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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Practice What You Preach

Last week was an exciting week. On Wednesday morning, my wife and I celebrated the birth of our third child, our first son. By Saturday night, I was back at work, delivering the message at our Saturday night service. Some asked why not take the weekend off, but in my mind, I had already worked on the message and the opportunity to stand in front of our group and speak has to be my favorite part of the job. So, despite the sleep-deprived status I had achieved by this point in my son's life, I stood and spoke that night out of John 12. I felt okay about how things went, but also knew I could have done better with more sleep.

One significant point from my message was a choice that we all have between two kinds of prayers when we face a given situation. We can either look at the difficulty and say, "Save me!", or we can pray, "God, glorify your name through this." Jesus faced this choice as he looked at the road to the cross and his impending crucifixion. He was in agony and wanted to pray, "God, save me from this!", but he also knew that the cross was the very reason he had come. So, Jesus cries out to the Father with absolute trust, "Father, glorify your name." My point was that in life, we can either seek our comfort and safety (Save me!) or we can see the bigger picture of God and His Kingdom and pray that in our experience, whether we perceive the outcome to be good or bad, God would be revealed and made known through us (glorify your name).

Fast forward to later that night. We had gone to bed at a reasonable time, but as new babies tend to do, Carter woke up by 1:30 AM. This is not unusual, and after the experience of my two other kids, I was ready for these sleep interruptions. "No big deal," I thought as I helped get Carter for my wife so she could feed him. I laid back down, ready to rest up for Sunday. And I could not sleep. Not for lack of desire, but for lack of ability! I can't even begin to explain why, but at 2AM I felt wide awake. I went and watched some TV to try and "turn off" my mind. By 3AM, same story- it was like my heart had been pumped with adrenaline. By 4AM, I was starting to panic. I have had on-again, off-again bouts with insomnia throughout my life and I have come to know that I am just someone who needs regular, consistent sleep. My mind was racing, and in my heart I was fearful of how Sunday morning would go if I didn't sleep.

Throughout this time, I had been sending up some occasional prayers- the "help me fall asleep" kind- but by 4AM, my prayers were becoming desperate. "God, you HAVE to help me fall asleep! I can't do this unless I sleep. Please, just shut down my brain!" As I silently uttered these prayers, I heard a small voice in the back of my mind that sounded strangely like my own from earlier that night, "Are you praying 'save me' or 'glorify your name?'" This hit me pretty hard, because I was absolutely convinced that "save me" was the right prayer.

But as I let this thought in and began to consider the alternative, I sensed a change in me. When I quit worrying about whether or not God would save me and let me sleep, and when I began to pray simply that He would be glorified, I was calmed. I know this is a very small example compared to some of the big issues we face in life, but even in this minor event I was closing myself off from God. You see, when I began to pray, "glorify your name" my thoughts were different. I thought about how the message I spoke wasn't really mine to begin with. I thought about how God had used me at my best and my worst in the past. I thought about how this odd insomnia was suddenly the perfect time to pray and listen for God's voice in a life that has grown increasingly hectic. My prayers changed from fixing my own short-sighted problem to God having his way in my life in all situations; as a pastor, a husband, and a new father.

I wish I could say that because I prayed the "right" prayer, God then came and saved me by giving me sleep. No dice. I think I drifted off for a few minutes at 6AM, but it wasn't long before Carter's cries had me up again. But as I crawled out of bed that morning, I found myself strangely confident that God had met me, and that the day before me was in His hands. And that's always a good place to be.

In whatever you face this week, may your prayer always be, "Father, glorify your name." Just give it a try- even at 4AM.

Blessings on your journey,

Nick

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Stuck

I had one of those moments yesterday that just tugs at a father's heart.

As I walked into the house yesterday after work, I could hear that my wife was upstairs with our one-year old daughter. My initial thought was that our four-year old daughter was also with them. But then I became aware of a strange noise coming from our living room.

We have these two wooden chests in our living room that we use mainly as toy boxes to hide the mess. One of these boxes was groaning. Or growling. Or screaming. In reality, it was a combination of all three; one of the strangest sounds I've ever heard. I began to realize that this was the anguished cry of a trapped preschooler. Somehow, in the 60-seconds between my wife going upstairs and myself walking in the front door, Alyssa had climbed into the box and accidentally closed the lid on herself. The small latch had flipped over and essentially trapped Alyssa, although by pushing on the lid she could get it to open about half an inch, which she was doing repeatedly in futile efforts to free herself.

Moved with great compassion, I hurried over and released the sobbing captive. She threw her arms around my neck and continued her frightened, uncontrollable cry. As I held her tight, I kept whispering in her ear, "you're okay now, you're okay now."

It was a very odd mix of emotions for me. I wanted to cry with her, just imagining how horribly scared she must have been. But at the same time I had these feelings of gratefulness and joy- grateful that I had come home when I did and joy that I had been able to set her free. There was some kind of fatherly pride in being the one to rush in and save the day.

In that moment, I couldn't help but to think about how very much like Alyssa we all are at some time or another. We are trapped, and completely unable to help ourselves, in spite of our best efforts to find a way out. While no one is looking, or with no one around to tell us to stop, we crawl into a box of sin that looks appealing. And we're not sure how, but somewhere in the middle, the lid slams shut and what at one moment looked enticing and tempting suddenly feels very dark and confining. We shout, we scream, we try to force our way out. But we're trapped.

And then, the heavenly father is moved with compassion, hears our cry for deliverance, and rushes to our aid. Romans 5 tells us that, "At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Through Christ, he flings open the lid of oppression and sets us free from confinement. As we grab hold of him, He affirms his love for us, "you're okay now, you're okay now." He has felt our pain, but he also rejoices in being our deliverer.

Today, may you know a God that rushes to your aid anytime you cry out to him. He delights in setting the captive free.

Journey on,
Nick