for my friends going out on mission, it came through the above Hebrews passage.  I began to realize that I did not fully accept that the Christian life isn’t always going to be safe. God doesn’t promise me safety. God promises me deliverance and honor (Psalm 91:15). And most of all he promises me his presence. God kept Psalm 91 in the canon of Scripture because he knew we needed reassurance of his presence even in times when we’d have to encounter danger and endure.

This should be of great encouragement for us 21st century believers who live a world that has literally escaped from reason. A world where the threat of ISIS beheadings, the devastation of racial prejudice, the collapse of world economies, injustice in our justice systems, and the advanced schemes of satan that threaten foreign mission fields are all actual realities of our day.

Regardless, Psalm 91 assures us that our protection is found in Christ alone—in the truth of what Jesus has already done to reconcile us to himself on the cross.

Therefore, my goal as a Christian is not to lead a safe life.

Our goal as God’s people goal is not to protect ourselves from the dangers of the mission field, by packing ourselves tightly into a church building. Our goal is not to hide from using our spiritual gifts as we sit in our pews Sunday after Sunday, taking more notes. Our goal is not to get caught up making a living in the world instead of making a difference for the Kingdom. Our goal is not to keep our children so comfortable and protected that they don’t understand how to encounter a world that desperately needs to see the light of Christ in their hearts and minds.

And our goal is definitely not to reach the gates of Heaven safely and have Jesus say to us: what did you do with the one talent I gave you, and we respond “Oh that thing, I buried it—you know to keep it safe” (Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30).

No.

We are Easter people. We are the people of God. The idea of a personal, monotheistic God— the God who is there and has made Himself known is entrusted to Christians. It is expected of us to have great expectations and get our hands dirty protecting and furthering the interests of God and His people. After all, our God is great, it’s His wisdom that set the universe in motion, His hands that made human life, and it’s His love that’s keeping the stars apart!

Therefore, my purpose as a daughter of the King, our purpose as the elect of God is not to live safe lives but to live  . . . saved lives; lives that demonstrate the mystery of how a perfect Man, who being in very nature God, could shed His own precious blood to buy us back from slavery to sin and death.

Do not misunderstand me, it is not easy for me to say these things.

I want to be safe and I want you to be safe too, because living a saved life is sometimes risky, undignified, and dangerous.

But the fact is there’s something here that’s bigger than my life, bigger than your life—that’s cause of Christ. And you and I are called to know and to honor God and to make disciples of all nations. We are called to preach. To exhibit by our conduct a model of what we hold to be true and to somehow get out into the medium of human language the truth about God. To do this, we’ve got to be willing to do hard things and put ourselves out on that proverbial limb sometimes, requiring the necessity of divine intervention. For us to do less than that is to forsake our calling.  For us to do less than that is to pretend that The Great Commission will not also require great risks.

 “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure (or shall we say danger) … than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

God help us.

God help me and help my friends going into the mission field not to concern ourselves with whether peril or security lies ahead. Help us Lord to create with our lives only something which can be held to highest standard of Jesus Christ and to make His supreme worth the centerpiece of everything we create, whether safety or danger lies ahead. 

“Yes, LORD walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; for your name and your fame (not our comfort and safety) are the desire of our hearts.”

–Isaiah 26:8

The Art of Authentic Prayer

By Ellery Sadler Via Relevant Magazine

relevant magazine ellery sadler authentic prayer

Prayer is a strange and wonderful thing. It takes practice, and I’m still learning how it works—and I imagine it will be a life-long lesson.

I’ve been keeping a daily prayer journal for a year and five months now, and I’ve learned a lot about prayer by doing that. I’ve also learn a lot about myself.

Here are four things I’ve found that commonly sidetrack us from an effective, authentic prayer life.

[SEE MORE at Relevant Magazine …] 

The Big Reason Why Your Life Needs a Little Absurdity

{By Alexandra Presley}

“We will not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and to know the place for the first time.”

– T.S. Eliot

 

All of the best things in life are absurd.

It is absurd that we are born, that we live, that we die. We are very absurd to love, tremendously absurd to marry. Beauty is absurd, and so is goodness, and so is truth. It is absurdity to have babies and absurdity to love them and absurdity to watch them grow up. It is absurd that our hearts can be so empty of hope that they break or so full of laughter that we dance. It is absurd that God died, most absurd of all that He is alive again.

Life is absurd because we can’t explain any of it away. We are hilarious characters in a preposterous story about all the Goodness defeating all the Evil.

Our Author has quite the sense of humor and sometimes we don’t know how to handle that. It’s not entirely our fault, either, because the world would like nothing better than to make us all into cold-hearted cynics. Every sorrow, every pain, makes us a bit older inside and eats away at a bit more of our hope. It’s hard to look at life with a sense of wonder when our eyes are tired and our hearts are chilled. But don’t scoff.

Fairytales are more than true and everything will, in fact, end happily ever after.

why life is a mystery

Children are better able to handle mysteries. But we all get older. And too much focus on being terribly grown up and terribly smart gets us terribly lost. When we are grown up, we look for the concrete, the clear, the sure, and we discover, in bewilderment, that we cannot rationalize irrational things. We forget that life is absurd and that absurdity is mysterious, and that irrational things don’t make sense. Children are wise. They laugh rather than rationalize; they believe rather than explain.

why are fairytales so good

You will never ever rationalize the fact that He loved Jacob and hated Esau. You will never rationalize a dark that always turns into dawn or a world that will be good again. Our God chops down the forest, but He never leaves it dead. He breaks the stony hearts, but He binds up the hurting ones. He casts out the lofty pretenders, but He picks the wretched harlot up in His arms and makes her beautiful again.

In the midst of a large, wicked, noisy world, the tiniest baby life can hold inside of it a wonderfully gigantic piece of God’s kingdom. That is absurdity.

Our King hides Himself from us. There are some things so enormous that we cannot bear to know them yet, and so He puts us in a sheltered place and He comes by with His back toward us. But this turning away only shows how great His love really is. It’s great enough to protect us from Himself, from knowing too much. In the beginning, when the man and his wife lived in the perfect garden, their hearts were children’s hearts. They worked and played and loved. They were not ashamed to be naked. But too soon they were asked the most dangerous question in all of history: “Did God really say..?” And then as they scoffed at God and ate the fruit, they suddenly knew too much and their hearts grew heavy with sin. Innocence hid her face and was gone.

We have looked on and lived on in such darkness that now the pure light hurts our guilty eyes. But it is a holy pain. Stare straight into it and keep your eyes wide open. Don’t cower. Don’t wallow in your shame. You can’t be afraid to accept scandalous grace. You can’t be afraid that you will get too much or that you will not deserve it. You can’t rationalize. Instead hold out your hands and hold onto the things you’re given. Be brave enough to let Christ see your sin. Be brave enough to let Him put a new robe on your burdened shoulders and to let Him wash off your filthy feet. Be brave enough to not understand and to be joyful in your ignorance. Marvel and marvel again that He calls you His Beloved. That is absurdity.

We need to be strong enough to see the mysterious paradox of everything and to laugh our heads off.

For now, there is bewilderment and sin. But all will be made well. There will come a day when fat baby hands will drag serpents out of their holes. A day when we will be able to stand strong and happy and fearless with His face toward us. And the brilliance of His light will still hurt our eyes, but we will never want to look away. And we will realize that all we have ever searched for was there all along.

And when we see Him face to face we will suddenly understand everything for the very first time.

How to Decline a Relationship Graciously

{By Samantha Roose}

Dear Friend,

I heard you are encountering a difficult situation and I wanted to share some rare advice.  Please read the following with grace and understanding, realizing that these are situations and thoughts I have stumbled upon.  I am in no way an authority on the following subject. It is merely my hope to present what I have found as I have sought the Lord. So, take what you can and leave the rest. I’m under the strong opinion that guys and girls can in fact be ‘just friends’.

However, what should you do when you learn that one of the guys whose friendship you greatly enjoy as ‘just a friend’ is actually madly in love with you?!

how to decline love graciously

It’s not a situation any of us look forward to or one that gets easier the more you walk through it.  However, it is an opportunity to glorify God and practice selflessness. In fact it is one of the most selfless situations I have ever encountered.

Here are some key points to remember:

1. Fix your focus.

Look ahead. Don’t avoid. Walk faithfully. 

I once heard a story about driving a race car.  A young man received the opportunity of a lifetime to drive a race car on a racetrack.  Coming around the first turn at break neck speed he turned the steering wheel but his eyes were riveted to the wall of the track speeding toward him.  Suddenly, his driving coach turned the wheel and shouted, “Look where you want to go!”  The car corrected itself. They were approaching the second turn. This time he turned the wheel and fixed his eyes far beyond the sharp turn. No near-death encounter this time.

Moral of the story: look where you want to go. Focus is everything.

When I want my dancers to leap higher I tell them to look up.  It’s simple and it works every time.  As I have walked through graciously declining attention I focus on two things: 1) how can I glorify God most; 2) how can I serve the young man best.  If your goal is to bring God glory and point the young man in your life to Christ that’s what you need to focus on.  Even if those things are your goal, but you’re focusing on not causing him pain you’ll cause pain anyway just like the “racecar” driver the first time around.  His goal was to get around the turn, but he was focused on not running into the wall.  Don’t look at the problem, or even attempt to avoid the problem.  Fix your focus on where you want to go.

2. Communicate clearly.

Don’t delay. Don’t sugar coat it. Be honest. 

As women we innately want to lessen the impact or significance of any pain we might inflict.  So, when faced with a difficult discussion or sticky situation we sometimes procrastinate, hoping that the attraction will fade away.  Other times we beat around the bush and hint at our feelings in order to let them down gently. However, men are programed differently than women and grasp onto any shred of hope we leave.  A good friend of mine once told me of a conversation with her brother.  She mentioned that if “blank” guy was ever to get in a relationship then she would know he was not her guy.  Her brother looked at her and said, “What do you mean?  There’s definitely still a chance.  Nothing is final until they are engaged and even then there is still a little bit of hope.”

My friend and I laughed over this story, but through it I realized when we do not communicate clearly with the young men in our lives we are not serving them or saving them from pain.  Instead, we are serving ourselves.  Clear communication is the most selfless choice we can make.  Honest and prompt communication although difficult is one of the best ways we can respect and honor the men in our lives.

3. Intentionally Affirm.

Be respectful. Don’t degrade. Speak truth.

Regardless of the situation gentlemen are children of God as such they deserve respect.  Graciously declining love does not include stepping on the men in our lives, putting them down, or shredding their masculinity.  If anything it is an opportunity to point them toward Christ. Do NOT take this as an opportunity to paint a picture of all the inadequacies you see in him.  Instead point out the strengths in your admirer. Essentially you are saying, “I do not want to be ‘more than friends’ with you, however you are good guy whom I respect and believe will do great things.”

Being respectful and encouraging with your communication is selfless. When you are admired “against your will” it’s tempting to tell them all the reasons why they aren’t who you want as “more than a friend.”  Guys lay a lot on the line when admiring a lady.  Your goal is to communicate that you are turning down their attention/affection, not them as a person.  Setting aside your frustration and acknowledging the young man as a child of God is selfless and brings God glory.

Finally, trust God.  Trust God with his heart.  Trust God with your heart. 

Trust God with you future.  And trust God with all the heart involved.  If you are being obedient and seeking God’s will and glory above all He will do exceedingly, abundantly, above all you can ask or imagine.  He is a faithful God who does work all things together for His children.

Simply,

Sisi

What are your thoughts? Have you ever experienced a friend wanting to be more than friends? Comment below! 

What to Do When God Throws You A Curveball [And You Didn’t Even Want to Play Baseball]

{By Lindsay Chilton}

Have you ever been caught in a tropical storm that seemed to come out of no-where and the wind is blowing so violently you have to focus on staying upright, the sky is yellow, the rain comes pouring down in sheets, and all before you can even find shelter it disappears and leaves clear skies?

For weeks I had listened to sermons about perseverance in faith not thinking much of it.

Our church spoke on perseverance in spite of disappointment, my father in our Bible Study taught on it, my daily devotional happened to be on the same thing and I even joked with my mom that I should be on guard because God was obviously going to hurl something at me soon.

For months now I’ve been planning on serving in Colorado at a Christian camp in the mountains. I’ve never been to the state but after randomly finding the camp on the internet (thanks, Google) and applied, everything lined up perfectly. I could feel God’s hand on it, which excited me even more.

I ecstatically planned on what to pack, I researched more of the camp and fell in love with the mountains after just seeing pictures. I was ready to go.

plans mesed up camp counselor

And then, on a random Wednesday morning a week before I’m supposed to leave, I collapsed.

I don’t mean just tripping over something and falling (which is embarrassingly quite normal for me), I mean full on blacking out, falling to the floor, hitting my concussion, the full sha-bang (pun fully intended). The next day I found myself at the doctor’s where they ran test, took blood, and then told me I needed to visit a Neurologist. All of a sudden all of my beautiful plans were on hold and I was frustrated with what God was telling me. Just a couple of months ago He had told me to go serve in Colorado and now He’s telling me that I might not get to serve at a camp at all.

I was angry with God for about 30 seconds and then He gave me a reality check by reminding me of Joseph from Genesis. At the beginning of Joseph’s life he was full of promise. He was his father’s favorite, he was educated, and he had a cool coat. But then he was sold into slavery by his own brothers, was wrongly accused for a crime that he didn’t commit, and was sentenced to twelve years of prison where he watched men who were rightly incarcerated be set free. Through all of that Joseph had absolutely no idea what God was doing with him and I’m sure he felt useless and abandoned. It would’ve been so easy for him to question what God was doing with him and to despair.

But he constantly praised the name of Yahweh and persevered. Luckily for us we can see the entire story unfold and we know that God was molding him for a position that would save the Egyptians and the Israelites during a famine. But Joseph didn’t see this during his time in prison.

And we don’t see what God is doing while we are in our own “prisons”.

It sucks having your detailed plans thrown out of the window by God and thinking, “But God, I could’ve served You so much better if you let me do this!” He’ll politely listen to you say this but then He answers you like He answered Job in Job chapter 38 when He reminds him that He is the One who is in control and who plans everything.

It’s sometimes impossible to see the outcome of something while you’re in the tropical storm and in the middle of the whirlwind. But while we might not see the outcome we can always see and focus on God and persevere in faith.

 

Update: At this moment, Lindsay is in the Colorado mountains, serving God by being a camp counselor! 

 

 

Why Are Stories the Foundation of Our World?

{Guest Post by Austin Griesinger}

Since the beginning of history we have had stories. Since God first created man stories have been passed down generation to generation. Stories that were true, historical events and stories that were nothing but myth or legend. Some stories that were meant to intimidate others. Stories have been the foundation for every society since the dawn of time.

Stories are the glue that has held the world together.

how stories affect us

Whether historically accurate, works of fiction, or even pieces of poetry some stories are told and retold time and time again. Since man was first created we’ve had a desire to remember and recount stories, even unimportant ones. Why is that?

Why do have an almost compulsive need to tell and retell stories, even untrue stories at times?

Stories are what compose everything in this world, to the point that our reality is essentially based off of them. So to communicate one effectively is something humans love to do and can have a very powerful impact.

Every word, thought, and deed is part of the story that you’re telling about yourself.

Everything we see in our daily life is a story. Some are important for us all, while others have no meaning to you but are everything to someone else. Literally everything that goes on in life is a story waiting to be told. Which might lead you to wonder why some stories become incredibly popular and some are ignored entirely.

The truth is, only good stories really make it. Stories that make us feel something or make us want to do something. We cherish the stories that have a profound effect on us. The stories that make us feel, make us hurt, inspire us, and uplift us. Tales that cause us to observe our world in a new way, or open our eyes to things we’ve been blind to. But we disregard stories that have no impact on us, stories that can’t do those things.

From crude paintings on cave walls, to the cinematic brilliance of modern film.

From the beginnings of humanity when tribal elders would pass down tales to the children, to the modern theatre. From the first written books of the Bronze age, up until the mass produced novels of today. It’s all evidence that humanity is unaccepting, even terrified, of a world without a recounted history.

We are terrified of a world without stories.

This is the reason that it’s one of the largest industries worldwide. Billions and billions of dollars every year are poured into movies, books, and the theatre. We are absolutely transfixed by these entertainment sources because, in many cases, they give us hope for a more exciting, more dramatic, or even a more unrealistically romantic lifestyle. In many ways, famous stories are so loved and so held on to because they offer an escape from a mundane day to day existence.

This is the way in which we can mistreat the idea and the inspiration of stories. They absolutely should not make us feel like we live a mundane life. We should let them encourage us to live a life worthy of a story. A full, rich life. One that can be passed down to posterity and have a positive influence on future generations.

Perhaps this is the true reason we aspire to write stories, and the reason we so love to hear them.

They remind us, sometimes subconsciously, of our Creator.

The Creator of the universe is the best author who has ever lived. He has been writing your story, my story, and His-story since beyond our comprehension of time.

And if you know Him you know our story has a happy ending.

Why You Need to Be Holy (And It’s Not What You Think)

{By Alexandra Presley}

A wise man once said that if he knew the world would go to pieces tomorrow, he would still plant his apple tree today. Why?

Why care enough to get on your hands and knees and bury a little seed into the ground of this messy world?

What good is the hope of future apples when everything is falling apart?

Wouldn’t it be a holier thing to be reading important books or thinking important thoughts, instead, if we knew the world would go to pieces tomorrow? Something about gardening just sounds too. . . physical. Too fleeting. Too unimportant.

But I don’t think it is.

Sometimes, maybe, you have to wonder what’s the use of loving a place that is so dangerous, and dirty, and wicked.

Sometimes the best thing seems to be stepping grandly up above all the material muck of this world to avoid getting ourselves tainted by any of it. Sometimes it’s easier to imagine we’re in league with all the more spiritual things – like lofty words, and lofty thoughts, and general, perfect immaterialness. Those things are clean and bright. And distant.

Distant because our lives are bubbling over with imperfect things, dingy things, loud and inconvenient things.

how to be holy

Distant because, actually, what we have to realize is that materiality is not the opposite of spirituality. True holiness is not distant. It’s screaming in our ears and pulling at our hands and scraping off our pride.

God doesn’t hate earthly things. In fact, He loved the earth, in all it’s wild glory, so very much that He put a physical body on His precious Son and sent Him down into the middle of the mess to redeem it. If God hated physical things, He would never have gone to the trouble.

“Don’t knock materiality, God invented it.” Robert Farrar Capon.

He did invent it, and so first there was the trouble of creation; the wonderful trouble of making a wildly spinning round thing and then filling it up with everything that hadn’t ever existed before, like dragonflies and dirt, sunrises, cherry blossoms, hedgehogs, and bird songs; the trouble of making a perfect man and making a perfect woman; the trouble of watching them so quickly lie and blame and disobey; the trouble of sending them out of the beautiful place He had made for them; most of all the trouble of loving them enough to die just so they will come back home again someday. All of it – all of His story – involves real, broken people in a real, broken world. We have to embrace that gritty realness because it is us.

Indeed, some of the most spiritual things we could imagine turn out to also be the most physical things of all: like His  broken body and His bloodshed.

Like doubting fingers feeling inside the real, wounded places where the physical nails held innocent physical hands to a physical cross. Like a little girl who heard with her physical ears the physical voice of Jesus whisper marvelous life back into her body. Like a healed blind man who realized, for the first time, the glory it is to be looking and also seeing. Like a child being born in real, awful, beautiful pain. Like a gentle hand to hold onto, and the saltiness of warm, repentant tears on your cheeks, and all kinds of loud, wonderful voices, singing together. Like planting things with the dirt stuck all up under your fingernails and the sun browning your arms and neck. Planting trees.

Those things are real and glorious and disorderly all at the same time. They’re holy things. Marvel at them.

There’s so much wrong here with us, but there’s still so much that’s right. You can yearn for our garden home with all of your aching heart, while at the same time living this broken life with all of your feeble might. Because there is this hope: He’ll make every damaged thing beautiful in it’s time. And there is this truth: that it is more marvelous to be broken and redeemed by love, than to have always been safe and guiltless.

Without brokenness there is no redemption. Without the rain things never grow. Don’t resent the realness of it all. Don’t be afraid to love this earth. Our hands are for giving, our lungs are for laughing, our hearts are for loving.

A seed in the ground is for the hope of a future apple tree.

 

What are your thoughts? Are sacred and secular two different worlds? Comment below! 

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