Praying Beyond the Problem

I’ve discovered a simple prayer that quenches anxiety.  It goes something like this.  “Lord, I place this problem in Your hands.  Now, I pray for You to answer in a way that goes beyond the actual need itself.”  In other words, “Surprise me, God, with more than I can imagine.”  I call this little technique “praying beyond the problem.” It’s right in line with the Bible’s encouragement to take our troubles to the One “who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think  (Ephesians 3:20 NASB). 

I began “praying beyond” on our first missions trip to Africa.  My husband David and I were headed to Ethiopia.  This was nearly 25 years ago, well before short term travel to Africa was common.  Our children were six and three and we’d never left them alone for more than a night or two. This trip was a huge leap of faith for me.  Ethiopia was in shambles.  The country was just coming out of a revolution to defeat the Communist government and the new democracy was fragile.  We’d have little, if any,  communication with our children while traveling.  As far as I was concerned, Ethiopia may as well have been the moon.

The trip was risky, but we knew and trusted our missions partners, SIM.  We shared their passion to proclaim the love of Jesus worldwide.  My “prayer beyond” went something like this.  “Lord, you know how scared I am to leave my children an ocean away.  I entrust them into Your hands and ask You to care for them and keep them safe.  Not only that, I pray they would actually be better off than had we not gone.”  I was asking God to surprise me with an answer that went beyond my need.  God was more than faithful. The children hardly missed us and flourished under the care of loving family and friends.

What’s more, our time in Ethiopia turned out to be life changing.  We were eye witnesses to the first public gatherings of the persecuted church.  Imagine the thrill of seeing believers finally free to worship for the first time in seventeen years!  I’ll never forget watching as David preached to 25,000 Ethiopians sitting in rapt attention, lined up in tight rows on a hillside, With characteristic Ethiopian stillness, they hung onto every word, their  silence  broken occasionally by an exuberant, high pitched “joy yell.”

We also formed lifelong friendships with SIM missionaries who had served bravely during the years of persecution. This would be the beginning in of our church’s extensive missions work and our lifelong heart for Africa.  God truly answered my prayers far beyond all I could have asked for or imagined.

Praying beyond has since become a way to disarm other worries.  It forces me to take my eyes off the problem and fix my mind on God’s powerful promises.  Praying beyond moves me out of the realm of fear into faith.  Taking new territory.  Walking on water.

Ephesians 3:20, my go to “pray beyond” verse,  recently came up in my Bible reading one morning.  I was watching our child’s swim meet and had time in between events.  Reading in a different Bible version put a fresh twist on my long familiar verse:  Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think  (Ephesians 3:20 NKJV).    

I pondered the verse.  Exactly what does “above all” look like?  Deep in thought, I decided to go for a jog.   God, maybe you’re encouraging me not only to pray beyond my problems, but also to look down at them from Your perspective.  From where You’re sitting, I imagine my problems look small.  I headed back to the swim center to catch my son’s final event and happened to jog by one of the team buses.  Suddenly, I stopped and caught my breath.  I had to smile.  Looks like God sent me a “memo” that was larger than life.  Once again, His answer was above all I could ask or imagine.

Above All Charters

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Are you dangerous to the devil?

“Fasting is a little scary,” remarked a friend during our recent 21 Day Fast for Pastor Saeed.  She’s right.  Whether it’s food, a favorite treat, social media or shopping, giving up something we depend upon leaves us longing. Empty. Thirsty.

Maybe that’s why fasting is so powerful.  I’m forced to switch my lifeline from food (or whatever) to God Himself.  I find myself hungrier for His Word and more receptive to His voice.  Even Jesus chose to fast before in His duel in the desert with the devil.  He had just been  baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit.  Afterwards, God spoke from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  What an amazing spiritual mountaintop!  But notice what happened next:

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry (Matthew 4:1,2 NLT).   It was the Holy Spirit himself who led Jesus into the desert.  A place of vulnerability and isolation.  On top of that,  Jesus fasted for forty days and nights!  Not exactly the breakfast of champions.  So why would He physically weaken Himself in preparation for the fight of His life?

Let’s read further to find our answerThe tempter came to Him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (Matthew 4:3, 4 NIV).  The devil’s first of three temptations hit Jesus right in the gut, so to speak.  He tempts him to turn stones into bread.  What could be wrong with that?  Jesus could simply try out His divine power.  Turning stones into bread wouldn’t cost Him any money or cause a scandal.  And hunger after forty days with no food seems like a legitimate need.

But Jesus, weak in body yet mighty Spirit, knew the fight with the devil was not over.  His counterattack came straight from the Bible, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’.”  With each successive temptation, Jesus fired back at the devil with Scripture until the evil one finally slinked away in defeat.

For forty days, Jesus had prepared for this time of testing by fasting, praying, pouring over God’s Word.  He was armed and ready.  Power to contend with the devil didn’t come from His human strength or logic,  but from the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.

Dear friends, I wonder if we hunger for the true bread of the Spirit?   We nourish our bodies with food.  We keep our cars fueled up.   We recharge our smart phones and laptops.   But are we humble enough to admit that we can’t win our spiritual battles without God’s Word?  Jesus showed us how.  We don’t live by the “bread” of this world alone, but by every Word from the mouth of God.  That’s how we stay armed and dangerous to the devil.

 

 

 


“Lord, even the demons obey us when we use Your Name!”

When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!” (Luke 10:17). 

We learn in Isaiah 58 that God loves it when our fasting helps people break free from bondage. “This is the kind of fasting I want,” God explains. “Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.”  Jesus sent out the seventy two with instructions to heal people suffering from diseases and demons.  “Look,” He told them,  “I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy.” (Luke 10:19 NLT).   But I wonder. Does Jesus still give us that same kind of authority?  Read what happened when my friend Kris found herself way out of her comfort zone with nothing to depend on but the name of Jesus.

GUEST BLOG: By Kris McBride

When I went to Haiti on a missions trip, I knew prayer would play a crucial role in seeing God work.  I asked God for unity for our team, for His mighty power, and for protection.  But I could never have imagined how He would answer those prayers.

One day we went into a village.  Our group of five had stopped to pray for one of the villagers, when a woman rushed over to us with an urgent message.  Our Haitian interpreter told our team to quickly follow him, for we had important business to attend to.

We arrived at a nearby home and saw a man stumbling around the courtyard with a blood soaked bandage around his head.  Our interpreter placed a chair on the porch and motioned for the man to sit down.  The man’s eyes were cloudy and his movements jerky. He couldn’t keep his arms and legs still.  As he told his story, our team silently prayed.

The man explained that the local witch doctor had put a curse on him.  Since then, he seemed to be tortured by some kind of evil spirit.  Our interpreter  instructed us to begin praying.  All we knew to do was to pray Scriptures affirming the power of the name of Jesus.  We claimed His authority over all things.

After praying for ten or fifteen minutes, we commanded the spirit to leave the man in the name of Jesus Christ.  Suddenly, he was thrown out of his chair and hit the door!  After he sat up, he started repeating these words:  “Victory in Jesus.  Victory in Jesus!”

We were in awe, sensing the power and presence of God.  As I looked into the man’s eyes I noticed they were no longer cloudy.  He was able to sit calmly without jerking his legs and arms.  Everyone broke into singing and praising God.  His family was in tears and gave thanks to God.   The man couldn’t stop praising the name of Jesus. None of us had ever experienced anything like it before! We were humbled that God allowed us to witness His great power and authority in healing this man from his affliction.

 


Fasting Works

I can’t tell you why fasting is so powerful.  I just know it works.  Last week marked the end of our 21 Day Fast for Pastor Saeed Abedini.  Naghmeh  is convinced that doors were opened for her unexpected meeting with President Obama through the fasting and prayer of thousands around the world.

The Bible describes different kinds of fasts.  Fasting can be abstaining from food, as when Jesus’s fasted in the wilderness.  It can also include prayer and action on behalf of the oppressed, the hungry, and the poor as we find described in Isaiah 58.

Fasting helps us break through long standing bondages. But there are also practical benefits.   I shared may own top ten takeways.  Some of you are telling me about yours.  I love hearing stories of what God has revealed to you during these days of fasting.

My friend Jan describes the encouragement she received from her “fast journey.”  A Bible teacher, prayer warrior, and one of the godliest women I know, Jan joined in the 21 Day Fast.  She fasted and prayed faithfully for Pastor Saeed and others.   But she also experienced some unexpected personal benefits. “I was fasting to make better life choices with my eating habits, ” she writes. “I fasted from sweets, junk snacks, sodas and wine.”  She adds,  “The Lord has really taken my desire for sweets away.  I’ve missed my diet cokes (but not enough to go back to the one per day I was drinking).  This morning I had lost six pounds!  I saw a weight on the scale that I haven’t seen in a year or more!! Could not believe it!  It meant so much to know others were in this with me!”  Jan plans to continue her good habits.  I feel sure she’ll see other unexpected breakthroughs and become even more effective in her ministry to those around her.

Maybe that’s how fasting works. It clears our vision.  Lightens our load.  Increases our focus.  Helps us break through the “stuck” places in our lives.  And although I still can’t tell you exactly how or why, I am certain:  Fasting works.  So I plan to keep practicing.  I’ll be on the alert.   I’m eager to watch for signs of God at work, both here and around the world. I hope you’ll join me.

Remember:  Be self controlled and alert for the purpose of prayer  (1 Peter 4:7).

 


Choose Life!

God’s words in Isaiah 58 are clear.  He loves it when we pour out our lives for the broken.  Sometimes, the call to obey can seem messy, uncomfortable, even dangerous.  But God promises we’ll  be blessed, often in ways that may surprise us.  Here’s what happened to my friend Laura when she made the choice to say “Yes” to God:

GUEST BLOG: CHOOSE LIFE        By: Laura Snow

At times, we all find ourselves at a crossroads. We have to decide which direction to choose. There are pros and cons with either direction. My crossroads came in the form of a call to adoption. My call to adoption was not a simple one. I already had two biological sons from a marriage that ended in divorce soon after they were born. A few years later, God called me to adopt two brothers (a kinship adoption). So I adjusted to the crazy life of raising four sons on my own.

Four and a half years ago, I received another call asking me to consider adopting a fifth son, brother to the other two. WHAT?? Life was good. We were smooth sailing. We were in a good place. I didn’t even know this little boy. It would be “easy” to say no.

I came up with a list of all the reasons to say NO.  I’m single. I already have four sons. I’m over forty. I won’t have enough money. I don’t have enough time.  All legitimate reasons. However, I kept imagining myself sitting in front of this little boy and saying to him, “I’m sorry I can’t adopt you because I’m tired.  I can’t be your mom because I’m over forty…”  All of my reasons just didn’t feel right in the face of a child that needed a home, a home where his brothers were already living.

God had me at a crossroads. I had to lean into Him to hear His voice and know which direction He was asking me to choose.  I thought back to an interview I’d watched years earlier by Bill Hybels, the Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. He was talking with a widow from Africa. This woman had lost her husband to a tribal war and was left to raise four children alone. She was struggling to provide her family with basic necessities. However, when her neighbor’s children were orphaned because of AIDS, she didn’t hesitate to take on those four children as well.

Pastor Hybels asked the widow why she took on the responsibility of more children. Her response was so simple and yet so powerful. She said, “In a matter of life and death, you choose life.” The words struck a chord.  Later, God led me to a verse in Deuteronomy:  “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deuteronomy 30: 19). It was clear to me that this woman made her decision based on Scripture.  In a matter of life and death choose life.

CHOOSE LIFE. So simple and yet you can hold it up to almost any crossroad and it won’t be hard to see the direction God is asking you to choose.  There were people more suited and better equipped to adopt this little boy, but God was calling me. I chose life and said YES to God, and I said YES to my fifth son.

I truly believe that God used this woman, along with this very specific Bible verse to prepare me for what was to come. Looking back, it is easy to see how perfect the timing was and how God was preparing me so that I would be ready when I found myself at a crossroads.

What crossroad are you facing? Today, I hope you choose life, so that you may truly live!

To learn more about adoption and foster care, follow Laura on twitter