Help Is Just a Prayer Away

Whenever you find yourself in a hopeless situation, turn to the only source of real hope. Whenever you have run out of answers, turn to the source of all knowledge. Whenever it seems like you have run into a brick wall, turn to the one who will help you find a door through it. Whenever you feel unloved or unwanted, turn to the one who loves you so much He thought you were to die for. Whenever you feel life is slipping away from you, turn to the only source of eternal life. Whatever help you need, God’s help is just a prayer away.

As I think about this subject, It won’t surprise my regular readers that the words of a gospel song come to my mind. “If you’ve been walking the same old road for miles and miles. If you’ve been hearing the same old voice tell the same old lies. If you’ve tried to feel the same old holes inside. There’s a better life. If you’ve got pain – He’s a pain taker. If you feel lost – He’s a way maker. If you need freedom or saving – He’s a prison shaking Savior. If you’ve got chains – He’s a chain breaker.”

As Christians, we often forget the power that is available to us. I have mentioned several times that one of my favorite verses of scripture is Romans 8:11, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, He will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.” That is more power than I will ever need in this life. To release that power, all that is needed is one sincere prayer.

The Holy Spirit within us will help us communicate with the Father for help even when words escape us. Whether you are a charismatic Christian who has experienced the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” or a more conservative, evangelical Christian (like me), we all have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ and have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us from the moment of our spiritual rebirth. Some may use a prayer language while others spend time in silent prayer allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to the Father on our behalf whenever we are at a loss for words, but what is important is not how we pray, but the one to whom we bring our needs. God’s help is only a prayer away.

Just one caution: don’t expect God to answer your prayer for help instantly. It may happen that way, but God is not limited by time and space as we are. His timing is perfect and He will give us the help we need at the precise time it will benefit us the most.

The Need to Know

High school journalism coaches teach their students the five basic questions that must be answered in each article for the school newspaper: who, what, when, where and why. I don’t know if how is left out because it isn’t as important or because it doesn’t begin with a W. When we are seeking the truth, those are good questions to ask, especially when we study events in the Bible. However, when we seek answers from God in prayer, we often get hung up on two questions: why and when. Why me, Lord? Why am I in this situation? Why did this happen to me, my spouse, my friend or my relative? Why? Then we ask when? When will this be over? When will you answer my prayers? When will you open that new door for me? When?

God doesn’t always answer those questions. It might be because our finite mind couldn’t handle His infinite answer, but I think there is another reason those questions remain unanswered. When I was in the Air Force my security clearance allowed me to handle and read the most top secret of documents but only if I had “the need to know”. Just because I could access certain material didn’t mean I needed to know it. I think Job encountered this when he sought the reason for his situation and how much longer it would last. He was informed in no uncertain terms (beginning at Job 38:1) that he was in no position to question God – he simply didn’t have the need to know many things including why or when.

As we come to God asking for relief, here are some better questions to ask Him in prayer. What do you want me to do about this situation?  What can I learn from this experience? How will going through this allow me to help others experiencing the same thing? Then, instead of asking Him why it occurred or when it will pass, just pray for strength to wait upon His perfect timing.

God is all-knowing – we are not! We don’t need to be. We just need to be obedient to His word and the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Obedience doesn’t require our understanding. Obedience requires our love for Him, our trust in His plan and our prompt action. When we do our part, He will always do the part that is beyond our pay grade or ability. I’ve learned all of this through bitter experience. Don’t follow my example. Be obedient to Him.

 

American History

This is my 157th post on this blog and God continues to provide new material, but I feel this is a piece of American history that deserves repeating. As we celebrated Indepence Day last week a TV crew interviewed young people at the beach. Most of them did not even know from what country we declared our independence or in what year. If that wasn’t sad enough, many of them said they weren’t proud to be an American, although they had trouble explaining why. Contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t around in 1776, but I want to share some history I have lived through that might explain why they feel the way they do.

A few years ago, our President announced to the world that America is no longer a Christian nation. From a cultural standpoint he told the truth. But I remember a time 61 years ago when America was a Christian nation spiritually and culturally. I was 14 years old in 1957. The number one song that summer on Billboard’s Pop chart was Three Bells by the Browns. As you can imagine it received a lot of radio play. I can remember being with a carload of teens from church and when that song came on the radio there was silence until it was over. We were Christians, but we were also teenagers so silence was not normal. That song covered the life of Jimmy Brown from birth to death in just three verses and was filled with faith and prayer. It would not receive a single play on any pop station today.

If anyone tells you that the Civil Rights movement was strictly political and only in the black community, don’t believe them. It was a movement of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of Christians of all races. I know because I was one of them. In the summer of 1957, Billy Graham held integrated nightly crusade meetings in New York City for three whole months. He preached to well over two million people that summer not counting the millions watching on TV (like me) or listening on radio. I remember watching on TV as Billy Graham and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood side by side on a platform in Madison Square Garden and proclaimed that there is only one race – the human race – and everyone in that race needs Jesus Christ as their Savior. Later, people with various shades of skin came forward together to receive Christ. Ethel Waters sang His Eye Is On the Sparrow at one of those crusade meetings. She rededicated her life to Jesus Christ that evening and joined Billy’s team. She was revered by the team and audiences everywhere. She always referred to Billy Graham as “My boy, Billy.” When they left New York, they took those integrated crusades to Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas.

In the fall of that year, I entered high school as a freshman and joined the Youth for Christ Club. Those clubs were on every high school and college campus across America. We met once a week after school in a classroom with one of my teachers, Mrs. Saltzman. She led us in prayer at the beginning and close of each meeting. The memories of the support I received from that club are precious to me. My mother had died the previous year and my Christian faith was receiving its first big test.

We’ve come a long way in the wrong direction since 1957, but Christian faith has not died out. Powered by the Holy Spirit, it is spreading like wild fire once again in our communities and our culture. The enemy will not give up that territory easily, but the battle is on.

Worship

Thankfully, animal sacrifices are no longer a necessary part of worship because Jesus gave Himself as a once and for all sacrifice for our sins. We no longer have to rely on priests to intercede for us because that heavy curtain separating us from God’s Holy presence was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died. So what is the proper way for us to worship God as Christians? Is there some rite, formula or procedure for us to follow in order to worship God in a way that will be not only satisfy our desire to worship, but will satisfy Him? Can worship only take place in the house of the Lord with other believers?

Most churches now set aside time at the beginning of the service to worship God in song. We no longer have an organist or pianist, choir and choir director to lead us in hymns and anthems. There are now keyboardists and a variety of other musical instruments and vocalists forming a worship team to lead us in singing worship music. Is that a joyful noise to the Lord? Or do we need to clap our hands or raise them to the sky? Do we need to kneel in reverent silence or shout out our praise to God? How can we know that our worship pleases God?

Jesus gave us the answer to all of those questions when he spoke to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. “But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship Him in that way. For God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24) So, what is important isn’t where we worship or the actions we take during worship, it is that our worship of God comes sincerely from our heart, allowing our spirit to connect with His Spirit. Our mind needs to be stayed on His glory and the truth of His word. That is the only form of worship God desires of us. The rest is just personal preferences that vary widely from one person to another because He created us uniquely. All of it pleases God as long as you love and adore Him “with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength” without reservation or distraction. (Mark 12:30)

From the oldest hymns to the latest worship songs, those powerful words of poetic imagery touch our heart and lift our spirit preparing us to worship God in spirit and in truth.

 

 

Lost and Found

You have heard people say, “I found God” or “I found Jesus Christ”. You may even have said it yourself. But God was never lost – we were. He is the one who found us. The powerful worship song Reckless Love describes how relentlessly God pursues us. “There’s no shadow He won’t light up, no mountain He won’t climb up coming after me. There’s no wall He won’t kick down, lie He won’t tear down coming after me. Oh, the overwhelming, never ending reckless love of God. It chases me down, fights till I’m found, leaves the 99.”   Leaving the 99 to find one lost lamb doesn’t make a lot of sense – unless you are that lost lamb. He seeks us out so He can save us from our sins and we can worship and serve Him as we were created to do. Why would the Creator of the Universe search for us like that? The answer is found in that familiar verse, John 3:16. It is because he loves us so much.

God’s loving search began with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It was the first recorded case of hide and seek. God called out to Adam, “Where are you?” I always had trouble understanding why an omnipotent God didn’t know where Adam was hiding. He knew! I heard somewhere that the Hebrew could have been translated, “Why are you where you are?” Of course God knew the answer to that as well, but He wanted Adam and Eve to admit their disobedience and their shame. God never asks a question to get information. He is the source of all knowledge. He asks questions to get us to realize our situation and our need for Him.

Once He found them in sin and disobedience, death entered the Garden for the first time as God sacrificed an innocent animal and used the hide to cover their nakedness and shame. That was the first of countless sin offerings to temporarily cover man’s sin from God’s sight. Then, in due time, God presented His Son as the perfect, innocent and permanent sacrifice for our sins. Even now He continues to call to us and chase after us to get us to admit our disobedience and accept Jesus’ sacrifice.

I am so grateful that 64 years ago this summer God found me and covered my heart with the sacrificial blood of Jesus. I celebrate that event every time I see someone else realize that they have been found and brought into the fold by our loving Shepherd.

Wolves Disguised As Sheep

We don’t have to look very hard to find “churches” today that seek to fill their pews and their coffers by offering a religion that makes people comfortable in their sins, their world view and in their own concept of God. I have friends who have a secular, political view of the world. They find the preaching of God’s word very uncomfortable and have sought out such churches in which their world view and concept of God are accepted.

We should not be surprised by this. Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15) The apostle Paul also warned us, “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3) “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

I recently came across a Facebook post that was shared from the Episcopal Church website by a friend who professes to be a Christian. It was a drawing of Jesus with a child on His lap and a very diverse crowd of people around Him. The caption read, “I never told you to hate, I don’t care where they come from, what they look like, who they love, or who they worship. What is so difficult?” Old age may have slowed me down some, but it hasn’t shut me up yet. This is my comment to that post: Yes, Jesus teaches us to love and not hate, but His love for us includes the instruction, “Go and sin no more.” The two biggest lies being spread today are: “In order to show love for someone you must accept their sinful behavior” and “If you don’t accept someone’s sinful behavior you hate them.” There is not a bit of truth in either of those statements. I will never accept lying or adultery as acceptable behavior, but I don’t hate the ones who do it. I have never paid attention to a person’s national origin or their appearance, but I do pay close attention to their character and the content of their heart. By the way, Jesus makes it very clear who alone is worthy of our worship.  There was no response at all to my comment.

You may have noticed that I did not respond to the veiled reference to homosexuality in the post. I believe I got my point across without getting caught up in that politically charged trap. I simply used another, more common, sexual sin instead. Just because some church leaders use the image and name of Jesus, doesn’t make their teaching sound doctrine based on the scriptures. Satan knows the scripture better than we do and some of his biggest lies are verses taken completely out of context (a tactic he used in tempting Jesus). We must measure all teaching with the truth of God’s complete word and the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit within us. When we do that we will quickly separate the sheep from the wolves.

    

 

Facetime Versus Facebook

I recently had a very interesting discussion with three Christian friends about social media in general and Facebook in particular. The one thing we all agreed on is that our personal, face to face discussion is much more enlightening and rewarding and our friendship much deeper than any online encounter. Keeping social media from interfering with those personal relationships or our time with God in prayer and Bible study is a real concern in this tech age. A study in Great Britain recently found generation Y is lonelier than any other generation. They spend a lot of time with their many “friends” on Facebook and “followers” on Twitter, but that doesn’t satisfy their inner hunger for close personal relationships and human contact for which we were created.

There are other problems with electronic media. There is a lack of clear communication. I have found texting is the easiest way to be misunderstood. Texts are usually brief thoughts lacking detail and context. It is so easy for a text message to be taken in a way that was never intended. I have never used twitter but I would think it would have the same limitations as texts. Emails are often more detailed but they still lack the nuance of a personal conversation.

Facebook has additional pitfalls. Instead of posting their own feelings and experiences, most people share posts from others or from websites with a specific bias. Some of those sites promote stereotyping and  hateful name calling. Coming across those hateful posts can trigger anger and hatred in response. I don’t have anger issues, but I feel sad that people actually feel that way about anyone. My temptation is to try to calm them down and correct the lies and half-truths usually found in such posts. Instead of opening a respectful dialog, that usually just escalates and redirects the hatred toward me, especially from like-minded friends of the person sharing the original post. Some people are quick to unfriend anyone with whom they disagree. I have never unfriended anyone. I just scroll quickly past those shared posts and react with encouragement to their positive posts about family.

I’ve heard people say the internet or social media is evil. That is certainly not universally true. Technology of any kind is only a tool that can be used for good or evil depending on the user.

I’ve seen evidence that the “Father of Lies” is online, but I have also reconnected with old friends and found kindred spirits around the world that I never would have gotten to know and appreciate without social media. We simply must be very careful not to let social media interfere with our love of God or personal relationships with family and friends around us every day who deserve our love and attention.

I am thankful for the discernment of the Holy Spirit that helps me recognize the lies and hate, even when they are sugar or chocolate coated to make them more attractive and palatable. Satan used out of context scripture to temp Jesus and he is still using that tactic on us. When we know the scriptures and get the full context of them from the Holy Spirit, we will be able to avoid the enemy’s traps.

 

 

God Is Present

God’s presence is so strong in our worship services at CLC lately. There have been a few times our pastor skipped the sermon completely as we continued in praise and worship until the invitation was given and more than a few people responded to the conviction of the Holy Spirit to accept Christ as their personal savior. I believe that atmosphere is as close to heaven as we can experience in this life on earth, as we join the angels celebrating those lost lambs who’ve been found and those sons and daughters who’ve been added to God’s family. Jesus said, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) He always keeps that promise.

I leave the sanctuary walking on air, but then life happens.  God begins to seem a little more distant. In the midst of turmoil and trouble I used to wonder if He was still there at all, but when those feeling start creeping in, I’m reminded of Paul’s assurance to the church in Rome, “No power in the sky above or the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39) and I can say with King David, “I see that the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.”  (Acts 2:25)

My emotions or feelings aren’t necessary. I know He is always there whether I feel His presence or not, because God isn’t just walking beside me – His Holy Spirit dwells in my heart. I remember after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, they installed a direct line between the White House and Moscow. That hot line provided instant communication between the two atomic super powers so there would be no possibility of misunderstanding or accidentally starting a war. That line was regularly tested to make sure it would work when needed. The Holy Spirit provides us with a direct hot line to God, but it isn’t just there for emergencies. When we pray, we open up that line so we can praise God and thank Him for all of the blessings we receive; ask Him for specific help or guidance; and pray for others in need. It is a two-way line of communication for God to use to speak to us too. The more we use that hot line, the better it works. God is never more than a prayer away.

It boggles the mind to think that God can communicate with you, me and a billion other Christians throughout the world at various times or all at once, but God is not limited by time or space. “All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.” (Jude 1:25)

I want to leave you with the chorus of another of my favorite Gospel songs. “God was in time for the children of Israel to cross the mighty Red Sea. He was on time when the walls of Jericho fell at Joshua’s feet. Every time I feel discouraged, I don’t have to wonder where He’ll be. God’s been in time, on time, every time for me.”

 

Tightrope

We all go through certain stages in our life. Parents have experienced the stage called the “terrible twos” when a child begins to test their limits and express their independence. That is just a rehearsal for the rebellious stage of the teenage years. Then, somewhere between 35 and 45 we go through a stage called “mid-life crisis”. I was a Christian during my teens and middle age. I think that may have toned down my feelings during those stages, but they were still there and very real. I have heard people talk about another stage called “second childhood”, but I’m not really familiar with that one. At 75, I’m still not quite finished with my first one yet.

A good friend and Christian brother said he heard a song on the radio that spoke to him in a very personal way. The song is Tightrope and you know if there are meaningful lyrics anywhere I will share them with you, so here is a portion of that song. “Can’t pretend that I’m blind; can’t go back and erase the mind. Naivety and wide-eyed wonder are far from me, but at least now I see it’s like I’m walking on a tightrope stretched across the universe way too high to go back from where I came and overwhelmed at the miles I’ve yet to tame. I’m too far in to turn around now and I’ve got too far to go to sit down now; too far in, too far to go. Hanging there in space my toes gripping the rope, it’s the only hope; that golden thread that got me here will be the same that brings me to the end. I know You’re with me. You surround me. Your invisible hand is around me in this uncomfortable in between where I’m too far in to turn around now.”

Isn’t that a great description of the mid-life crisis we all go through? It has been years since I felt that way, but I can still revisit those feelings of anxiety and helplessness. It really did seem at the time that I was on a high wire working without a net, but no safety equipment is needed when God’s strong arm is around you. I’m much closer to the end of my sometimes scary, always exciting journey. My mental and spiritual balance are still strong as I near the platform at the end of life’s tightrope, but physically I inch along slowly and carefully with a cane in each hand for balance and support while thanking God for His assuring arm around me knowing that He will get me safely to my destination walking with me each step of the way.

Over and over again in the Psalms, we read of the danger, fear, despair and helplessness the writer experienced in his life. But in every instance he called out to God for relief and He was always there and He will always be there for us when we turn to Him.

 

Real Life

I have always tried to be very honest when describing my experiences and observations.  I try to share a true picture of life as a follower of Christ in this world. When you accept Christ as your Savior, your life does not suddenly change for the better – you do! Your reaction to life will drastically change and that will make all the difference. Yes, there will be times of great blessing, answered prayer and a taste of heaven in God’s presence, but in spite of what the prosperity preachers tell us, while we are on this earth there also will be suffering, trials and even heartache. You may even face additional attacks from those who hate God and anyone who loves and follows Jesus. The big advantage of being a Christian is that you no longer have to face hardships alone. God told Isaiah, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2) Paul wrote, “In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.” (Romans 8:17-18)

There is a song by The Martins titled The Promise that blesses me so much every time I hear it. The lyrics describe our realistic walk with God much better than I ever could. “I never said that I would give you silver or gold or that you would never feel the fire or shiver in the cold, but I did say you’d never walk through this world alone and I did say don’t make this world your home. I never said that fear wouldn’t find you in the night or that loneliness was something you’d never have to fight, but I did say I’d be right there by your side and I did say I’ll always help you fight. I didn’t say you’d never taste the bitter kiss of death or walk through chilly Jordan to enter into rest, but I did say I’d be waiting right on the other side and I did say I’ll dry every tear you cry. Because you know I made a promise that I intend to keep, my grace will be sufficient in every time of need. My love will be the anchor that you can hold onto. This is the promise, this is the promise I made to you. Because you know I made a promise that I’ve prepared a place and someday sooner than you think you’ll see me face to face and you’ll sing with the angels and a countless multitude. So just keep on walking, don’t turn to the left or right and in the midst of darkness, let this be your light that hell can’t separate us and you’re going to make it through. This is the promise, this is the promise I’ve made to you.”

When I lost my wife of fifty years and had no family to which to turn for solace, God provided a large family of Christian brothers and sisters to give me love and support. He didn’t promise me a perfect life in His service, but He has made this life worth living and I know there is a perfect life waiting for me with Him when my my time here comes to an end. Life doesn’t get more real than that.