"Our heavenly Father is far too wise and loves us far too much to give us everything we ask for. Someday we'll thank God for the prayers He didn't answer as much or more than the ones He did. Our frustration will turn to celebration if we patiently and persistently pray through. It may not make sense for a few years. In fact, it may never make sense on this side of eternity. But I've learned a valuable lesson about unanswered prayer: sometimes God gets in the way to show us the way."
"Miracles are the by-product of prayers that were prayed by you or for you. And that should be all the motivation you need to pray...You can live with holy anticipation because you never know how or when or where God is going to answer, but I promise you this: He will answer. And His answers are not limited by your requests. We pray out of our ignorance, but God answers out of His omniscience. We pray out of our impotence, but God answers out of His omnipotence. God has the ability to answer the prayers we should have prayed but lacked the knowledge or ability to even ask."
Taking in the majestic views below, I enjoy a hard-earned rest on top of the mountain peak. This place is my favorite spot to get re-charged, to hear His voice and feel His peace. With three friends along for the hike - two for the first time - the fellowship is sweet and the day is downright perfect.
But then, the conversation with one turns personal...and life-changing. I hear the young man's heart, and it beats with the rhythm of one desiring a holier life. He shares of how this retreat to Alaska, this summer of playing baseball in the Last Frontier...it's changed everything for him. He wants to be a better man. He wants to reflect Jesus to others. I listen, and I quietly breathe a thanks to the One who brought all this about.
I reflect on the last several months and all that has led up to this. So many prayers for young men like him...so many hours of intercession for their souls...ultimately, so much more than just the game of baseball. I realize that the labors of many culminate in moments like these. Miracles orchestrated by the hand of God. The same God who created this grand expanse I take in as the young ball player shares his story.
I realize that, in my job, I deal so much in business that it's easy to lose the perspective on why I do what I do. As in anything, I need perspective to keep my joy, to re-gain my outlook, to refresh my soul. It occurs to me that in the workplace, in the home...in any role each of us plays in life...it's so easy to get myopic - to lose sight of the bigger picture on why we do what we do everyday. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the frustrations, the details, the joy-stealers that take away our focus and, before we know it...we lose perspective. We forget to look for Him and what He's doing.
Moments like these are an absolute necessity to remind us of our purpose on this earth. To help us see through to His plan. To allow us to align ourselves with His movement and direction so that we continue to put ourselves in a place to get hit by something holy. Life is about way more than earning money, pushing papers, making deadlines, and checking things off a list. Being productive for Him often will make us look un-produtive by the world's standards. Because what's relevant to them, what equals success in their eyes...isn't God. Yet how much more satisfying to know that our humble efforts are pleasing to Him than to gain the whole world but lose our souls...and those of others...along the way?!
I'd rather place myself in the path of faith than let fear run my life. I'd rather exchange "the good life" in worldly terms for moments of grace such as this one. And I will gladly endure months of challenges, of faith-testing just to see one soul opened to the Savior. Just to hear one life has been transformed. Just to know that one more young man will change the world because God has changed him.
The breeze gently blows as we sit and contemplate His goodness. And in my heart deep, I say, "Thank you, Jesus, for everything."
"Always - but especially when suffering - surround yourself with those who inspire you to lose yourself more honestly, to love others more thoroughly, to live life more fully, and to trust God more wholly. Huddle with those who care for you and those who are exemplary in their encouragement, patience, and understanding of others. Hang out with those who strive to put God and faith at their center. Pray for peers, friends, and mentors who will not only encourage you to be your best independent, strong, and vulnerable self all at the same time - but also sincerely humble...then pray that you may have the opportunity to likewise ease and nurture others in such authentic ways..."
"When we go through trials, it's easy for us to pray for protection from harm, for our health, for our safety, and for our own happiness. But I think God has more planned for us than those things. He's asking us if we'll still believe and have faith even if our life isn't comfortable, our days are filled with trials, our prayers aren't answered the way we like, and our dreams die. He's asking us to have faith, even during our trials, because he has more good planned for us than we could ever hope for or imagine."
"I bless Thee that I see the worst of my heart as well as the best of it, that I can sorrow for those sins that carry me from Thee, that it is Thy deep and dear mercy to threaten punishment so that I may return, pray, live."
"There is no ongoing spiritual life without this process of letting go. At the precise point where we refuse, growth stops. If we hold tightly to anything given to us, unwilling to let it go when the time comes to let it go or unwilling to let it be used as the Giver means it to be used, we stunt the growth of the soul. It is easy to make a mistake here, 'If God gave it to me,' we say, 'it's mine. I can do what I want with it.' No. The truth is that it is ours to thank Him for and ours to offer back to Him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of - if we want to find our true selves, if we want real life, if our hearts are set on glory."
"We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, 'Blessed are they who mourn,' and I accept it. I've got nothing that I hadn't bargained for. Of course, its different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination."
"Suffering can bend and break us. But it can also break us open to become the persons God intended us to be. It depends on what we do with the pain. If we offer it back to God, He will use it to do great things in us and through us, because suffering is fertile...it can grow new life."
"No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God..."
"O what a blessed day that will be when I shall...stand on the shore and look back on the raging seas I have safely passed; when I shall review my pains and my sorrows, my fears and tears, and posses the glory that was the end of all!"
"I mistakenly thought I could not trust God unless I felt like trusting Him. Now I am learning that trusting God is first of all a matter of the will. I choose to trust God, and my feelings eventually follow."
"God often brings His people into such a condition that they do not know what to do. He does this so that they might know what He can do. God is with His people at all times, but He is most sweetly with them in the worst of times."
Looking for miracles has changed everything for me this year. At the start of 2016, I kept coming back to two words: "faith" and "expect." In my spirit, I kept sensing God speaking that He was going to do great things. Miracles were in store - but I would miss them if I wasn't living each day in grace, if I wasn't choosing to see with eyes of faith.
Time and again since then, He has brought me back to those themes and has reminded me that this year is the year of His choosing to show me mighty things. There have been moments when I felt like the fight against fear was too overwhelming. There have been times when I simply wanting the pain to stop. I just wanted to walk away and ignore what was going on. And yet, each time, His voice kept on saying, "But you'll miss the blessing."
This promise of hope has sustained me through many a spiritual challenge this year. We're only half-way through 2016, but I can honestly say that I've experienced more miracle moments than I can ever remember. God has showed up. And usually it's been just after a dark moment. At the times when I've been at my lowest, in those minutes of frustration and fear when all I could think of was escaping the trial I found myself in...He always followed that up with the assurance of: "keep looking for miracles."
Most recently, as I have walked through the fear of my dad's health scare, I have come to understand what went so wrong in my soul all those years ago. The first time through this hospital journey in 2007, I chose to listen to my fears rather than to Him. I had no concept of what living in grace was like. I turned my back in anger and said, "Look God, if you're truly Who you say you are, then please remove this pain from me. I can't take it anymore. If you don't remove this, than you must not love me and you must be a liar." Oh, how I now regret those words ever being spoken. But it's true: I saw with my own sight instead of His. I kept looking for a way out instead of a way in - a way into the dark places of the soul but a way that eventually would set me free.
This time around, my soul was open. I still fought my old self hard. I still confronted my fears every day. And sometimes they seemed greater than I could bear. But looking for the miracles was the difference.
You see, when you face life with expectation and hope - when you choose to look for the ways in which God shows up, big things happen. You notice His goodness in places where you least think it will be. You feel His love in ways you never expected. Faith speaks (sometimes against our natural will) that God has not abandoned us - even in our worst moments - and that the Light will find its way through. Faith teaches us to believe - even though all we want to do is worry and stop trusting.
I am beginning to finally understand that God never stops working. Sometimes His hand may be obscured. Sometimes His love may feel distant. Sometimes He may be silent for awhile and no answer comes. But He never ceases His renewing work. He never stops resurrecting the dead places. He never quits on His on-going efforts to restore our broken hearts. Yes, a miracle sometimes necessitates going through the impossible. Yes, a miracle often must come at a great price of self-denial and inner pain, but the best things always come with high cost. Of what worth would be they be otherwise?!
And so...I once again turn over my aching heart to the One who is making me new. And I say, "I will keep looking. Even when the clouds of hopelessness hide Your face and I think all is lost. I will believe. Because I know then that a miracle of Your creating is on the way. "
It seems funny to be saying this...but I've now set foot on the same soil which produced the fight for our country's independence. All my life I have been intrigued by the stories of people who helped to bring forth this nation we called the United States. I have saturated myself in their writings, immersed my mind in their tales of heroism and bravery, read books, watched documentaries - I've done it all. But the one thing about it? I had never been to the places where it all happened. For me, history of the founding Fathers was locked in my imagination. Those people were alive in my mind but I could never place myself in the moment entirely because I had never gone back East and set foot on their turf...
That is, until April of this year. For eleven days, my family and I trekked across the East Coast visiting famous historical sites such as Washington Crossing where the famous incident took place of Gen. George Washington and his army crossing the Delaware River.
We walked the Princeton Battlefield where brave men like Gen. Hugh Mercer lost their lives in the fight for freedom. We even visited the mass grave site where both British and American soldiers were laid to rest beside each other after the battle.
We visited the President's House at Princeton University where signer of the Declaration of Independence (and then-President of Princeton) John Witherspoon sowed the seeds of religious independence in the minds of young patriots attending the college and was the only minister to put his name on the document that sealed our liberty.
We paid a visit to the Trenton Barracks where Washington's army made their surprise Christmas attack which turned the tide of the war for independence in favor of the colonists. Walking through that place, you can still see the wood beams of the building which would have been there at the time the Hessions were occupying the barracks when Washington arrived.
We visited Washington's beloved Mount Vernon which he had to leave behind for the cause of liberty...and eventually the presidency, much against his wishes. I had always heard how deeply in love he was with that beautiful place and how much it tore his heart to leave it each time for the sake of his nation's calling...but I didn't understand it fully until I saw this beautiful view for the first time. Then I knew.
After taking in these amazing places, I can now grasp a bit better the meaning behind the 4th of July. And I've come to understand that history cannot be felt or fully made meaningful unless it is made to come alive in the soul of the person. Facts, figures, dates, and dead people honestly do not make someone want to know where they come from or who they are. Having been a student of history for much of my life (and being the child of parents who are the same), I must say that it concerns me how little the average citizen knows of our nation's past. So much has been re-written. So much has been erased from the minds of generations who have followed. Often, I think of the words of Benjamin Franklin who, after signing the Declaration of Independence, was asked what sort of nation or government had been created. He simply replied, "A republic - if you can keep it."
If you can keep it...those words kept coming back to me time and again as I walked in the steps of great men like George Washington, John Witherspoon, John Adams, Benjamin Rush, and others. The torch to preserve this nation has been passed down to us. But I sadly feel as though we have let the torch fall. We have turned our backs on the spiritual heritage that our founding Fathers gave to us and have let this nation go as most others. Our government continues to make decisions that are far from the original intent of these men. I fear we have not kept this republic as we ought. Our only hope is to repent and turn back to God. I know it sounds cliche but it is honestly the last resort we have. God must have our hearts, or we will be a nation undone.
The way to best honor what these brave people sacrificed for our freedom is to worship the God they knew and loved. Living in grace, facing fear with faith...that's how they overcame so many struggles and accomplished so many things. If you read their writings, they were very clear about their awareness of "divine providence" and the necessity of God's mercy and blessing on their efforts. They knew the meaning of relying on Him alone. Following their example in whatever place we find ourselves is the only way to truly making a life ...and a nation of lives...great once again. True renewal comes through a resurrected spirit. A soul being made new through Grace.
This year, let's commit ourselves to being on our knees more. To standing in His strength more and our own less. Let's spend more time in prayer and less in our own pursuits of happiness. Let's begin putting Him first above all others...and see it begin to change the way we see things. You and I may be "just one person," but "just one person" can change a lot of other "just one persons" and a whole nation may someday be turned back to God.
By His grace, let's follow the example of our founding Fathers and be bold enough to say that, through Him, we will stand. We will become the change we want to see in this nation. And then, let's watch God take things from there.
"When confronted with suffering that won't go away or with even a minor problem, we instinctively focus on what is missing...not on the Master's hand. Often when you think everything has gone wrong, its just that you're in the middle of a story. If you watch the stories God is weaving in your life, you...will begin to see the patterns. You'll become a poet, sensitive to your Father's voice."