Praying through the picture window (1 Peter 4:7)

Praying through the Picture Window (1 Peter 4:7)

Carla and I recently traveled to Hannibal, Missouri to visit with Carla’s charming and delightful aunt Betty. Uncle Charlie and aunt Betty are the best of the best. They don’t come any better. Charlie passed away a few years ago. Betty turns 93 in a few months. She lives where they have lived for years, only now it’s Betty and a full-bodied cat with a disproportionately tiny head. I think this cat is Tiger the 3rd or 4th.

The living room furniture sits where it has always been. Charlie’s recliner is the most comfortable chair and the couch is nice and soft, but we’re fairly sure Betty never sits on the couch or in the recliner. Betty’s chair is upright, does not recline, and doesn’t look very soft, but a small table next to the chair displays evidence that Betty spends most of her time sitting right there. She sat right there during our visit. Betty’s chair is strategically positioned so that Betty can watch the world outside her picture window, “the world” consisting of a front yard, a stretch of street, and the houses across the street. While we were visiting with her, Betty commented on what was happening outside – two neighborhood kids playing, Carla’s cousin Cindy arriving to say hi. Sometimes it didn’t look like she was watching, but Betty missed nothing.

She wakes up every morning, eats breakfast, turns on the TV, and sits in her chair. Except for when she nods off, Betty invests her days showing up and noticing.

The lesson escaped me until Carla pointed it out later that evening. Aunt Betty is more productively engaged in the world than many of us who are juggling and managing life in larger contexts. Betty taught us with her life that day. She taught us about the power of prayer.

First Peter 5:7 says this, “Since we are approaching the end of all things, be intentional, purposeful, and self-controlled so that you can be given to prayer.”                                                                                                 

The clock is ticking. We don’t know how much time we have left. The most valuable thing we can do is position ourselves so that we miss nothing. Peter calls this being GIVEN to prayer, and it does not happen accidentally. We must strategically locate ourselves for the sake of perspective over comfort. Being “given to prayer” is momentous. It’s more than just saying prayers. Being given to prayer means showing up for our lives in a conscious awareness of God’s presence and joining the Divine-human conversation in progress. Like Betty talking with us about what she was seeing through the living room window, through prayer we take notice and we talk to God about what we are noticing. We pray the news, our families, our friendships, our concerns – whatever or whoever goes by. After all, God is on high alert even when we nod off. Prayer is how we join God in what God is doing in the world. And the secret sauce is that Almighty God chooses to listen to us and respond to us!

Deuteronomy 4:39 says, “You just need to know with every fiber of your being that the Eternal Lord, and no one else, is God up in heaven and down here on earth.”

We become people given to prayer when we take responsibility for our little piece of “down here on earth” action, noticing it and offering it to God. Or as Jesus expressed perfectly in the Model Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

What new step can you take in your life of prayer? What would it look like for you to be intentional, purposeful, and self-controlled so that you can be given to prayer?

Rick Jordan (http://www.rickcarlajordan,com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

 

“When God Says NO in Light of a Better YES” (2 Corinthians 12:2-10)

Parents in every culture can relate to this common sequence…

  1. The child makes an urgent and impassioned request.
  2. Due to the experience and perspective gained by higher mileage on planet earth, the parent knows that what the child is requesting is not in the child’s best interest.
  3. The parent says NO to the request, disappointing and frustrating the child.
  4. The child pushes back.
  5. If the relationship is functional, the parent uses this NO to guide the child into a better alternative, a better YES. In effect, the parent is saying, “No, but….”
  6. The child usually cannot appreciate the wisdom of this “No, but…” response until the child becomes a parent and must dance to the same tune.

God goes through this sequence with us all the time.

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 finds Paul the apostle defending himself. Paul spent years of his life traveling throughout the Roman Empire, introducing Christ to a diverse mixture of  people who had no exposure to the Gospel. They also were not Jewish. During these journeys Paul was at odds with a group of people called legalists. Legalism is the name for any brand of Christianity that decides God’s grace and our faith are not enough, that a surplus of do’s and don’ts must be added to the life of faith in order for that life to pass inspection. The legalists, of course, are the self-appointed inspectors.

A pack of these legalists (called Judaizers) followed Paul from place to place. When the Judaizers entered a town or city Paul had just left, they would locate the brand new Christians and ask them what Paul had taught them. When the brand new Christians answered by describing the breathtaking simplicity of relationship with Jesus, the Judaizers would sadly shake their heads and tell them Paul had left out some important information. In order to follow Christ, these brand new Christian also had to start living by Jewish laws. Grace and faith were not enough. The Judaizers tried to convince these new Christ-followers that Paul was a fake and that Paul had no authority to be doing what he was doing. These legalistic Judaizers had come in the nick of time. They had come, in fact, to help the new Christians become more like Jesus AND become more like them.

Yikes.

In 2 Corinthians chapters 10 through 12, Paul defended himself and his calling from these opponents. Toward the end of this defense, Paul enhanced his credibility by recalling an ecstatic spiritual experience. Years earlier Paul found himself swept into the highest heaven, in the very presence of Almighty God. During this heavenly encounter, God confided in Paul! In order to counterbalance this ecstatic experience and in order to prevent Paul from developing an over-inflated ego, Paul wrote that he was given what he called “a thorn in the flesh,” a chronic and harassing attack from Satan. It might have been poor eyesight. It might have been recurring malaria or epilepsy. It might have been the residual effects of being stoned to death and surviving. The passage’s context tells us it most certainly included the people problems referenced earlier.

God would not remove this thorn even though Paul begged God on three occasions to remove it. In essence, God responded by saying, “No, but….” The chronic condition (the thorn) was going to remain in Paul’s life because God had something better than relief in mind. God’s grace was more than enough for Paul. In fact, God’s power would show up best in and would even be fulfilled in Paul’s chronic weaknesses.

The Wuest translation renders 2 Corinthians 12:8 this way – “My grace is enough for you, for My power is moment by moment coming to its full energy and complete operation in the sphere of weakness.”

Ever the extremist, Paul reacted to this answer from God by becoming a fan of his chronic condition, boasting that when he was weak he was actually strong. Carla showed me 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 in The Voice Translation, which says, “So ask me about my thorn, inquire about my weaknesses, and I will gladly go on and on – I would rather stake my claim in these weaknesses and have the power of the Anointed One (Jesus) at home within me. I am at peace and even take pleasure in any weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and afflictions for the sake of the Anointed (Jesus) because when I am at my weakest, He makes me strong.”

Many of us contend with something I call a theology of evacuation. We come to believe God’s primary role in our lives is relief, that God is obligated to always say YES to us by getting us out of unpleasantries or by getting unpleasantries out of us. Eavesdrop in on your prayer life and you may catch yourself in the act. But with God, evacuation is more the exception than the rule. God loves us too much to give in to our emotionally charged appeals for relief. Instead of removing the hardship, God may leave the hardship in us or God may leave us in the hardship. Why? Because it is the ideal environment for God to become our strength. The sufficiency of God’s grace is the BETTER YES. With the thorn still imbedded, we discover that God’s grace is more than enough.

Isn’t Jesus Himself the ultimate example of this truth? In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus writhed on the ground praying for evacuation three times. The Father said “NO, but….” Jesus emerged from the garden strong and proceeded to become vulnerable and helpless, all the way to an unspeakably brutal death.

God’s power was more than enough to raise Jesus from the dead. That being the case, is there any chance God might have what it takes to be more than enough for us in our area of greatest weakness?

Catholic author and speaker Brennan Manning (1934-2013) once said, “Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and the weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.” (The NIV Ragamuffin Bible, page 1330)

Brennan Manning also said, “…the question no longer is: Can I do it? Am I able? Can I overcome my moodiness, my laziness, my sensuality, my grudges and my resentments? The only question is: Is Jesus Christ able? Can my Savior, the Lord of my life, revive my drooping spirit and transform me?” (The NIV Ragamuffin Bible, page 1331)

What are your strengths?

What are your weaknesses (or challenges)?

How do you typically handle a “no” answer?

What is your “thorn in the flesh?” Do you have more than one “thorn in the flesh?”

When has God answered your prayer with “no” in favor of a better “yes?”

What would it look like for Christ to show up strong in your greatest weakness?

What would it look like for Christ’s grace to be perfected (fulfilled) in your weaknesses?

Are you willing to embrace the miracle you were not seeking, the miracle where God gives you more grace instead of less discomfort?

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)  

 

 

“Beyond”

I posted another original song on my YouTube channel. The song is based on Psalm 121 and is called “Beyond.” You can find it here – https://youtu.be/_9fGb0mOZd8.

You can also check out my YouTube channel for more songs here – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfmKSgzM6LKsI2wAqH8R_ZA/featured.

I am booking living room concerts, church concerts, or concerts in other venues. Please contact me at rickjordankcmo@gmail.com. 

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com)

“Hope for People Who Have Tried Everything” (Mark 5:25-34)

Mark 5:25-34 chronicles an account about a woman who had been bleeding internally for twelve years. She was afflicted with a beastly medical condition for which she had tried everything, but she kept worsening for reasons that were not her fault. This disorder was a chronic physical drain, a financial disaster, a social disease, an identity assault, and a shaming pile-on. She was shunned, and who knows what else, because mean people have always preferred stationary targets.

Jesus was in the area, so she somehow summoned another round of spunk, snuck through the crowd she wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near, squirmed through all of the bodies, and brushed the edge of His robe or tassel.

In a crowd like this all manners of people would have been bumping into Jesus, but He experienced a power drain from her negligible touch and the woman felt her bleeding instantly dry up and stop. After twelve years, what was that like? Was it an electric jolt, or maybe a delicious stab of healing pain?

She began reversing course out of the crowd. Then Jesus halted everything and insisted on looking for her. Was this another vicious disappointment? Was He going to take the healing back because she wasn’t supposed to be in the crowd? Was He like the others she had tried?

After twelve years the woman would have become an expert at avoiding eye contact, at being invisible. But she could not dodge His gaze. She fell down in front of Jesus and her story spilled out of her. Jesus responded, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” (Mark 5:34)

What? She had already been healed, and Jesus knew it because He had felt it happen. What did she receive during the second encounter that she had not received during the first encounter? Initially she was healed physically, but she had not been healed from everything the sickness did to her socially and emotionally. Face to face now, Jesus called her by a family name and gave her credit for trusting Him and healed her shame and made her whole.

Don’t you love it that Jesus could sense the faith in her puny touch of His garment? Don’t you love it that Jesus insisted on looking for her and continuing what had begun a few moments earlier? Welcome to the heart of our crucified and risen Christ. He has not changed. God in Christ always has more for us than we are experiencing. Jesus seeks you out because He has so much to offer you. Like He felt her brush of desperate faith against His clothing that day, Christ picks up on your faintest cry for help. And He responds.

The best thing you can ever do is move toward Him in prayer, placing your own story between you and Jesus so that He can demonstrate, face to face, how fond He is of you and how ready, willing, and able He is to liberate you. I do not know what it will feel like, or what form it will take. But I know your hope is in good hands with Jesus, because I too have been indescribably jolted by His wild love in response to my despairing and grasping prayer.

May you and I know the grace that is definitely not out of reach,

Rick Jordan

www.rickcarlajordan.com

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