Hope and a Prayer (and a Giveaway)

I love how God gives us just what we need when we need it. Sometimes, it’s the perfect heart song on the radio. Sometimes, it’s just the right quote on a friend’s Facebook feed. Sometimes, it’s a spot-on word of encouragement from a faithful friend.

In the last few months, the Lord has dropped some sweet opportunities in my lap. I’ve been helping some Christian authors launch their new books. In exchange for a free copy of the book, I agree to read it and help promote it in any way I can. For a book lover who’s in-between jobs, it’s a smokin’ deal.

When I applied to help launch Nika Maples‘ book, Hunting Hope: Dig Through the Darkness to Find the Light, I had an inkling God was up to something.

I drank in its message like a stranded desert wanderer. Nika knows how cold a winter season of suffering can be, and she knows how to hunt for hope in the darkness.

Friends, if you read only one book this year, read Hunting Hope. Nika’s stories will bring you to laughter and tears, and her message will shine a light toward the hope you need when life gets cold and dark. If you’re not in a season of suffering now, you will be at some point. That’s just life.

huntinghope

When suffering comes, and it will come, we have a choice.

We can let suffering drive us away from God, or we can let it drive us to God. We can sink in hopelessness, or we can swim in His hope.

From my experience with suffering, I’ve found my first response is to ask God why. I think God’s okay with our questions because they keep us on speaking terms with Him. He wants to hear from us. The big question is do we want to hear from Him?

“Questions about suffering are questions about sovereignty. Either God is in control, or He isn’t. If God is in control, then what we know about God is more important than what we know about our circumstances” (Maples).

Do you believe God is in control? I do. I believe God can do anything, and I believe nothing happens to me, good or bad, that takes Him by surprise.

I think one of those reasons is to train us how to be hope hunters. And what’s a hope hunter? Here’s what Nika says:

Hope hunters secure themselves with biblical truths about God’s character. How we see God will affect how we see our circumstances.

Hope hunters take action based on biblical truth. After our knowledge of God’s character has been established, we allow Him to work on our character.

In a nutshell, suffering helps us understand who God is, and once we become familiar with His character, we trust Him to do refining and restoring work in ours.

I’m not going to rush this season of suffering anymore. I’m going to use it to my advantage. Suffering sends me running for cover under the shadow of His wing, and that’s where miracles happen.

I want to pray for us hope hunters using the chapter titles of Hunting Hope  as my outline. If you’re hurting, this prayer is for you.

Lord,

This winter leaves me cold and shaking and calling out for help and answers. When I let my mind run wild, shame and despair chase it to places where darkness and lies pose as light and truth. 

I won’t let my mind run wild anymore. I will hunt for hope.

HE LET IT HAPPEN

If I believe You’re sovereign, Lord, then I have to accept that You allowed my suffering to happen. I choose to consider that a blessing and not a betrayal. You have information I don’t have—“both the reality of the present and the fullness of the future” (Maples). I. Trust. You.

HE KNOWS HOW MUCH IT HURTS

Thank you, Lord, that I don’t have to keep a stiff upper lip with You. I can weep. I can whine. I can even wallow—as long as I do it in Your arms. I hear Your compassion calling me, “Draw near to Me, and I’ll draw near to you” (James 4:8).

HE HAS A PLAN

Lord, I’m so glad You can take our flat-on-face failures and use them for good. Your ways are so much higher than mine (Isaiah 55:9).

“How can we discern a will so high above us? We must bow low. We approach Him in extreme humility, not even attempting to know the direction we should take” (Maples). I choose to humble myself, Lord. I will fast. I will pray. I will listen. I will obey.

HE HEARS YOU

I know You hear my cries for help. My pleas for miracles. My questions in the dark. You even hear the prayers I can’t find words for (Romans 8:26).  Though You sometimes respond with silence, You never respond with inaction. You are always working out Your plan and always attending to my heart.

HE CAN HANDLE IT

You see the big picture. You see the why and the how. All I need to concern myself with is seeing the Who. “Knowing Who is in control will wrap peace around the Why” (Maples).

HE HAS GONE BEFORE YOU

You knew what was coming, Lord, and You equipped me with the weapons I need to stand and fight. Your Word is the sword of the Spirit, and Your Spirit lives in me (Ephesians 6:17). Again, I say thank you for my suffering, for suffering drives me to Your Word. 

“Every time we apply a new Scripture—when we wield it to slay a giant in our lives—it becomes ours” (Maples). Thanks to my dark seasons, I have a whole arsenal of weapons to use in this suffering-prone life. 

HE IS WITH YOU

You were there when my life fell apart, and You’re here right now putting it back together. Give me eyes to see You, Lord.

“We will see Him when we look for Him. We will hear HIm when we listen for Him. We will sense Him when we make space for Him” (Maples). Oh, Lord, help me leave my soul space wide open for Your free movement.

HE IS CHANGING YOU

“Winter reveals weakness. Trials are not an abandonment, then, but a mercy. They give us another chance to change. We have to trust God and stop trying to get out of our difficulties too soon, even by way of mental escape” (Maples).

Thank you for the way You’ve used this season to make me better. Keep going, Lord. Complete the good work You’ve started in me (Philippians 1:6).

HE IS TRAINING YOU

My scars are proof that I survived. My scars are reminders of how far I’ve come. My scars are hope. Give me the courage to show my scars, to tell my story, to guide others through their battles with all I’ve learned.

“Our testimonies are the sacred battle histories of what Christ has done and won” (Maples).

HE WILL REWARD YOU

“I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name” (Isaiah 45:3 NLT).

What treasures do You have for me, Lord?  God-breathed courage I can pass on to others. Astounding joy plopped in the middle of my pain. Increasing inner strength through exercising my faith.

Best of all, I receive overwhelming evidence that You are all I need.

HE WILL NOT LEAVE YOU

You are my best friend, sweet Lord. The Lover of my soul. You meet me right where I am and hold my hand. And you never leave. You never get tired of me. You never give up on me. You stay. I hear Your love song singing straight to my wounded heart: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 NIV).

HE WILL NOT FORGET YOU

Sometimes, the pain pounds so hard that I can’t hear that love song. Sometimes, the evil one almost convinces me that You’ve forgotten me like a bad dream. But You just sing louder. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16 NIV).

HE WILL CARRY YOU

Lord, there are moments when this heartache is so heavy, I fear my heart will give out. But You are close to the brokenhearted, and You save the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). When the burden seems too great, You sing another verse of Your love song: “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4 NIV).

HE WILL SPEAK TO YOU

Your Word speaks truth to me every time I read it. Every time I hear it. Every time I remember it. It is alive and active. It storms the stage of my cluttered heart and sets me straight. The enemy of the Word speaks, too. He spews and accuses and does everything he can to negate Your truth. 

Forgive me for listening to him for even a split second. His words lead to death. Yours lead to life and unshakable hope. Help me learn to listen to You and You alone.

HE IS ENOUGH FOR YOU

I can get pretty down on myself, Lord. All I’ve lost reminds me of all the ways I’ve failed. But when I call myself names, I’m calling You names. Your Spirit lives in me. I am Your dwelling place.  Your love is made complete in me (1 John 4:12).

You are bigger than my failures. You are bigger than my pain. You are bigger than this winter, and You will see me to my spring.

What can I do with all this truth about who You are? What is the appropriate response to Your faithful ways?

I will submit my whole being to Your trustworthy hands. I will let You have Your way in me. I will allow Your character to transform mine.

I will  CHOOSE HUMILITY because  “people who are already on their knees don’t trip” (Maples).

I will GIVE GRACE because You’ve given me so much.

I will SING TRUTH because You’ve “put a new song in my mouth. A hymn of praise to [my] God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him” (Psalm 40:3 NIV).

I will KEEP GOING because this winter will not last. “the promised lang is hard work, but it is good work. And it is worth the work” (Maples). I will not stop on this side of it. I will keep going.

I will WAIT EXPECTANTLY because “even during dark days, we must operate in the anticipation of a dawn” (Maples). 

“When seeds are broken, they release growth. When God’s people are broken, they release hope” (Maples). 

My hope is in You.

In the name of Jesus I pray, AMEN

I could fill a dozen blog posts with quotes from Hunting Hope that God used to poke holes in my darkness. I’d love to pass that on to one of you. If you’re in the middle of a dark season, leave  a comment on this post, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Nika Maples’ beautiful book, my treat. 

 

 

 

 

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Mining for Diamonds

A few months ago, I got a text from my high school bestie, Kristy. She asked me if I’d be the worship leader at the ladies retreat she was planning. I know her well, so I’m pretty sure she was just looking for a way to make sure I’d show up to the retreat, since I hadn’t signed up yet. Wait…I think she knows me pretty well, too.

Socializing hasn’t exactly been my thing lately.

Well, I told her I’d do it, and I prayerfully prepared my song list. As the retreat date approached, I had to fight a deep sense of dread. The thought of spending a weekend with a pile of chatty women did not feel safe to me and certainly not fun. When severe flooding caused the weekend to be postponed, I was relieved (and then felt way guilty for being so selfish).

A couple weeks later, the retreat was rescheduled at a different retreat center. As I refreshed my memory of the song list, the dread seeped in just like those flood waters. I flat-out did not want to go, but I knew I needed to, and I knew I’d be fine once I got there.

I reached out to a handful of my prayer warriors and asked them to pray that I’d be open to God and girlfriends at the Girlfriend Getaway. Oh, how I felt those prayers.

As I drove to the retreat center,  just a few miles from my cowboy daddy’s former ranch, my dread faded, and my anticipation grew. I whispered a “have your way, Lord” prayer and parked my dented Buick in front of the cabin. I was greeted with hugs and smiles and friendly faces, and the old Lee who doesn’t meet a stranger came back to life.

I spent the weekend with two dozen girlfriends, some new to me and others old church pals from my teen years. The leaders taught us how to study God’s Word for ourselves rather than depend on our favorite preacher or Bible study teacher to do it for us.

Nothing like stepping on my lazy toes right off the bat! It’s way easier to let my pastor or Beth Moore do the hard work, so I can just take notes.

As  the teachers shared a boat-load of Christian resources available to help us dig into the Word for ourselves, I thought to myself, “I am without excuse.”

There is no easier time to become a serious student of God’s Word.

Resources that used to be only accessible to theologians are right there on the internet for regular folks like you and me. You no longer have to have a seminary degree to break down the Word to its nuts and bolts. The Christian bookstore is chock-full of lexicons, commentaries, and Bible dictionaries, not to mention the Holy Bible in a dozen versions.

If, like me, your budget is tight, there’s still no excuse. The internet has sites like Bible Gateway, Bible Hub, and Blue Letter Bible with free study resources. The other day, I spent close to an hour perusing Bible Hub about one verse of the Bible. I read the verse in five or six translations, looked up some of the cross references, figured out the Greek definition of the key word in the text, and read commentary remarks written by a theologian long gone to heaven. I’ll blog about what I learned later this week.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of the wealth of prepared Bible studies out there. There’s nothing wrong with subscribing to your favorite pastor’s podcast. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with sitting under the teaching of your personal pastor/shepherd.

We need to get as much “God stuff” in our minds as we can. We surely have plenty to learn from each other.

I’d be so bold to say that no Bible teacher or pastor worth his or her salt would want to be the sole source of a fellow Believer’s spiritual knowledge.

When we take the time to dig into the Word for ourselves, we invite God to shine His spotlight on precious gems, just for us. What a beautiful, intimate opportunity!

I imagine Him placing His hands over my upturned palms and placing perfect diamonds there. Just because I took the time to dig in the diamond mine of His Word with Him as my guide.

Thanks for my friend  Kristy and the Girlfriend Ministry team, I now understand that I need to be doing more than reading a quick devotional each day. I need to invest regular time in serious, intentional study.

Like any positive habit, it will require hard work and sacrifice. I will have to cut back on other things to make the time to study the Bible. My track record on good habit forming is kind of sketchy.

I need the strength and power of God to help me become a serious student and not just a spectator.

What about you, friend? Do you want to feel the beautiful weight of God’s diamonds in your hands? Well, let’s ask Him to help us dig deep into His Word.

Lord,

Thank you for Your Word, and thank you for the people out there who’ve caught the Bible study bug and care enough to challenge the rest of us to study, too.

I want to study, Lord, but not enough to truly change from spectator to serious student. If left to my fickle will and my faulty ways, I won’t change. I’ll keep taking the easy road where precious gems are few and far between.

I don’t want to be satisfied with Beth Moore’s hand-outs or my pastor’s breadcrumbs. I want to dig out some gems of my own. I want to crave that time with You. That time of communion. That time of discovery. That time of growth.

Help me to long for time with You more than I long for a few more minutes of sleep.

Help me to crave time in Your Word more than I crave time with my TV shows.

Help me to want to know You more than I want to know what’s on Facebook.

How shall [I] keep [my] way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With my whole heart I seek You; do not allow me to wander from Your commandments. Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You. Blessed are You, O Lordteach me Your statutes. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path   (Psalm 119:9-12, 105 MEV).

Blessings and fruitfulness come to those who delight in and meditate on Your Word. (Psalm 1:1-3). I want those blessings. I want that fruit. Meditation takes time, Lord. Keep me from rushing the process.

Your Word is “sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10 NIV). I’ve experienced that sweetness on my tongue. Please help me get to the point that I can’t go a day without tasting that nectar.

Your Word “is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV). I need that living, active, laser-sharp Word to make its mark on me.

The verse I’ve clung to since childhood flashes like neon in my spirit. “I can do all this through [Christ] who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NIV). By Your strength, I will study Your Word, and through study, I will know You better and love You more.

Your Word is life.

In the name of Jesus, the Word made flesh,  I pray,

AMEN

Do you have a favorite Bible study resource you’d like to share? Or would you like to start digging into the Word for yourself? Leave a comment, and let’s continue the conversation.

 

 

 

 

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