Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Choosing to Be Different– No Other Gods Session 1

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(First in a series of posts inspired by Kelly Minter’s Bible Study entitled No Other Gods: Confronting Our Modern-Day Idols, Lifeway Press 2012)

 Holding the cup, I shifted it from one hand to the other and tried to blend in with the crowd. I only recognized a few faces at the party since it was one of my first weeks in college. Surrounding me were many under-aged revelers happily drinking from their red cups and re-filling them from the large keg of beer in the corner. Trying to find my place in a new world, I was struggling with how to be social while maintaining my integrity. I wanted to be a light to my peers but I also wanted to fit in. I’d been wrestling with how to navigate being a part of a sorority and attending social events without dishonoring God or compromising my morals.  Finding an answer had not been easy.

Later, I called a friend who was a strong believer at another large, public university. We had similar convictions and I wondered how she navigated the party scene in the Greek system. We both wanted to fit in, make friends and be social, but we also knew the culture could easily lure us to bad choices that would lead us to a whole host of sins.

I told her about the party and how I’d accepted the cup offered to me, but hadn’t really drunk from it. She sympathized with my dilemma, but didn’t mince words, “Well, how does anyone know you’re different if you do that? You’ve just got to tell people you don’t drink.” I was surprised and convicted by her words. I’d called expecting her to tell me it was okay to blend in at the party as long as I didn’t get drunk. She explained, “If you stand out as different, someone may ask you why. That’s a great chance to share your faith and be a light in a dark place. Who knows what kind of encouragement you might give to someone who really needs it?” I’d been so focused on wanting to fit in that I hadn’t considered the impact I could have by being different.

In the weeks that followed, I began attending parties with a changed perspective. I enjoyed socializing and gained the confidence to say: “No, thanks, I don’t drink,” when someone held out a red cup to me. Some dismissed me, but others were intrigued and wanted to know why. As the weeks unfolded, people stopped pressuring me to drink. They accepted and even respected my stance. In time, I discovered there were others in the Greek system that loved Jesus and chose not to participate in the drunken revelry so prevalent in that culture. Their choice to stand out as different encouraged and emboldened me. Eventually, we banded together and, with the support of a campus ministry, launched quarterly outreach events and weekly Bible studies for the Greek system.

Our choice to honor God and not just blend in with the culture of sororities and fraternities opened the door for him to use us in powerful ways among our peers. We integrated ourselves into the system without embracing the aspects of it that would draw us away from God. We were in the world, but not of the world—choosing to set ourselves apart so that God could use us to impact and influence those around us.

I’ve thought of that season in my life many times in the years since. The story isn’t really about underage drinking; it’s meant to show what happens when we broaden our perspective about how we engage others. In each season of life, we have the opportunity to influence our culture for Christ or to be influenced by it

There is a story about God’s chosen people, the Israelites, that illustrates this in a different way:

“They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors and the statutes he had warned them to keep. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, ‘Do not do as they do.’” (2 Kings 17:5, NIV)

Contrary to my opening story, the Israelites did not remain set apart from the sinful choices of the people around them. Instead of remaining true to the God of their ancestors, they imitated other nations that didn’t follow God or value his laws.  It is a sobering reminder that if we are not intentionally seeking to influence the culture around us, then it is influencing us. There is no neutral zone.

When we mindlessly plunge in and embrace the worldviews surrounding us, we open ourselves up to many attitudes and choices that lead us further away from God. We begin to value worthless and hollow things more than the things of God. We look for satisfaction in cheap, imitation idols instead of the one, true God. The further down this road we go, the harder it is to backtrack because we start to adapt our lives to worldly perspectives instead of God’s Word. It’s so much easier to float along with the current of popular culture than it is to swim against it.

Take some time this week to think and pray about this concept. Are you seeking ways to influence others for God’s kingdom or inadvertently allowing the people around you to influence you? Be honest with God and invite him to change your perspective where it’s needed.

It may take a while to disentangle from the worldly things that have captured your time and attention, but it is never too late to change course. By God’s grace, every day is a new opportunity to realign with him and to turn your back on things that have no lasting value.

Jeremy Camp’s “Christ in Me” is an inspiring song about recognizing the hollow ways of the world and choosing to change your perspective. Make it your prayer today.

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With Every Broken Bone, I Lived

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Squeezing the handbrakes on my bike, I pulled to a stop next to my husband and scanned the trail ahead.   A stream with submerged rocks stretched across the path, still flowing after a rainy winter. We had a decision to make: press on knowing that we were going to get wet or turn back the way we came. Never ones to shy away from an adventure, we opted to continue.   There were several creeks to cross on the trail and getting muddy was inevitable. Still, it was a beautiful day and worth the time it would take to clean our bikes once we got home.

As we pressed on, I thought about what a great analogy our bike ride made for life. So often we have the choice to play things safe or to take risks knowing things might getIMG_1571 a little messy. Thinking about the blog post I would write once we returned home, I stopped several times to take pictures that I wanted to include with it.

Little did I know that our adventurous ride would end with an accident that would leave me with fractured bones, a black eye, and a bruised ego.   The worst part was that after crossing streams, climbing rocky trails and navigating challenging terrain, I fell on the street just a few blocks from home.

And yet, six weeks later, the inspiration that I discovered on that bike ride remains true. I would still rather take risks and feel truly alive than avoid them and play it safe. I’m not only talking about physical activities like mountain biking and waterskiing, I’m referring to the risks we take to grow spiritually and to spread God’s kingdom on earth.

Maybe this example will help: A little over three years ago a friend asked me to pray about  leading a Bible study with her. She wanted to reach women who had questions about God but were too intimidated to join a study held at a church. She agreed to open her home weekly if I would lead the group. The first year, we invited eight women to commit to twelve weeks.  At the end of that season, all of them wanted to continue meeting.

As I look at this group three years later, it’s evident that God has been at work in mighty ways. These women have transformed and their families are taking notice. Their kids are clamoring to go to camp with the youth group and several of their husbands are exploring faith with other men. My co-founding friend was so inspired that she organized a Bible study at her church that is now thriving.  Another group member volunteered to be the new host and co-leader with me, despite feeling hesitant and inexperienced.  A previous member that moved away now runs a study in her home.  Still another member is starting a prayer group for parents from the local high school. All of these women felt fearful and unsure of themselves, but they trusted God and took risks that are causing them to grow. And they are blessing others in the process.  A ripple effect has occurred in the group and the circles seem to be ever-widening.

Looking back, it was a huge risk for me to agree to start this group. First and foremost was the fear of being rejected. I’d been stung by people in the past when I had reached out to them and was not eager to be hurt again. I also feared the time it would take to create a study and to research answers to their questions. I worried about adding more responsibilities and relationships to my life.  I fretted about how I would handle “hot topics” and controversial issues.   If I had given into my fears and decided to play it safe, I would have missed out on so much. Pouring into these women has made me feel truly alive and filled me with joy. Watching the impact the group has had on others outside of it is awe-inspiring.  The opportunity to be used by God with this group has given me a deeper understanding of the abundant life Jesus promises in John 10:10.

The pages of Scripture are filled with examples of people who took risks for the sake of God. Most of them experienced tremendous hardships, but they also experienced profound joy and a depth of relationship with their Creator that surpassed every difficulty they faced. Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab, Ruth, Daniel, Mary, Peter, and Paul come to mind immediately.

Maybe the reason many of us are averse to taking risks today has to do with our culture’s view of hardships. We equate a “normal” life with smooth and easy living. As long as things go the way we want and expect, life is good.   We like things that are comfortable, predictable, and not too challenging.

Somehow, I don’t think this was what Jesus had in mind when he said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10b, NIV) He also said: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b, NIV)

The risks we take and the hardships we face are all a part of living an abundant life. When we embrace them and learn from them instead of lamenting them, we leave room for God to transform us. Our faith and trust in him grow deeper and others around us are impacted mightily.

Someone recently asked me if I was going to give up mountain biking as a result of my accident. The thought hadn’t ever crossed my mind. As soon as the doctor says it’s okay, I’ll be back out on the trail (when I’m not waterskiing, of course). I won’t be reckless but I’m not giving up activities that make me feel alive, even if they have the potential to cause injury.

The other day I heard a song that made me smile because it characterizes risk-taking in a positive light  (it also gave me the inspiration for this post’s title). Click on the link and enjoy “I Lived” by OneRepublic.

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Working Together for Truth- What Love is Week 6

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Driving through the city on a sunny afternoon, I watched from the passenger seat as familiar sites rolled by my window…ornate Victorian houses, clanging cable cars, trendy stores, chic cafés, and tiny gardens sandwiched between tall buildings. A few blocks further down, the picturesque scene transformed as we passed liquor stores, empty lots filled with trash and raggedy people sleeping in doorways. One group leaned against a graffiti-covered wall smoking cigarettes and drinking from bottles tucked inside paper bags. A few kids skipped past them down the sidewalk, their fresh faces providing a sharp contrast to the bleak surroundings.

For most people, scenes like these cause different emotions to bubble to the surface. Some turn their heads, preferring not to engage the conflicting feelings that may arise. Others look on in compassion, but feel poorly equipped to bring help and hope to kids living in a neighborhood struggling with such vast problems.

Although I’ve felt both of both of those things at different times, that day I felt hopeful. I thought of the letter sitting at home on my kitchen counter from a little boy in that neighborhood. My family had just begun sponsoring him and I pictured the Christian school that he attends that is part of a ministry bringing the light of Jesus to that spiritually impoverished neighborhood. The people serving there have willing hearts and years of experience that enable them to engage the neighborhood with love and care. And as you might expect, they often have more needs than resources to fill them.

A ministry’s need is a believer’s opportunity to act. In the book of Third John, the apostle John addresses this idea of supporting people in ministry to bring the light of God’s truth into the darkness of the world. He describes several leaders that he sent to the church to teach them.  Although these people were strangers to the the congregation, the church members welcomed and housed them.  John praises these actions saying,

“Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.” (3 John 5-8, NIV)

Though times have changed, this encouragement from John is as relevant and applicable today as it was then. God calls followers of Jesus to work together for truth in both direct and indirect ways. It takes one passionate person to obey God’s call to start a ministry, but it takes the encouragement and tangible support of a larger body of believers to implement the vision.

Maybe reading this causes you to feel overwhelmed trying grasp what part you can play in coming alongside a person or ministry to further the gospel.   There are numerous ways to partner with others bringing the message of truth to our world, whether it is sharing your financial resources, offering consistent prayer support, or volunteering your time. Will you commit to praying about where God might be calling you to provide faithful support for people serving in Jesus’ name?

The Lord often prompts us to give back to the places we’ve been blessed or calls us to intervene in situations that break our hearts. Where is he drawing your attention right now? To help you get started, you’ll see a list below of a few ministries that have touched me personally.

-Sonshine Specialized Camping Ministries: This ministry was a key part of building my faith foundation and developing my spiritual gifts in my teens and twenties. Founded in 1975, this ministry has a passion for sharing Jesus with groups of students away from the bustle of daily life on houseboats at Lake Shasta and the Sacramento Delta.   They could not exist without support from people who partner with them financially and in prayer.

For more on Sonshine Ministries, click here:http://www.sonshineministries.com/35-YEARS.html

-Cru (Formerly named Campus Crusade for Christ): The mentoring and Bible studies led by their staff members solidified my faith and equipped me for ministry in my college years and beyond. Founded in 1951 on the campus of UCLA, this ministry’s goal has been to share the gospel with college students as part of fulfilling the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. Today Cru has a ministry presence in 190 countries.    Staff members are responsible for raising all of their living expenses by inviting people to partner with them.

For more on Cru click here: https://www.cru.org/about/what-we-do/milestones.1.html

-San Francisco City Impact: Founded in 1984, this ministry exists to intervene on behalf of the people in the inner city of San Francisco and is fueled by a love for Jesus and a passion for prayer. This ministry provides for the needs of the underprivileged through a school, a health and wellness clinic, a rescue mission and more.  Partnering with this ministry gives me an outlet to impact people who are in heartbreaking circumstances.

For more on SFCI, click here: http://www.sfcityimpact.com/sfciplaybook

-Samaritan’s Purse: Since 1970, Samaritan’s Purse has helped meet needs of people around the world who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Partnering with this ministry gives me the opportunity to act when tragic events occur all over the world.

For more information on Samaritan’s Purse, click here: http://www.samaritanspurse.org/our-ministry/about-us/#

Some of us may feel we lack the gifts or experience to engage the types of people ministries like these serve.   However, there are simple ways we can come alongside them. We may start by investing our finances and then go deeper by committing to pray. And the more we invest, the more open we’ll become to giving our time and eventually discovering gifts we may have that that would bless them. Best of all, doing this is a perfect way to demonstrate our love for God through obedience to his word.

For further inspiration about partnering with others for the sake of the truth, click on the link and enjoy Matthew West’s song “Do Something.”

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Inspired by Holy Week

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As one of the most significant times of the year for Christians, Holy Week marks the final days of Jesus’ pre-resurrection life on earth. As we observe each unique event, Jesus’ actions provide some powerful examples for us to follow. Let’s examine three of them and see how we’re called to respond.

Maundy Thursday- The Call to Serve Others

The gospels tell us that Jesus gathered with his disciples in an upper room of a home in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover meal. You may remember that this special dinner commemorated God’s faithfulness to the Jews as they fled from Egypt under Moses’ leadership (see Exodus 12 if you need reminder). Ironically, the disciples had no idea Jesus was about to serve as their ultimate Passover lamb the next day when he would be crucified.

Scripture tells us that as the disciples enjoyed the meal, Jesus got up, removed his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist and began washing his disciples’ feet one at a time. Despite the fact that he was their teacher and the most revered person at the table, he humbled himself, taking on the role of a servant.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.’” (John 13:12-17, NIV)

Jesus’ directions to his disciples were simple, but not easy: they were called to live as humble servants, putting the needs of others ahead of their own. Those following him today are called to the same thing. We do this as an act of love and obedience to God, whether others appreciate it or not. Jesus promised that we would be blessed by living this way.

Good Friday- The Call to Sacrifice Your Agenda

A few hours after the Passover meal and before he was arrested, Jesus pleaded with God as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He dreaded the fate that awaited him:

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’…He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done’…So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.” (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44, NIV)

The “cup” Jesus referred to here was a symbol the deep sorrow and suffering he would experience as his Father’s faced turned away from him while he bore the penalty for the sins of the entire human race.  Despite knowing the physical, emotional and spiritual pain that awaited him, Jesus surrendered to God’s plan of redemption, put aside his own will and submitted to death on the cross to save the world from sin.*

Like Jesus, we’re called to sacrifice our agendas for a greater good. Then [Jesus] said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23, NIV)

Each time we choose to put aside our will and submit to God’s, we are fulfilling the call to deny ourselves. Doing this requires that we are intentional about praying and asking God to give us strength and guidance for the daily choices we make, both small and large.

Easter Sunday- The Call to Share the Good News

 On the third day after his crucifixion, Jesus rose from the grave, conquering death forever more. He appeared to his amazed followers and told them to share the good news of his resurrection and his message of salvation with the rest of the world.

 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:19-22, NIV)

Just as God sent Jesus to the world to free it from sin, Jesus sent his disciples back into the world to share this tremendous news with others.

Our Response

 It’s not easy to follow Jesus’ example. Serving others, sacrificing our personal agendas and sharing the good news aren’t things we can do consistently on our own strength. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed or inadequate, don’t forget the fact that Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit and promised us peace. Through the Spirit, we have everything we need to walk as Jesus did. Start today by praying and asking the Spirit to equip you with exactly what you need. Once you realize he is the key to fulfilling these calls, you’ll never try to do it without him again.

If you’re not sure how to pray, consider making Jeremy Camp’s song “Christ in Me” your prayer today. Click on the link to be inspired:

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Three Responses to the World- What Love Is, Week 2

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Frowning, I rifled through the clothes hanging in my closet. Despite the many things I had to choose from, nothing felt quite “right” for the occasion. My husband and I were preparing for an event with a group of people that often stirred up my insecurities. On the surface they seemed so flawless to me with their fashionable clothes, successful careers and beautiful homes. Any time I was around them I felt like an outsider pretending that I belonged.

After choosing an outfit that seemed marginally acceptable, I sat down to work on Day 5 in Kelly Minter’s What Love Is Bible study. Conviction pricked at my heart as I read: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15-17, NIV)

I thought about the people I’d be seeing in a few hours. Most of them had achieved great success from a worldly perspective, yet they knew nothing of God. They had no clue about what it meant to live for what lasts. I felt convicted realizing I’d been so busy preparing my clothes to fit in with them that I’d forgotten to prepare my heart so that God could use me to impact them.

Navigating the divide between worldiness and godliness is tricky for followers of Jesus. How do we interpret Scriptures that condemn worldly thinking when we have to interact with people who embrace it every day? I think there are three main ways Christians respond to this.

The Covert Christian

There is a contingent of believers that engages easily with non-believers in worldly situations. Sometimes they become so adept at fitting in, no one would ever know they held different beliefs than the rest of the crowd. Their reasons for doing this are varied—some are insecure and afraid to stand out, others don’t want to be labeled or judged, still others want to remain culturally relevant to show the world that Christians aren’t a bunch of weirdos. Some aren’t confident in their knowledge of Scripture or their ability to defend their faith and decide it’s just easier to stay quiet. And some just want to have fun and ignore deeper issues. (Most of my knowledge with this category comes from first hand experience.)

There is an appropriate time and place to be subtle in our faith. Developing a relationship over time and letting a person see Jesus in your life can be a powerful and effective witness. However, many covert Christians never reach this point because they’ve become so adept at blending in, no one sees anything different in them. For the “covert” approach to work effectively, it’s important to pray for the people in the worldly circles you frequent. If you’ve compartmentalized your faith and it only shows with your Christian friends, your unbelieving friends are missing out. Pray and look for opportunities to influence your worldly friends and acquaintances more than they are influencing you.

The Holy Huddler

Another contingent of believers chooses to remove themselves from the world and its influences as much as possible. They prefer to create a bubble of comfort that insulates them from anything they see as a threat to their faith. They spend time with only Christians doing Christian activities. They keep their kids away from any exposure to the outside world or people with views that differ from theirs.

While the Bible does call us to be “set apart, ” there is a problem when we take this mentality to an extreme. Our lives should look different when we follow Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid anyone who doesn’t know him. On the contrary, we should be seeking opportunities to influence them. John 3:16, perhaps the most famous verse in Scripture, tells us that God loved the world so much he sent his only son to save it. If God was willing to do this, then we need to follow his example by reaching out to the world. Holy huddles can be comfortable places to find rejuvenation when the world makes us weary, but we aren’t meant to remain in them indefinitely.

The Intentional Influencer

A Christian with this mindset has a healthy balance between pursuing godliness and impacting the world. They are growing deep in Christian relationships and continually being sharpened and challenged so they can engage the world effectively. They look at their involvements in secular activities as opportunities to develop relationships with non-believers, with the ultimate goal of showing them God’s love and leading them toward a relationship with him. Intentional influencers know they need to work in concert with other believers so they can use their different gifts to impact a community. They realize they need others to pray with them strategically and to partner with them for greater impact in the world.

Intentional influencers are living proof of Jesus’ prayer for all believers: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23, NIV)

 A Final Thought

Depending on circumstances, you may cycle through each of these perspectives at different times in your life. If one of the descriptions made you squirm with discomfort, take some time to pray and ask God how to respond.   Let him know you’re open to his perspective and that you’re willing to change with his help.

For some great examples of what it looks like to live a life of impact and influence for God, click on the link and listen to “God is On the Move” by 7enventh Time Down.

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Foreigners to Faith- Women of the Word Part 7

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Sitting on the edge of the couch, she perched the large Bible on her knees. She’d broken the seal on the shrink-wrap moments earlier and was examining the sturdy leather cover and the gold-edged pages. Looking up with a sheepish grin she explained, “Buying this was one of the most awkward things I’ve ever done. I felt like an Eskimo shopping at a bikini store.” The group laughed as she continued, “No, seriously. I was sure someone in the Christian bookstore was going to say I had no business buying this Bible and that I didn’t really belong there.”

It was the first week of a new Bible study I’d started with a friend. Ten women sat clutching cups of coffee as they nestled into the couch and introduced themselves. Some were exploring faith for the first time, others had grown up in the church but had never really understood the Bible. All of them agreed to join my friend and I as we led them on a twelve-week “experiment” to explore the Bible together and discuss questions about the Christian faith. They were earnest seekers and most of them had one thing in common: they felt like strangers and outsiders to the world of faith.

Our twelve weeks of study flew by and they all agreed things were just starting to make sense. They were unanimous in their desire to continue. When the first year came to an end, they clamored for more, returning the next fall eager to continue learning and growing. As time passed, they moved from being strangers to God and His Word to being earnest believers in the midst of life transformation. Most had never realized just how inclusive God is and how much He wants authentic relationships with the people He lovingly created.  They were excited to share their newfound knowledge and wanted to expand our group to include other seekers.

I thought about this precious group of women with a smile as I read the story of Ruth recently. Scripture tells us she, too, began as a foreigner–an outsider who wanted to belong. Her faith in God and devotion to her Jewish mother-in-law prompted her to leave her homeland and travel to Bethlehem after the death of their husbands. Forsaking her family and culture, Ruth told Naomi, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16b, NIV) We don’t know what drew her to the God of the Israelites, but her devotion was sincere and she remained true to her word.

Despite her dedication to her mother-in-law and God, the Jews probably didn’t welcome Ruth warmly when she arrived in Bethlehem. After years of being admonished to remain “set apart,” they could have been wary about accepting Naomi’s foreign daughter-in-law into their community. The people had been taught not to intermarry with foreigners to prevent tainting their faith with pagan depravity and idol worship. However, this viewpoint may have caused them to view outsiders with condescension, suspicion or fear. Although she had accepted the God of Israel, Ruth’s status as a foreigner kept her on the fringes of the community.

In spite of her marginalized position, Ruth had to mix with others to provide for Naomi and herself. With few prospects for employment, she did the only thing a reputable, poor, widow could do: she gleaned in the fields. Every day she walked behind hired hands to collect leftover grain. It was exhausting and potentially dangerous work for a lone woman with no protector, but it was the only option she had if she wanted to eat.

Through her hard work, humble spirit and dedication to Naomi, Ruth began to gain favor with Boaz, the owner of the fields where she worked. He said, “You left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (Ruth 2:11b-12, NIV)

The praise Boaz gave to Ruth was not based on her bloodline or her country of origin, but upon her heart and her character. This was the first step toward a new chapter in her life story. Eventually she went from being an outsider to marrying Boaz and being welcomed into the community. She was grafted into the most esteemed family tree among the Israelites. It grew from Abraham and would be in full bloom with the birth of Jesus, the Messiah.

Boaz saw Ruth’s heart because God saw her heart. Scripture confirms: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b, NIV)

Perhaps their story could inspire us to consider the “foreigners to faith” in our midst every day. There are people all around us on the fringe looking for a place to belong and be loved. Like Ruth, they might be willing to risk venturing onto “foreign soil” to discover God and His Word. But they need observant and sensitive people like Boaz to notice. Are we praying, asking God to open our eyes and lead us to them?

“Through him we received both the generous gift of his life and the urgent task of passing it on to others who receive it by entering into obedient trust in Jesus.” (Romans 1:5, The Message)

Maybe you already know how exciting it is to lead someone to the hope found in Jesus. Or maybe you’ve never considered how you could be used for God’s redemptive work in the life of a “foreigner to faith.” Wouldn’t it be amazing to hear them share their story and to know you were part of it? Click on the link and imagine the impact God could make through you as you listen to “My Story” by Big Daddy Weave.

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Proactive Prayer

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Baring its sharp teeth, the dog growled menacingly as it stood poised to attack. Fear had gripped my friend and me as we walked past it each day on our way home from elementary school.   Usually we would reassure one another by pointing out the long metal chain that was stretched taut as the dog strained against it. However, on this particular day, my stomach lurched as we noticed the chain was slack. The snarling dog had finally succeeded in breaking free. Before we had time to react, it lunged for my friend, pinning her to the ground. Panicked, my seven-year-old mind cycled through the options: Should I try to pull the dog off? No, I wasn’t strong enough and we’d probably both get hurt. Should I knock on someone’s door for help? No, I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers. Should I run to get my friend’s mom? Her house was several blocks away, but it seemed like the only sensible option. Beginning to cry, I stumbled down the street before stopping abruptly to turn back. How could I leave her like this? “God, please help!” I cried out in desperation. Shocked, I watched as the dog stepped away from my friend and calmly walked back into its yard, dragging the broken chain behind it.

My cry for help had unleashed the power of heaven on a quiet suburban street that day. As a first grader, I knew little about theology or the Bible, but I knew God loved me. I’d been reassured that Jesus was always with me because I’d invited Him into my heart. Difficult situations often lead us to seek God. I guess I experienced it first on that on that spring day at age seven.

The story of the dog attack stayed with me through the years and left me in awe of God’s power. I knew He was there for me and could help me in times of desperation and trials. However, it was not until much later that I understood prayer isn’t just something to engage reactively when we are in the midst of hard situations. God also invites us to look ahead and pray proactively about things yet to unfold. Proactive prayers anticipate future situations, both good and bad. They help to prepare us and invite God to intervene in advance.

The apostle Paul knew this. Throughout his writings, he repeatedly asked for prayer.   We see this in both letters to the church at Thessalonica:

“Brothers and sisters, pray for us.” (1 Thessalonians 5:25, NIV)

“As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1, NIV)

If I’m honest, I’ll admit that Paul’s requests for prayer are so frequent I don’t usually notice them. Until recently, I’d skim over his opening and closing comments so I could focus on the meat of his teaching. However, I now recognize the vital role prayer played in his ministry.   The message of the gospel spread through the Roman Empire not because of Paul’s skills or efforts but because of God’s power unleashed through prayer. Beth Moore explains it this way: “Not one inspired writer of the New Testament letters had more to say about prayer. He did not sit smugly back, presuming that Jesus would fulfill His purpose through him with little proactive effort on his part. He pressed in and prayed hard. To Paul, prayer was part of the necessary means even to a divinely foreordained end.” (Children of the Day, p. 192)

Praying proactively is about receiving what God has promised in His Word. It claims what He’s already said is ours for the taking. This kind of prayer isn’t about asking God to do what we want–it’s meant to make our perspectives line up with His. I’ll give you a few examples to clarify. Afterwards you can share your own in the comments at the bottom of this post.

The Desires of Our Hearts

Psalm 37:4 makes this promise: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (NIV) I used to read this and not see how the first phrase informed the second. I thought something like this: Sure, I delight in God, so why doesn’t He give me this thing I want? Now I understand that when we take delight in the Lord, it means we are aligning our hearts with His. The desires of our hearts are also the desires of His heart. We know His heart by studying His Word. For example, we know that He values families and that He wants us to tell our children about Him so that they can love Him and know Him: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, NIV)

My desires for my children have changed over time as my understanding of God has grown. Instead of praying only about their circumstances, I pray more about their hearts. I pray they will value God’s Word and long for a deeper relationship with Him. I pray they will have teachable hearts and be open to the ways the Lord wants to work in and through their lives. I pray that they will delight in Jesus as I delight in Him. I pray they will become men of integrity and character. That is the desire of my heart. Of course I want them to have healthy relationships and a good education. I want them to launch and become successful adults, but I believe the most important thing I can pray is that they will love God and value His Word. God’s Word assures me He wants the same for them.

Fulfilling His Call

Paul was called to share the gospel among the gentiles. He asked for prayer that the message would “spread rapidly and be honored” (2 Thessalonians 3:6, NIV). As followers of Jesus, we are all called to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19, NIV). Each of us has a part to play in sharing the gospel with others, whether or not we have the gift of evangelism. If this sounds daunting, remember that we do this through the power of the Spirit, not our own abilities. When we ask the Lord to identify people He wants to love through us, He will answer that prayer. Our job is to abide in Him and take action when He reveals someone who is ready to hear the good news. Second Peter 3:9 assures us that God doesn’t want anyone to perish, so we can pray with confidence knowing that asking for help us share His love is the very thing He wants us to do.

Changing Our Hearts, Not Just Our Circumstances

Without a doubt, the default mode of most people is to pray about their circumstances. The situations we face every day shape our attitudes, our relationships and our actions. It’s tempting to pray and ask God to fix or change difficult and frustrating situations. While this isn’t a bad thing to pray, it’s overlooking the fact that our circumstances have much to teach us. I think that’s Paul’s point when he says “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV) Instead of praying for our circumstances and waiting to see if/when/ how God is going to work in them, we can try changing our perspectives with these simple prayers:

“God, show me what you want me to learn through this.”

“God, refine my character.”

“God, reveal yourself to me.”

“God, help me to show your love, mercy and grace to others who are going through this hard thing with me.”

“God, be glorified in this situation and reveal how You are using it for good.” (See Romans 8:28)

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalm 139:23, NIV)

Praying proactively requires us to step outside our current circumstances and to have an eternal perspective. It also means we need to study the Bible so that we can know God’s will and pray for His kingdom to spread on earth. His power is within reach, but we get to decide whether or not we want to receive it.

Praying opens the floodgates of Heaven, enabling us to access God’s glory and power. For more inspiration, click on the link to hear Meredith Andrews’ song “Open Up the Heavens.”