Why you need to go buy a newspaper right now. (And not for the kind of reason you’re expecting.)

This week, to prepare for leading the group study of my book, Designed to Pray, I did one of the exercises from the book. It sounds simple—but I’d never actually physically done what I ...

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[I am not debating any issues or discussing either candidate or their followers, so please don’t be afraid to read on.]

This week, to prepare for leading the group study of my book, Designed to Pray, I did one of the exercises from the book. It sounds simple—but I’d never actually physically done what I suggested.

The basic idea is this: Take a newspaper and a marker. Go through the paper and write your prayers on top of the news stories as you pray.

That’s it. Sounds simple enough, right?

But let me tell you: It was powerful. Not because of me—at all—but because God is in it whenever we genuinely seek Him.

If you’re anything like me, you are troubled by this election. And for me, it’s not just the election or the candidates or the issues. My turmoil is all tied up in my beliefs about what Christianity is or should be and how we, as Christians, are called to represent God. It’s concern about how we’re acting, how people outside the church have come to view Christians, whether we’re living what we believe, etc. It’s complicated and discouraging. I can get so worked up so easily. These are big, big picture thoughts with long-ranging implications. Sometimes it feels like it’s all just too much.

But this exercise put things back into perspective.

Especially because I happened to write the words in red marker (just as the words of Jesus are often printed in red). My prayers are not the powerful part of this. It’s the image, the physical and tangible representation, of God’s ways and God’s power and God’s promises having the final word.

It’s about stepping back and realizing that God is bigger than these issues.

It’s about praying with an open heart, one turned towards God, that helps me see something less personally and more from God’s perspective.

It’s about taking our prayers away from the “I wants” and turning them into “thy will be done.”

It’s about remembering that, whatever happens, God is in control. He has overcome the world already. He is victorious. Nothing is too large that He cannot stop it. Nothing is too complicated that He cannot fix it. Nothing we or anyone could do will ever thwart the good and perfect will of God.

Honestly, I can’t begin to see what good could possibly come from so many of these situations. But what I do know is that no one on earth is perfect. Our leaders can fail. Our fellow Christians can fall. Our faith may waver from time to time.

But God remains on the throne. He is always God, and always good.

So let me encourage you, before this election (or anytime after), get a newspaper, even if you have to go to the store just to buy one. You can do this mentally with online or TV news, but I don’t think anything can replace the act of writing over the news. It gives us a way to feel as though we’ve regained a little bit of control. It lets us see that, no matter how important these events are, God is greater.

And right now, I think all of us could stand a little bit of peace in our souls.


Here is the actual excerpt from the book.

How to Pray When the World Overwhelms You

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.
But take heart, because I have overcome the world. —John 16:33

Call me an ostrich, if you will, because I spend more time with my head buried in the sand than above it. When I read or watch the news, my soul withers. My heart hurts, and sorrow overwhelms me. Not all news is bad, of course, but that seems to be what is always emphasized. I need to remember—and maybe you do too—that although we will face all kinds of horrific things, devastation does not get the final word. God does. He triumphs in the end, and we have to hold on to that truth, whatever horrors or evils we witness.

DIRECTIONS: Pick up a newspaper and a magic marker. As you skim the stories, let yourself feel anger or grief, sadness or righteous indignation. But don’t let yourself get bogged down by despair, because God is bigger than every single one of these stories. Take your marker and pen your prayer right over the stories. Heal her. Bring hope. Shine Your light. Help me not to despair. Reveal Yourself. Restore. Renew. Fix it, Lord. Show mercy. Bring justice. Redeem lost time. Thank You.

(Taken from Week 7 Day 3 of Designed to Pray)

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This “but” will change the world—and me. This is why I pray.

Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture: They kill us in cold blood because ...

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Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.

We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. Romans 8:33-39, The Message

I’m afraid to listen/watch/read the response to what happened in Orlando, because I don’t want to hear this one tiny word. And I am terrified that if I look, I’ll find it.

It’s terrible but they were gay
They didn’t deserve to die but they were sinning
I’m sorry it happened but it doesn’t directly affect me
It’s tragic but it shows the need for stricter laws
I’m praying for the people hurt by this hate crime but I’m not gay so it doesn’t really change anything for me

The thing is, this word isn’t only used about the people who died in Orlando. What about:

I love him but he’s gay
She needs to know God but I’m not going to get involved
I would love for you to come to church but you need to change first

Or

Our world sucks but there’s nothing I personally can do about it

This one little word seems to remove us from the pain, to justify our separation. I sat down at the computer today, not planning on writing a thing. It feels like I have nothing to say—and yet there is so much feeling. Nothing valuable to contribute except a burning desire not to let myself remain in a state of apathy. All I can summon at this moment is a prayer:

Oh, Lord, we are desperate for you today. We’re quick to be outraged—and I believe most of us genuinely feel the pain of such a wrenching and tragic loss. But how long will it last before we move on? I don’t know what to do with my feelings, with this horror and sorrow. I don’t know where to go. Prayer seems woefully inadequate. Debating gun control and Islamic extremism and homosexuality seems to be the likely outpouring after violence of this magnitude. But then what? What have we solved? All we will have done is to separate again on the dividing lines of a political issue.

When are we (as a culture, as society, as a religion, as a human race) going to change? To be spurred to radically change an environment in which hatred reigns?

When will we discover ways to act in love? To do as Jesus prayed we would—to help the world believe all that He said is true, that He is who He claimed to be—and as a result, that everyone will believe. That the world will find hope and will be able to seek true change.

When we will understand that there is no “but” in your promise to love us, to adore and reach out to each of us, no matter what terms we use to define or identify ourselves?

And when will we stop using the word “but” to justify not acting? Not loving? Not welcoming and nurturing and accepting?

You are not a God of exclusion but one of inclusion.

Because of that, I have a place to rest when I’m overwhelmed with grief. I can lean in to you, sheltered by Your grace and comforted by Your mercy. Even me. The one who has accepted your generous and stupendous offer of love—even though I didn’t (and can’t) earn it.

I fail regularly—but You love me anyway.

I sin. Lie. Fail to act. Miss opportunities. Find excuses not to serve you. Forget to pray when things are good. I’m the one who gets self-righteously angry at those who judge—but finds herself judging just as harshly.

And at last we get to the only but that matters, the one that trumps everything else.

But You love me anyway. Without exclusion. Period.

And You love Edward Sotomayor Jr. And Stanley Almodovar III. Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo. Juan Ramon Guerrero and Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera and Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz. And the others who are nothing more than random combinations of consonants and vowels to most of us—until we look online at the photos and read the descriptions of each of the victims. Until we look at the eyes smiling out of the computer screen and understand that these are real people, real souls, real lives ended out of hate. That this is senseless and tragic and that real people are facing the very real absence of people they love.

But You are bigger than our excuses and greater than our failures and near to us in our pain.

And as offensive as it feels to me to acknowledge this, I know you feel love, too, for the shooter. Your particular type of love is one that is so far beyond us that I fear we’ll never be able to grasp it. But please, Lord, let us try to understand.

Your love is all-consuming, enveloping, without limit or exclusion. No buts at all. Whether it’s true or not, I can’t help but feel like we’ve all failed, somehow—horrendously and irredeemably. We are all part of this culture, this atmosphere of division and exclusion, whether we actively contribute to the hatred or not. Forgive us, Lord. Comfort us, Lord. Give us hope and inspire us to find ways to keep this from happening again. It certainly feels like a losing battle, but Your Word tells me You have overcome the world. That You have victory over all evil and hatred and pain.

So I hold on to that today, even if the promises seem impossible. Even if the news feeds seem to broadcast a different story. I hold on to You. I’m heartbroken and helpless and I feel lost. But You are right here. You whisper words of comfort and wrap Your arms around the mourners. You are not rejoicing but, instead, feeling the collective pain of this world that is broken and troubled and misguided and hurting.

Sweet, sweet Lord, forgive us. Hold us. And never, never stop loving us or teaching us how to bestow such a tender, valuable gift on every single person in our lives. Amen.

Prayer for the non-controversial, invisible Christian

This is a prayer for the non-controversial, invisible Christian.      For you, the one who flies under the radar. Who doesn’t cry persecution, or rejoice when another self-professed Christian trounces someone with his religion. Who doesn’t jump to conclusions or resort to petty name-calling and judgment. Who reads the Bible as a life-giving source ...

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This is a prayer for the non-controversial, invisible Christian.
     For you, the one who flies under the radar. Who doesn’t cry persecution, or rejoice when another self-professed Christian trounces someone with his religion. Who doesn’t jump to conclusions or resort to petty name-calling and judgment. Who reads the Bible as a life-giving source of sustenance and not as a weapon with which to bludgeon unbelievers.
     Who doesn’t even use the word “unbeliever.”
     Who prays, hopes, trusts, holds her tongue, and errs on the side of love. Always love.
     This is for the one who accepts those who are not like her and doesn’t let the differences threaten her own beliefs. The one whose faith is not diminished when faced with opposition. The one whose faith is, in fact, strengthened by different perspectives. The one who is never reactive, combative, hateful, or exclusionary.
     The one I want to be.
This is for you.

Dear Sweet and Gentle Lord,

Thank You for who You are. For being the God of the humble, the loving, and the generous. Oh, how You must grieve at the self-righteous anger, the vicious and vile words spewed across the Internet (and in person), the misguided and hurtful actions perpetrated by people using Your name. Your holy, lovely, truly righteous name.

Oh, Lord, forgive us all.

The hatred has gotten way too much attention, and the true beauty of this life has been overlooked. A life filled with You radiates beauty and goodness. It is saturated with peace and kindness.

Please, Lord, reach down to Your people. The ones who are quietly mourning the damage being done to Your name and to their faith. Reward them for their steadfastness by giving them an increasingly fulfilling, authentic experience with You. Whisper into their ears as they sleep peacefully at night. Nudge them, gently, when an opportunity to serve appears in front of them. Soothe their souls with fresh knowledge of Your magnaminous, all-consuming love.

Every day, renew their strength. Show them new heights of grace and new depths of generosity. Flood them with love, with an abundance of goodness and a sense of contentment beyond their wildest dreams. Let them feel You, see You, hear You, and know You. Shine so brightly into their lives that there will be no darkness left to be seen—anywhere. Radiate truth and goodness. Overflow their lives with Your Spirit, and let that be what the world knows of You. Reveal Yourself through the most humble and gentle of souls.

We want to see You. We want more of You, not the god (with a lower-case G) that some Christians are shouting about. We’re tired of shouting. We want the God who whispers and yet is mighty. The One who is holy. The One who saves lives, who redeems and doesn’t destroy. The One who is truly worthy of all that we have to offer. The One who is big enough, capable enough, and present enough to change us—and to change the world.

Lord, help me be true to You and not get caught in the opinions and troubles of the world. Let me hold on to the Truth. To the most gentle, wondrous One of all. Help me never, ever let go of You. Amen.

 

What are we really grieving?

Everyone—myself included—has been pretty incensed by the recent controversy over the religious freedom act (whichever side they fall on). I’ve felt deep in my soul a need to speak out. I’ve prayed. I’ve cried (sobbed, really). And although my political beliefs fall on the losing side in this state of mine, and if you ask ...

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What are we really grieving graphic

Everyone—myself included—has been pretty incensed by the recent controversy over the religious freedom act (whichever side they fall on). I’ve felt deep in my soul a need to speak out. I’ve prayed. I’ve cried (sobbed, really).

And although my political beliefs fall on the losing side in this state of mine, and if you ask my opinion I’ll tell you, I really try not to use this as a public forum for anything political. (Don’t worry. I’m not defying that guideline even now.)

Sunday morning, we were in the middle of a typical worship service at my church. We began to sing a Brooklyn Tabernacle song called We Are United, which I’ve always liked just fine.

[chorus]
We are united in Jesus Christ
We are the soldiers of the light
We don’t wrestle flesh and blood
But principalities of the dark
We do our marching to one beat
Crushing the enemy under our feet
We are mighty in our stand
With God’s word in our hand

In our hearts we have a vision
We have made our decision
To show the Father’s love
With great power from above

Let us reach this generation
Every tribe and every nation
For we’ve overcome the world
By the blood of Christ The Lamb

[bridge]
The Lord our God is a sword and shield
We fight our battles on our knees

But on that day, I couldn’t even sing along. Because instead of this being an anthem of unity, a rally to strength and victory, all I could hear were fighting words.

And words of untruth. Because we, as Christians, are not united, no matter how much we wish we could say so. I stood there, tears streaming down my face, realizing that I was in mourning. Not because of the law. But because of all the things it has brought to light.

I can’t even find words to express how deeply my heart hurts from all of this. How appalled I am by the people who have latched onto this as a way to justify hateful behavior. How surprised I am by the number of Christians who are rejoicing in victory over persecution that I’ve never actually witnessed myself. The words in the law don’t see to overtly justify those things, but there’s so much conflict in the ways this has been interpreted. I’m not a legal scholar and I do not know the hearts of those who pushed this bill forward. I am not entirely sure what to believe, but the reality is that many (not all) Christians see this as a way to justify their disapproval of certain people (or, at least, certain behaviors). I don’t know if they are true, but I’ve seen stories about business owners already proudly refusing to serve gays. Again, it’s not necessarily the bill I’m objecting to. It’s how people are acting in response.

But our God is all about redemption—about rescuing, and putting to good use, those situations that, without Him, are otherwise hopeless. He can make something from nothing. Bring light to darkness. Show mercy. Offer forgiveness.

And as God’s people? We can do the same.

We can try to turn around this perception that the world has of us as hateful, closed-minded bigots. I’m not asking you to turn away from your deeply-held beliefs. Just asking us all to prayerfully consider the reasons behind our views. Hoping we’ll examine ourselves, our lives, and our words to see what kind of impression we’re giving the world about our faith.

Because let’s not kid ourselves, this one issue is only so provocative because it encompasses so many other ones. How do we feel about homosexuality? Can we love each other no matter what we believe? In what ways do different people identifying as Christians disagree with each other? When did our society stop allowing us to agree to disagree? Why is a difference of opinion now so divisive? When did disagreement begin to be synonymous with dislike of an individual? Can we apply the same label (Christianity) to our faith when there is such a disparity in what different segments believe? Is it still possible to strive for unity among believers? Shouldn’t we do it even if the Bible declares that many will “fall away”? Are Christians to set themselves apart or to associate with the broken, hurting, “non-holy”? Do Christians consider it freedom if a law can be used by a non-Christian as protection from a Christian? What is modern Christianity telling the world? Is there anyone out there who isn’t a Christian who would want to be one with all this crud going on? I think this is why people (myself included) are getting so riled up. It’s not just the bill. It’s that all the other things people disagree on are also coming to light.

So I’ll start by apologizing to anyone who has read my words on this topic and been offended. Working towards unity—among believers, yes, but also simply among people—has been my greatest goal and desire since the moment I “found” God as an adult. If I have done anything to divide people, that saddens me tremendously, and I sincerely ask for your forgiveness.

I really do believe, though, that as the body of Christ we’re not acting in a way that Christ would like. I believe if He were still walking on this earth He would be calling out our behavior, not that of the ones who authored this situation. That’s why Jesus has always been so controversial. Why it takes courage to accept Him and humility to begin to act like Him. Because He always shows us that we need to turn the pointing finger back to ourselves. And in the process, He brings healing. But not the way people expect. He heals bodies—but not until after He heals people’s souls.

Praying today—always—that Christ will heal this Body. But that first, He will heal our souls. That He will show us what we need. That He will soften our hearts with compassion. That He will plant a root of truth deep inside our hearts, where we cannot uproot it even with our natural stupidity and stubbornness. That He will demonstrate to us how the Church—as a single, unified Body—should behave. That He will remind us that even though we’re part of a Body, He comes to us as individuals by giving us the gift of a relationship. And that as individuals we have a responsibility to maintain and improve upon that relationship. And we can only do that with intention. Transparency. Humility. Respect.

Believing that He will place before us situations that we can redeem by building relationships with people around us, one on one. By letting people inside the facades we erect. By opening our hearts and allowing two-way discourse. By forging relationships based on His guiding principle—love.

Hoping that we can look at the larger issues and begin to reflect the very reasons we chose this faith.

Praying that we can behave in a way that reflects glory back to Him.

Because like it or not, we—as God’s people, and as residents of Indiana—are in the spotlight. The world’s spotlight hones in on controversy, but God’s spotlight always shines on truth. And God’s truth is full of kindness and grace and mercy.

Let’s redeem this. Let’s show the world what we’re really about. Let’s surprise them with our vulnerability and kindness. Let’s let people into our lives. Let’s make it so that they want to be there with us.

And let’s learn from this.

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