PRAYERS THAT MOVE THE WORLD

Pastor Mike called out: “North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Eritrea, Yemen, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, Iran, & Afghanistan.” He asked the significance of these names. Maybe you know they are the names of the top ten offenders of the 50 countries that make up the World Watch List 2024. Believers in these countries pay the cost of following Jesus. Extremists exploit instability in Africa, foreign influence bolsters autocratic regimes, and there are unprecedented attacks on churches. Over 365 million Christians around the world face discrimination for their faith. My mind boggles with the sheer numbers. Yet, despite this, the Christian Church grows.

THE PRACTICE OF PRAYER

Every morning, I read and pray for one of the countries on the World Watch List. In my Global Prayer Guide I follow an additional different country. My geography skills have proven very inadequate as countries change names and shapes. God knows the locations. My heart breaks as I follow the testimonies of Voice of the Martyrs.

I DON’T PERSONALLY KNOW THESE PEOPLE

I do not personally know these people I pray for. Their situations are unimaginable to me. Yet I pray and then pray some more. Why? Because of this passage: “This is the [remarkable degree of] confidence which we [as believers are entitled to] have before Him: that if we ask anything according to His will, [that is, consistent with His plan and purpose] He hears us. And if we know [for a fact, as indeed we do] that He hears and listens to us in whatever we ask, we [also] know [with settled and absolute knowledge] that we have [granted to us] the requests which we have asked from Him.” (I John 5:13-14)

OUR SAVIOR HEARS

God understands each situation and every individual on this earth. He knows about the believers who spend years in solitary confinement in metal shipping containers in the heat of Eritrea. The Holy Spirit groans for those in Korea, imprisoned in concentration camps because they possessed a Bible. Our Savior hears the cries of refugees from Sudan whose homes are destroyed by militants.

NOT WISHFUL THINKING

It is easy to get discouraged and think that our little prayers do not matter. Did you ever wonder why James 5:17-18 points out that Elijah had “a nature like ours”? Matt Bradson writes that we are to pray for huge movements of the Holy Spirit: “Even Elijah was only human. God can answer our big, rain-stopping, holiness-pleading prayers just like his.” If as a righteous person you pray according to God’s will, expect God to answer the prayer. He will grant what you ask. That is based on God’s promise, not wishful thinking.

WHAT TO PRAY FOR

How can you know exactly what and how to pray? Check out the resources I have already mentioned. Even more, learn to plunder Scripture as you pray, interceding for people using the words of the Apostle Paul or the Psalms. “Plunder” means “take goods violently from a place, especially during a war.” Do you open your Bible with force and realize that this is your sword for global warfare?

SPEAK INTO GOD’S EAR

Notice the Apostle Paul didn’t mess around only tiny requests. He drives right to the heart of what people really need. At the beginning of Philippians, he writes, “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Why not begin today using this as your prayer for believers in North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Eritrea, Yemen, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, Iran, & Afghanistan? God has offered His ear. Speak powerfully into it!

Click here for the miraculous testimony entitled “A Die-hard Shia Muslim Becomes a Believer”

HOW TO GET UNSTUCK

Have you ever noticed in the Gospels that Jesus didn’t waste His time going around screaming at the Roman soldiers?

Just how did we drive the car over the parking curb?  The vehicle was wedged in so tightly that we could not clear the barrier. Yes, I confess I was the driver on that little side trip in Florida. We made a wrong turn. I chose to stop at a tiny parking lot next to the shore so we could get our bearings. Concentrating more on the map than parking the car, I pulled in too far and drove right over the curb. Stuck good and tight. Repeatedly, I tried alternately putting the car into drive and reverse, but made no headway. 

THE SEASONS OF NO HEADWAY

There are seasons of my life in which I have become stuck, unable to make headway. The fruits of the Spirit are meant to propel me forward: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. However, my fruit withers on the vine.  Because of my rotten judgment, I become stuck, wedged on a spiritual curb.

TOSS OUT THE TRASH

This is not God’s ideal plan for believers. There is an antidote for getting stuck: tossing in the trash the excess weight of sin.  For example, one can’t be faithful to God (a fruit of the Spirit) and also sexually immoral at the same time. It is impossible to continue in impurity and indecent behavior if self-control and goodness are the filters for our minds.  Idolatry and witchcraft go down the tubes if one first loves God above all else.  Hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, and selfish ambition are not even on the table if love, patience, kindness, and self-control are our first response to pain.  I can’t sustain a fit of rage if the Holy Spirit is controlling the words that come out of my mouth.

WHAT DOES THE SPIRIT LIFE LOOK LIKE

What does a Spirit controlled life look like? Have you ever noticed in the Gospels that Jesus didn’t waste His time going around screaming at the Roman soldiers?  Christ didn’t throw that first stone at the woman caught in adultery. Never did He move away from the dinner table when the tax collectors sat next to Him. He even loved His disciples when they were at odds with each other over who would be first in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus lived in an unlovable world.  The words that come out of His mouth and His behaviors are all fruits of the Spirit. Every single last one…

TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF THE WHEEL

Is it possible for believers to live this way? What exactly are the good fruits? Galatians 5:22-23:But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Amplified Version) How do we live such a way? By the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  Choosing to take our hands off our spiritual steering wheels. 

Has your spiritual life gotten stuck? Maybe you don’t know how you ended up there, but you desperately need the power of the Holy Spirit to lift you out of that pit of deed of the flesh.  What’s the solution? Confess it, turn away from it, and ask the Holy Spirit for directions on how to live.  Since I have a God who got a rental car eventually unstuck from a parking curb in Florida, I know that we have a God Who can steer us safely into living holy lives.

Click here to listen to the life transformation of Cortney Bruketta

SILENCE UNDER THE BROOM TREE

Have you ever concluded that your ministry is fruitless and life just isn’t worth living?

The fireworks are done; the anticipated victory has arrived. The main character is beyond exhaustion. He witnessed at the altar what he envisioned as the big finale to his ministry career. Yet, in a moment, everything turns upside down. He is now a wanted man on the run for his life. The account of this is recorded in I Kings 18:20-46 & I Kings 19:1-18.

Alone, at his wits end, Elijah cries, “I have had enough Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” And with those words, Elijah falls asleep in the wilderness under a broom tree, a desert shrub.

God had not met Elijah’s expectations. Sure, there was the magnificent fire from heaven raining down on Elijah’s water drenched sacrifice. The crowd cheered: “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!” And then there was the post-game show of God breaking the drought which had plagued the nation of Israel for years. Surely, it was a win-win! What more could Elijah expect from God?

However, hearts can be rock hard. The warrant is issued by Queen Jezebel for Elijah’s death. Afterall, Elijah ordered the execution of hundreds of her false prophets. Elijah responds to Jezebel’s warrant by running and running and running. That brings him to the solitary broom tree.

Have you ever concluded that your ministry is fruitless and life just isn’t worth living? The NIV notes say that “Elijah lost his confidence in the triumph of the kingdom and was withdrawing from the area of conflict.” I don’t blame him. Did Elijah have any additional space so I might join him under the broom tree?

The magnificent revival Elijah expected from the huge miracles, did not happen. Elijah expected BIG. However, God planned for small…. God finally speaks to Elijah, but God doesn’t shout in the wind. Neither does He scream over the earthquake. There is no roaring over the fire. God chooses to speak to Elijah in a gentle whisper. It isn’t until that point of quiet that Elijah is ready to again hear God.

So how noisy is your life? Lots going on? Have you become so caught up in the results of both your plans and disappointments that you have begun to think that God is not Who He says He is? Have you effectively silenced God because He doesn’t produce the bells and whistles you expect from Him?

How about running to your broom tree. Turn off your phone, radio, TV, and your racing thoughts. STOP!!! Get ready for the whisper of God. Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).He is in the silence and He still is God.

Click here for more information on what it means to be still

MY LIFE AS A PRISONER

God sent us into the wilderness to get to know Him better.

Are you a multi-tasker? I ended up multi-tasking to the extreme. At one point, work included: being a music teacher grades K-12; privately coaching vocal students; directing a 30 voice children’s choir at church; directing a 70-voice regional choir; leading the musical programs at Christian camps; teaching a weekly women’s Sunday School Class. I even ran a class so that women could better manage their health (what a joke!). On the side, I was making and selling jewelry at craft shows and teaching others how to make jewelry. If it could be done, I did it. What a prison I was living in.

OVERWORKED AND UNHAPPY

Did I mention I also loved burning leaves? Maybe burning leaves was significant because I felt my life was going up in smoke. I was overworked and unhappy. When oh when would the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow come into sight?

In the background was my family: husband and two sons. My husband was a pastor; dedicated to his calling. My sons were excellent kids, but did I really know any of them? Had I taken a second to breathe?

THE YEARS OF DISSEMBLING

Then came the years of dissembling. Signs of an approaching storm already appeared on the horizon, but I ignored it. Surely, nothing that bad could ever come about for someone who loved Jesus. Right? Wrong! God ripped all of those commitments and ministries right out of our hands. In a twinkling of an eye, we were without a church home, a regular schedule, and a stable home base. Savings quickly evaporated. I obsessed about finding my husband a new job. He had sunk into deep depression, so I spent hours searching job boards and writing resumes and sending letters to countless churches on his behalf. Nothing worked.

WALLS BEGINNING TO FALL

Workaholic Jacqui was at the end of her rope. The bottom had arrived. Suddenly, there were hours, days and weeks to think….Were the prison walls beginning to fall?

Not until the end has been reached does one realize that maybe they are on the wrong path. Not until I gave up my puny efforts could God rebuild new lives. Only He could make the huge internal change in not only how we see Him, but how we see ourselves and our relationship to ministry.

THE BEST PRISON CHAPLAIN

Instead of viewing God as a job, a commitment, and a career, God became Father and Provider. He pried our hands off of possessions, aspirations for ministry, and plans for the future. God no longer was Someone researched in order to prepare a lesson. He is that Friend Who takes His time for visits that can be quite lengthy. He is the best prison chaplain!

MINISTRY TODAY

What is our relationship to church and ministry today? Church is a community of believers that deeply care about each other. Technically we belong to a large local church, but in our hearts, real church plays out in small pockets: the women’s “Tribe” I am part of, the men Bill mentors, the writing friends God has blessed me with, and the assortment of Christian friends we call family.

TOOLS, NOT “PROJECT MANAGERS”

We no longer consider “ministry” something we possess. Ministry is something God can steer us into for a season and then steer us out of another season. We don’t have a strangle hold on to what is God’s and not ours. He does with ministry and programs what He wants and He prospers what He wants to prosper. We are His tools, not His project managers.

Today, both Bill and I are investors. We invest in the lives of other believers or individuals on the cusp of believing.  We take seriously the prayer, time and effort needed to pour into the lives of God’s children. Sometimes this is well received. Other times, it can be painful. However, this is the passion God has led us to. It just took that long painful journey into the wilderness to get us here.

PRISONERS CAN BE SET FREE

Are you going through a similar long painful journey? From firsthand experience, I can tell you that the pain is worth it if you let God do the rebuilding. God never wants His children to be their own “project managers”. God sent us into the wilderness to get to know Him better. Into the barrens the we went. The prisoners can be set free!

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Click here to hear Jeff Parker’s testimony of being set free

LOVE THAT NEVER RUNS

I would rather have a root canal than knowingly sit next to the brother/sister who has hurt me.

And there we sat side by side at the picnic. It was difficult. My sister in Christ hated my guts at that moment. I just wanted to exit stage left as fast as possible.

BEING A “RUNNER”

I am a “runner”. There, I said it. I am that person who will separate as quickly as possible when there is conflict with another brother or sister in Christ. Give me the person who has deeply wounded me and 100% of the time I emotionally jump out the window when I pass by them again. Frankly, I would rather have a root canal than knowingly sit next to the brother/sister who has hurt me.

WE HAVE ALL BEEN DEEPLY HURT

The sad fact is that no one in this world hasn’t been deeply injured in his/her relationships to others. This is especially true in the church. That’s why I John 4:7-21 is so challenging:  “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates (works against) his [Christian] brother he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should also [unselfishly] love his brother and seek the best for him.

THE MERE ABSENCE OF LOVE IS DEADLY

How does a habit of withdrawal effect one’s spiritual life? Dallas Willard comments in “Renovation of the Heart”: Failure to love others as Jesus loves us chokes off the flow of the eternal kind of life that our whole human system cries out for. The old apostle minced no words: “He who does not love abides in death” (verse 14). Notice that he did not say, “He who hates,” but simply, “He who does not love.” The mere absence of love is deadly. It is withdrawal.”

COURAGEOUS LOVE

Is it possible to have this type of courageous love – the type is determined by the grace of God to stick around, rather than flee? Non-courageous love means that I do not extend love toward that difficult brother/sister because of my past issues. I am not letting issues control my feelings. On the contrary, I make a choice to extend love because I allow Jesus to revolutionize my character, my inner being.

JESUS NEVER RAN

This is a change by submission: allowing God to change me from the inside out through my relationship with God. Instead of putting on my running shoes when conflict arises, I allow the character of Christ enter my life. Jesus never ran.

Are you also a “runner”? I remember a congregation where one family was in conflict with another. They always attended the same service, but made sure they sat on opposite sides of the sanctuary. Their spiritual running shoes were always in service. “The mere absence of love is deadly. It is withdrawal.” Jesus love never runs.

Click for more information on how to love well.

LOVE ALWAYS SHOWS UP

Maybe Thomas thought he was righting the world, but I can’t see Jesus bellowing across the Temple because he was not on the “A-List” of singers.

It’s a small church known for in-fighting. On the Elder Board is Thomas, a man knowledgeable in the Scriptures and a self-proclaimed evangelist. Everyone knows him for his beautiful singing voice. Did I mention Thomas makes sure everyone knows what the church policy handbook states? If the church has a rule breaker, Thomas is quickly on the hunt. Also, if you don’t know Thomas, then he makes sure you quickly know all about his latest accomplishments.  

And then there is Delores, an elderly woman who knows her basic Bible, but you could never catch her in a debate among scholars. Delores has a challenging life – multiple health problems, widowed early, and finances are scarce. Despites circumstances, Delores always shows up for church. She made a decision to love her fellow believers well, regardless of how inconvenient the situation is for her. Delores is love personified.

Unfortunately, everyone remembers the last congregational meeting: Thomas’ infamous melt down. He publicly let the congregation know how he was slighted by not being scheduled more frequently as a soloist. As his angry voice bellowed across the sanctuary, the humiliated music director sank lower and lower into the pew. Maybe Thomas thought he was righting the world, but I can’t see Jesus bellowing across the Temple because he was not on the “A-List” of singers.

In contrast to Thomas, Delores loves well. She works hard building relationships with her brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of the cost to her personally. She takes to heart the teachings of the Apostle John in I John 4:7-21: Beloved, let us [unselfishly] love and seek the best for one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves [others] is born of God and knows God [through personal experience]. (God loved unselfishly, that is the same type of love we are to display one to another).” Thomas seems to fall into John’s description of “non-lovers”: “The one who does not love has not become acquainted with God [does not and never did know Him], for God is love.

God’s love always shows up. It shows up when believers attend a worship service and stay to have significant conversations with other believers. Church is not a chore to check off on their to-do list. This same love shows up when Christians volunteer in ministries and grow in relationships with other fellow servants. They encourage each other. The identical love shows up when believers get involved in a small group of believers for the purpose of community, even if a small group doesn’t easily fit in their schedule. “Show-up love” comes with a price. It can be very inconvenient.

If you do not have a “show-up” kind of love for your fellow believers, then maybe it is time for a heart check. Thomas thought a heart check consisted of public performance and rules. Jesus’ heart check goes far deeper.  Delores might not have all the answers, but Delores considers it a great privilege to love her brothers and sisters in Christ. Delores’ love always shows up. Are you a Thomas or a Delores? Is it heart check time?

Click to listen to a story of this kind of love

Click for further information on loving one another

PEACE BE STILL

Life can be uncertain, scary and confusing. Drowning in the heaviness of circumstances, we have the choice to reach out and cry, “Lord, save me!”

A great distance from land, the boat appears as a mere speck in the horizon. The wind whips the waves higher and higher. Accounts in Matthew 24 and Mark 4 describe the terror of the disciples in the midst of two different storms.  In the Gospel of Matthew, they see in the distance a figure. Is that actually a person walking across the water? The men cry out in fear. Then they hear the voice. It belongs to the One they love: Jesus. “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Amidst the surf, Jesus calls across to Peter, “Come!” Slowly Peter raises one foot over the side of the boat. Suddenly he finds himself actually standing on water. Despite being soaking wet, Peter makes his way toward the Savior.

Then comes that monster wave. It almost knocks Peter over. Startled, Peter wonders what in the world he is doing, attempting to walk across the Sea of Galilee. Fear fills his soul. Peter stops looking at Jesus and takes in the reality of his circumstances. Doubts flood his heart. The seas grab his attention. Peter begins to sink. Before he totally goes under, in terror he screams, “Lord save me!” Jesus reaches out and pulls Peter up from the waters.

Sadly, shaking His head, Jesus cries, “Oh, you of little faith, why did you doubt?” From Peter’s very first step, Jesus knew what a difficult test this would be. It pushed self-confident Peter beyond all his human abilities.

God does His best work when we come to the same realization as Peter: we cannot save ourselves. Notice the progression. Peter had to make that first step of faith out of the boat before his faith, or lack thereof, could be revealed.

Life can be uncertain, scary and confusing. Drowning in the heaviness of circumstances, we have the choice to reach out and cry, “Lord, save me!” Not until we invite the Savior does Jesus enter and make our twisted ways straight. Jesus does not tell us to hide away from the storms in the bottom of a boat. He tells us to get out of the boat and walk toward Him, regardless of our crisis. Only after that initial step does our Savior then whisper, “Peace be still.”

Click for further info on what Jesus means by “Peace be still”

REMEDY FOR A BROKEN HEART

I assumed that my mess was my own and not till everything was straightened out could I feel close to God again.

I was underwater and drowning fast due to circumstances mostly out of my control.  Torn and shredded, my heart didn’t know if there was a way back. 

A specific passage helped me to begin to breathe again.  Psalm 34:18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. 19 The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; 20 he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. These few verses literally saved my life

In my brokenness, I pushed God further and further away.  Afterall, God doesn’t want to be around rubbish, does He?  That’s what I felt like: trash; something good for nothing. I assumed that my mess was my own and not till everything was straightened out could I feel close to God again.

But that’s not what this passage says.  When we are broken, that’s the time which magnetizes God to us.  I thought He was the One stepping away, but in fact, it was me who was running away from Him.

I didn’t think there could be healing and wholeness. Little did I know that even though healing would take time, I could be made stronger than ever before.  The good thing was that the new stronger was way better than my previous vision of strength. 

Maybe it’s time to start letting these couple of verses soak and marinate into your soul, your heart, your mind and your life.  Please don’t put God on pause.  When I tried that, it just made restoration take so much longer. I lost so much time forgetting: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Click for what the Bible says about mental health

HOW TO HAVE A GRATEFUL HEART

Don’t allow Satan to enter in and fill you with ungratefulness. What can we do to have a grateful heart?

The last day of school; a bittersweet time as some anxiously await summer vacation and others yearn for more time with friends and the stability of a school routine.  I sit in my rocking chair surrounded by sweet eight-year-old faces, opening the cards and gifts they bring me. The best gifts I receive are not the gift cards, flowers, or candy, but the words written in homemade cards or letters from parents. They state how grateful they are for loving and teaching their child. Hearts filled with gratefulness.

But not everyone. This year proved to be a challenging one.  The energy required for a few left me feeling exhausted at the end of each day.  These are the students and parents that I yearn to receive a thank-you from. A small note or email with a sincere thank-you or recognition of appreciation.

Is this how God feels when we are ungrateful or don’t take the time to express our gratitude for the blessings He has showered on us?  Luke 17:12-19 tells the story of ten lepers that asked Jesus to cleanse and heal them. Out of the ten, only one turned back and glorified and thanked God for his healing.  Only one. How many times have we been like the nine lepers? 

Ungratefulness is a sin, and it comes from Satan. 2 Timothy 3:1-4 states, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”  Don’t allow Satan to enter in and fill you with ungratefulness.

What can we do to have a grateful heart? Remember to thank God daily.  Psalm 92:1 reminds us that, “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord and sing praises.” Remember to say please and thank-you often to others. The mental health benefits of showing gratitude are encouraging.  Symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression can be decreased when we show gratitude. Finally, don’t lose sight of God’s goodness. The Israelites were brought into the Promised Land after 40 years of bondage and they still questioned God’s provision. They even expressed a desire to go back to Egypt into slavery. In times of tribulation, look to see how God got you to where you are in life and give Him praise.  

The love I have given every student over the last 25 years is deep, but it doesn’t begin to compare to the love that God has for His children. He longs for us to recognize our ingratitude and repent. Henry Adams stated, “A teacher affects eternity; they can never tell where their influence stops.” My influence on the lives of the most challenging students may not be noticed yet, but God is in control.  He has the power to change anyone’s ungrateful heart, even mine.

Click for podcast: “What does the Bible say about thankfulness and gratitude?”

PEACE BE STILL

God does His best work when we come to the same realization as Peter: we cannot save ourselves.

A great distance from land, the boat is merely be a speck in the horizon. The wind whips the waves higher and higher. The disciples are terrified when they see in the distance a figure. Is that actually a person walking across the water? The men cry out in fear. Then they hear the voice. It belongs to the One they love: Jesus. “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Amidst the surf, Jesus calls across to Peter, “Come!” Slowly Peter raises one foot over the side of the boat. Suddenly he finds himself actually standing on water. Despite being soaking wet, Peter makes his way toward the Savior.

Then comes that monster wave. It almost knocks Peter over. Startled Peter wonders what in the world he is doing, attempting to walk across the Sea of Galilee. Fear fills his soul. Peter stops looking at Jesus and takes in the reality of his circumstances. Doubts flood his heart. The seas grab his attention. Peter begins to sink. Before he totally goes under, in terror he cries, “Lord save me!” Jesus reaches out and pulls Peter up from the waters.

Sadly, shaking His head, Jesus cries, “Oh, you of little faith, why did you doubt?

From Peter’s very first step, Jesus knew what a difficult test this would be. It pushed self-confident Peter beyond all human skills. Peter had to realize he could not save himself. God does His best work when we come to the same realization as Peter: we cannot save ourselves.

When we are pushed beyond our abilities and understand we have no power of our own to save ourselves. Drowning in the heaviness of life, we reach out and cry, “Lord, save me!” It’s not until we invite the Savior, does Jesus enter and make our twisted ways straight. The Savior then whispers, “Peace be still.”

Click for further info on what Jesus means by “Peace be still”