By Jane Thornton –
I stormed through the doorway of the church classroom, flounced into a plastic chair, crossed my arms, and exclaimed, “I hate Mark!” Thus ended the battle between my seventeen-year-old brother and me—and our privilege of sleeping a little later on Sunday mornings and driving in on our own instead of riding the church’s bus route with our parents.
The mêlée began as I preened in front of the mirror with a curling iron. Mark hollered that we needed to leave. I bawled back that I was almost (halfway, in teen-girlese) ready. We repeated the exchange at least once. Patience thoroughly tested and failed, Mark swaggered in and manhandled the styling utensil from my hand, both of us miraculously managing to escape a burn.
I shrieked. I dug in my heels.
To no avail—my athletic brother literally dragged me, hair half-styled, yowling threats of repercussions, to the car and stuffed me in. I’m sure the streaks of tears and angry scowl I wore were much more unflattering than the frizzy half of my hairdo.
Not the finest Christ-like moment for either of us.
Unfortunately, it does not stand alone in our high school history. On another morning, we were leaving for school. Mark blasted the horn of the El Camino. I scurried out of the house. (I believe he would say I meandered.) I plopped into the passenger seat. (He would describe my motion as easing into place.) Leaving my door open, I thrust my folder and books onto the floorboard. (His version, I fussily arranged my supplies.) Tolerance pushed to the breaking point, Mark threw the truck into reverse and gunned the engine.
This time it was metal that shrieked. The basketball goal caught my open door and twisted the protesting iron completely off the truck.
Poor Mark, his graduation present was a new door for Daddy’s vehicle. I still feel guilty about that consequence even though I swear to this day I was not intentionally testing him.
These days, the memory of those farcical skirmishes draws rueful laughter, but at the time, resentment and bitterness brewed inside the automatic love for a sibling. In college, after a couple of years of distance, we discovered that we enjoyed each other’s company. He wrote me a poem for my twentieth birthday about realizing he not only loved me but liked me, too. I treasure my friendship with my big brother, and our combat has long ended.
In a recent Christmas letter, I described our congregation as extended family. I’m sorry to say we’ve been having some sibling battles there, too, but these conflicts have challenged my faith unlike any run-in with my blood relatives. Perhaps an insecurity exists without the blood bond. Perhaps we all expect more from each other because we’re adults and Christians. Perhaps we should.
However, the memory of those early clashes reminds me that family life is not always smooth. Each person has achieved a different level of maturity. We do have the bond of Christ’s blood, and we can grow past the resentment into a deeper love and acceptance.
“For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (I John 4:20b-21).
By Jarrod Spencer –
My parents would probably tell you that I was a handful to raise. I did not do things that would have landed me in handcuffs or send me to the principal’s office. No, I was a smart aleck. My mouth caused me to be a “handful.” I remember being upset with my father and hollering down the hall, “You’re the worst father in the world!” Needless to say, my father came back and let me know he didn’t approve. My parents were smokers and when we didn’t go on a vacation one summer I told them, “If you guys wouldn’t smoke, we’d have at least $520 extra dollars a year to go on a vacation.” That didn’t go over too well, either. Still another time, when I was twenty-two years old, traveling to see my fiancé, I stayed at friends of the family overnight. Mom called to make sure I had arrived safely and I communicated to her that I didn’t need to check in with her. I was older now. This caused her to be very upset with me.
Can you see how I was a handful?
God must have been laughing at me as He knew that when I became a father I would be dealt some humbling blows. I have only been a father for three years, but have already had my fair share of humble pie pieces to eat.
The initial piece was when I saw my firstborn in the flesh and thought, “He’s mine and I’m responsible for him.” I started to feel a love that was unlike anything I’d ever felt. A love that feels pain and “hurts me more than it hurts him.” A love that loves always even when I do not like all the things he does. A love that is proud over the smallest of things.
The other pieces came in times when same said firstborn showed signs of stubbornness or a keen ability to ask for a snack or something to drink at bedtime to be allowed to stay up a few minutes more.
Looking at my son through a father’s lens has caused me to be more appreciative of my parents and what I made them endure. It has also caused me to look at myself differently by viewing what I do through God’s perspective.
PRAYER: Father, thank You for allowing me to become a parent. I’m grateful for the two kids You have blessed me with. I appreciate how my view of my parents has changed after having children. Guide me in raising my children to fear You as I fear You.
“He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge” (Proverbs 14:26 NIV).
Today’s devotional is by Jarrod Spencer. He is a seeker of God’s surprises in everyday life, looking for ways to be used by God with anyone he comes in contact with. He has a passion for encouraging people through the written word and exercises that passion with blogging and sending out a weekly text of encouragement. You can read more of his writings at http://jarrodspencer.blogspot.com and his church’s website is http://www.colbychurch.com.
By Aubrey Spencer –
I’ve become a regular at Sears. I know every appliance in the store. In fact, we are on a first name basis. I’ve met the lovely, shiny, way out of my price range, GE Profile. The fancy, bells-and-whistles, only-in-my-dreams Bosch. The Kenmores, the Maytags, the Whirlpools, and all of their “wouldn’t that look amazing in my kitchen” friends. I am not out to torture myself with endless, wishful window shopping. I’m on a mission. I’m searching for the perfect microwave: the over-the-stove, microhood kind. The one I had quit. No warning. No more warming. You wouldn’t think it would take so much effort to pick a microwave, but it has for me. I want it in a certain color. And—of course—a good price. I want it to look a certain way with the right handle, the right buttons, the right—well—everything. It has been such a tough decision. I found myself locked in the store two nights this week. That’s right, I was the last one there; the annoying shopper who holds everyone up from going home on time. You know, the one who ignores the repetitive announcements about the store closing in 10 minutes. . . 5 minutes. . . now! Not locked in just once, but twice! I did finally pick a microwave, felt happy with my decision, got relatively excited, then, found out it couldn’t be ordered. Out of stock. So, the entire process started over again!
The whole experience got me thinking. Am I putting as much effort into my prayer-life? I am a prayer-gal. I love to pray. I believe in the power of prayer. But, I have to wonder (I have to be honest), do I get lazy? Do I give up quickly when I don’t see the results I’m looking for? Do I let the devil convince me that I don’t have enough time? Am I attacking my prayers with the same fervor I did in my appliance search? Am I willing to “stay late” in the presence of my God in order to make sure that no praise is left unsaid, no detail left out, no blessing left unnoticed, no request left “on the shelf”?
Isn’t it interesting that in searching for the perfect microwave, I actually found a reheated prayer life?
PRAYER: Father, I want to make You my priority. Show me Your power and help me to not become lazy in my relationship with You.
“…pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done” (Philippians 4:6 NLT).
Today’s devotional is by Aubrey Spencer. Aubrey is a “real housewife of northwest Kansas.” She is a minister’s wife and a mom to two little miracles, Oliver and Ava. She has a passion for writing and entertaining but realizes her greatest ministry at the moment is to raise her children to be people after God’s own heart. She loves to see how God shows up in everyday situations. Read more of her writings at http://ministrymama.blogspot.com.
By Julie Morris –
The blackbirds descended suddenly on my backyard one quiet winter morning years ago. I could hardly believe my eyes as hundreds of them arrived squawking loudly to one another and perched themselves on every branch of every tree as far as my eyes could see, even in the woods behind my flowerbeds. It felt like a scene straight out of the old Hitchcock movie, The Birds.
When they arrived, I had been writing in my prayer journal. Only what I wrote wasn’t a prayer, but a gloomy list of all of the things I hated about myself: I ate too much, didn’t exercise enough, needed to pray more and watch TV less.… The list went on and on. I remember thinking at the time that this list reminded me of one I had made so many years earlier when I was a little girl. I took the list to my mother and she hugged me, and with tears in her eyes, she told me that I was precious to her just the way I was. Oh, how I longed for my mother. She had been deceased for so many years.
A quiet tug at my spirit brought me back to the present and seemed to be saying, “Pay attention to the blackbirds, because they will show you what is happening to you right now.”
Not knowing what that meant, I went back to my list and the thoughts that had been overwhelming me. I was thinking the all-too-familiar “I wasn’t good enough and never would be…” when a verse I had memorized years earlier floated into my mind. I couldn’t remember where it was or exactly what it said, but the words penetrated deep into my soul: “Who will free me from my slavery to sin? Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord! He has set me free.”
“Wow!” I said to myself, “Jesus has already freed me!” Suddenly, the shame caused by all those things on my list lifted, and I looked up and saw hundreds of blackbirds, as if on cue, instantly fly away.
Ever since then, when the blackbirds descended on me and I have felt overwhelmed by my sins and weaknesses, I have thought about those words in Romans 7:21-25 (Living Bible), “So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin. Oh, what a terrible predicament I’m in! Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature? Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free.”
Julie Morris is the author of 12 books, a dynamic motivational speaker and founder of two Christian weight-loss programs: Step Forward (www.stepforwarddiet.com) and a lighter and easier version of Step Forward, Guided By Him (www.guidedbyhim.com).
By Warren Mueller –
Have you ever felt like you are talking to yourself when you pray or that your prayers don’t seem to go any further than your ceiling? What causes this? There are several reasons. First is the belief that the quality of our prayers depend on how we feel about them. When we are hopeful and optimistic, we tend to think better of ourselves and that God is listening. When we are depressed or worried, we are more likely to become frustrated, give up or wonder where God is. However, the Bible says that we are to pray without ceasing which means that God expects us to pray whether we feel like it or not (1 Thessalonians 5:17). God is ever present and unchanging so he is not influenced by how we feel.
God may not answer our prayers because they are not in accord with his will and plans. Isaiah 55:8-9 says that God’s thoughts are not like those of mankind nor are his ways like those of man, but rather just as the heavens are higher than the earth so are God’s thoughts, view and ways beyond ours. Therefore, God may choose not to answer our prayers or he may answer them in ways that are different than what we prayed.
God may not answer our prayers because we are holding onto sinful ways. Psalm 66:18-19 says that when we cherish or hold onto sin God will not listen to our prayers. When we choose to hold onto sin, we rebel against God and evil rules in this part of our lives. Therefore, we must confess our sins and forsake them if we expect God to listen to our prayers (2 Chronicles 7:14; 1 John 1:9).
Sometimes God says yes, but the answer is delayed or slow in coming. One possible reason for this is that God wants to teach us to trust in him and learn dependence upon him so he can direct our paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). Finally, we need to remember that spiritual warfare is raging throughout this world. Satan and his demons are inciting rebellion and exerting their will. They do this through evil temptations of this world such as the pride of life which is excessive focus on getting more and better things or money. Also, evil can ensnare us through the pursuit of power and influence at the expense of relationships as well as through the weaknesses of our human nature such as selfishness, lust, greed and envy.
Daniel fasted and prayed for twenty-four days before he received an answer to his prayers (Daniel 10: 2-6). An angel appeared to him on the twenty-fourth day and told Daniel that, from the first day that he prayed, the angel was sent from God with the answers. However, the angel was held up by a demon called the prince of the Persian kingdom. This angel could not get through until help arrived in the form of the angel Michael, presumably because Daniel continued to persist in prayer (Daniel 10:12-14). This is challenging and encouraging because it shows the importance of persisting in prayer until answers are realized. How many times have we stopped praying because we have not seen any results? I wonder how many angels are stuck battling opposing demons because we do not persist in prayer.
Lord Jesus forgive us when we give up praying because it seems like you are not listening or answering. Help us to trust that you have heard our prayers and do respond to them. Help us to persist with humble dependence and hope in our prayers until your angels deliver your answers.