Prayer Works

I have many stories about answered prayer but this one sticks with me for obvious reasons:

My son was in high school. He was a good student, a reasonably good soccer player and was generally easy going. I was becoming concerned, though. His salvation was not in hand. It was looking like we were at a cross road. Join the world or live for Christ. I had prayed for years on a daily basis that he would choose God but I knew that I could not press. Like me at his age it would be on his own terms. There was one day that changed my way of praying.

On this day I was hungry, tired and busy when my son made me exceedingly angry. It was over something I had talked to him repeatedly. Not only that but I had a laundry list of ways he had offended me over previous weeks. When I got to him I was seeing red and ready to explode. I knew my state and tried to calm but it was impossible for me at that moment. Something stopped me in my tracks. It was literally the words in my head … “STOP! Walk away.” Stopping in my driveway the words resounded in my head, “Keep walking.” As calm began to seep back into my body the real reason I was upset was being revealed. I was concerned for his salvation. My reaction was … “I can fix this”. God’s reaction was … “No! I got this. You will do nothing but pray and back off.” It was clear to me that my son was in good hands. The way I prayed for my son changed that day as well as the way I viewed him and my roll from then on.

Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Ephesians 6:4 “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

The next day I apologized to my entire family for my poor behavior and was resolved to do things differently. The way I prayed went from pleading for my son’s repentance to thankful for his salvation. Gratitude and tears of joy flowed freely at the knowledge of his soon to be transformation. I knew that my son was quite safe in God’s great and powerful arms. A feeling of peace and joy began to wash over me about him. No longer was I crushed by any minor infraction he made. What I did not know is besides my wife and I there was a group of my son’s friends that were praying for him as well.

I wept the day my son was baptized. Still get tears when I view the picture of him at the beach. Even as I write this, I want to give him a big hug. He is now a youth minister. I am so thankful that God has both my children in hand and they pursue their Daddy in a way that makes their dad proud. They confirm for me that prayer works.

I would love to hear your stories of prayer answered. Please share as it is a powerful testimony to God at work in peoples lives.

Prepare for the Future

This is number 6 in a series I call Financial Freedom. The last post was entitled “You Need a Vacation”.

My wife and I started late preparing for retirement. When we were young it was not an imperative and we lived paycheck to paycheck. Our parents never really instilled the necessity of getting ready for retirement. They did not really prepare themselves for their eventual loss of income. In fact, JP Morgan calculates that 74% of Americans are not saving properly for the future. As I realized their inevitable position it made me think about our own lack of preparation. 2 Corinthians 12:14 “…Children should not save up for their parents but parents for their children.” I did not want to be a burden on my children and as always God provides ways to do so. Proverbs 6:6-8 “Go to the ant, o sluggard, observe their ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gather her provision in the harvest.” Was an ant being wiser than me? I was being called by God to make a change.

The best way to do this is invest in a 401K and never touch it. In our first few years of marriage we did have a 401K. It accumulated $1500. We closed it out and took the cash for other things. It seemed like a small amount and we really needed the money. I now think differently. Proverbs 27:23 “Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds.” We do not have flocks and herds today. We have money. Different times and ways of exchange but the concept holds true. I needed to be aware of what I had and the future. What preparation was I making? Really none! I knew something was wrong until the title of an articles caught my eye …”How to Become a Millionaire”. Who doesn’t want to be a millionaire? The article was about something called compound interest. The concept astounded me. Leave it to God to come up with answers to hard questions. Here is how it works.

Let’s say I was 25 when I cashed in that $1500 but this time I decided to leave it in a 401K. If I left it alone and never touched it along with a conservative rate of 8% return then that would grow into over $80000 by the time I was 75. Pretty cool! I did no work and gained $78500. Now let’s say I was really wise, like the ants, and put in an extra $30 a week. Cost of a cup of coffee every day? At the age of 75 that looks like 1.1 million. Wait what!? Yes, that’s right. An investment of almost $80K over 50 years will make you a millionaire in retirement. Not only that but most companies have a matching program and investing more will inflate that number.. Praise God that He has come up with ways to do the thing He calls you to do. BTW … Had I started saving with my first job at the age of 15, over the course of 60 years that is 2.5 million. Can anyone afford not to invest in their future?

1. Prayerfully decide how much you will set aside for your future. Figure out how much you will need to retire. Seek advice from a professional if necessary.

2. Ask God to give you the resources necessary to prepare for the future.

3. Thank God for the abundance He has provided so that you can prepare for tomorrow.

I wish I had started saving at 15. We started saving later in life. The good news is that it is not too late to start. For us we still had some time but needed to be more aggressive than if we had started earlier. We started by contributing the minimum amount matched by our work. We then increased this amount as promotions and raises allowed until we reached our goal. Right now we are on track. We have been fortunate. God has been very good to us. We did have to make some sacrifices at first. Lesser vacations and fewer dinners out. A warning though. Matthew 6:24 “… You cannot serve both God and money.” The goal is not to accumulate wealth. The goal is to make preparations for your elderly years. It’s our responsibility and our calling.

My prayer for you and me is that we trust God’s word, do as He commands, make a plan then faithfully act on our preparations for the future.

Fabricating Fruit

A number of years ago I was going through a rough spell. It was not a good place for me. Sick, tired and miserable. I couldn’t seem to pull myself together. I had noticed Galatians 5:22-23 “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…”. It dawned on me that I was not experiencing these things in my life so I attempted to fabricate them. On my own I tried to have joy and peace every day. It was an exercise in futility! I couldn’t seem to understand why. Apostle Paul was thrown into jail, yet he continued to exhibit fruit and I was not experiencing anything close to that type of oppressive environment. How can somebody be a Christian and not be fruitful? For awhile this question perplexed me.

Something clicked during a church service, though. Matthew 12:33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.” There was something I needed to change to achieve fruit. An underlying sinful nature, some deeply ingrained in my character, were getting in my way. A sacrifice needed to be made to experience the things God promised. Now the wheel was rolling. Sure I was in a place that I did not want to be but there was no reason for my situation to be unfruitful. I began to pray and ask forgiveness. 2 Corinthians 4:17 “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” God is abundantly able to use that bad place I was in to use me in ways I could not imagine. Then the flood gates opened. It revealed sinful natures that I would never had realized. There was a trust issue and preconceptions on the way things should look plus the underlying lie that God might have abandoned me. Not only did I identify my own weak nature but an inability to apply truth when I was being lied to constantly. The Holy Spirit started working. God began to use me in situations I would not have thought possible. Yes, I was experiencing fruit again. Thank God!

Now I use the fruits of the spirit as a barometer. If I am not experiencing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control, I immediately start asking questions. Why? What am I doing wrong? What do I need to change? Confess. When the Holy Spirit works the sinful nature out of me I no longer need to fabricate fruit. Fruit shows up on it’s own. All Christians can be in this place. It is God’s promise.

You Need a Vacation

Yellowstone National Park

This is number 5 in a 10 part series I call Financial Freedom. The previous was entitled Give Joyfully.

That’s right! I just told you to take a vacation! How does that play into finances? Let me explain. For many people this is a no brainer. For others like me vacations are stressful. So much goes into a vacation like money, time, preparation, travel while trying to cram as much possible into a very stress filled week. In my brain this adds up to … Don’t do it! I will literally feel guilty through the whole experience. My wife on the other hand must have it. It is an imperative for her. It must be something new and exciting or it literally does not count. We are almost 2 ends of the spectrum.

There was one year we were faced with job loss. We were confident at the inevitability so we made sensible preparations including no vacation that year. This would be a sticking point between us for years. Thank God the layoffs passed us with no incident. This trial did make me better understand the implications of not vacationing and feelings of guilt about it. I had to think about it like this … God even takes vacations. Genesis 2:2-3 “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” and Jesus took time to rest in Mark 6:31 “And He said to them, Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” Jesus commanded the apostles to take a break. There are even statistics to prove the health benefits. A story done by CNN cited that men who did not take vacations were 30% more likely to have a heart attack and women 50%. Plus we perform better at work when allowed time to stop thinking about it. Psalm 128:2 “You shall eat of the fruit of your hands, You will be happy and it will be well with you.” Taking vacations allows us to set aside and appreciate the benefits of the abundance God has provided. By following God’s command to take time off we are investing in our spiritual, mental and physical future.

Now the catch. You knew there must be one. The Apostle Paul set up churches on his vacations and Jesus had the most important teaching moments during his time with the apostles. Christians are always on mission Psalm 96:3 “Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.” and 1 Peter 2:12 “Keep your behavior excellent among the gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” We are representatives of Christ wherever we go. Act appropriately! Vacations are not a free pass to forget who you are. People see and know that you are a Christian.

The other catch. Yes, there are two. Romans 13:8 “Owe nothing to anyone …” You do not need to go into debt over a vacation. It does not have to be a trip to an exotic destination. Visit a relative, go camping or a stay at the beach. Everyone loves something different so be imaginative and don’t break the budget. The amount you spend is not as important as the getting away.

1. If vacations are causing you a sinful attitude then pray right now for forgiveness. Ask for God’s help in resolving these issues.

2. Prayerfully consider what type of vacations will allow you to reset your brain then figure out what you can afford while adjusting your vacation plan accordingly.

3. Be thankful for God’s provision in allowing you to follow His command and take a vacation.

Now my family takes guilt free vacations that are always within our means. My wife and I agree to go different places every year. Some more exotic than others but always something new. What I have realized is that vacations not only get me to think differently, it has improved our marriage. We now fondly remember the camping trip we slept in a puddle while it poured outside and everyone was drenched. Knowing that vacations are a requirement allows me to enjoy them with less stress and guilt. There is much less pressure to cram in as much as possible. They are indeed a time of bonding even in those times things did not go as planned. Those turn out to be the best times in many cases. Prayers now kick off every trip. This makes God top of mind at every getaway. So go ahead, you now have permission to blow off some steam and take a vacation.

My prayer for you is that you would be able to reboot and find rest in ways that allow you to bring God with you on vacation.