What do you do when you pray but don't hear anything? When it seems like God has forgotten about you? When your prayers go unanswered, and people you love die?
I wrote this almost 3 weeks ago, on August 5th. It came out of a place of pain and confusion - I was watching a friend's health decline due to cancer, and had just heard of another friend's diagnosis with cancer. I felt at a loss to process the suffering - of two young people who love Jesus very much, of their families and friends who also love Jesus, of my own. So I wrote.
Now that one of those friends, Ty, has gone on to be with the Lord, I revisited this poem and decided it was time to share. I hope it connects with your heart.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” – Psalm 119:105
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12
“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” – Psalm 1:2
I could continue to go on and on with posting Scripture references about the importance of God’s word in our lives. God has revealed himself to us through the writings of prophets, apostles, kings, and even doctors! It is these writings that allow us to get to intimately know the God of the universe.
However, this can be a very intimidating process. Most of us (including myself at times) often have no idea of where to start and what to do once we get started. While I have been introduced to several different methods of studying the Bible, I have recently been trying another method that I like pretty well. It seems simple on the surface, but is not so simple in practice. The goal is to read a passage or chapter of Scripture and make thirty observations on the text.
Now, I know what you may be thinking. “How am I supposed to make thirty observations on maybe ten or fifteen verses?” Exactly. This is something that is meant to stretch you and reveal things about the writing and the Lord to you that you may not have otherwise noticed. You will get to know the nuances of the author better as well, which can help to make the context of his writing more clear. While this is not easy in practice, it is a great way to study the Scriptures.
There are only a few things that you will need to know going in. First, take a few minutes to pray intentionally before examining the passage. I have found that it is much more difficult to understand/retain things if I do not ask the Lord for guidance beforehand. Second, be sure to read the passage at least a couple of times before dissecting it, so that when you go through verse one, you already have the overarching theme in mind. Then, just write down anything that stands out to you. If you make a minimum of six observations each day from Monday-Friday, then this can become a very sustainable practice and something you look forward to every day.
There are a couple of warnings/helpful things that I want to point out as well. When studying the Bible in this way, it is usually best if you are going through an entire book or letter. If you don’t do this, then it can be difficult to understand the meaning or context of chapter four if you haven’t read chapter one. Also, be sure to remember the overarching themes and truths of the Bible. If something seems out of place, make sure you check the context again and see if the rest of Scripture agrees. If not, then you need to rethink your interpretation. If you make a mistake or just feel stuck, don’t be afraid to reference a sermon or commentary. You probably won’t be very good at this right away (I’m still not) and that’s okay. The goal is to continue to study God’s word and develop a more intimate relationship with him as a result.
There is one more thing that I will say concerning this exercise. While it can work beautifully by yourself, this is a practice that produces so much good discussion in a group setting. I would highly recommend doing this with a couple of other people and study a book or letter together. Even when you make thirty or more observations, sometimes it can be easy to miss what is right in front of you until someone else is there to point it out. It is an incredible opportunity to build one another up and encourage each other as you all pursue a more personal relationship with the God of the universe. I hope this method will encourage you to read the Bible with vigor and excitement as you continue to let the Word of God sharpen you.
...we all need a guide when it comes to navigating the big things in life - new cities require maps, new tools require instruction manuals, and new ideas require a teacher. Spiritual exploration is no different. We need someone to come with us, walk alongside us, to point us toward the truth and help process what we learn along the way.
"Everyone is on a spiritual journey. We can’t help it. God created us that way...But here’s the key—while spiritual journeys are personal, they’re not private. We are designed as spiritual and relational beings. That means even a spiritual journey will be enhanced in relationship....The inescapable correlative of all this is rather simple: people need people in their spiritual journeys.”
I’m busy. You’re busy. We’re all busy. Busyness is the American way of life. Anyone “not busy” is viewed as either suspect or lazy. I get that, because it’s my reality too. My husband and I both have full-time jobs. We are actively involved in our church. We try to see our friends, our family, exercise, eat right. It all takes time, and time seems to be scarce.
So when I look at my life and feel “busy”, it is an accurate assessment. But I’ve vowed to stop using it as an excuse.
I am by nature type-A. I want to do everything, and I want to do it well. I'm also a bit scatterbrained, so I never seem to get to everything on my to-do list. It's the lethal American combination - "so much to do, so little time." So, quite naturally, I found myself handing out the “I’m just so busy” excuse just about every day.
“Did you get my text? You never responded.” Yes, I’m so sorry. I’m just so busy!
“We should hang out, I haven’t seen you in forever. How about next Saturday?” Maybe! Can I get back to you? (subtext: I am going to put you off so I don’t have to say no, and I will never get back to you.) I’m so busy!
Could you send me that document like you said you would? Yes, oh my gosh I’m so sorry I forgot – I’m just so busy!
It’s easy. It’s natural. It rolls off the tongue and expunges me of any guilt. It’s not my fault, I had great intentions – I’m just so busy!
I don’t think I realized what those words really meant, until recently.
A friend of mine saw me at a party. It had been awhile since we’d hung out, and as we caught up she said, “Friend, I’ve missed you so much! Can we hang out soon? When are you free?”
I opened my mouth to deliver my familiar phrase, “I don’t know, I’m so busy…” but as I did, a light bulb went off in my head. I heard what I was really saying, what I really meant.
“I don’t know, you’re just really not important enough for me to bother making time for you.”
Do we realize that’s what we’re saying when we use “busy” as an excuse? We’re all busy, but we find time for the things we find important – exercise. Date night. Bible study. Church. Those things find their way into our schedule. To use the “busy” excuse is to really say, “You’re not important enough.”
At the same time, priorities are important. We can’t make more time, and we can’t do everything. There is value in saying “No” to some things so that we can say, “Yes” to other things.
But I wonder how often we might actually find time if we were forced to be honest with people and tell them, “I’m sorry, but right now my priorities mean that there just isn’t time for that.”
If we were forced to tell people that they didn’t make the cut into our lives, would we be more careful about the way we spent our time?
I think so.
So I, for one, have vowed to stop using “I’m busy” as an excuse. There may be people I have to turn down, because my time and heart is engaged elsewhere. But I am going to give them the dignity of telling them the real reason I’m saying “no,” rather than passing off a flimsy excuse we can all see through. People deserve the dignity of my honesty, even if I can’t give them my time.
How about you? Will you join me in tossing out the “I’m busy excuse?”
Tonight, I have to share something that is heavy on my heart. This weekend, 21 Egyptian Christians were beheaded for their faith. Their deaths fill me both with sorrow and joy. Sorrow at the evil in the world, sorrow at the loss of my brothers, sorrow for the pain felt by their families. But joy, too - joy that these men "of whom the world was not worthy" (Heb 11:38) have gone home to our Father. Their lives on earth have been ended, but death has NOT won. Though they died, they have overcome "because of the blood of the Lamb & because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death." (Rev.12:11)
I am heart broken when I think of their sacrifice, because I know I have sacrificed so little in comparison. Their faith cost them literally everything they had, down to the very breath in their lungs. And what has mine cost me? I have suffered so little, sacrificed so little, surrendered so little.
American Christianity looks so often like my own. No suffering, no sacrificing, no surrender. We give what we have left over, and keep the rest for ourselves. I wonder - do we truly know the reality of the world that is beyond our insulated Christian huddles?
86% of of the world's Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus have never personally met a Christian.
2/3 of the world's population has restricted access to hearing about Jesus.
1/3 of the world's population has NEVER had the opportunity to hear the Gospel.
Less than 5% of all money given to churches in the U.S. goes to fund cross-cultural missions. Only 0.1% of that goes towards efforts in the most unevangelized countries of the world.
This breaks my heart. I have to wonder - if we don't care about 2/3 of the world's population, do we really even care at all? If we don't care about 2/3 of the people God has created, do we really care about God, either? Do we really care about anyone beside ourselves?
There is still time for those who haven't heard about Jesus, but they don't have forever. Do you feel the urgency? Do you care?
Lord, help us to move beyond the things of this world that enthrall us so much that we're blinded to those around us. Open our eyes, open our hearts, and help us to see like you see.
January 30, 2015
Thank you for praying for IndyCC. Because of you, 2,000 students attended from all over the Great Lakes Region. You can read a recap of it, along with pictures and video, by reading the recap blog post.
Rachel scanned the room, looking for an empty seat. It was Saturday night of Winter Retreat, and everyone was taking advantage of the free time after the evening session to hang out and play games. Seeing an empty seat at a table of women, she made her way over and sat down.
The girls introduced themselves, and quickly drew Rachel into their conversation. Over the course of an hour, Erin, Natalie, Angela and Sarah asked her questions and got to know her. Eventually, the conversation turned to spiritual matters. As the other women gently asked her about her beliefs, questions began to spill out.
What did Jesus really say? How can we really know that the Bible is true? Does God love us? How can someone get to heaven?
Finally, one of the women, Natalie, pulled out a small booklet with the words “Would you like to know God Personally?” written on the front.
“Could I share this with you? I think it might answer some of your questions,” she asked.
Rachel nodded, and together, they walked through a basic outline of the Gospel, Rachel asking more and more questions along the way.
On the last page, Natalie pointed to a diagram (on right) and explained to Rachel, “The circle on the left is a life without Christ. Self, or the ‘S’ is on the throne, and Christ is on the outside. The circle on the right is a life with Christ. That person has taken ‘Self’ off the throne, and let Christ come in and take control of their life. We all have to make a personal decision to allow Christ to come in and take control of our lives. Can you see yourself making a decision like this?”
Rachel paused. She knew she had never made a decision like this before, and something in her really wanted to – but she wasn’t sure.
“I think so, but I….I just still have so many questions.”
“That’s OK – we’re all Christians and we still have questions,” someone shared. “Jesus always meets us where we’re at, so we don’t have to understand everything, not even to make a decision to place our faith in Christ.”
That was exactly what Rachel needed to hear. Right then, Natalie, Erin, Angela and Sarah prayed with Rachel as she told God she was ready to allow Christ to forgive her of her sins, and take control of her life. She was ready to follow Jesus.
Prayer Requests for this month:
1. For Rachel’s new faith to continue to grow and flourish.
2. For the staff team at OU, as the head into the second half of the school year. Pray that the Holy Spirit would guide them, strengthen them, and empower them.
3. For us, that God would quickly provide the rest of what we need, so that we’d be able to report to campus soon.
4. For Emily. We haven’t shared this before, but Emily has a mild autoimmune disorder that affects her colon. We rescheduled a routine procedure (mentioned last month) for February 11th. This results of this procedure will tell us how treatment has progressed and what our next steps are. Please pray for (1) an easy procedure and (2) positive test results.
IndyCC 2014: Wherever You Are has officially come and gone. It was 4 full days of learning, worshipping, serving, and surrendering together. Here's a quick recap.
Approximately 2,000 students attended the conference, held in Indianpolis, from all over the Great Lakes Region. This was the first year that Clay and I have both been at the conference as staff, which was a really fun experience.
The main speaker this year was Mike Erre, a pastor from California. Mike spoke on the topic of sexuality. I know, I know - it sounds a little strange and um...awkward! But society is telling our college students every day what sexuality ought to look like and how to use it, and the result is often tragic. Mike shared with the students how and why God created sexuality, it's intended design and usage, and finally invited students to surrender ALL of their lives, including their sexuality, to the Lord during a prayer session. I (Emily) actually got to pray with several students as they confessed sin and surrendered themselves to God's plan for their lives. I can't even explain how powerful that was.
Beth Guckenberger, founder of Back2Back Ministries (an orphan care ministry) spoke about God's story, and how to be a part of it, while also sharing her own story and journey into starting an orphan care ministry.
Finally, our own Roger Hershey spoke. I've heard Roger give this same talk half a dozen times, but it literally never, ever gets old. He explains God's plan for the world, painting an epic picture of God's plan of redemption for the universe, and His ultimate coming victory. Finally, he opens an invitation for everyone to pledge their lives to being a part of that story - pledging to go where God asks us to go, do what God asks us to do, give what God asks us to give, and say what God asks us to say.
It was incredibly moving to see hundreds of students thoughtfully considering this, and then standing and clipping the signed pledge up on hanging ropes, as a public sign of their commitment. I took a video (below) to try and capture the massive scale of what was happening. You can't quite tell from the short video, but that was one of a dozen stations, and all of them had students streaming to them like that for several minutes.
God was incredibly faithful to us at the conference. It was not only a refreshing experience to see some of our friends, catch up with students, and hear some great teaching, but we got to see God change the hearts and minds of students in very real ways. Thanks for praying for us!
I have the uncanny ability to think of, and then fret over, every single possible future scenario. ANXIETY GIRL! ABLE TO JUMP TO WILD CONCLUSIONS IN A SINGLE BOUND! I can turn worry into an art form, friends. It really is impressive.
As 2015 crept forward, and my anxiety mounted, I recalled a line from an old hymn.
"I don't know what tomorrow holds, but I know WHO holds tomorrow."
Please forgive this post if it's not as polished and put-together as others have been. Tonight, I am blogging "off the cuff" about something I just started thinking about.
In this season of life right now, there are a bunch of things that have been really hard in a lot of ways. For months, and years in some cases, I've wrestled with the same handful of things. I've been waiting, waiting, waiting for these things to finally get better, go away. To have a moment of epiphany in which everything becomes clear, and the trial fades away.
But it hasn't happened.
For weeks I've been fervently praying, asking the Lord for help. The word that keeps coming to mind is "discomfort." For almost 3 years now, I've been in a constant state of discomfort for some reason or another, and I am just so tired.
Tonight, as I was praying, I realized something.
For the past 3 years, I've been waiting for things to get easier, instead of learning to trust God, and to take whatever He gives with a grateful heart.
And when easy never comes, I lose heart and feel abandoned by God. But what if "easier" never comes? What if it's just always hard?
Oh, man I want to trust the Lord with my whole life so much. But I'm finding it so hard to reconcile this thought - that there might never be a moment where the Lord says "Great job persevering. I will now make this situation "easy!" What if it's just always persevering?
How do you live within the tension of being able to ask the Lord for things, with faith that He will do them, while also remembering that He may, rightfully, choose not to? How do you live gratefully and contentedly, even in the areas of your life that consistently feel like a struggle? How do you, as Job said, receive both good and evil from God with an equally grateful heart?
What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear what you think and process with you.
Have I ever told you about the time I almost killed Clay? No? Ok, well I think this is a story worth sharing.
For our honeymoon, Clay surprised me with a 5-day cruise through the Bahamas. One of those days, I mustered up Clay's sense of adventure, and instead of booking a "shore excursion" through the cruise company, we decided to get off the ship and ask a local taxi to take us to a good beach for snorkling, that wouldn't be crowded with tourists.
That is a story in and of itself, but somehow 30 minutes after we got off the ship, we were sitting in the back of a beat-up limousine with no seatbelts, hurtling down the back roads of the island of Grand Bahama. For 20 minutes, we wound in and out of neighborhoods, sketchy shopping areas, and even sketchier industrial areas. I had a few moments thinking, "Is this taxi driver taking us to a beach, or is this the start of a Dateline investigation?" Finally, though, we arrived at a beach. And GOOD LORD was it beautiful. Like, jaw-dropping. Dateline 0, but Selway Honeymoon 1!
She dropped us off, we paid for our snorkling equipment, got the standard "don't touch the coral" lecture, and donned our flippers. Just before stepping away from the beach, the attendant asked "Do you want snorkling instruction? Or, for $10 more, I can use a jet ski to ferry you out to the reef. It's a pretty far swim."
I eyed the distance from shore to the rocky outcropping where the reef started, and estimated it at about 100 yards. Easy. "No thanks," I said. "We've been snorkling, and we can both just swim."
So off we went, trotting down the beach and into the water. I set off, Clay behind me, taking what I thought was a fairly leisurely pace. I was enthralled. I absolutely love snorkling, and couldn't wait to get out further, where I knew the good reef would really start. I gave a cursory glance behind my shoulder, and saw Clay a good distance behind me. I waited for him duck his head up, and yelled "Hurry up, let's go!!" He nodded, and started kicking again, so I turned around to keep swimming.
This happened a few times, so after awhile I got frustrated, thinking he was just being a slow poke, and quit checking to see if he was behind me. Some time later, we arrived at the first "buoy," which as essentially a giant rubber ball with ropes to hold onto. They were designed to give you a rest before swimming on (necessary in this case, because to snorkle the reef meant a 100-yard swim out into the ocean, where you were then effectively blocked from going back to shore by sharp rocky outcroppings and the strong current. To swim out meant to choose to swim for about an hour, straight.)
As I pulled myself up to the buoy, I looked back and noticed my husband, over 20 yards away, sputtering and struggling towards the buoy. He was struggling. I swam off the buoy, trying to remember what I knew about rescuing a drowning person. Before I came to a decision, he was in arms reach, and I pulled him towards the buoy. When he finally grabbed on, he was completely out of breath, and I was grateful we'd chosen not to turn down the life vests - I was starting to think I might be dragging him back to shore!
"Are you alright?!" I asked.
"Yes." He wheezed, "I.....just.....am not....a.....very good......swimmer."
"WHAT!?" I screamed. "I didn't know that! I thought you knew how to swim! I wouldn't have suggested this if I didn't think you were a strong swimmer!"
"NO!" he gasped. "And....I don't....really know....how to snorkle."
That statement earned a blank face. We had literally just been snorkling with dolphins yesterday. When I pointed that out to him, he pointed out that we had been in shallow water, and he had gotten out about 2 minutes after we'd gotten in.
Somehow, we made it around the rest of the reef and back to shore, but Clay was pretty beat, and I was pretty nervous. But, we did see some pretty awesome ocean life, and I think we both had a pretty great time snorkling! (Minus the sporadic sputtering from Clay when the waves swamped his snorkle.)
And that, friends, is an example of how you can discover the things you never knew about the person you married. By assuming and then almost killing them.
But in honor of that story, here are 5 things I've learned about Clay since we got married!
- He hates peas.
- He doesn't like corn off the cobb. It's a texture thing?
- He puts ketchup on his sandwiches. (Gross.)
- He makes really awesome pancakes.
- He can fall asleep alarmingly fast.
Thanks for not dying on our honeymoon. And thanks for not getting mad at me for almost killing you, dear.
“So I have a moral dilemma that I need to run by you, and I think you’re the most moral person I know.”
The first part of this phrase is not unusual to hear on a college campus, on this occasion the campus of Hocking Technical College in Nelsonville, Ohio. Emily and I were down in the area to meet with churches to talk about partnering with us in our ministry, so we decided to meet and catch up with Chris, a student in the ministry with whom I had the privilege of working with last year. I could not wait to catch up with Chris and hear about how the Lord had been working in his life.
We sat down at a picnic table outside the dining hall and had only been there for a minute or so when “Garrett” suddenly plopped down beside all of us and blurted out that sentence to Chris. He began to tell a long story of how he had befriended a girl with whom he had classes. She needed a place to stay between those classes, so he offered her his extra room key so she could have a place to nap. One thing led to another and they began to sleep together. Garrett’s moral dilemma had to do with the fact that this girl had a boyfriend already, so he was not sure how to handle the situation. He also had no idea if what he was doing with her was okay or not. Chris listened carefully, his eyes never leaving Garrett as his story unfolded.
Emily and I sat quietly as well, listening. My mind began to race as the story went on. “Garrett is not unlike a lot of young college kids”, I thought. “He is trying to figure out how to make it on his own, find happiness, and have some purpose. Yet he does not even have a basic moral compass. He doesn’t have anyone or anything to tell him what is right or wrong.”
I was also encouraged as I watched Chris engage with Garrett. He began to gently explain to Garrett why what he was doing was wrong. About this time last year, Chris had only just surrendered his life to Christ and began a relationship with him. It was incredible to watch him gently talk with Garrett and tell him why what he had been doing was not okay. I was incredibly impressed by his continued growth and maturity. Most importantly, Garrett had sought out Chris for his thoughts, calling him “the most moral person I know.” The fact that Garrett had reached out to him signaled to me that non-Christians know there is something different about Chris. Because his life has truly been transformed, he has already had opportunities to be a witness of Christ to others and will continue to have more.
Honestly, it was hard to see Garrett go through this and have no truth to lean on when life is hard. At a time when we are usually away from campus, our conversation with Garrett was a great reminder of why Emily and I have chosen to be full-time missionaries and work on college campuses. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” – Matthew 9:36
1. Praise God for all that He did at OU’s Fall Retreat (thanks for praying!) Several hundred students came, friendships were formed, and lives were changed.
2. For Chris’s friend, “Garrett.” Pray that God would work in his heart and his mind, and that his problems would convince him of his need for Jesus.
3. For all lost college students, “harassed and helpless”, that God would give us ample opportunity to introduce them to their shepherd.
4. Again, for us, as we continue to work on finishing our required seminary course and developing our Ministry Partner team so that we can return to campus. We are praying to return in January, in time for spring semester.
5. For a friend, with whom Emily is attempting to share the Gospel.