Monday, August 2, 2021

Finding Beauty in the Midst of the Ugliness


Every time I go to the beach, it’s like a spiritual experience: Observing the waves crashing on the shore. Enjoying a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Seeing footprints someone has left in the sand. Watching a sailboat harness the breeze to skim across the water. These all are wondrous sights, giving me a renewed appreciation for the wonders and variety of God’s creation. 

Probably my favorite is the sight of pelicans soaring in the wind, diving to catch a fish, or bobbing peacefully in the ebbs and flows of the ocean. Pelicans are a paradox of sorts, rather ugly birds up close, with long, slender beaks, beady eyes, and mouths that sag under the weight of a just inhaled meal. Not nearly as majestic as a bald eagle or captivating as a cardinal. And yet, when flying together, riding the air currents in perfect unison, they transform into visions of unquestionable grandeur.

 

I'd imagine these winged creatures experience a sense of joy and fulfillment as they soar in tandem, doing what they were uniquely designed to do. I’d never expect anyone to adopt the slogan, “pretty as a pelican.” But seeing these seabirds frolicking so effortlessly through the air, especially with a blazing sky at sunset as a backdrop, is exhilarating. 

This is kind of a metaphor for the Church. Not all of us are beautiful blue jays, proud peacocks or songbirds festooned in feathery splendor. Some of us are more like the peculiar pelican or comical penguins; a few among us bear a suspicious resemblance to vultures. But when we come together in unity and harmony, blending our distinctive talents, skills and gifts, we can become a wondrous spiritual body that powerfully reflects the divine traits of our Creator.

 

The psalmist writes, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). While we typically ascribe this to humanity, I don’t see any reason for not applying this description to all of His works. Because in Romans 1:20 we’re told, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

 

But getting back to the Church – the body of Christ – and the crazy, quirky folks that comprise it, even though individually many of us aren’t all that much to look at, when we merge to perform a spiritual symphony for the Lord, the melody that results is unforgettable.

 

We find the apostle Paul describing this, but using another metaphor – the human body: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts, and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ…. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ and the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor…. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

 

When the odd-looking pelicans align in formation as they catch the wind, they are doing so in silent praise to God. Working together in symmetry to fulfill His purpose and design for them. We can do the same when we too come together to convey – verbally and non-verbally – Jesus’ eternal, life-changing message of forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation. Psalm 133:1 declares, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!”

 

Unity seems to be a much-neglected quality in our society these days, and the spirit of disunity has trickled down into the Church. If only we could become more like pelicans, casting aside our differences and idiosyncrasies to form a vision of oneness for all the world to see.

 

As Paul wrote, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Timing Isn’t Everything, But It’s Important

The adage informs us that “timing is everything.” I’m sure there’s quite a bit of truth to that, but sometimes it gets a bit confusing.

 

For instance, we’ve probably all experienced being in the right place at the right time. I remember applying for a job once just as the previous editor of the newspaper had resigned. My timing couldn’t have been better. It turned out to be a great job for me, a giant step along my career path.

 

However, we also hear about people being at the right place at the wrong time. Does that mean arriving at the right airport gate, but five minutes after the plane had begun to taxi down the runway? Or applying for a job right after it's been filled?

 

We often hear about people being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Tragic crimes that happen outside a bar at 2:30 in the morning come immediately to mind. Wrong place – and definitely the wrong time. But what about being at the wrong place at the right time? Is there ever a right time to be at the wrong place? 

 

I’ve been pondering the whole timing is everything thing. Especially concerning our relationship with God. Take, for example, the account of Jesus; His friend Lazarus, who was gravely ill; and his sisters, Mary and Martha. In John 11 it says, “the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’” By this time, Jesus’ healing powers were well-known, so the sisters obviously were begging for help.

Did Jesus tell His followers, “Drop everything, guys, Lazarus is really sick. We need to go assist him immediately”? Nope. Instead, Jesus responded, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Then, even though He fully understood the sisters’ distress and their urgent plea, the passage says, “He stayed where He was two more days.” 

 

Wow! The first time I read this passage, it made me think of the sarcastic EMT who quipped, “When seconds count, we’re only minutes away!” But Jesus knew what He was doing. He wasn’t uncaring, nor was He indifferent. He had a plan.

 

After the two days He announced, “Let us go back to Judea…. Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples, often a clueless bunch, shrugged their shoulders. “‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’” So Jesus clarified the situation:“Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 

 

If you’re familiar with the “rest of the story,” Jesus arrived after Lazarus had already been in his tomb for four days. The two sisters separately ran to greet him, but both declared, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” He went to the tomb and, observing the grief of the sisters and Lazarus’s other family members and friends, did what’s described by the Bible’s shortest verse: “Jesus wept.”

 

However, His tears were not in mourning for his deceased friend; they reflected the empathy He felt for those who grieved, and also for the pain of a world ravaged by sin. Because Jesus’ next step was to raise Lazarus from the dead, stating why He had waited to respond: “…that they may believe that [God the Father] sent Me.”

 

Even though this story happened 2,000 years ago, there’s much we can learn from it for today. It’s not just about Jesus’ miraculous powers, although that’s significant enough. It also dramatically demonstrates why God’s timing frequently isn’t the same as ours.

 

We pray for the healing of a diseased loved one, implying, “and right now, please.” Or we pray to find a job – or a new one – and wonder why the Lord seems so slow in answering. We pray about a difficult marriage, broken relationships, or financial struggles, and fret because God doesn’t seem to be paying attention.

 

If the Lord were to explain to us at those moments – and He’s under no obligation to explain anything He does – He might indeed say, “Timing is everything.” He may be ordering circumstances to provide us with an answer that surpasses what we were asking for, because He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

 

God also might be timing His response so that when it comes, there can be no doubt that He is the source of the solution. In the passage about Jesus and Lazarus, the Lord told Mary, Martha and His other followers, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40).

 

We were created to love the Lord, to trust Him, and as an opening statement from the old Westminster Confession says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Since this doesn’t come to us naturally, sometimes the best way He can teach this to us is through His divine and perfect timing. Even Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection took place “at just the right time” (Romans 5:6).

 

So as we consider whether “timing is everything,” we can trust that the God who knows everything also knows the right timing. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Three Questions That Make All the Difference

My friend, Ken, is a colorful character. He’s a Marine (retired, but once a Marine always a Marine), a Vietnam veteran with medals to document his heroism in battle, along with scars – both physical and emotional – he will carry with him until his dying day. Following his wartime service he became highly successful in real estate. As he puts it, “I could turn manure into gold.” 

His life, goals and values changed dramatically, however, when he committed his life to Jesus Christ more than 40 years ago. Money and success were no longer driving factors in his life. Ken found the fallacy of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” often observing, “After Jesus, I could turn gold into manure.” But if you were to ask, he’d tell you – as earnestly as possible – none of that matters anymore.
 
Instead, Ken’s life today is guided by three dominating questions. They are:
    1.    Do you really believe that people without Christ go to hell forever?
    2.    If you believe that – do you care?
    3.    If you care, what are you doing about it?

He isn’t just talk. For nearly four decades Ken has been actively investing in the lives of others, walking with them through problems and helping them to realize that even when circumstances seem hopeless, they can turn to the Lord for solutions they couldn’t have imagined possible. 
 
One particular segment of society he’s working with consists of military veterans who have also struggled with the scars from combat. Through his work, these wounded individuals are finding new hope and peace through Jesus Christ, both for the present and for the life yet to come.
 
I’ve met hundreds of men and women having similar zeal, an overriding devotion to telling others about the life-saving, life-transforming power of Jesus. Living in an age when an increasing number of people show no respect for the name of Jesus Christ at all, it’s good to know folks like these. The more the better.
 
Years ago another friend, the late Ted DeMoss, traveled all across the U.S. and around the world for one purpose: To tell people about Jesus Christ. Countless men and women were introduced to their Savior and Lord through Ted’s ministry, and many are carrying on his legacy today.
 
Often during his talks, Ted would recite a portion of a poem that reflected his passion for helping people discover how to have a true, eternal relationship with God:
    “When in the mansions above, 
    The saved all around us appear,
    I must hear someone say, 
    'It was you who invited me here.’”
 
This isn’t about persuading someone to accept our point of view, or alter their belief system. It’s about the recognition that when Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He wasn’t being exclusionary. Jesus was announcing there’s only one way to an eternal, personal relationship with God – yet it’s available to everyone willing to accept it. As John 1:12 declares, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God."
 
The question is, how will people find out about this? Who will tell them? “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can their believe in the one whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?... ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15). We don’t have to be preachers or missionaries to engage in the joyous work of telling others about Christ; we’re all called to participate in this – in the “mission fields” where God has placed us.
 
But what’s our motivation? Why bother? Aren’t there enough churches, religious TV and radio shows, films, books and Internet sites to disseminate this information? It’s not about information, or knowledge. It’s about truth, and seeing that truth lived out through the lives of people genuinely and consistently following Jesus. As another poem says so poignantly, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” When people see our love for Christ, and His love for others being expressed through us, many will become drawn to Him.
 
It must start, however, with our love for the Lord. As the apostle Paul wrote, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all…that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Because of what He has done for us, we in turn understand the urgency of telling others.
 
Do you believe that people without Christ are destined to suffer an eternity separated from God and His glorious eternal kingdom? Do you care? And if so, are you doing anything about it?

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Going Against the Flow Not a Popular Route to Take

Videos of salmon swimming upstream to spawn or reproduce have always intrigued me. I’ve never witnessed this phenomenon firsthand, but the images of these fish going against the current, sometimes leaping into the air along their journey, are captivating. Here are animals intentionally going against the flow, driven by natural instinct. They’re following a familiar scent that leads back to where they were born.

 

Humans sometimes go against the flow too, but it’s not an instinctive response and has nothing to do with our places of birth. This might be motivated by a desire to be non-conformists. We saw a lot of that in the 1960s, when hippies took a stand for non-conformity with their long hair, flowers, tie-dye shirts and bell-bottomed trousers. Ironically, their non-conformity became conformity to the established hippie culture.

 

The 'Against the Current' T-shirt produced
by "The Chosen" aptly represents
the course Christ asks us to take.
Countering the culture is a genuine reason for swimming upstream or going against the flow. A great verse in the Bible is Roman 12:2, which says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” One paraphrase from years ago put it this way: “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.”

This always has been, and probably always will be, a challenge for the people of God. The Scriptures provide us with many examples, but one in particular comes to mind.

 

First, let me ask a question: How many of the Israelite “spies,” sent into the Promised Land to check things out, can you name? I suspect at most you can name only two: Joshua and Caleb. Have you ever heard of Shammua, Shaphat, Igal, Palti, Gaddiel, Gaddi, Ammiel, Sethur, Nahbi, or Geuel? Probably not.

 

There’s a good reason for this, and it’s not just because they had unusual names. All of these men are listed in Numbers 13:3-15, and it says each was a leader, so they apparently had some notable qualities. But among them, only two – Joshua and Caleb – were willing to go against the current. After exploring the lush and beautiful land God had promised them, the other 10 returned and said, “the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large…. We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are” (Numbers 13:28-29,31).

 

The givers of the first “minority report,” Joshua and Caleb, insisted, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it” (Numbers 13:30), but the majority’s appraisal was adopted. As a result, the Israelites were consigned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years; the only ones from the spy expedition who actually found homes in the Promised Land were – Joshua and Caleb.


We could cite many other examples: Joseph, Daniel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah and others in the Old Testament. Most of Jesus' original disciples, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Stephen, Paul and others in the New.

 

If you catch any of the episodes of the unique video series, “The Chosen” – which I highly recommend – you’ll notice an animated “logo” of a school of fish swimming in one direction, and then one by one, individual fish reversing course and starting to go the other way. This imagery represents Jesus’ calling of His followers and how they, like salmon swimming against the current, bravely chose to follow Him rather than their traditions and the prevailing culture.

 

Even though some of His disciples came from fishing backgrounds, Jesus used another metaphor to represent the difficult and sacrificial route they would have to take. He said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

 

Today, not much has changed. Our nation, once anchored in a Judeo-Christian culture, now seems bent on taking a totally different course, one that in many ways contradicts and even rebels against the time-honored, time-tested teachings of the Bible. Which brings – or will bring – each of us to an important point of decision.

 

Will we, like the determined salmon, undertake the hard work of going against the current? Or will we “go with the flow,” the path of least resistance, because it seems easier that way? There’s a “wide gate and narrow road” that most folks seem eager to take. The “small gate and narrow road” Jesus talked about, however, is the only one that lead to life – the “abundant life” He promised in John 10:10.

 

We each need to ask the honest and tough question, “Which way am I going?” And even if we’re presently following the path Jesus suggested, are we determined to stay on it – no matter what? 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Positive Thinking Powerful When Thinking Positively the Right Way

Years ago, Norman Vincent Peale wrote a very popular self-help book, The Power of Positive Thinking, when self-help books weren’t yet all that popular. While it received criticism from some mental health experts, theologians and academics, his book explored 10 helpful rules for “overcoming inadequacy attitudes and learning to practice faith.”

 

Among these were visualizing oneself succeeding; drowning out negative thoughts with positive thoughts; not attempting to duplicate others, and recognizing the role God plays in achieving our goals. To be honest, I skimmed the book many years ago, so I don’t recall much of it. But even nearly 70 years since Peale’s book was published, many of his points make good, common sense – to a point.

For instance, picturing ourselves finding success in our chosen pursuits is definitely preferable to envisioning our efforts ending in failure. I have a friend who often quips, “I’m a positive thinker. I’m positive things are going to get worse.” We don’t want to be our own self-fulfilling prophecies. 

 

Comparing ourselves to others and seeking to replicate their accomplishments can also be self-defeating. I’ve learned that during this hard-knocks life. I can’t be someone else, just as they can’t be me. Psalm 139:14 declares, we each are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We’re unique, not only in how we look but also in the way we think, our innate talents, our experiences, the skills we cultivate, and the spiritual gifts God entrusts to us. So trying to copy others can result in our rejection of how the Lord has uniquely designed us.

 

And if you’ve read these posts for very long, you know I’m all in about the belief that God wants to be directly and personally involved in every aspect of our lives. In his book, Peale asked his readers to repeat, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” 10 times every day. Taken from Philippians 4:13, a more contemporary translation is, “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” This is certainly valid biblical assurance we can trust – although I’m not sure we need to turn it into a mantra.

 

Ultimately, the strength of positive thinking depends on the basis for such thinking. If we adopt a “think happy thoughts” or “don’t worry, be happy” mindset, our apple carts are sure to become upset at some point. Because from the moment we’re born, life is tough; and often it gets harder from there. But if our trust – our faith – is centered on the God of all eternity, His sovereignty, faithfulness, love, grace, mercy, holiness and righteousness, we have every reason for thinking positively.

 

We live in a world that bombards us with negative thinking and information. We wake up and if we’re foolish enough to turn on the news, we’ll want to jump back in bed, pull the covers over our heads and stay there. Sadly, the atmosphere in some homes is negative as well. As someone has said, it’s hard to soar with the eagles when you’re walking with turkeys. 

 

Cultivating a positive attitude toward oneself can help to a degree, but that can’t safeguard us from events and circumstances that are beyond our control. The most positive attitude in the world won’t help a 6-foot-6, 275-pound person to become a world-class jockey. Sometimes our picnics get rained out no matter how positively we think.

 

But as we study the Scriptures, examining and meditating on the life of Jesus Christ, as well as learning about His children – sins, warts and all – we find the best source for learning to think positively. I’ve long appreciated the counsel of the apostle Paul, who wrote, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

 

Each of these adjectives aptly describes the Lord Jesus, and the more we can focus our thoughts on Him and His example, the better our lives will be. We also find incredible treasures in His teachings, whether it’s His so-called Sermon on the Mount or the many other interactions He had with people during His earthly ministry.

 

There was the time Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees, a self-righteous, self-assured group of Jewish leaders, who decided to test Him with what they considered a trick question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36). They probably figured that if the Lord singled out one commandment, they could challenge Him on why He didn’t think others were just as important.

 

But Jesus wisely responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

In this, He was not only summarizing all of the commandments and their intent, but also giving us a simple template for positive thinking: Love God with all we have, and let love and concern for others be the governing factor in our actions and decisions. If we’re thinking the right way, we’ll find positive thinking imbued with limitless power. Power from above. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

No One Really Wins in Waging the War of Words

Contrary to what some would have us to believe, former President Donald Trump didn’t invent the practice of being snarky, demeaning and disparaging toward people he didn’t like. He’s just decided to take it to unprecedented levels – for a President. We’ve had mean-spirited words, in the seemingly limitless ways they can be delivered, virtually from the dawn of time.

 

There’s the classic exchange years ago between British political rivals Lady Nancy Astor and Sir Winston Churchill. Lady Astor said, “Winston, if you were my husband, I’d poison your tea.” To which Churchill replied, “Nancy, if I were your husband, I’d drink it.” Sounds like they weren’t especially fond of each other.

When TV news became a round-the-clock enterprise, participants struggled to find content to fill 24 hours and hold viewers’ attention. So they began to resort to harangues that often turned very personal. Today, when we tune in to the news, it’s not unusual to be accosted by shouting fests, as well as other forms of excessive, even bizarre oral behavior.

 

But acid, abusive tongues far predate the British Parliament, cable news, and Mr. Trump. The book of Proverbs, thousands of years old, contains more than 50 warnings about words carelessly and caustically delivered.

 

One of the most practical is Proverbs 10:19, a verse I’ve often used to curb the temptation to give someone a piece of my mind I couldn’t afford to lose. It wisely observes, “When there are many words, transgression is not avoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” Another way of expressing this is, the more you speak, the more likely you are to say something you’ll regret. 

 

As if to underscore the point, two other proverbs express similar cautions: “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3), and “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Proverbs 17:28).

 

We want to offer the excuse, “But if people say mean things to us, aren’t we justified in responding?” Or, “If someone says something stupid, don’t you think it’s appropriate to enlighten them?”

 

From what the Bible calls a “fleshly” perspective, perhaps. But we not only have counsel from Proverbs, but also many places in the New Testament asserting that is not the way to win friends and influence people for Jesus Christ. 

 

Studying Jesus’ life as revealed through the four gospels, we find He typically responded to people with kindness and sensitivity, even those who were confrontational. The only people the Lord spoke to harshly were the religious leaders, supposed servants of God caught up in their own hubris and arrogance.

 

The standard Jesus established is reflected in statements like, “whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other toward him also” (Matthew 5:29), and “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

 

In a society continuing to drift from its Judeo-Christian moorings, we’re called to serve as “witnesses” for Christ (Acts 1:8), and we do this by being different – through our lives, as well as our words and how we express them. Do we get caught up in the cultural model, firing back when others direct angry and hurtful words to us? Or, as Jesus suggested, do we take the high road?

 

Here’s a sampling of powerful admonitions from the Scriptures:

 

Ephesians 4:29 gives this guidance: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Is our motive to have a positive impact on people we’re speaking to, reflecting the love and grace of God? Or do we just dig into our arsenal, using words as weapons?

 

Writing to his protégé, Timothy, the apostle Paul instructed, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct…” (2 Timothy 2:23-24). 

 

It’s hard to persuade people whose minds are already set, but a civil, respectful tone can greatly enhance communication, as Proverbs 15:1 affirms: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

 

What about trying to share our faith in Christ to someone that’s resistant? We find sound advice in 1 Peter 3:15, “…always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

 

Sometimes our speech provides the greatest evidence of the presence of Jesus in our lives. Are we consistently gracious in how we interact with others? James 3:9-10 makes this ironic point: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”

 

No one really wins in a war of words. As someone has said, “One convinced against their will remains of the same opinion still.” Instead, God wants us to follow the wisdom of Colossians 4:5-6, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” 

I know I’ve failed on this point many times, to my shame. When we interact with non-believers about Christ, do they leave with a good taste in their mouth – “seasoned with salt” – or is it more like vinegar, or worse? We’re to be winsome, not warlike. 

Monday, July 12, 2021

The Most Under-used, Underappreciated Tool in the Toolbox

Since I’m not a handyman in even the most generous sense of the word, I feel perfectly objective in asking this question: What’s the most important tool in the toolbox? Is it the hammer? The screwdriver? The wrench? The crowbar? The saw? Reminds me of the story about the blind man who picked up the hammer and saw.

My reason for asking isn’t to solicit advice on a do-it-yourself project. I learned the futility of trying to do those kinds of things long ago. No, I’m thinking about an entirely different realm – the spiritual. Because God has entrusted us with a variety of “tools,” but I think there’s one that’s conspicuously under-used, underappreciated and undervalued. 

 

First, let’s look at some of the tools the Lord has put at our disposal. We find a handy list in Ephesians 6:13-20, which describes “the full armor of God.” This includes “the belt of truth buckled around your waist,” the breastplate of righteousness,” “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace,” the “shield of faith,” the “helmet of salvation,” and “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” 

 

We could examine each one of these in detail, but then one more “tool” is cited that’s sometimes overlooked in this whole “armor of God” discussion. The apostle Paul gives it the greatest attention in this passage:

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

 

All the other parts of the “full armor of God” seem suited for a proper uniform of one going into battle – a belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet and sword. Most are used for defensive purposes, and the sword for taking the offensive. But prayer, somehow it doesn’t seem to fit on this list. But it should.

 

Some of us might regard prayer as a kind of last resort. When all else fails, pray. But we never see it viewed in that way in the Scriptures. In fact, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says we’re to “pray without ceasing.” I’m no expert on the original Greek, but I think that means “all the time.” Or as I like to consider it, we’re to maintain a continual attitude of prayer. 

 

Basically, it’s similar to calling someone but never hanging up. We go about our daily activities, and whenever we feel the inclination, pick up the phone, talk a little bit, resume what we were doing, stop and talk some more, and so on. So we can start the day, our first waking moments, with prayer. We can pray while brushing our teeth, shaving, showering, getting dressed, eating breakfast, and driving to work (just don’t lower your head and close your eyes). 

 

We can even pray while we’re in the midst of the most riveting – or boring – meeting we’ve ever been a part of. Who’s to say we can’t? Again, bowing our heads and closing our eyes isn’t necessary. Do you typically bow your head and close your eyes when you talk with your spouse, child, or friend? In God’s point of view, it’s not the posture but the attitude of the heart that matters.

 

And when we pray, it isn’t only asking for stuff, like reading off a grocery list. Actually, that’s only a small part of it. I’ve always like the acronym for prayer: ACTS. It stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. Lots of times we’re in a hurry to get to whatever we need or want, but following this simple model helps us to keep a proper perspective.

 

When we pause to pray, we need to remind ourselves of whom we’re addressing – the God of all eternity, the Creator of the universe. Sounds kind of important, doesn’t it? So adoration – or praise – is a good place to start. I suspect this isn’t original with me, but the one who prays to God also gives praise to God.

 

Confession is a way of making sure our prayer connection is clear, that there’s no static on the line. We don’t want any kind of interference when our desire is to communicate with the Lord.

 

Thanksgiving essentially is remembering who He is, as well as all that He’s already done for us, before we dive into our “shopping list.” There’s lots to thank him for, starting with a night’s rest, the fact we woke up to a new day with unlimited opportunities and potential, answers to prayers uttered in the past. The list could go on.

 

Then, finally, we can move on to supplications – our requests – whether they’re for ourselves or others. Philippians 4:6-7 wraps this up into a handy little bundle: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Which leads to one additional benefit: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

 

The tools God has provided for us – truth, righteousness, the gospel of Christ, faith, salvation, and His Word – are all wonderful. But let’s not neglect the tool of prayer. It just might be the cog that enables us to implement the other tools most effectively.