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Staying Power – The Seven-Year Itch

StrengthKey Bible Verse: Patient endurance is what you need now, so you will continue to do God’s will. Hebrews 10:36

Bonus Reading: James 1:1-4, 12

The “seven-year itch” shows up on the job as well as in marriages.  I decided I needed different work.  All I had to do was tell my boss.

Ours had been a turbulent relationship.  I was certain he would be glad to see me go.  I was wrong.

Bob sat on his side of the desk, arms folded.  I looked out the window, then, at him.  “I’m leaving,” I announced.  “I’ve done the best I can, but I need to move on.  Here’s my letter of resignation.”

His eyes followed the envelope.  Silence.  “No you’re not,” he said.

“What did you say?”

“I said you’re not leaving.  We need you.  You’re an excellent employee.  We can’t afford to lose you, Cliff.”  It was a rare compliment.

“Bob, I’m telling you I’m leaving.”

“And I’m asking you to stay,” he said quietly.  “Please?”

More silence.  A songbird sang outside his window.  My eyes filled with tears.  “Then, I will,” I said softly.

“Thank you,” he answered.  “Thank you.”

That was 27 years ago.  I’m still here.  By staying with my organization, I have matured, grown in faith, and learned what it means to serve.

—Clifford Denay Jr. in Michigan

My Response: I’ll consider if my inclination to quit might be a long-term solution to what is really a short-term problem.

Prayer for the Week: Lord, You’ve placed me in a challenging spot. Give me the faith, courage, and strength to stand tall there.


Staying Power – Against the Flow

StrengthWho Said It…Les Knotts

Raised in an army family, Les attended West Point and was voted president of his class. Now a lieutenant colonel, he’s alternated infantry, ranger, and airborne assignments with schooling stints, and teaches English courses at West Point.

Les also teaches Sunday school to officers and cadets and their families, and serves on the Military Community Youth Ministries board.

Last summer’s highlight: hiking Italy’s Tuscany hills with his 15-year-old son, Tyler.

What He Said…Against the Flow

The first thrash sounded like someone had fallen into the water.  Monika and I turned just fast enough to see the dorsal red of a fish through his translucent scales.  Thirty pounds of salmon airborne!

After swimming against the current for at least 20 miles, the salmon was climbing these man-made concrete stairs around the falls on a tributary of Oregon’s Alsea River.  I began silently to root for him. “Hup, hup!”

But what was I rooting for? A fish making the ultimate sacrifice. He’d made the run downstream as a fingerling a year or two ago, adapted from fresh water to salt water then back again.

In doing so, he fought not only the current but the tide of extinction, the over-fishing, and the wooden grates blocking the rivers.

In giving the chunks of flesh from his battered and once-piked jaws to make the climb, he offered himself up for the perpetuation of his kind. He was running upstream to spawn and die.

We soldiers talk about tough, but we don’t know tough.

Adapted from Command (Officers’ Christian Fellowship, 5/05).

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, You’ve placed me in a challenging spot. Give me the faith, courage, and strength to stand tall there.


Combined Worship Tomorrow

Combined Worship Service at 10 amOn Sunday, August 30, 2015, we will meet at 10 am at Clinton UMC to worship as a Joint Charge.

A breakfast will follow the worship service, courtesy of the fine folks at Clinton!

Prayer Isn’t Aladdin’s Lamp – The Answerer’s Perspective

Prayer 10Key Bible Verse: And even when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. James 4:3

Bonus Reading: Philippians 4:19-20

Say you’re planning a week’s vacation for your family in the Smoky Mountains.  You pile the kids in the car and head for Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

If you were traveling from our city—Louisville, Kentucky—you’d probably think, We’ll make a pit stop at Berea.  That’s about a third of the way.  Then we’ll fill up with gas and eat lunch near Knoxville.  That’ll get us to Gatlinburg in about five hours.

Suppose a half-hour from home your 14-year-old son announces: “Some of my friends are going to Cancun for vacation.  I don’t want to go to the Smokies.  Let’s go to Cancun!”

That request isn’t going to be answered affirmatively no matter how hard he begs.  Going to Cancun is neither in his best interest nor in your budget!  Some of our requests seem as silly as that to God.

But let’s say that an hour down the road your 5-year-old says, “Daddy, I need to go to the bathroom.”  You say, “We’re going to stop in about a half-hour, if you can wait.”  But he insists, “I really need to go to the bathroom.”

In that case, love causes you to alter your plans to fit a reasonable request from a child you want to be happy and comfortable.

—Bob Russell in When God Answers Prayer

My Response: I’ll thank God for sifting my true needs from my cravings.

Thought to Apply: God answers prayers one of four ways: “Yes,” “No,” “Wait,” and “You’ve gotta be kidding!” —Source Unknown

Adapted from When God Answers Prayer (Howard, 2003).

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, focus my heart on seeking Christ’s purposes more than my own and on bringing Him glory.


Prayer Isn’t Aladdin’s Lamp – How to Pray

Prayer 10Jesus made a sweeping promise about prayer. But He made it while the disciples were gawking at the results of His acted-out parable.

The barren fig tree He’d cursed represented His anger at the Jewish leaders’ religious life without substance.

So His promise rested on an understanding about praying with priority given to seeing God receive the glory that is due Him.

Interact with God’s Word

Mark 11:11-16, Mark 11:20-25

  1. What does this Scripture teach about God’s ability to answer even “far-out” prayers?
  2. What immediate requirement does Jesus give (v. 23) for having one’s prayer answered?
  3. What exactly is it that must really be believed?
  4. What limitation to the “anything” of verse 24 does Jesus immediately add?
  5. How does Jesus’ initial statement (v. 22) condition what you may pray for?
  6. What does this imply about prayers based on your own wisdom?
  7. What consequences could prayers that seek to glorify ourselves or satisfy our earthly desires have?
  8. Would it be possible for selfish prayers to provoke Christ’s judgment?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to make Jesus’ glory your greatest desire, highest joy, and deepest fulfillment.

Mark 11:11-16, Mark 11:20-25

11 So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple. After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon. Then he returned to Bethany with the twelve disciples. 12 The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit.

14 Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it. 15 When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace.

20 The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. 21 Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!” 22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God.

23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, focus my heart on seeking Christ’s purposes more than my own and on bringing Him glory.

Prayer Isn’t Aladdin’s Lamp – Better Than We Can Ask

Prayer 10Key Bible Verse: “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it.”  – John 14:13

Bonus Reading: John 15:7, 16; 1 John 3:21-22

Verses such as John 14:13 aren’t blank checks. They’re something better: God’s assurance that when we seek Him first, He’ll answer to glorify His Son.

Jesus is most glorified when His wisdom, goodness, and greatness are most on display. So when we dare to “pray backwards,” heaven delights to answer.

But we live in a fallen world.  Biblical prayer doesn’t solve all our earthly problems, and God never promised that it would.  Jesus told His disciples, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows” (John 16:33).

But prayer does assure us that no difficulty comes without a purpose.  When we pray “in Jesus’ name,” we have God’s assurance that He’ll answer our prayer in a way that brings glory to Jesus and furthers His kingdom.

When the Lord said of the apostle Paul, “he must suffer for me” (Acts 9:16), the Savior was not ignoring the apostle’s prayers but promising to use them beyond Paul’s imagining.

The difficulties Paul would have been crazy to want, God used to glorify the name of Jesus throughout the world—precisely Paul’s deepest prayer whenever he petitioned “in Jesus’ name.”

—Bryan Chapell in Praying Backwards

My Response: It’s a relief to know God’s answers aren’t limited by my wisdom or faith because …

Thought to Apply: It is far more important to pray with a sense of the greatness of God than with a sense of the greatness of the problem.—Evangeline Blood (writer)

Adapted from Praying Backwards (Baker, 2005).

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, focus my heart on seeking Christ’s purposes more than my own and on bringing Him glory.


Prayer Isn’t Aladdin’s Lamp – “Unanswered” Prayer

Prayer 10Key Bible Verse: We can be confident that he will listen to us whenever we ask him for anything in line with his will.  – 1 John 5:14

Bonus Reading: Ephesians 3:20-21

A couple in our church phoned to ask me to pray about a house they wanted to close on. It was near a preferred school and the price was right. We prayed over the phone. Later their realtor called. Someone else had offered a higher price.

More than the deal collapsed. Faith crumbled too. The couple’s disappointment watered previously hidden seeds of doubt that God really cared for them.

We countered their crumbling faith by praying repeatedly that God would provide the best. Then we waited to see what God would do.

Two weeks later the local building inspector, also a friend of the home-searching family, called. In preparation for a loan approval, he’d inspected the house they wanted. It was full of dangerous mold and faulty wiring. Thousands of dollars would be required to make it safe. The family now realized that God had spared them from a financial disaster.

A home that provided for the family’s needs eventually became available. It wasn’t pretty on the outside, but the couple no longer doubted God’s care. Seeing how God had spared them from greater pain made them confident of His love and of the power of prayer.

—Bryan Chapell in Praying Backwards

My Response: A prayer experience that deepened my trust in God was …

Thought to Apply: The only time my prayers are never answered is on the golf course.—Billy Graham (evangelist)

Adapted from Praying Backwards (Baker, 2005).

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, focus my heart on seeking Christ’s purposes more than my own and on bringing Him glory.


Prayer Isn’t Aladdin’s Lamp – Try Praying Backwards

Prayer 10Key Bible Verse: Not to us. O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Psalm 115:1, NIV

Bonus Reading: Luke 11:1-4

Something in us whispers that it’s not right to treat our God like a celestial vending machine into which we place faith nickels to get the jackpot we want.

Somehow proper prayer must put more trust in the will of an infinitely wise God than in human wants and wisdom. Otherwise failure to get the things we want will force us to doubt either the power of prayer or the ability of God.

Jesus taught His disciples not to doubt when they prayed and to expect answers. If this doesn’t mean that prayer is simply a means of snapping our fingers to get God to do our bidding, what does it mean?

Answers come as we weigh each word—skipping none of Jesus’ instruction to pray with belief and boldness and—strange as it may seem—to simultaneously consider the wisdom of praying backwards.

To pray backwards is to put first priority on the words we say last in our prayers. If we’d remember to start where we end—daring to pray backwards with the desires of our hearts (if not the actual words of our mouth)—we’d discover the foundation of blessing on which all answered prayer is built.

Praying entire prayers in Jesus’ name profoundly alters our priorities and powerfully sends our requests to God.

—Bryan Chapell in Praying Backwards

My Response: What enables me to pray without doubt is …

Thought to Apply: Before we can pray, “Lord, Thy kingdom come,” we must be willing to pray, “My kingdom go.”—Alan Redpath (Scottish preacher)

Adapted from Praying Backwards (Baker, 2005).

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, focus my heart on seeking Christ’s purposes more than my own and on bringing Him glory.


Prayer Isn’t Aladdin’s Lamp – Lifesaving 9/11 Delays

Prayer 10Key Bible Verse: For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray.  – Romans 8:26

Bonus Reading: Romans 8:26-30

Ken Smith learned of a company housed in the World Trade Center and decimated by the attack. The survivors, he says, were troubled by the circumstances that separated them from the deaths of their coworkers:

  • The head of the company got in late that day because he wanted to be with a child starting kindergarten.
  • Another man is alive because it was his turn to bring donuts.
  • Another was delayed because of an accident on the New Jersey Turnpike.
  • One missed his bus.
  • One person’s car wouldn’t start.
  • One went back to answer the telephone.
  • A man with new shoes developed a blister. He stopped at a drugstore to buy a Band-Aid.

If any of these were regularly Christians, they might have prayed for God to spare them the inconvenience of that morning. But the inconvenience spared their lives.

Before we adopt a prayer philosophy that requires God to provide all our wants, we must consider the limitations of our understanding.  In our finite wisdom, we may least want what an infinitely wise God will most bless!

—Bryan Chapell in Praying Backwards

My Response: A prayer I’m grateful God didn’t answer as I requested is …

Adapted from Praying Backwards (Baker, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, focus my heart on seeking Christ’s purposes more than my own and on bringing Him glory.


Prayer Isn’t Aladdin’s Lamp – Wish Upon a Star?

Prayer 10Who Said It…Bryan Chapell

Bryan Chapell is the president of Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. But he still teaches the introductory homiletics courses.

The two words Bryan stresses for this generation are authority and redemption. Our culture and the church, he observes, are desperate for dependable truths that address the world’s brokenness. And the redeeming work of Christ empowers all we must think and do.

All of God’s Word, he says, is a unified message of human need and divine provision.

What He Said…Wish upon a Star?

When the farmer prays for rain to water wilting crops, and the Sunday school teacher prays for sun to protect the church picnic, whose prayer should be answered? Will God simply answer the one whose prayers are best and whose faith is greatest? Is our world controlled by billions of competing wishes?

When we treat prayer like a surefire wishing star, we tether God to the leash of our understanding. And if our wisdom defines the limits of God’s, then our world will inevitably unravel.

The job we want for extra income may take us from the family that God knows needs us more. The immediate cure for our sickness may deprive us of the patience that God will use to bring Jesus into the hearts of our children.

Surely we have to depend on wisdom greater than our own when we pray. But how do we reconcile this instinctive understanding with the Bible’s teaching about praying for whatever we want?

Adapted from Praying Backwards (Baker, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, focus my heart on seeking Christ’s purposes more than my own and on bringing Him glory.