According to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, over half of Americans (55%) say they pray daily. Women respond as more likely to pray daily than men do (64% versus 46%). With the majority of us women praying, we can logically conclude that there are many different types of answers we receive to our prayers. A Pearl of Great Value will be exploring a few of these in a seven-part series on prayer entitled, “When God Says ….”
Part 6 of 7
From years ago I remember a Christian song with a tongue-in-cheek chorus which goes:
Please don’t send me to Africa
I don’t think I’ve got what it takes
I’m just a man, I’m not a Tarzan
Don’t like lions, gorillas or snakes
I’ll serve you here in suburbia
In my comfortable middle-class life
But please don’t send me out into the bush
Where the natives are restless at night.
“Please Don’t Send Me to Africa” (McHugh and Brown, 1988).
Those lyrics pretty much summed up how I felt about going on a foreign mission trip. Years later, though, I would find myself in the country of Vietnam doing exactly what I said I never would. Continue reading “When God Says: “Go””
A while after our beloved standard poodle, Margaux, passed away, we knew it was time for another dog. However, we just didn’t have it in us to train up another puppy. An opportunity presented itself for us to rescue a four-year-old male standard poodle. And so, Remy entered our lives. When he came to live with us, we immediately noticed a lack of muscle tone and instability at times. Remy was also unable to stand on his hind legs when we supported his front legs on our shoulders. We learned Remy was confined for long periods during his early years.
What about us? How often do we put ourselves in chains? Or, confine and hold ourselves back?
What are the chains in your life holding you back?
Fear—you don’t want to appear foolish or you don’t want to fail
Insecurity—you allow negative thoughts or a poor self-image to dictate your actions
Circumstances—you’re busy with family or your job is demanding or the children are too young
Lack—you cave in to your perception of inadequate ability, education, or resources
Time pressures—or is it just plain laziness?
Those excuses also place the blame on someone or something else rather than squarely on our shoulders. And, we allow our excuses to cage us in and restrain us, not allowing the Lord to use us.
Scripture offers an alternative response which we glean from the imprisonment of the Apostle Paul. Imprisoned several times, including in Rome from approximately AD 60-62, Paul considered himself an ambassador in chains (Ephesians 6:20). Acts 28:16 informs us soldiers guarded Paul, and verse 20 states, “I am bound with this chain.” The custom at that time was to bind a short length of chain to both the wrist of the prisoner and the wrist of a soldier—thus providing no means of escape.
Shackled at the wrist to a guard, enduring beatings, along with his physical limitations, Paul did not allow these circumstances to hold him back. He used this situation to promote the gospel.
Philippians 1:12-14 (NIV) describes Paul acknowledging his chains with furthering the kingdom, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”
During that era, it was common practice to write letters with the assistance of a scribe. Envision Paul sending for a scribe, pacing in his cell while chained to his guard, with the clanging of chains, as he’s dictating his letters. During his imprisonment in Rome, Paul wrote what are known as “The Prison Epistles”—letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Even though Paul dictated his letters to a scribe, he wrote the final greetings, a trademark of his letters, in his own hand. Imagine the reverberating clink and clank of Paul’s chain, tethering him to a guard, as he clumsily signed his letters. Letters that would be added to the canon of Scripture.
Remy’s previous owners had held him back, and our hearts filled with joy when we watched him running in the back yard, playing fetch, and growing stronger every day. He just needed release from the captivity of a cage.
Father God, Allow me to make the most of what I have and not allow excuses to constrain me. I don’t want chains holding me back any longer. Please use me Lord. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Colossians 4:18 (NIV): “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.”
2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV): “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”
2 Timothy 2:9a-10 (NIV): “But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.”
Nervously clicking the “submit” button, I realized I was holding my breath. Slowly, I exhaled, aware of the importance of what I had just done. This was a sizeable step of faith for me as I submitted my first Christian article for publication. Although I’ve always had a passion for writing, I had done nothing about going public with it until several years ago. What changed my mind?
As I’ve gotten older the reality strikes me that I don’t have much time left. In fact, none of us know when our days on earth may be over. Yet, simultaneously, being newly retired, I also have all the time in the world these days. What a lovely paradox.
I have all this time, but at the same moment, time is short.
With my remaining years I’m compelled to make a difference. As I’ve aged, my priorities have changed and my internal urgency for evangelism and discipleship of others has heightened. The Bible describes this divine compulsion—Jeremiah 20:7-9 details the inner struggle the prophet Jeremiah had when he sunk into discouragement, reluctant to continue proclaiming God’s message, as he had suffered for it when he did. However, Jeremiah’s inner drive kept him obedient and pushed him on. “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9, NIV) Proclaiming God’s Word was an intense motivation for Jeremiah.
Additionally, in Acts 4:20 we find the apostles Peter and John stating, “For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard,” (NIV) in front of the Sanhedrin. This must have been an intimidating experience for them, but they testified they absolutely could not stop speaking about what they had seen and heard while with Jesus. Again, that divine compulsion to make public the good news of Jesus Christ.
Likewise, God’s Spirit in me compels me to undertake this pursuit and proclaim His Word through my writing. What is the Lord nudging you to do? Is your passion sharing the love of Jesus with young children? Are you a talented singer who needs to use your ability in worship at church? Or, do you need to open your home and facilitate a Bible study? Don’t ignore your inner voice spurring you on and stretching you beyond what you feel is possible; because, it’s by His Spirit you will accomplish great things for Him. Savor and invest wisely your allotted days.
The Lord is coming soon. I enjoy joking it’s not about whether your beliefs are pre- or post-tribulation rapture, but rather, in all seriousness, the importance of being pre-pared. Time is short. I hunger for my family and friends to know of and about our Lord Jesus Christ.
Father God, Our time is short and I know you desire me to use it wisely to advance your kingdom. Please show me how to further the gospel and where I need to commit the time to do so. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Psalm 90:10 (NIV): “The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”
Romans 12:11 (NIV): “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”
2 Corinthians 5:14 (NIV): “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”
Filling her basket with an assortment of elegantly dyed purple fabrics, Lydia realized she needed to hurry up in order to promptly arrive at the riverbank. Regularly, on the Sabbath, she met with several other women for a time of prayer at this special spot outside the city gate. Today, however, she viewed her basket and thought that perhaps she shouldn’t be mixing her business pursuit with what she considered her appointment with God. She earnestly was seeking God and who knows what could happen today.
“On the Sabbath we [the apostle Paul and his companions] went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.” (Acts 16:13-15, NIV)
“After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left.” (Acts 16:40, NIV)
Scripture tells us Lydia was devout and went routinely to the riverside. In cities where there were less than ten married Jewish men, the minimum number to form a synagogue, people would gather outdoors near a river to worship. Historians believe Lydia was either a righteous Gentile or a “God-fearer” attracted to Judaism. What stands out, though, is
She was a woman of prayer who sought God.
God had prepared her heart for this encounter with the apostle Paul and his companions. This work of God in opening her heart and her positive response to the gospel message marks Lydia as the first documented convert to Christianity in Europe.
Biblical names are significant and we know Lydia was from the city of Thyatira. Well known as a center for the purple dying of fabrics, Thyatira was a city in the province or region of Lydia. Therefore, her name is probably from her place of birth—the Greek region of Lydia. Lydia was most likely a Greek living in the Roman colony of Philippi when she met Paul.
As a seller of purple cloth, which was expensive and highly prized, Lydia was a prosperous businesswoman and merchant. She was a woman of means.
Lydia was also possibly a widow, as she did not need a man’s permission or consent to invite Paul and his traveling companions back to her home. Scripture indicates she owned her home, therefore being in good circumstances. Being a prosperous businesswoman, Lydia had servants, and possibly some family members, as Paul and his companions baptized her and the other members of her household. This act of faith by her servants and family members shows she influenced and controlled the household.
Lydia demonstrates hospitality by hosting Paul and the others in her home. Prevailing upon them to stay with her reveals her determination and fervency. Her home became a place of Christian fellowship, and Paul and Silas knew it was a safe place to go to after their release from prison for proselytizing. Scripture says they met with other believers there before leaving Philippi.
Women of faith, such as Lydia, who went before us can teach us through their lives and examples. Are we setting aside our business pursuits and other interests to meet with God regularly? Are our hearts open to what the Lord has for us? How are we allowing God to use our resources and talents? Our homes? Do you find yourself widowed or single-again? If so, your life is not over and in fact, the best just might be ahead of you. Won’t you join me down by the river?
Father God, Thank you for the example of Lydia in your scriptures. Please prepare and open my heart to you and all you have for me. Allow me to use my talents and resources as a positive influence for others. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Ephesians 1:18-19a(NIV): “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
Revelation 2:18-19 (NIV): “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.”
Earlier in my adult life it seemed the “if onlys” filled many of my days:
If only my husband traveled less.
If only I had a bigger house.
If only there was more money left over after paying the bills.
If only I was physically stronger.
My thinking was if all those things were in order, then I could effectively serve God.
Are you allowing your circumstances to stifle how God wants you to serve?
If we wait until everything lines up and is in order, we’ll never get anything done. God places us where He wants us, and it’s up to us to take advantage of available opportunities. Granted, there will always be conditions or surroundings we’d like to alter, but I’m heartened with what the Apostle Paul shares with the early church at Philippi: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:11b-12, NIV)
Satan delights in hindering us through our circumstances. It was difficult back in the years when my husband traveled extensively for business. After many episodes of frustration, we learned to keep a detailed calendar and arrange opportunities to serve, along with setting aside precious family time, to fit in our schedule. It didn’t always work out how we would prefer on all occasions, but God was faithful to provide.
Maybe your house is small and you’re uncomfortable hosting a Bible study, small group meeting, or having the pastor over for dinner. We recently downsized our home, and yes, I do have to gather extra chairs around our family room when people come over, but it works. Through this I’ve learned people have a higher comfort level when everything isn’t perfect. Be encouraged to go ahead and take those important steps of hospitality even if the house isn’t just right.
Money woes and physical issues, along with all the other “if onlys,” take away from and delay us in living fully as God intended. Am I grateful for where God has placed me, including all the circumstances of my life, and for the unique works He has created just for me? Colossians 2:7 (NIV) exhorts me to be, “rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
I know God has situated me exactly where He wants me. I must secure a strong foundation by strengthening my faith and abounding with gratitude. I’m able to firmly root myself by accepting the works He has prepared for me to do no matter what I think my situation is or what I want it to look like.
Father God, Please enable me to remove my attitude of “if only” and replace it with an attitude of “what’s possible.” Thank you for placing me exactly where you want me with my unique set of circumstances. May my life bring you glory. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
1 Corinthians 7:17 (ISV): “Nevertheless, everyone should live the life that the Lord gave him and to which God called him. This is my rule in all the churches.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV): “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”