Thinking Out Loud

June 7, 2013

Never Give Up, Never Surrender Praying

With apologies for borrowing the Galaxy Quest title, this is actually a rather serious article which appeared here a year ago under the title When Faith Meets Finality.

I have to be honest. I am the type of person who doesn’t radiate a lot optimism when it comes to my own personal prayer requests, but when it comes to your prayer concerns, I believe in the limitless power of God to do anything — absolutely anything — even when the doctors, business consultants and marriage counselors have said there is no room for hope.

I’ve also encouraged my kids to pray and to ever be trying to enlarge our prayer circle beyond our own immediate family needs, which frequently means they are praying for people they have never met, or as is the case today, a person who I had never met.

She was the wife of a sales rep of a guy who calls on our store representing a large Christian publishing company. When we first met seven years ago, she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. So we prayed in a parking lot that day, and have been praying for her healing ever since. She fought long and hard and at one point seemed to triumph over the disease, but then it returned. And then it spread.

However, this did not temper the language with which I interceded. Like I said, I believe in the limitless possibilities of what can happen when people pray.

Until the day my wife phoned me to say an email had arrived announcing she had passed away.

For several minutes I was silent.

Faith met finality. Her battle with cancer was over.

Still, without trying to spin the outcome we had not longed for, I believe I can say that in some measure the prayers of myself and others were answered, for although some would argue that our wrestling with God simply dragged on the process, in those seven years her two children — now in their early teens — got to spend more time with her, to receive her values, to have a more solid memory of the sound of her voice, to be held, and to be loved.

Do these outcomes shatter my faith? Hardly. It’s still there. God could raise her from the dead if He chose to, and I have heard stories where people prayed just that. Were they in denial? I don’t think so; I think there are other ways to manifest denial than by proclaiming the possibilities of miracles.

I believe we should just keep praying, right up to the last possible moment. If anything, this just increases my faith for the next need that is brought to our attention.

As to my recurrent weakness in coming boldly to God’s throne for my own needs, I simply offer this today: You pray for me, and I’ll pray for you.

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August 24, 2012

Steven Furtick: Start Small, Dream Big

Somewhere early on in the book Greater: Dream Bigger, Start Smaller, Ignite Gods Vision For Your Life Steven Furtick comments that where his first book — Sun Stand Still — invited people to “pray audacious prayers,” in this book he wants to invite people to “live audacious lives.”

I say “somewhere” because normally when I read a book to review here, I grab a half sheet of white paper — which also acts as a bookmark — and as the reading progresses, I note different words and phrases that I want to incorporate in the review, and I also note page numbers for excerpts at my other blog.  That process fell apart with Greater; I just kept reading and reading and before too long I had a completed book and a blank sheet of paper.

So now what to write?

Greater is based on the life of the prophet Elisha, who asked his mentor, Elijah, for a double portion of all that Elijah had and did; which is remarkable when you consider Elijah on Mount Carmel, and the fact we know that story but can’t always quickly recite an Elisha story. But Steven Furtick argues that certainly Elisha did receive a greater portion.

Three things stand out to me on reflection, and in the absence of more detailed notes.

First of all, I continue to gain respect for all that Steven Furtick has accomplished and is doing at Elevation Church in Charlotte. He shares more of his personal story in Greater but does so in a way that relates to those of us who haven’t started a megachurch lately. While some of us spent our teen years rocking to Top 40 radio, Steven went to work playing and replaying sermon audio of great classic preachers, learning every nuance and cadence of their teaching. You sense that this is a unique person for whom God had a unique calling; yet at the same time he writes to the average person whose job may not seem as spiritual and may not be as high profile, and to those who may not currently have a job at all.

Second, while my mom enjoyed Sun Stand Still, I was much more aware this time around of a writing style that would strongly connect with a reader in their thirties, twenties or even teens. (Greater doesn’t need a youth edition; the book is the youth edition!) Christian book readers, meet your next generation author. But Furtick also bridges the generations that will read his book; when he speaks of an experience as a young man burning his (secular) CD collection, he stops to remind his younger readers that by burning he doesn’t mean duplicating.

Finally, Steven Furtick has the ability to extract a teachable moment from absolutely anything. I’d mention a few, but they’d all be spoilers… Okay, one:  Have you ever been at a football game where a referee’s ruling is sent ‘upstairs’ for a second opinion? An announcement over the public address system begins, “Upon further review…”  Well, as they say on Seinfeld, in this book, “that’s an episode.” Analogies like that stick with you and come back to you in the moment you need that extra shot of faith.

Greater releases in hardcover in the U.S. on September 4th, and in paperback in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

June 14, 2012

When Faith Meets Finality

I have to be honest. I am the type of person who doesn’t radiate a lot optimism when it comes to my own personal prayer requests, but when it comes to your prayer concerns, I believe in the limitless power of God to do anything — absolutely anything — even when the doctors, business consultants and marriage counselors have said there is no room for hope.

I’ve also encouraged my kids to pray and to ever be trying to enlarge our prayer circle beyond our own immediate family needs, which frequently means they are praying for people they have never met, or as is the case today, a person who I had never met.

She was the wife of a sales rep of a guy who calls on our store representing a large Christian publishing company. When we first met seven years ago, she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. So we prayed in a parking lot that day, and have been praying for her healing ever since. She fought long and hard and at one point seemed to triumph over the disease, but then it returned. And then it spread.

However, this did not temper the language with which I interceded. Like I said, I believe in the limitless possibilities of what can happen when people pray.

On Tuesday my wife phoned me to say an email had arrived announcing she had passed away. For several minutes I was silent. Faith met finality. Her battle with cancer was over.

Still, without trying to spin the outcome we had not longed for, I believe I can say that in some measure the prayers of myself and others were answered, for although some would argue that our wrestling with God simply dragged on the process, in those seven years her two children — now in their early teens — got to spend more time with her, to receive her values, to have a more solid memory of the sound of her voice, to be held, and to be loved.

Do these outcomes shatter my faith? Hardly. It’s still there. God could raise her from the dead if He chose to, and I have heard stories where people prayed just that. Were they in denial? I don’t think so; I think there are other ways to manifest denial than by proclaiming the possibilities of miracles.

I believe we should just keep praying, right up to the last possible moment. If anything, this just increases my faith for the next need that is brought to our attention.

As to my recurrent weakness in coming boldly to God’s throne for my own needs, I simply offer this today: You pray for me, and I’ll pray for you.

December 22, 2011

Book Review: The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson

Before this blog started four years ago, I was already a regular reader of Evotional, the blog of Mark Batterson, pastor of National Capital Church (NCC)in Washington, DC, recently reformatted as MarkBatterson.com .  In the short space that followed, Mark has written In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day, Wild Goose Chase, Soul Print and Primal; while at the same time NCC continues to expand with new campus locations in movie theaters located along the DC Metro route.

With The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears, Mark moves over to Zondervan; borrowing a story from Jewish antiquity about Honi The Circle Maker and propelling that story into a challenge to all of us “draw circles around” the thing or group of things that constitute our greatest needs or righteous desires.

In many ways, The Circle Maker follows in a line from two titles you may already have on your bookshelf: Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala and Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick.

The former comparison is appropriate because this is a book about vision birthed in prayer, though unlike the large prayer gatherings described by Cymbala at the Brooklyn Tabernacle, much of the growth at NCC began with Mark quietly walking around sections of Washington, often not fully cognizant of what he was praying for or what the answer would look like when it appeared.  It was only when there was a major development in the life of the church that Mark realized that his prayers had become reality in ways he never dreamed.

The latter comparison is apt because this is a book about praying the big prayers, the impossible prayers.  Since Furtick’s book is more recent, this might be a good book to read as a sequel to the Charlotte pastor’s challenge to pray “audacious” prayers.   All three books are faith-inspiring, and all are written from the perspective of pastors building churches but with connection to your biggest hopes and prayer concerns.  Mark Batterson also encourages readers to pray intensely and to pray continually over the long term for the big prayers that can result in big answers.

Ironically, there is a section in the book where Mark shares his “bucket list” of things he’d love to do, and one of them is to “write a New York Times bestseller;” and today Mark reports the book is in fact to be mentioned in the January 1st list as a recommended title.  Perhaps you’ll want to add a checkmark to that item when you get your own copy!

  • Read a sample of The Circle Maker at Christianity 201
  • Watch a preview of the DVD curriculum Zondervan has developed for the book at YouTube.

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