Limited Vision: Growing Trust Muscles

God grew my trust muscles during a time of terrifying limited vision for my immediate future.

To me as an adult now, that sounds like an extremely overdramatic depiction of my situation then. But to me as a thirteen-year-old, entering a huge new high school–with no friends–was scary.

I was leaving a tiny Christian school with an eighth-grade graduating class of thirteen. I had known each student for years. Becoming a part of a public school of sixteen hundred unknown students was daunting.

It didn’t help that the only person I knew who was also going to my new school was a girl who had been the primary instigator of my seventh-grade bullying. Knowing she had spread lies about me for years did not give me confidence that she would not do the same in the new school. I longed for a good experience meeting people and making friends in a new environment.

My limited vision made me feel lonely and afraid.

Knowing God was with me was not the same as feeling confident. Hearing from parents that I would be fine did not take away the knot in my stomach.

Joshua 1: 8–“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” was a verse I claimed–though I certainly had no physical enemies to slay.

My parents prayed with me and for me in my fear.

I’m sure it helped that they believed I would be fine. But it also helped that they validated my fear by praying for me in it.

I have a vague memory that my mom also told me that I didn’t need to make friends with everyone on that day. And she encouraged me that many other people would be feeling much the same way I was.

She told me to try to find one person I could connect with. Then after school that day she asked me if I could tell her about one person I thought I might be able to be friends with. I could–I excitedly told her about many possibilities.

When God told Joshua to be strong and courageous, he wasn’t telling him he had to do all the work alone. God rarely tells us we need to do our work completely in solitude. He calls us to community.

Sometimes the work he calls us to is finding our community. At other times it’s finding other people who need the community that comes from walking with Jesus Christ together.

In that way God blessed me with two very different parents who each helped me see different parts of what God was calling me to.

My mom helped me in figuring out how to be open to people who were possibly feeling as alone and in need of a friend as I was. She helped me see them as potential friends rather than as threats.

My dad helped me see each new friend or even acquaintance as someone who might be yearning to know who Jesus Christ was. The great thing is that God doesn’t have limited vision. We can trust his vision.

 

Will Jesus Return on Glorious Fiery Clouds?

Will Jesus Return on Glorious Fiery Clouds?

Will Jesus’ physical presence simply overwhelm every outdoor and indoor space, making all instantly aware of him at the same moment?

No matter how it happens—and whether it happens in our lifetimes or not—we will all know. Immediately.

One of my favorite memories of high school is of ending our Bible study lesson from The Uniqueness of Jesus. That day one of the girls in our new-believer group had an excited question: “Lisa, when it happens–when Jesus returns–promise to call me right away! Okay?”

I assured her that she would know as soon as I would, because Jesus was her savior too.

But I was amused. The thought had never occurred to me. I knew no one would need to call anyone else to alert them that Jesus had returned. But this new believer, only 14 years old, thought it logical. Since I had first told her about Jesus, she thought I would have the news before she did.

Her passionate enthusiasm for the day of Jesus’ return was contagious. She was excited and wanted it to happen soon.

I wanted to want that too. But I didn’t always live with that thought in mind.

In fact, a couple years later I remember asking my mom if it was bad that I didn’t want Jesus to come back yet. She gave me a comforting answer.

She told me that at my young age it made sense that I wanted to be able to live a while to experience so much of what life promised me. There were good things in life that God wanted me to enjoy and to look forward to.

Yet . . . I think we often fail to focus on what a greater reality we have to look forward to in spending the rest of eternity with God.

Do we need to tell our children they need to spend their time longing for Jesus’ return and for heaven? I don’t think so.

When my eleven-year-old confessed mournfully that she didn’t really want to go to heaven, I comforted her, as my mom had comforted me.

I asked her why. She told me that it did not sound appealing to sing all the time. I laughed and told her how normal she was. I said heaven would absolutely not require constant singing. It would better than the best things we can imagine.

Most of us can relate to not wanting to do anything all the time.

But we also do not want to be like the Laodiceans in Revelation 3: 16-17: “I know your deeds; you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were one or the other. So because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of My mouth.”

How can we cultivate in ourselves the excitement of my young friend? Can we help our children see Jesus as real? And that living face to face with God is going to be unimaginably wonderful?

How can we regain our first excitement and help our children capture it also?

“Fartie Artie! Fartie Artie!”

“Fartie Artie!” taunted Arthur’s classmates countless times a day after his tragic mistake.

The story was that one day when home alone after school, he had been playing with matches and accidentally caught the curtains on fire. He had burned his home down. And his schoolmates would not let him forget it.

Arthur was two or three years older than I was, so I had been unaware of his existence before this event. But now I continued to notice taunting classmates evacuating whatever table he sat down at for lunch.

My second-grade self felt horrible for Arthur in his shunning. I worried to my mom about it.

I remember her asking me a question I had never thought about: “What do you think Jesus would do if he were a student at your school?”

I grudgingly said, “He would probably go sit with him.”

But Jesus would have been a boy and would have probably known Arthur.

“But I don’t even know him.”

Mom agreed and was quiet.

Then a bit later, “Do you think it would be okay with Jesus if I took my little sister with me?”

Mom assured me that she thought Jesus would approve. Fortunately, my first-grade sister was good-natured and very willing to accompanying me on this mission.

The next day when we sat down across from Arthur and said, “Hi,” he ignored us except to move as far away from us as possible. This was NOT part of our plan.

My mom assured me that it did not mean our joining him was the wrong thing to do. She encouraged us to give him time. So we did.

I’m not actually sure that Arthur ever spoke to us. After all, girls our age definitely had cooties. Everyone knew that.

But after several days of our odd lunches, a couple of my friends joined me and my sister. Later a couple of his friends joined him.

After a few days of our segregated groups eating at the same table, I decided our task was finished. I never noticed Arthur taunted or isolated again.

Maybe that would have happened naturally in the same number of days—just because kids would have gotten sick of teasing him. We will never know.

I certainly never had a chance to tell Arthur or anyone else that the reason we were joining him is that we were trying to be like Jesus. They will never know.

But my mom’s question for me and her quiet encouragement of me and my sister in our mission taught us a lot about the character of Jesus.

She taught us that Jesus does not shun people who feel like losers. Jesus does not taunt people who really mess up. He loves us all and wants us to show his love to those around us—especially when they mess up.

“Daddy, can I PLEASE have pet chickens?”

“Daddy, can I PLEASE have pet chickens? Pleeeeease?”

My dad used this conversation to teach me about God and his love for me.

Growing up, I wondered to my dad how much sense it made to pray to God about everything. What if God didn’t want to do what I asked? If my prayer wasn’t something he thought was a good idea, he wouldn’t do it, right? Would I make him mad by asking?

As an example, Dad asked me what I thought he would say if I begged him for pet chickens. I thought that was silly and told him so.

He suggested that I think of myself as a small child living in a big-city apartment building with my family. Suppose I desperately wanted pet chickens and begged for that. Would he get mad at me for asking him for them?

“No,” said my dad. “I might laugh at the idea, but I wouldn’t get angry. I would explain to you all the reasons it’s an impossible idea. I might have to tell you no many times, but it wouldn’t make me mad.

“God loves you so much, just like I do.

“He doesn’t want you to be disappointed. He doesn’t want to have to tell you no. But he also knows that some ideas just don’t make sense. Other things you want and pray for could be bad for you if you got them.

“God will always answer your prayers in the best way for you—even though it won’t always feel like it. But he always, always, always wants you to come to him with your prayers of whatever you are longing for.

“Just like I love having you come talk to me in my study when you get home from school, God loves having us talk to him about whatever we are thinking.”

As a child, my prayer requests were fairly simple. As I got older, of course, that changed. Then my dad helped me to understand that God also wanted me to come to him and vent when I was angry. Even when God was the person I was mad at.

When I felt abandoned by God because he let me go through traumatic events he could have spared me, God wanted me to vent at him about it. He wanted me to beat my fists onto his chest and ask him why he had let me or those I loved suffer in ways he could have prevented.

My dad didn’t have answers for me when my fiancé left me on my wedding day. But he had taught me clearly that God loved me and wanted to hear from me in my pain.

I didn’t learn the answers as to why God let me experience that traumatic period until years later, but I had learned the most important lesson about it from my dad years before.

God’s love for us is unconditional and unshakable, and he treasures our turning to him.

Is there One Best Thing I can do to spur my Child’s Knowledge of Jesus?

 What is the best thing you’ve done for your children so far? How about for their knowledge of Jesus?

Many people know that James Dobson famously told fathers the best thing they can do for their children is to love their children’s mothers well. I’ve often wondered why he didn’t give the matching advice to mothers.

But do you know that one simple, regular action is reportedly 99% effective in keeping that marriage love alive? Don’t we all want that for ourselves as well as for our children? And understanding the love of God is greatly aided by seeing godly love in family members.

General estimates put chances of divorce in general as about 50%. Unfortunately, other studies show that married people in the church do only a little better.

One habit changes the statistics radically: vocal prayer together regularly as a couple.

Various studies indicate the staying power of marriages where people pray together as between 95 and 99%. Staggering data.

Simply going to church together seems to have little impact on the duration of marriages—according to surveys. Though my own experience is that attending church together strengthens marriages.

But prayer together out loud makes a dramatic difference in protecting marriages against the enemy.

That may seem impossible.

But what happens when we pray together? If we are sincere as we turn to God, we find the Holy Spirit working in us as we pray. I’ve had many times when I was irritated with a friend, yet praying for her caused me to see life from her perspective in unexpected ways. Even when I was not praying about the conflict.

It is true with our spouses as well. Often it may be too awkward to express all that we are feeling in our prayer. That’s okay. Any effort to go to God together unites us. God draws us closer to himself and closer to the person we are praying with.

My husband and I started praying together before bed for an embarrassing reason. Someone my age had brought up casually something about their prayer time as a couple before bed. I immediately got defensive and thought, “She’s not closer to God than I am! We should do that too!”

Obviously, that was totally the wrong motivation. A sinful motivation. But because my husband and I did come to God sincerely, he blessed us and our marriage tremendously.

For most people praying out loud with children feels less intimidating than with other adults. So if praying as a couple scares you, start with your kids. But remember how our marriages are strengthened when we pray out loud together regularly.

Maybe the easiest way to start praying out loud together is by praying with your children together.

When we think about wanting our children to experience the power of prayer in their daily lives, is there any better way than seeing it modeled by parents who talk to God regularly together?  

What are some of the things that motivate or stand in the way of prayer with our spouses?

 

Disoriented by my Parents’ Indecision

I felt disoriented, almost dizzied by my parents’ indecision.

Parents are supposed to know what’s happening in life and be in charge, right? At ten, my world felt flipped over because of my parents’ not knowing what to do.

First, they believed God was calling my dad to a different ministry. Then they weren’t sure. My mom and dad needed to pray about it more.

For what felt like a long time—probably only a few weeks—my sisters and I didn’t know whether we were going to continue living in Tri-Cities, Washington, or move to Portland, Oregon.

The memorable thing is that while my parents were praying and looking for God’s answer, my sisters and I felt unmoored. As children, we obviously found our security not in God but in our parents—and in their knowing what to do.

Our family had moved from California to Washington the year before. Initially I had experienced great homesickness, believing I’d never again find wonderful friends like the ones I was leaving.

But by this time my sisters and I had all adjusted. I think we were not so much scared of the potential move as freaked out that our parents didn’t know what to do.

One clear memory is of the three older girls gathered in a closet for a meeting and having a secret “vote.” It was probably my crazy idea. We each gave all the evidence we had on either side and then “voted” by “secret ballot” on whether we thought we were going to be moving or staying.

We were looking for some sort of certainty in ourselves, since we were not seeing it in our parents.

Ironically, the sister vote was unanimous for Portland, but we ended up staying in Tri-Cities.

We learned my parents had also initially believed God wanted to move them into a new ministry. But God showed them otherwise. During those weeks of their indecision a number of people committed themselves to the Lord and to our local church, giving evidence to my parents that the elders were correct: God had been using their gifts of evangelism. And he wanted them to stay and continue to work there.

God continued to bless their ministry inthe church abundantly over the next decade. Clearly my parents had heard God correctly.

What I remember most powerfully, though, is my parents’ waiting to hear what God wanted them to do. I never heard them discuss either the advantages of friends in Washington or the culture and beauty of Portland.

It was simply “What does God want us to do? Where does he want us to serve him?”

As a child, it amazed me that adults would make major  decisions simply because of what they understood Jesus wanted them to do.

Jesus became much more real to me as a result.

I wish I could say I began then to instantly trust Jesus for daily decisions in my life. I didn’t. But I did perceive for the first time this important practice.

How do we show others that we trust Jesus for major decisions?

 

 

Six Reasons Family Devotions Fail

#6— Dinnertime family devotions fail because schedules hardly ever work for everyone to even eat at the same time.

#5— Mid-evening devotions fail because each person has so much to do that there’s no time.

#4— Bedtime devotions fail because people are tired and crabby then.

#3— Morning devotions fail because of people being too tired to get up even earlier than otherwise necessary.

#2— Family devotions fail because the kids are too little yet to be blessed by them.

#1— Life is just too busy right now for everyone and will work better when things settle down.

The truth is that the main reason family devotions fail is that parents are tired and feel stretched to the max. With so much on our to-do lists, we do what is urgent. We think it’s better to wait for better circumstances than to do family devotions poorly.

 In reality, the best devotions are often brief ones that bless the parents and then bless the children.

If we as parents take a few minutes to seek the Lord through his Word—even when we are exhausted—we will all be blessed.

When parents—as leaders of the family—are blessed by meeting God regularly, children are blessed.

Is it possible that babies will sometimes cry? Yes.

Is it also likely they will get used to the routine? Yes.

Might children sometimes feel bored? Yes.

Are they also likely to find interesting what their parents do—eventually? Yes.

Might one or two family members make so many jokes that the family is laughing hysterically and postponing Bible reading? Guilty. Both as a child and as an adult.

But did those occasional times actually increase family bonding? Yes.

Many excellent Bible materials are written in age-appropriate formats for children.

Children are capable of learning so much. That’s why they’re often called little sponges. What better material for them to soak up at an impressionable age than the Bible?

My parents traded off between reading the Bible with an adult devotional and reading a children’s Bible storybook. My husband and I used a Bible storybook when our girls were little. Later, they were all ready for regular Bible reading and an adult devotional.

Suppertime worked well for us. I know some people choose to do devotions together before the first child goes to bed. I have heard of parents choosing an after-school slot. I have even read of parents who insist early in the morning is best for their family. I am so not a morning person that I can hardly imagine doing that!

Family devotions sound like such a good idea—for some day in the future when life is a little calmer and more predictable. Right?

Is there a part of you that wishes you could do them right now as a family? Might there be a way to try a very short version of them at whichever time of day suits your family best? If you have ideas on how this works for you, I would love to hear them.

Can I Create Good Traditions?

Who needs tradition?

It’s boring to do everything just like our parents and grandparents. What’s worse: It will make our children think that Christianity is just a bunch of empty habits, and they’ll reject it. Right?

Our girls went through periods of rebelling against church attendance. Satan did his best to reinforce their rebellion. Lost shoes, people not feeling well, hair that seemed to snarl worst on Sunday mornings. General crabbiness.

We countered with a special tradition a pastor had suggested: a yummy, sweet breakfast only on Sundays.

Coffeecake actually helped. Who would have guessed? One friend calls it “Fighting Satan with cinnamon rolls.” 

How can we choose our family’s habits—or traditions—intentionally—to establish what my friend Jeff Fisher calls “the scaffolding of our faith”?  

 How do we choose actions that will reinforce in us and our children our love for the Lord Jesus and his centrality in our lives?

As we think about building this spiritual scaffolding, we need to remember that scaffolding is not fun, nice-looking, or desirable in itself, only in what it allows us to build

We don’t want our children unhappy. Still, habits—even excellent habits—can be uncomfortable at times, until we grow into them.

For example, family devotions after dinner with very young children can make everyone crabby at times. Prayer time with the entire family before the first person goes to bed delays bedtime and can be a nuisance.

Asking a child for a prayer request each morning before school may feel pointless when a child’s daily answers sometimes hardly vary—“I don’t know. That I have a good day.”

Sharing some of our fears and inadequacies with our children and asking them to pray for us is scary.

We may not want them to know that we are feeling emotionally fragile that day. Or that a parent’s job is in danger. It might even seem likely to limit their trust in us as parents.

Yet God calls us to share with our children and others around us the ways he is working in our lives.

He is not terribly concerned that we might not like feeling vulnerable.  

He is concerned about our showing him as the surpassingly awesome Lord of our lives!  

And he wants us to share with our children how he is answering our prayers. As we think back over ways God has grown our faith stone by stone, we are called to be intentional in choosing our family’s traditions in ways that help grow that faith. For each family member.

If, like me, you grew up in a Christian household, you may have traditions that blessed you. You may have already adopted them. Or you might plan to start once life feels a little less hectic.

Or you may not have spiritual traditions to choose from. No matter our history, God calls each of us to be intentional about faith with our children.

I encourage you to choose one new spiritual tradition to establish in your household.

 What are things you have tried in your family? How God is working through your choices?

Hope for our Children: Hidden Treasure

Are our children doomed if we do not delight in reading the Bible?

Will our children never learn to love the Bible? Worse, will they never trust Christ as their Savior?

Thank God that our children’s faith and spiritual growth is in HIS hands rather than in ours! We can be grateful that our God is sovereign and can work in our child’s heart and life even if we do nothing to further the process.

Nevertheless, most of us want to be part of the process of our child’s discovery of who Jesus Christ is. We desire the joy of seeing our child turn to Christ and then learn to love the Bible and prayer.

But too often the tasks that need to be done now subject us to the tyranny of the urgent—rather than allowing us to spend time developing a faith that we won’t be able to fully see until some vague time in the future.

One difficulty is that infants demand so much time and energy that young parents don’t feel energy for anything other than the urgent. If that is your situation, try listening to the Bible on your phone while you are feeding your baby. Then pray out loud. It’s one way we can listen and talk to God while actively parenting.

Another difficulty is that babies often have siblings. What if you have older children around while you are feeding your baby? Is it possible in your family to have the children sit with you and listen to a story while you feed your baby?

My older children grew to love that time because they knew that when their sister was being fed, they would be read to. They rushed to get me a book when they saw I was starting to feed the baby.

If you are in a period where it is impossible to find quiet time to read your Bible and pray, think about reading a Bible story to your children while the baby feeds. Simple prayer time can follow. God will bless you as he blesses your children.

Most importantly, remember that each phase of parenting is a season. In some seasons it is easier to find time for spiritual routines than in others. And God loves us through them all. He loves us and he longs for us to seek him, so that he can allow us to feel his love more powerfully.

As Proverbs 2:4-6 and Psalm 21:6 tell us, when we seek the wisdom of the Lord, we experience eternal blessings and the joy of God’s constant presence with us. We find the “hidden treasure” put there for us.

What are little ways you have seen God bless you with signs of his presence with you? What are ways you have found to make way for the Bible in your busy life with children?  I would love to hear your stories.

Nana Love: Praying with Babies

Praying out loud with a young baby seems to have absolutely no benefit for your baby. Your prayer reaches God, but your baby is too young to understand.

In fact, toddlers might loudly say “Amen!” in an attempt to end your prayer and regain your attention. The first time it happens, you may giggle unexpectedly. I did. I also remember that as an older child I thought it was funny when one of my sisters or I was able to make a parent laugh during prayer.

So why do I believe in the huge importance of communal prayer with babies? Because babies grow up. And because children learn from us. And we don’t know when God starts to give them his peace through prayer. Maybe from day one.

What is important for us to make time and space for—even when it is not convenient—impresses children as important. There is no magical day on which they reach understanding. They gradually figure it out.

Likely they’ll never know when prayer first made sense to them. If you haven’t been praying with your children yet, I encourage you to try it. Even if you need to talk to God about your feelings of awkwardness privately beforehand, show your children the importance of talking to God out loud together.

Just tell them it’s time to talk to God.

If you are starting a new habit with older children, explain that since God wants us to talk to him regularly, you want to do it together and not just silently. Don’t worry if they shrug or make a face. You’re showing them the importance of prayer through your persistence. God will reward that effort.

I remember that each time one of our toddlers first said “Amen!” in a happy voice after us, we were thrilled.

Did that mean she had any idea she was talking to God? No. She probably just knew her saying it would bring her positive attention. But was she on a path of learning how to talk to God regularly and effectively? Yes.

We were also amazed at how young they were when they first learned to be quiet while we were praying at the dinner table. True, it took significantly longer for them to be quiet for the whole reading of the Bible passage and devotional. And even then, their behavior was not always consistent.

We had to be ready for interruptions for quite a while. But with our infant daughters—as is now true with our active, toddler grandson—we saw them understand quite early the reverence they saw in us during our quiet prayer time.

At first it was hard not to giggle as they tried to engage us to distract us from prayer or devotions. It’s hard not to engage with our grandson when he sometimes calls, “Nana!” and “Gaga!” during prayer.

But as we persevered, our children learned to respect prayer and eventually to participate.

We’re sure our grandsons will too. The thrill of hearing a child earnestly pray out loud for the first time is something unlike anything else.

What has gone well or been difficult for you in praying with your child or children?