From Our Hearts to Yours

Pray for God’s Will

We are at the cusp of a New Year filled with the potential for new highs and lows, new joys and new fears. If we take time to read through the Gospels, we cannot miss an important lesson in how Jesus prepared for a new season of His time on earth. Jesus made it His habit to pray before important events and about important decisions in His life. For instance…

Jesus prayed as He began His ministry—Jesus’ baptism was a significant milestone in His life. It heralded the beginning of His public ministry. How did He approach this momentous occasion? We find Him offering up His first recorded instance of prayer:

“When all the people were baptized… Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended” (Luke 3:21-22).

Whatever work God has given you to do pales in comparison to what Jesus did. Nevertheless, it is your ministry (see 1 Corinthians 12:7, 11, 18). And your ministry merits— and requires—your prayers.

Jesus prayed as He chose His disciples—Jesus had many follow­ers, but He desired to choose 12 as leaders, as apostles, as “sent ones.” These men would be given special authority to deliver His message to the world. Their selection would mark the beginning of the focused training of 12 men who would take the gospel to the ends of the earth. This was definitely a historic occasion. How would Jesus choose from all those who followed Him? Again, prayer was His answer:

“He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day… He chose twelve whom He also named apostles” (Luke 6:12-13).

Jesus prayed before going to the cross—In this last scenario, Jesus’ time on earth was coming to a close. His time of training His disciples was also over. He knew His death on the cross was ahead of Him, and He knew its implications for all mankind. So He moved with His disciples to the Garden of Geth­semane, His customary place of prayer, to pray. His impending crucifixion would be excruciatingly painful and difficult, and His soul was in agony.

The Lord’s anguish had little to do with fear of the physical tor­ture of the cross or even His death. No, He was sorrowful because the full cup of divine judgment against sin would soon be His to drink. How did Jesus handle this horrendous situation?

“He… fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me'” (Matthew 26:39). And, as He prayed a sec­ond and a third time, His prayers changed to reflect the powerful strength of His resolve: “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done” (verse 42).

You and I will never know or experience anything like Jesus did as He prepared for, faced, and endured death on a cross. But we do suffer—physical pain, emotional pain, lacks in our lives, dif­ficult circumstances, challenging relationships, an uncertain future and more! To pre­pare for, face, and endure life’s challenges, you know what you need to do—pray!

Jesus shows you and all Christians the importance of praying when you need to make decisions and gain direction for your life. He prayed when He had to make an important decision or a spe­cial or trying occasion presented itself. His habit of prayer teaches us how to tap into God’s power and grace, too. Jesus’ desire was to follow the Father’s will completely, and prayer was a vital part of His decision-making. The same is true for you as you seek to do God’s will.

As you think about your life and the New Year ahead, what important event is about to occur? What guid­ance do you need for your future, or a child’s future? What strength is lacking for an impossible but nec­essary decision? Follow the Lord’s example and, like Him, pray. God has given you an effective resource in prayer. As one of my favorite prayer verses bids:

“Let us… come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

God bless you and keep you as you pray for God’s will for you in this New Year!

If consistent and powerful prayer is missing from your life, visit the Free Resources section of our website for the simple guide, “Prayer for Living after God’s Own Heart.” You will find deeper study in my book, The Heart of A Woman Who Prays.

The Past Has Passed

I praised God when our pastor encouraged those who had accepted Christ as savior this past year to come forward and light a candle during the Christmas service. I was thrilled to see children and adults of all ages had made that significant life-changing decision this year.

For years after I became a Christian, I struggled with the thought, “If only I had become a Christian sooner!” After all, I reasoned, coming to Christ sooner would have given me God’s guidelines for marriage and for raising our two daughters. The eight years of marriage before I knew Christ were rough ones. And adding two children hadn’t helped!

I’m not alone… I have found that many women struggle with the “if only’s” — If only I had gone to college… If only I hadn’t made that decision… If only…

“If only” thinking is counterproductive. How is that? Because it only breeds remorse. The backward gaze produces regret and sorrow because it is impossible to return to the past or change it.

God calls us to deal with what is now, what is true, and what is real. The past is gone. You cannot alter it. But, what is real is what is happening today. So we must challenge ourselves to stop “if only” thinking, knowing that there is no value in rehashing it.

Here’s something else to note. When you succumb to “if only” thinking, you fail to acknowledge God’s role in your past. You are ignoring the fact that God was there with you. He was with you then… just as He is with you today… and will be with you tomorrow (Psalm 73:23-24).

The good news is that our heavenly Father does indeed use our past. The great truth of Romans 8:28-29 is God’s promise that any and all “negative” events in the past will be “overruled” and worked for good to make you more like Christ. By His transforming power, God will redeem even the worst, the most painful, and the most perplexing aspects of your past.

I’ve seen God redeem the suffering and the terrible trials in many people’s lives, and I’m sure you have too. In fact, some of the saints I know who graciously and continually extend God’s gentleness, peace, and encouragement to others are those who have tasted pain. God, in His good­ness and power, has used their experiences to make them more Christ-like, and He is truly glorified in their lives.

But also note these exceptions to reflections on your past: 1) It is good to remember what we’ve learned from our mistakes. Those lessons are pearls of wisdom. 2) It is also good to recall God’s marvelous works and gracious faithfulness to us in our past difficulties. We should look back and remember how God enabled us in our times of need. Our faith in God is strengthened when we recall how God brought us through our trials, how He taught us on the mountains and in the val­leys of life.

Psalm 77, says we are to meditate on God’s goodness in the past whenever the trials of the present seem overwhelming. At such a time, the poet declared, “I will remember the works of the LORD; surely I will remember Your wonders of old” (verse 11).  So when you are faced with “if only” thinking and look back at your past… do so only with an eye to appreciate God’s faithfulness!

A Prayer to Pray: Lord, I can be hard on myself, but You have forgiven me and You love me. Work in me to release the past and move on into your glorious plan for my life. And, guide me through this new your to live according to your will and purpose.

For more encouragement for your soul read, A Woman After God’s Own Heart.

Confess and Continue On

As we head into a new year, we often reflect on accomplishments (or lack there of) of the past year. It is often easy to focus on all that was left undone or the regrets of unrighteous behavior or decisions. Many times we cannot face a new phase of life when we dwell on failures of the past.

Our enemy Satan delights when our failure to obey God keeps us from serving Him. You and I can all too easily wallow in the fact that we’ve failed God and then allow our emotions to keep us from going on and follow­ing after Him. Oh, we know we are forgiven. And we’ve stopped the behavior, acknowledged and confessed our sin, forsaken our thoughts or actions, and cleared up the situation (1 John 1:9). But we still say to ourselves, “I can’t believe I did that, said that, thought that, acted like that. How could I have done that? I’m unworthy. I am totally unfit to serve God.”

When that’s the case, we need to turn to another truth from God’s Word and let it lift us up, dust us off, refresh us, and set us back on His path. Speaking divine directions to us through His Spirit, God encourages us—those of us who have confessed our disobedience and been forgiven—to be “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead… [and pressing] toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Once we’ve acknowledged and dealt with our failure to follow God whole­heartedly, once we’ve addressed our acts of disobedience, you and I are to forget those things from the past and go on. Oh, we are to remember the lessons learned, but we are also to train our hearts to obey by obeying this command from God to go on.

Whenever I am down about myself, discour­aged by my faults, doubting my growth in Christ, depressed, defeated, or dismayed (someone once quipped that all these “D” words are from the Devil!), I stop and remind myself, “No matter what has happened, no matter what life looks like, no matter what you’re feeling, you are accepted in the Beloved—and nothing else matters!” Indeed, God has “made us accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6)!

When you and I come to a saving knowl­edge of Jesus Christ, we are given a new beginning, a fresh start, forgiveness for the past, wisdom for handling life, and power for doing what’s right. The apostle Paul explains it like this: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Don’t continue to wallow in the drudge of failure at the side of the road where Satan wants you to get stuck. Claim the promise of Philippians 3:13-14 which compels us to reach forward in a continued walk in this newness.

Question: Do you sometimes think that God won’t answer your prayer because of past sinful behavior? Go to God now with your request viewing yourself as His beloved and forgiven child, to whom He wants to give good things.

For more encouragement to your faith read, A Woman After God’s Own Heart.

From Jim’s heart… A Heart That Serves

As fleshly humans, our natural tendency is to take care of our own needs first. We like to make sure there is plenty of time for the things we want to do. Then if we have any time or energy left over, we might be willing to use it to serve someone else.

But in following after God’s own heart, you and I need to resist these selfish tendencies and strive instead to see ourselves as servants. In fact, in the Bible, we see many of the Old Testament’s faithful described as servants. God spoke of Abraham as His servant (Genesis 26:24). Joshua was called “the servant of the LORD” at his death (Joshua 24:29). And David, too, was called “my servant” by God (2 Samuel 7:5). In the New Testament we see that godly men were chosen by the church in Jerusalem to serve the physical needs of the widows (Acts 6:1-6).  And the apostle Paul referred to himself as a servant of God (Romans 1:1).

The Lord Jesus Christ is, of course, our supreme example. He is our model of what it means to be a servant. Jesus said of Himself, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28, emphases added). This Christmas season ultimately celebrates not the story of a baby born in a manger, but of the God of all creation humbling himself to become our redeemer (Philippians 2:3-8).

Read through these verses about Jesus and think about any changes you need to make in your life so that you, like Jesus, can better assume the role of a servant. As you cultivate a servant heart, you’ll find yourself wanting to love and serve your family, your church, and others. I’ve altered the format of these verses (Philippians 2:3-8) so that the various elements of a servant’s heart are more obvious:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself.

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Question: What are some ways you’ve recently reached out to serve and help other people? What ways can you do so in the coming year?

 For more about encouragement for husbands read, A Husband After God’s Own Heart.

© Copyright 2017
Elizabeth & Jim George


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