Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Praying and Seeing Answers

For a while now I have been using prayer cards in a system I borrowed from Paul Miller's book, A Praying Life. That is a book I'd recommend to anyone by the way. I have a card for every member of my family, a number of cards for missionaries, cards for friends, cards for extended family, a card for the elders, and so on. I don't pray for every card every day, but some I do, and all the others are in a short rotation. On each card, I usually have a scripture or two that I pray for that person or persons, and any time there is a special need, I write it down with the date. And when the prayer is answered, I write that down, and how, and the date.

This may seem small, but the more I keep track of how God is answering prayer, the more I want to pray, and the more I want to be specific. My cards record specific answers that give me hope and courage to pray. They also record times when God's answer came but it wasn't what I wanted. Even so, I don't feel as if my prayers were not heard--they were, but God gave a better answer according to his perfect understanding.

I think that many of us may have a pretty weak prayer life because we cannot point to specific ways that God has answered prayers, even if the answer is "No," or "not now." And I think many of us expect that God ought to give us an answer (preferably the one we want) rather quickly, after all, we feel as if we would be wasting our time if we keep asking.

Recently I was looking at my "Special Needs" card, which is full to overflowing and needs replacing (I save the old ones so that I'll remember what I prayed about). I saw the place where I wrote down Mike Kane's name, as he had been diagnosed with liver cancer. And then I have the date he came to the elders for healing prayer. Then I have the date when he was getting his transplant (the answer we thought was going to extend his life). And finally, I have the date he left this life and was "fully healed" in God's presence. Some might look at that and say, "but God didn't answer our prayers." Oh, but he did. I will never forget Mike's response after we had prayed over him and he talked about the Lord's presence in that moment, and the strong encouragement he received from the Lord. I want to always remember those months of waiting and seeing Mike's confidence in God and his comfort that God was working. I'm so grateful to remember that he had no real pain in the illness, and even when the transplant went badly and he was taken home to be with Christ, we could know that this was God's answer and was great for Mike, even though Alisa, the family, and the rest of us had lost him here. We learned so much.

And that same night we prayed for Brian Nester, and God has seen fit to keep him with us. And then there's the name of the wonderful young bride who weathered a year of treatment for leukemia--I have dates written down for her, too. 

The elders have joined together to pray for all our members (yet another reason to join the church), and we've divided the congregation into a list where one third of you are prayed for by one third of us each month, and then we shift. We've had reports of how God has used that prayer time, and I can tell you that as I have prayed for some of you, God has either given me a chance to talk to you and hear how God is working, or I've prayed and then found out God has done something in your life--and it's not that he needs my prayers, but he chooses to work in and through them, and I get to hear about it and see it! 

The elders also have been meeting on Monday mornings for special prayer for wisdom to lead this church, and I cannot tell you what a blessing it has been to do so, even though it's at 5 am! God continues to guide us, and to protect us from our own foolishness! I try to bring my notebook to keep track of how we pray, and how God may answer. 

Could I encourage you to consider doing more to keep track of your prayers, and their answers? As you do, and you review them, you will be reminded that God is still hearing and answering prayer, and that may be just the nudge you need to pray even more. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

How to Vote!

More than one person has asked me how I think we ought to vote in tomorrow’s presidential election. I am not answering that question publicly for a number of reasons, one being that I can make a good case for more than one answer. Another is that I have people I love and respect on every side of the issue, and while I may not agree with their thinking and would engage them privately, I don’t want to create any unnecessary open division among us as Christians. And finally, while I have serious concerns as to whether our tax exempt status in our nation will continue, I don't want to jeopardize it in a church-related blog by making a political endorsement!
However, I do think that there are some things that I can say that might be of help to those still trying to figure out what to do. Actually, I have a lot of things I could say, but let me offer these five.
1. Vote Prayerfully—if you have not made your own need for wisdom (as well as everyone else’s need for the same) a matter of prayer, you have already failed in a basic call—to ask God for wisdom (James 1:5). Failure to pray for wisdom says to God, “I don’t trust you to give what you promise, so I’ll figure this out on my own.” You can be sure God won’t give you what you won’t ask for. If you are voting based solely on your gut, your political preferences, or your feelings, and not based upon prayerful dependence on God for wisdom, and reasoned consideration of biblical priorities and principles, then you are not voting as a Christian, but as an independent actor/reactor, and that does not help a nation full of people who think they are all personally the arbiters of what is right and good.
2. Vote Consistently—if a candidate and/or their party is defined by positions you believe to be opposed to God, the Bible, and the freedom for Christians (and others) to live and act in their public as well as private lives in accord with their conscience, then wisdom would instruct you not to vote for such a person. Christians may well face persecution, but we are not called upon to seek it. Rather, we are to pray for our leadership, and by extension seek to select those who would enable us to live peaceful and quiet lives (1 Tim 2:2). The four "Christian" issues I prioritize for our society are life (including the pro-life cause), marriage and family, religious liberty, and justice (not "fairness") under law.
3. Vote Realistically—we are under no illusions about the candidates running for President this year for the major parties, the minor parties, or as write ins. We are also aware that an election is held with the stated purpose of yielding a winner who becomes our leader. Your vote is a piece of that process, and so you should vote in whatever way you believe and are convinced will yield the best possible winner out of the options before us. Voting, as Ohio’s governor did, by writing in a name that would not even count as a write in vote in our state, was a symbolic act, but it was not truly a vote. He could have voted for any candidate on the ballot or on the write in list, but he chose to throw away his part of the decision to be made and have no part in the outcome of the election.
4. Vote Humbly—you may choose your preferred candidate because you believe it will provide the best option, or in many cases you may do so because you do not want the other candidate to win. That is a valid way to think, but you need to realize you cannot predict accurately what will happen if any candidate wins. I thought Ronald Reagan would transform our nation and Bill Clinton would destroy it. I was wrong on both counts. You can guess, but you cannot know what will happen. So don’t tell someone else who may have reached a different conclusion that that are sinning by not doing what you think should be done, or that by voting as they did, they guaranteed some awful consequence. There are no such guarantees, and often things happen that only God could bring about. One staunchly conservative person I know is voting for a write in candidate, knowing that it may help a candidate he abhors win. “Then,” he says, “ we can fight against them using all the political means at our disposal—because we didn’t help put them there.” I’m not agreeing, but I see the principle involved, and perhaps that is putting more faith in God than those who are planning to vote for a “lesser evil.” In any case, I will not tell him he is wrong to do so. 
5. Vote Confidently—not in your candidate, but in God. As one of my favorite new sayings goes, “God is in control of who is in control.” Whatever the outcome, God still rules, still judges, and still saves. His kingdom will not be defeated, and His purposes for His people will not be thwarted.