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Teachable Moments

Pursuing Peace in a Stressed-Out World

Comparing research reported by the Pew Research Center (Jan. 3, 2019), Our World in Data website and other credible sources, figuring out the trends of stress, conflict and violence in our world and the much sought-after peace everyone wants becomes confusing.  However, it seems form my observations that the following are commonly held as true:

  • World War 2 took more lives than any other war in history since 1400.
  • After the mid-1990s, Europe has experienced a period of astounding peace
  • Death as a result of battles is declining quickly, and has done so for the last few decades
  • Wars and conflicts overall are becoming less-deadly
  • Statistics need to be understood in light of what kind of conflict we’re describing; example, the Korean war (2 countries in conflict) vs the Rwandan Genocide (2 people-groups within one country) puts numbers in perspective
  • Conflict between individuals are increasing as conflict between people groups decrease

What does this say about our world?  Do these trends indicate that we live in more peaceful times and as such, peace is something we are achieving but don’t realize?  This is the sticky part. The answer is nebulous as we can say both “yes” and “no” to what we learn from data.

Yes, we are becoming more peaceful to some extent.  Between States, Countries, Continents, wars are down; even between people groups, we are finding fewer, if not less deadly in numbers percentage-wise, conflicts.

No, violence is not decreasing significantly if analyzed as what individuals do to individuals (domestic violence) or small groups do to small groups (gangs).  One recent medical research report showed that in 1000 cases analyzed, almost ⅓ of all abuse done to children was done BY children. Domestic violence as reported in 2018 was reported by more than 10 million USA women and men, but there seems to exist a lack of awareness or response in the religious community.  Narcissism is a serious mental illness which has reached epidemic numbers in western countries and 1 out of 3 Evangelical pastors show disturbing signs of this destructive disorder. According to a 2018 report found on Comparitech, a total number of reports for cyberbullying has increased worldwide

What does all this have to do with us?  I’d suggest, the peace that we seek starts with us from an individual perspective.  If we truly do want the Miss America Pageant line, “I want world peace”, to come true for others and ourselves, taking a good look inside and taking responsibility for the resultant choices we make is a first step toward resolving this world of stress and conflict.  If I want to feel peace, know peace and have my children grow up in a world of peace, I need to look in a mirror and at myself first.

How do I go about it?  In over 30 years of counseling, teaching and being a wife/mom, I find 4 areas worthy of personal inventory that could help us strive toward being the peacemaker God calls us to be.  As Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God”. (KJV, NIV)

These four areas are Awareness, Adversity, Acceptance and Action.  Coming this Monday, we here at Teachable Moments have created a 28-day, 5-minute-a-day personal challenge called, Pursuing Peace.  We cover in these 4 weeks our first two spheres of influence, Awareness and Adversity.  We have put countless hours and research into bringing together the key issues that impact how we can pursue peace in our stressed-out world, thinking through key concepts from a theological worldview, pulling from scripture, theologians, biographies, authors and other notable sources and all with a dash of fun.  All for you!

Dear Reader, I desire for you a life that embodies Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. (NIV) I look forward to preparing my heart and mind to think about how my own self-awareness and my perspective and response to adversity can create in me the feeling of peace and stillness my soul desires as well as a deeper relationship with God who holds for me a peace that passes my common comprehension.  I hope you join me!

Blessings Abundant and always fondly yours, Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

The Story of Teach Us to Pray

Let me tell you a story.  A story you may have heard before, but with details you may have missed.

Once upon a time, a rabbi named Jesus visited some friends, Mary and Martha, in Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem.  After dining with them and giving Martha some much needed advice, he went to “a certain place to pray” (Luke 11:1a).  

  • Bethany is nearby and thus, it is very possible that this “certain place” was the Mount of Olives where he went to pray prior to his betrayal and subsequent crucifixion. Where exactly?  Not sure. But, he had a designated space.

“When he was finished..” (Luke 11:1b)

  • His prayer took time. How much time?  No idea.  But, he invested time.

One of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1c)

  • Not surprising, his disciples saw Jesus’ behavior and wanted to learn to do the same thing.  What do we do?, they asked.  People are fascinated with formulas and that is what they wanted from Jesus. 

“And he said to them, “When you pray, say:  ”Father, hallowed be (holy is) your name. Your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:2-4)

  • Jesus answered the disciple’s question and told them what to pray.  Is this what we should pray?  Yes.  Is it the only thing we should pray?  No. 

A Quick Recap:

  1. Create space and time in your life to pray.
  2. Use the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray as a guide for your own prayers.

The Story Continues
Jesus, because he was such a good Rabbi, went on to tell the disciples more than they thought they needed to know (Luke 11:5-12).  Jesus did not end the conversation on a what but a who.  

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

  • The disciples wanted a pattern; Jesus ultimately gave them a person.  

Dear Friend, the moral of Jesus’ teaching on prayer helps us prioritize our space and time, gives us a pattern for what to pray and ultimately, brings us back to the person of God, the Holy Spirit.  May what the disciples received from the teaching of Jesus on prayer be true in our lives as well.

Blessings to you and fondly yours, dear readers, Elizabeth

Prayer and Quotes of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430AD) on Prayer

Breathe in me O Holy Spirit that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in my O Holy Spirit that my work too may  be holy.
Draw my heart O Holy Spirit that I love only what is holy.
Strengthen me O Holy Spirit to defend all that is holy.
Guard me then O Holy Spirit that I always may be holy.

“You have created us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

“To fall in love with God is the greatest of romances, to seek Him the greatest adventure, to find Him the greatest human adventure.”

Teachable Moments

Midweek Meditation: The Mirror of Prayer

Prayer reflects the heart of the one who prays; prayer reveals what God needs to accomplish in our own lives perhaps even more than what we are asking God to do in others.

As prayer is a mirror that reveals our hearts towards the Lord, let us take some time to examine where our hearts are before Him. Let us consider Job, Jonah, and Habakkuk to see what our prayers tell us about our relationship with our Savior. 

Job – Job started out strong but slowly began listening to the unwise counsel of family and friends. Job’s consistent turning to people for wisdom and his lack of prayer not only encouraged his questioning faith, but showed his lack of faith in the Almighty.

  • Who are you spending your time turning to? 
  • Are you seeking the input of friends and family consistently over that of the Lord?
  • Is your trust firmly rooted in your Savior whom you turn to daily?

Jonah – Jonah had a bad attitude when turning to God. He acted more out of fear of consequences than fear of the Lord. It was his lack of true repentance that led to bitter anger towards God in the end. 

  • Is my heart turning to God in worship and repentance or resignation?
  • Do I fear the Lord or just His punishment?
  • Does my attitude towards the Lord reflect his greatness or am I too focused on myself to approach him correctly? 

Habakkuk – Habakkuk wanted to know why. He wanted to understand God’s reasoning for what is happening but he quickly realizes that knowledge is a poor replacement for faith. His demonstration of faith even without knowledge and understanding is a wonderful picture of true worship.

  • How should I approach God when I don’t understand what He is doing?
  • Do I put my confidence in the Lord over my understanding of what is happening?
  • Do I take joy in approaching the God of my salvation?

May you find peace and great joy this week in spending time in prayer with our great Savior! Blessings to you as you reflect on the mirror your prayer life gives to you, dear reader. Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

The Mirror of Prayer

Children can both cause us to laugh and learn when you ask them about prayer.  From the internet, here are my favorite stories that can make us smile and ponder the amazing gift of prayer.

Nothing reveals more about who we really are and what we truly believe than prayer.  So often we see prayer as something we do to try and change the circumstances of life or someone else’s heart. However, when we approach it as such, we miss so much of what God has for us.

Prayer reflects the heart of the one who prays; prayer reveals what God needs to accomplish in our own lives perhaps even more than what we are asking God to do in others.

We can see prayer as our “spiritual mirror” when we look at the prayers of the prophets in the Old Testament.

JOB

Job shows great faith in God in the beginning as tragedy after tragedy enfolds him.  But due to his willingness to discourse and even passively listen to his friends’ unwise, foolish explanations regarding his life, Job shows his wavering trust in God.  “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments . . . Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty, and why do those who know him never see his days?” (23:3–4; 24:1; cf. 13:23–24).  Job’s consistent turning to people for wisdom and his lack of prayer not only encouraged his questioning faith, but showed his lack of faith in the Almighty.

JONAH

Jonah, in the belly of the fish and desperate to get out alive, turns to God NOT in worship or repentance, but in resignation. We see Jonah’s bad attitude all the way through the book of Jonah which ends (Jonah 4:9-11) with Jonah being angry about his circumstances. God asks Jonah about his heart attitude which had been so apparent through all of Jonah’s discourse with God.  

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”  But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

HABAKKUK

We silly humans believe more is better – more knowledge will bring peace and more information will solve any uncertainties.  Habakkuk respectfully and humbly asks God for understanding in the ways of the world during his time and God grants his petition, explaining what is happening and even what will happen along with some reasons.  Two times Habakkuk hears God’s reasoning, and in the end, Habakkuk finds knowledge is a poor replacement for faith. In perhaps the most worshipful prayer in scripture, this minor prophet reveals his complete faith in God through his final moments of prayer (Habakkuk 3:17-19):

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold  
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.        

Dear Readers, may we allow our prayers to reveal to us what work we need God to do in our lives.  Let us see our prayers as a mirror: exposing our hearts to us, convicting us, and leading us to personal repentance and unwavering faith in our Almighty, Sovereign, Wise God. 

Praying for you!  Elizabeth 

Teachable Moments

Midweek Meditation: What Is Prayer?

When we pray, God doesn’t need the right words or correct posture; what he desires is us. So how do we bring ourselves to our prayers? We set aside our own agenda, we put away the many things that distracts us, we consider intentionally who it is we are speaking to, and then we show up before the Father. Let us take a moment out of our busy lives to meditate on these words of the Lord about prayer: 

1 John 5:14 – 15 – And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. 

James 5:13 – Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

Psalm 17:6 – I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me; hear my words.

Romans 8:26 – Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Philippians 4:6 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

May you be encouraged to spend some sweet time with our dear Savior today!

Blessings to you, dear reader! Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

What Is Prayer?

Very few topics in the Christian Faith elicit more controversy than the topic of prayer, often because of the big “what if I don’t” questions.

  • What if I don’t pray the right words?
  • What if I don’t pray enough?
  • What if I don’t approach God with the correct mindset or posture?
  • What if I don’t……? 

Sadly, we often treat God like we do a formula for good leadership development.  We want a “to do” list that we can check off and when we get all those tiny boxes marked, we know success is right around the corner.  If I can do it “right”, then God will answer all my prayers in ways that bring me emotional comfort or physical prosperity – I’ll get that job; bills will get paid; the sick will be healed on earth; my worries will disappear.  

The problem with this thinking toward prayer is that it is not Christianly; we are making bargains with God, setting up a contract, rather than furthering our relationship with Him.  It does not take into account what God Himself wants when we pray. 

What does God want when we pray?  Jesus tells us what He doesn’t want. “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8).  I love that God can hear our prayers without a single word from us.  “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26).

It is in this understanding – that it is not our words that God desires, but us (ourselves) – that we are reminded that prayer is communion within the Trinity where 

  • God the Father already sees and knows all about what we feel, what we think, and what we’re going through.  
  • Jesus the Son has made the way for us to stay in constant communion with God through His perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection and He Himself makes constant intercession for us before the throne (“He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” Hebrews 7:25 ).  Jesus never stops praying for us.
  • The Holy Spirit fills and works within us, to intercede through us and on our behalf before the presence of God Almighty. 

God brings His whole self into prayer and He wants nothing less from us.

Prayer is the privilege of being a child of the King, knowing we can fling ourselves into the throne room at any time.  Much as a young child who has a loving father knows that they can interrupt their Dad at any time for any reason, we can be assured there is no small problem which exists in the eyes of our Heavenly Father.  Big or small requests, big or small praises, big or small confessions, He desires we bring all of ourselves to all of Him.

What does God want out of prayer?  Us! When we come and talk with Him, we show Him we trust Him, we affirm that He is able, and we are comforted, corrected, and consoled by God Himself.  Our relationship with God is strengthened and our minds are turned toward eternity. Because of prayer, we are now ready to resist the enemy, survive the storms, and walk in a peace that passes any human’s understanding (“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:7).

Dear Reader, will you pray constantly as scripture commands today (‘Pray continually” 1 Thessalonians 5:17)?  Because prayer is not a “to do” list but instead a “turn to” relationship with God, then you are praying continually as you consistently bring God to mind throughout the day, talking with Him in a perpetual conversation, praising His provision, asking for His accommodations, and confessing your faults.  Forgiveness, peace, and joy are readily available to all who abide in Christ, in the presence of the Father and are filled with His Spirit. In this relationship, we find prayer.

May God bless you richly today as you allow the One who loves you more than anything else He has created, be your biggest blessing and answer to your prayers.

In Him, For Him, and Through Him, yours fondly – Elizabeth

BONUS:

A parents’ prayer before the throne of God is a powerful tool in their child’s life.  The well-quoted preacher from the 1800’s, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, had a mother who prayed for him tirelessly and counseled him wisely, seeking God’s work of chastisement and repentance in the life of her sons.  We may consider her as a godly example for how we may intercede on behalf of our children. Spurgeon said this of his mother, “I cannot tell how much I owe to the solemn words of my good mother.”  Spurgeon’s brother said of their mother, “She was the starting point of all the greatness and goodness any of us, by the grace of God, have ever enjoyed.

May we as parents seek God and His kingdom first so we are filled with His goodness and wisdom as we speak to and pray for our children; it is God’s heart that takes precedence in our work of prayer on their behalf.