Straining at my Oars...

I've been preparing a devotional for a local home school support group. This message, which I have given many times before, always seems to hit home, no matter the age group. And it's not because I'm such a dynamic speaker (I go with fear and trembling).  It's because of the Lord's simple truth that we often miss, at least I did for many years...and apparently many others have also. The devotional is based on a story we find in the gospels when Jesus walks out on the stormy sea to His terrified and struggling disciples.  (If you would like to read more, pause right here and follow these two links: Inviting Jesus into my Boat  & Urging and Opening).

The basic message is that...

...the Lord wants us to invite Him into our "boat," our stuff, our mess, our upheaval--whether emotional, spiritual, or physical.

This is so simple, but so true: no matter how old we are humanly or spiritually...

The Lord wants to be wanted by each of us!

But in this post, I want to share a realization that the Lord awakened me with this morning...from a verse in that story that I had rehearsed for myself and many others.  This verse hit me right where I live in my today:

And when it was evening, the boat was in the midst of the sea, and He was alone on the land. And seeing them straining at the oars,... He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them.

With that verse creeping into my waking consciousness, I sensed the Holy Spirit's merciful, gentle, but insistent, nudge:

Jan, you are straining at your oars again!

Wow, You are right, O Lord!  I'm straining at

my "book oars,"

my "90 year old precious mom who is fragile and failing" oars,

my "needing to get on a plane and fly to help after just being home from a trip for not even two weeks" oars.

I'm struggling with

the oars of "blood pressure issues and allergies to the meds,"

the oars of "teaching a new group of students in my English class,"

the oars of "speaking in front of an unknown audience anxiety,"

and any other "oars" the enemy and my insecure humanness may drum up in my mind.

And so Lord, come into my boat, which holds each of these situations...don't walk past and let me strain at my own oars, O God!

I don't have the strength...You do!

I don't have the resources...You do!

I don't have the courage...You do!

I don't have the wisdom and discernment..You do!

In fact, You are all of those things and much more. 

I release to You!  I invite You in! I live from Your abiding Self...today...right now...for anything and everything! Amen and amen!

Inviting Jesus into your stuff...no matter what!

Since our last post, have you been inviting Jesus into YOUR boat...whatever that may be right now? Immediately after realizing that Jesus wanted to be invited into MY boat (my everything), two other familiar Scripture passages came to mind.

I was thankful for this, because I had had the fleeting fear that I might have been too metaphorical with the "boat story."  But the Holy Spirit confirmed His rhema with these passages:

The first was the story of the two grieving disciples on the road to Emmaus on Resurrection Day.  They were discussing the events of the previous days, when a Stranger began walking with them.  This Stranger began explaining from the Scriptures why the Christ had to "suffer these things and enter into His glory."  Let's pick up the story right there...

… And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?”  Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

 And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther.  But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” So He went in to stay with them.  When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:25- 30

There it was again!  He acted as if He were going on UNTIL they urged Him to stay.  Does that amaze you as it does me?

Then this second passage came to mind:  the letter to the lukewarm church at Laodicea.  This church was so self-sufficient!  They thought they were "all it" and had everything they needed.  But Jesus told them basically, "You don't know how needy and bankrupt you really are!"

Let's read:

To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:  ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.  So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. ‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.  ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. Rev 3:14-22

There it is again..."I'm standing here knocking on your life...and I won't come in UNLESS (if) you open the door (a.k.a. boat).  If you open to me, invite me in, I will come in.  Then we can have intimate fellowship together!"

I know...we usually use this as a salvation verse.  But it isn't primarily that, because it's to the CHURCH at Laodicea...that means believers too!

So then this simple truth dawned upon me:

No matter how old you are in the Lord, Jesus wants to be wanted by YOU!

Now that really blows my mind!  Does it yours?  The Sovereign God, our Lord Christ, wants to be wanted!

Next time, I'll tell you what happened when I began sharing this story.  But in the meantime,...

Invite Him into YOUR boat, dear brothers and sisters! Urge Him to stay! Open the door!

Why? Because the Lord wants us to experience His presence in our life situations: our emotional upheavals, our wounds, disappointments, the lies we’ve believed, our joy & sorrows…everything!  Then we can know that He is truly adequate for everything we may face in this life.

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For Bible students:

Here are some questions to explore:

Look at each of the three passages: the Boat story (Matthew 14:22-33); the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-30); and the letter to the church at Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22). [Try to answer the questions right from the texts of Scripture]

1.  Who was responsible for the circumstances in each Scripture passage?

2.  What/Who blinded the believers to the Lord’s presence &/or identity in each passage?

3.  What is the purpose or reason (Why?) for the Lord’s desire to enter into each situation with His people? [You might want to use the composite text from part 1 or Mark 6:51 for the boat story]

Bonus thought question:  Are there some things the Lord will NOT do unless asked?

Take a look at these scriptures: James 4:2 Matthew 7:7-11 Deut 29:29 Is 55:8

What other Scriptures come to mind as you meditate on this question?

 

Another Back-story: Inviting Jesus into my "Boat"

In my last blog post, I told about how God had prepared me for the suffering that would be coming into the life of my family. This post is the second of two experiences with the Lord that not only shaped how I was able to walk through the health crises of my children, but also future situations of every kind.  I have blogged about this over the past 3+ years, but I would like to share it afresh...with the hopes that you, dear brother or sister, might know the peace of His presence no matter what you may be facing today...and every today!

I call this my Boat Story, or better yet, my Airplane Story...and you'll see why.

 

 

 

 

 

It was late summer 1997.  I was preparing for a new school year with my new bunch of preschoolers at Xenia Christian.

I was was going to meetings and doing home visits as a home school coordinator with the Dayton Christian Home School Program (my other part-time job).  As any teacher knows, mid-August can get pretty hairy.

At the same time, my then 70+ year old mom was visiting from NJ. 

Before she was ready to return home, we received a call from my sister Nancy.  She informed us that her husband Ed, who had been battling cancer, suddenly and surprisingly took a turn for the worse.  He was now on life support, but there was little if any hope.

So Nancy and Ed's best friend had to make a terrible decision...if & when to terminate life support.  They chose to stop support at the end of the week.  So I knew that meant a trip to NJ for a funeral.

Now I was totally stressed!  In the midst of everything else that was going on!  Now a flight back east!  I'm ashamed to admit this...but the thing that was stressing me the most by then was the thought of a plane flight!

I know, shame on me...my poor sister!  And here I am freaking out about getting on a plane!

But you see, my previous experiences on planes weren't exactly pleasant...in fact, they were horrifying!  Plus, as a mom, I had developed fears I never had as a single, young adult (can you moms relate?)

I begged and pleaded with my husband to drive me to NJ...but he insisted (and stood his ground), "There's no Time!  You've got to fly!"

So on my way to a home school coordinators meeting that day, I agonized!  But eventually I resigned myself to the fact that when I got home, I'd have to find an economical flight a few days hence (yeah, right)!

All of a sudden, in the midst of my churning thoughts, the still small Voice broke through:  Jesus walks with us on the chaos of our lives!

I recognized this as a quote from Oswald Chambers devotional that I had been reading for years.  Somehow I knew this was significant, a rhema from the Lord.  So I decided to find that familiar story when I got home from the meeting.  I knew that there would be a message from the Lord tucked away in that Scripture.

When I got home, I pulled out my Harmony of the Gospels.*  And as usual, I was not disappointed!  Something I read there absolutely shocked me!  I had never noticed it before...as familiar as this story was and as much of a "Bible scholar" as I deemed myself to be!

I began to read the familiar story of Jesus walking on the water toward His terrified, struggling disciples.

And when it was evening, the boat was in the midst of the sea, and He was alone on the land.  And seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night, He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them.

Wait a minute!  What does that mean...He intended to pass by them? I had never noticed that before...why would He do that?  God doesn't play games!  Why would He walk past?  And would He REALLY...seeing His terrified , struggling disciples?  Wasn't that why He was walking out to them in the first place? Or was it?

I decided to read on...the answer must be there somewhere:

But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were frightened.  But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid...”** They were willing therefore to receive him into the boat

There it was...the Lord Jesus, always the Perfect Gentleman, was waiting to be invited.  (Later I did a word study on this word willing.  It means a "volitional choice"...not just "Well, whatever...")

So I imagined that His struggling disciples, recognizing WHO Jesus was and WHAT He could DO, were more than willing...even desperate...to invite Him into their boat!

And of course, I knew what happened next:

And He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were greatly astonished. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”**

...and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. [Composite Text: Mk 6: 47 - 51;  John 6 : 21; Mt 14 : 32 - 33]

Jesus can do that kind of thing because certainly He is God's Son -- the Sovereign, Almighty God in the flesh!

So you may have guessed what happened.  That's right, I began to invite Him into MY boat...every aspect of this situation -- into the purchase of the plane ticket, into the plane:  cockpit, cabin, under the wings, in the engine (Hey! I was desperate!!!).

Then when we were "in flight," it's as if I could SEE the Lord walking up and down the aisle...ministering to the other passengers too!  The Perfect Pilot as well as the Perfect Flight Attendant!

So I arrived at Newark airport without an ounce of anxiety, thanks to my Amazing Traveling Companion.  When I shared the story and my experience with my sister, she invited the Lord into HER boat as a young widow with legal and financial needs.  Immediately, the Lord sent her a lawyer friend to begin to answer some of those very concrete issues for her...gratis!  We were in awe!

When I arrived home, I was "basking in the glow of it all!"  I asked the Lord, "What just happened?  What does it all mean?"  Then the simple truth dawned upon me...

Jesus wants me to invite Him into “my boat” -- my specific life situation, whatever that may be.

Next time we'll look at two other Scripture passages that came to mind.  But right now, I'd like to ask you, dear friend. 

What is the boat you are in right now?   Is it an unhealthy body, emotional upheaval, financial needs, unemployment, the dailiness of raising children, spiritual struggles, anxiety attacks, shame, wayward children, confusion, facing a scarey situation like a plane ride or speaking in public, _______________(you fill in the blank)?

Whatever it may be, invite the Lord into YOUR boat, and watch what HE can do....because He is certainly God's Son!

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*The Harmony is a wonderful book where you can see at a glance all 4 gospels in chronological order.  It's a great way to get all the details of a story, because each of the gospels is side-by-side with the others in columns.

**This is where Peter steps out of the boat.  I left it out for the sake of clarity and brevity.

Read the rest of this PRAYER series

Prayer: WHAT blinds us to His Presence?

One day, I was checking my facebook newsfeed.  My eyes scrolled down to the latest post by our daughter-in-law Cortney, on her fb page Evan Has Landed.  This is what she wrote about our then 5 year old grandson:

Evan has been awake for 10 minutes and already has asked 30 questions. Yes I've been counting! The latest question, "do snakes have eyebrows?" no wonder my head explodes about 1:00 each day! Happy Monday!!

I had to laugh out loud knowing Evan.  So I shared it to my facebook.  My friend Barb commented, "So do they?" :)

Kids are full of questions...as every parent (and grandparent) knows.  Why is that?  It's because that by asking questions, children "learn life in this world!"

And I believe that as children of God, we can "learn life in the Spirit" by asking questions...yes, of God and His Word.*

So here's our next question in our Bible study on Prayer:

What blinds us to the Lord's presence in our lives?

 1.  The Boat Story (Matthew 14:22-33)

When the disciples were out in the midst of the sea, at the darkest part of the night, winds and waves crashing upon their little boat...they were scared stiff! (Matthew 26)  The Greek word here is tarasso, which means agitated, stirred up.  It's a picturesque word, reflective of the agitated and stirred up waves and wind surrounding them!

They were afraid and rightfully so!.  Fear is a perfectly normal, human emotion in the face of danger and dread.  I suspect that it may have been part of Jesus' own emotions in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before He died (Hebrews 5:7-9).

But as a result of the disciples' fear, they didn't recognize Him who was walking to them "on the chaos of their lives."   That is, not until He spoke, "It is I, do not be afraid!"

Then their tarasso fear turned to reverential awe, "Surely, You are the Son of God!"

2.  The Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-30)

As the disciples were walking along, a Stranger approached them.  In verse 16, it says that the disciples' "eyes were prevented from recognizing Him."

Now I don't want to lose you here...please stay with me.  The verb "were prevented" is in the "passive voice,"  which simply means that they didn't do the action of preventing!  It wasn't their fault that they didn't recognize Him.  Someone else did that action of preventing.  Who do you suppose that Someone was?  You got it!  Our Father God!  Jesus Himself had said,

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me... John 6:44-45 ESV

Do you remember when they recognized the Stranger as their Lord Jesus Christ?  That's right, it was at the "breaking of the bread," reminiscent of the supper the night before He died.

 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. Luke 24:31 ESV

Our passive voice again...so Who do you suppose did the opening?  You got it again!   The Father opened their eyes at just the right moment.

It's so interesting to stop and think about how perfect God's timing was here.  Their burning hearts (as the Lord had shared the Scriptures with them on the way) then gave way to open eyes!

And these discouraged, confused, grieving Christ followers could then embrace the Resurrected Christ with a strong faith and tender hearts!

And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed...” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. Luke 24:34-35 ESV

3.  Jesus Knocking (Rev 3:15-20)

This one is a no brainer.  The sad state of this group of believers was caused by their own pride and self-sufficiency.  They were wealthy and self-absorbed.  They didn't need anything, because they had it all!  And all of that blinded them to the Lord's presence in their midst.  They had themselves in view...not Jesus!

At the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,

Blessed are the poor in spirit,     for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.... Blessed are the meek,     for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,     for they will be filled...  Blessed are the pure in heart,     for they will see God. Matthew 5:3-10 NIV

What about YOU and ME?

We often "strain at our own oars," thinking we have it in us to overcome our own dificulties and meet the demands of life.   Then we find out we don't!

We get scared...no, terrified at times!  We are blind to our ever-present (in fact, indwelling) Source for all of life...our Lord Christ!

It's then we can hear the Lord say to us,

It is I [I AM]!  Do not be afraid! Open the door to me... invite Me in...I've been here all the time!

 

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* a la inductive Bible study...in particular, Precept Upon Precept

Prayer: WHO is responsible for our Circumstances?

In my beginning ESOL class, I like to teach my students the basic question words early on in the school year.  These question words are important for us in order to get information.  And when we recognize them and use them correctly, we can have interesting conversations! Here they are...the 5W's & H:  Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?

Maybe you noticed (or not) that we used three of these key question words in our Bible study from Part 2:  Who? What? Why?

So let's have a conversation about the first question:

WHO is responsible for the circumstances we find ourselves in?

The short answer, GOD!  He has sovereign control of the universe.  Ultimately, if He doesn't ordain/allow it, it can't happen! (Deut 32:39)  But at times there can also be other "agents" involved.

That being said, let's go to our question in the context of our three stories:

1.  The Boat Story (Matthew 14:22)

Did you notice that in Matthew 14, it says that Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him?  (And ultimately they ended up out it the storm!)  The Greek word for made is literally the word compelHe compelled them to get in the boat and go ahead of Him!

Now in my thinking, compel is a strong word.  So the disciples went into circumstances that were totally not of their choosing, but were absolutely God-ordained.

2.  The Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-14)

In Luke 24, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus found themselves confused and discouraged.  Why?  Because of the arrest, trial, abuse, crucifixion, and burial of their Hero...their Messiah.  They hadn't yet gotten it about the resurrection and victory of the Lord.  So they were thrust into the midst of circumstances that Peter, filled with the Spirit, later declared on the day of Pentecost,

 Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. Acts 2:22-24 NASB

So here these Christ-followers were in the midst of circumstances that were God-ordained and yet sinful men were responsible!  Man did it, but God did it!  Jesus Himself said that it was "necessary." (Luke 24:26)

3.  Jesus Knocking (Rev 3:15-20)

In our last story, we see something totally different!  We see circumstances that were caused by these believers own self-sufficient, prideful choices and attitudes.  They thought they didn't need a thing...they had it all!  And Jesus told them that they did't know how bankrupt they really were!  So their circumstances were their own fault.  But guess what?  Jesus was there for them anyway...if they would just open the door!

Good News for us!

And that is good news for us!  No matter whether our circumstances are purely beyond our control and totally God-ordained...or caused by other sinful men...or because of our own stupid, prideful choices...guess what?  Jesus is there waiting to be invited in to our "boats"...to be urged to stay...to have our door opened to HIM!

What are your circumstances today?  Don't over-analyze it...open wide to Him!  HE loves you and wants to be wanted by YOU!

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More questions next time :)

PRAYER: a Big Question

questions
questions

Do you often feel like there are more questions than answers when it comes to prayer?*  I do! To think that a sovereign, all-knowing and all-powerful God, Who...

...does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” Daniel 4:34 ESV

...would respond to our cries!  And not only that...He actually want us to cry out to Him and invite Him in!

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. Jeremiah 33:3 ESV

It's beyond comprehension!

I believe that's because prayer is one of God's mysteries.  I love this thought from David Roper in his wonderful book Teach Us to Number our Days,

The chief difference between orthodoxy and heresy is that orthodoxy is rooted in paradox and mystery, while heresy is usually rooted in clarity and precision.  (quoting St Irenaeus, 2nd century)

And it seems to me that becoming increasingly comfortable with mystery and paradox is a sign of growth in the Lord.  We are okay with GOD being GOD!

That being said, here are some thoughts, meditations, and Scriptures.  We will need to leave the remaining questions in the mind of God! :)

Now to the question that always comes to mind eventually: [Bonus Question from Part 2/ Now retitled PRAYER: urging...& opening... to better reflect the content].

Are there some things the Lord will NOT do unless asked?

The short answer is, "I don't know!"

But before you click out, let's reflect together:

seeking
seeking

Our persistent asking and seeking with good motives is important to God.  See  James 4:2 and Matthew 7:7-11.  It seems to make a difference to Him!

But there's also the issue of common grace. God just does good things for His creatures, and most especially His children, whether we ask or not. God is the giver of every good, and perfect gift...wherever those gifts may be found!   See James 1:17-18 and Matthew 5:45

In fact, God goes above and beyond what we ask or even think...abundantly beyond!  See Ephesians 3:20-21

On the other hand, we often feel that our prayers go unanswered.  That's when these Scriptures give great insight and comfort:

 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.  Deut 29:29

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.  Is 55:8

Even Jesus the Son didn't know some things...He only knew what the Father gave Him to know!  Talk about astounding!

...Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place...But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. Matthew 24:34-36 (see also John 5:19-23)

aslan & lucy
aslan & lucy

This inability for us to know what God knows about prayer...or anything else for that matter...reminds me of a conversation between Lucy and Aslan [the Jesus figure] in Prince Caspianby CS Lewis.

In Prince Caspian, sequel to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy is the child that is in tune with Aslan...his voice and calling.  She insists that she has seen him, though her siblings don't believe her.  As a result, they all decide to not to act on Lucy's insights...with disastrous results!

When Lucy finally meets up with Aslan, the dialogue goes something like this [my paraphrase]:

Lucy...I knew I saw you, but the others didn't believe me.

Aslan..Why should that have made a difference?

Lucy...Would all this NOT have happened if I would have come to you?

Aslan...We can't knowwhat would have happened.  But what WILL happen is another matter!

Lucy...Will you help?

Aslan...Of course! As will you!

We can't know what would have happened if we had prayed.  But what we do know is that God wants us to pray today...always...and somehow in His sovereign grace, HE puts it all together for HIS glory and OUR good (Romans 8:28-40)!

Then Jesus told his disciples...that they should always pray and not give up Luke 18:1-8

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* Keep in mind that we are talking primarily about prayers of petition.  There are many other forms of prayer:  worship, adoration, thanksgiving, confession, etc.  What they all have in common, including petition, is atotal focus on the Lord!

"If you want that splendid power in prayer, you must remain in loving, living, lasting, conscious, practical, abiding union with the Lord Jesus Christ." C. H. Spurgeon 

More Q & A next time...see you then!

PRAYER: "out of the mouths of babes"

Inviting the Lord into my boat, urging Him to stay, opening the door...so simple! Almost too simple...so much so that I was hesitant to share.  Why?  My pride!

I thought, "Surely all the spiritually mature Christians I know already know this (duh!) and are consistently doing it!"

[And Who was it that said we must become as little children?]

So for a whole year I was inviting Jesus into everything, in particular our major family crisis: our 20 year old son's cancer as well as our daughter's tumors.  But I resisted any thoughts (if I even had them) of sharing my "Boat story."

Every day that year as I drove to school, I would invite the Lord into my preschool class -- my "dream team" group (and maybe that's why they were a "dream team"!).

Then when the next school year approached, I realized that such a simple story could be shared with 4 year olds.  So that's what I did.

I got my favorite Bible story book, bought little plastic boats, and early in September, I taught those precious little preschoolers about the disciples inviting Jesus into their boat to be with them in the storm.  I ended with...

"Our classroom is our boat.  We can invite Jesus into our classroom."

Right away, little David spoke up very adamantly...

"Well, let's do it right NOW!"

And little 4 year old David "burst into prayer," inviting Jesus into our classroom to be with us!  In fact, almost every time we prayed together as a group, David would invite the Lord in!

Not long after, I shared the story of my preschoolers and little David inviting the Lord into our classroom/boat with my Precept ladies Bible study group.

One of the ladies suffered a stroke shortly thereafter.  When I visited Dona in the hospital, she told me how scared she had been when the paramedics were transporting her in the ambulance.

"Then I remembered the little boy David, and I said to myself, 'I can do that too...invite the Lord into my boat!'"  So she invited Jesus into the ambulance and the hospital and everything that went on there.  And Dona added, "I had perfect peace!"

What is it about the simple boat story that we all get?  from preschoolers to moms...from teenagers to senior citizens...from students to teachers to school administrators (and over the past 15 years, I've shared with all of the above)?

I think the simple answer is that on the deepest level, we all desire...no, we crave...to experience the intimate, powerful, peaceful presence of the Lord in the midst of our "stuff"...our boats!  And in our heart of hearts, we are all just children incognito :)

Why not share the boat story with someone today? Get some plastic boats and a Bible story book and start with your children (or someone else's children).

We can learn a lot from the little ones...like my friend Dona did!

From the lips of children and infants     you, Lord, have called forth your praise. Matthew 21:16

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Kaden studyingBible Students
Are you working on the questions at the end of Part Two?  You'll be glad you did! 
Next time we'll take a look at those questions with some application to our lives.  Why not join us there?
See you in a few days :)

PRAYER: urging...and opening...

Since our last post, have you been inviting Jesus into YOUR boat...whatever that may be right now? Immediately after realizing that Jesus wanted to be invited into MY boat (my everything), two other familiar Scripture passages came to mind.

I was thankful for this, because I had had the fleeting fear that I might have been too metaphorical with the "boat story."  But the Holy Spirit confirmed His rhema with these passages:

The first was the story of the two grieving disciples on the road to Emmaus on Resurrection Day.  They were discussing the events of the previous days, when a Stranger began walking with them.  This Stranger began explaining from the Scriptures why the Christ had to "suffer these things and enter into His glory."  Let's pick up the story right there...

… And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?”  Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

 And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther.  But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” So He went in to stay with them.  When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:25- 30

There it was again!  He acted as if He were going on UNTIL they urged Him to stay.  Does that amaze you as it does me?

Then this second passage came to mind:  the letter to the lukewarm church at Laodicea.  This church was so self-sufficient!  They thought they were "all it" and had everything they needed.  But Jesus told them basically, "You don't know how needy and bankrupt you really are!"

Let's read:

To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:  ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.  So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. ‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.  ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. Rev 3:14-22

There it is again..."I'm standing here knocking on your life...and I won't come in UNLESS (if) you open the door (a.k.a. boat).  If you open to me, invite me in, I will come in.  Then we can have intimate fellowship together!"

I know...we usually use this as a salvation verse.  But it isn't primarily that, because it's to the CHURCH at Laodicea...that means believers too!

So then this simple truth dawned upon me:

No matter how old you are in the Lord, Jesus wants to be wanted by YOU!

Now that really blows my mind!  Does it yours?  The Sovereign God, our Lord Christ, wants to be wanted!

Next time, I'll tell you what happened when I began sharing this story.  But in the meantime,...

Invite Him into YOUR boat, dear brothers and sisters! Urge Him to stay! Open the door!

Why? Because the Lord wants us to experience His presence in our life situations: our emotional upheavals, our wounds, disappointments, the lies we’ve believed, our joy & sorrows…everything!  Then we can know that He is truly adequate for everything we may face in this life.

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For Bible students:

Here are some questions* to explore:

Look at each of the three passages: the Boat story (Matthew 14:22-33); the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-30); and the letter to the church at Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22). [Try to answer the questions right from the texts of Scripture]

1.  Who was responsible for the circumstances in each Scripture passage?

2.  What/Who blinded the believers to the Lord’s presence &/or identity in each passage?

3.  What is the purpose or reason (Why?) for the Lord’s desire to enter into each situation with His people? [You might want to use the composite text from part 1 or Mark 6:51 for the boat story]

Bonus thought question:  Are there some things the Lord will NOT do unless asked?

Take a look at these scriptures: James 4:2 Matthew 7:7-11 Deut 29:29 Is 55:8

What other Scriptures come to mind as you meditate on this question?

*Thoughts and "answers" in a future post :)

PRAYER: inviting Jesus into my "Boat"

Jesus loves invitations!  He's the Divine Host, constantly inviting us to come to Him. But Jesus also loves to be invited!  He's the perfect, Divine Guest, always responding to our sincere invitations.  Inviting the Lord, I believe, is at the heart of the mysterious spiritual exercise we call "prayer"...in particular, petition and supplication.

I'd like to share with you a situation that happened in my life that forever changed the way I look at prayer.

It was late summer 1997.  I was preparing for a new school year with my new bunch of preschoolers at Xenia Christian.  I also was going to meetings and doing home visits as a home school coordinator with the Dayton Christian Home School Program (my other part-time job).  As any teacher knows, mid-August can get pretty hairy!

At the same time, my then 70+ year old mom was visiting from NJ.  Before she was ready to return home, we received a call from my sister Nancy.  She informed us that her husband Ed, who had been battling cancer, suddenly and surprisingly took a turn for the worse.  He was now on life support, but there was little if any hope.

So Nancy and Ed's best friend had to make a terrible decision...if & when to terminate life support.  They chose to stop support at the end of the week.  So I knew that meant a trip to NJ for a funeral.

Now I was totally stressed!  In the midst of everything else that was going on!  Now a flight back east!  I'm ashamed to admit this...but the thing that was stressing me the most by then was the thought of a plane flight!

I know, shame on me...my poor sister!  And here I am freaking out about getting on a plane!

But you see, my previous experiences on planes weren't exactly pleasant...in fact, they were horrifying!  Plus, as a mom, I had developed fears I never had as a single, young adult (can you moms relate?)

I begged and pleaded with my husband to drive me to NJ...but he insisted (and stood his ground), "There's no Time!  You've got to fly!"

So on my way to a home school coordinators meeting that day, I agonized!  But eventually I resigned myself to the fact that when I got home, I'd have to find an economical flight a few days hence (yeah, right)!

All of a sudden, in the midst of my churning thoughts, the still small Voice broke through: Jesus walks with us on the chaos of our lives!

I recognized this as a quote from Oswald Chambers devotional that I had been reading for years.  Somehow I knew this was significant, a rhemafrom the Lord.  So I decided to find that familiar story when I got home from the meeting.  I knew that there would be a message from the Lord tucked away in that Scripture.

When I got home, I pulled out my Harmony of the Gospels.*  And as usual, I was not disappointed!  Something I read there absolutely shocked me!  I had never noticed it before...as familiar as this story was and as much of a "Bible scholar" as I deemed myself to be! I began to read the familiar story of Jesus walking on the water toward His terrified, struggling disciples.

And when it was evening, the boat was in the midst of the sea, and He was alone on the land.  And seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night, He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them.

Wait a minute!  What does that mean...He intended to pass by them? I had never noticed that before...why would He do that?  God doesn't play games!  Why would He walk past?  And would He REALLY...seeing His terrified , struggling disciples?  Wasn't that why He was walking out to them in the first place? Or was it?

I decided to read on...the answer must be there somewhere:

But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were frightened.  But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid...”** They were willing therefore to receive him into the boat

There it was...the Lord Jesus, always the Perfect Gentleman, was waiting to be invited.  (Later I did a word study on this word willing.  It means a "volitional choice"...not just "Well, whatever...")

So I imagined that His struggling disciples, recognizing WHO Jesus was and WHAT He could DO, were more than willing...even desperate...to invite Him into their boat!

And of course, I knew what happened next:

And He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were greatly astonished. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”**

...and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. [Composite Text: Mk 6: 47 - 51;  John 6 : 21; Mt 14 : 32 - 33]

Jesus can do that kind of thing because certainly He is God's Son -- the Sovereign, Almighty God in the flesh!

So you may have guessed what happened.  That's right, I began to invite Him into MY boat...every aspect of this situation -- into the purchase of the plane ticket, into the plane:  cockpit, cabin, under the wings, in the engine (Hey! I was desperate!!!).

Then when we were "in flight," it's as if I could SEE the Lord walking up and down the aisle...ministering to the other passengers too!  The Perfect Pilot as well as the Perfect Flight Attendant!

So I arrived at Newark airport without an ounce of anxiety, thanks to my Amazing Traveling Companion.  When I shared the story and my experience with my sister, she invited the Lord into HER boat as a young widow with legal and financial needs.  Immediately, the Lord sent her a lawyer friend to begin to answer some of those very concrete issues for her...gratis!  We were in awe!

When I arrived home, I was "basking in the glow of it all!"  I asked the Lord, "What just happened?  What does it all mean?"  Then the simple truth dawned upon me...

Jesus wants me to invite Him into “my boat” -- my specific life situation, whatever that may be.

Next time we'll look at two other Scripture passages that came to mind.  But right now, I'd like to ask you, dear friend. 

What is the boat you are in right now?   Is it an unhealthy body, emotional upheaval, financial needs, unemployment, the dailiness of raising children, spiritual struggles, anxiety attacks, shame, wayward children, confusion, facing a scarey situation like a plane ride or speaking in public, _______________(you fill in the blank)?

Whatever it may be, invite the Lord into YOUR boat, and watch what HE can do....because He is certainly God's Son!

Thou art the Lord who slept upon the pillow, Thou art the Lord who soothed the furious sea, What matters beating wind and tossing billow If only we are in the boat with Thee?

Hold us quiet through the age-long minute While Thou art silent and the wind is shrill : Can the boat sink while Thou, dear Lord, are in it; Can the heart faint that waiteth on Thy will?" — Amy Carmichael

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*The Harmony is a wonderful book where you can see at a glance all 4 gospels in chronological order.  It's a great way to get all the details of a story, because each of the gospels is side-by-side with the others in columns.

**This is where Peter steps out of the boat.  I left it out for the sake of clarity and brevity.

Read the rest of this PRAYER series

The Mystery of PRAYER

Today I'm reflecting on prayer. What a mystery it is! And prayer is what we'll look at this week here at A Branch in the Vine. In the meantime, I'd like to share some meditation-provoking thoughts on prayer.  Please jump in and share your thoughts, quotes, favorite Scriptures, etc in the comment section.

The first thought I read in a book I bought for a quarter at an estate sale.  This quote was nestled in the middle of a treasure of a book called Leaves of Gold, c1938:

"Prayer in its simplest definition is merely a wish turned God-ward."  Phillips Brooks  (And I might add, "...a thought turned God-ward."  Has that happened to you?  It has to me, many times)

Here are some others...you are free to weigh in, if you'd like!

"Prayer is not overcoming God's reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness."  Martin Luther.

"There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God." Brother Lawrence

"We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties." Oswald Chambers

"...True prayer is measured by weight, not by length. A single groan before God may have more fullness of prayer in it than a fine oration of great length."  C. H. Spurgeon

"If you want that splendid power in prayer, you must remain in loving, living, lasting, conscious, practical, abiding union with the Lord Jesus Christ." C. H. Spurgeon

"The essence of prayer does not consist in asking God for something but in opening our hearts to God, in speaking with Him, and living with Him in perpetual communion. Prayer is continual abandonment to God. Prayer does not mean asking God for all kinds of things we want; it is rather the desire for God Himself, the only Giver of Life, Prayer is not asking, but union with God. Prayer is not a painful effort to gain from God help in the varying needs of our lives. Prayer is the desire to possess God Himself, the Source of all life. The true spirit of prayer does not consist in asking for blessings, but in receiving Him who is the giver of all blessings, and in living a life of fellowship with Him." Sadhu Sundar Singh

"Prayer does not influence God. Prayer surely does influence God. It does not influence His purpose. It does influence His action."  S.D. Gordon [This one messes with my mind  a bit.  How about you?]

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing... If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. John 15:5,7-8 ESV