Unanswered Prayers

Paul writes of his ‘thorn’ in the flesh. It’s in his second letter to the church at Corinth, he’s describing an experience he had with God, confused by an unanswered prayer for relief.

 How many of us feel like God’s not listening when we pray? 

How many of us struggle with the weight of circumstances and situations that we can’t escape, the powerlessness of being caught in a dilemma of someone else’s making?

It’s incredibly hard to stay encouraged, ‘up’ or full of faith when we’re praying for relief and finding nothing but more stress and overwhelming pain in our lives. But Paul gives us a very helpful and encouraging insight into these moments of struggle.

Listen to his words… “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”(2 Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV – Biblegateway.com) 

Paul gains the understanding in the midst of his frustration, pain, and bewilderment at God’s failure to remove the obstacles to his life. Instead of growing angry and resentful, He grows closer and more intimate with God. A peculiar response to a prayer denied. I long for that kind of trust and faith.

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For me, it’s a struggle to just trust God sometimes. To just believe He is up there. To let go of my control for His will. I wrestle with the difficulties and attacks that seem to never end in my life. I wonder at the wisdom of such persistent stress and spiritual oppression, it seems so overwhelming. So pointless.

But then a passage like 2 Corinthians 12 comes along and light breaks into the darkness of my despair and I ‘see’ again. I remember the goodness of God and His infinite capacity to take the attacks of the enemy and use them for good. Not just “his” good, but ‘my’ good.

Paul illustrates the point of unanswered prayer so succinctly here you can miss it without taking the time to dig a little deeper. God’s grace and power are released in these ‘thorny’ moments of our life. Released in a very unique and permanent way that no other life experience can create.

It’s in these struggles of faith and circumstance that God transforms and abides with us. Our strength is sapped… and His is tapped. 

Powerful grace overshadows the overwhelming despair and defeat we feel… we gain character (for Paul it was humility) and we gain it permanently. We lose our fear and grow courageous, full of anticipation for how and where God will show up in our circumstances. Paul was convinced that the grace and power released in his struggle would so far overshadow the pain of it all that he was encouraged by the setbacks in his life.

So, if you’re in the midst of a rough spot, feeling beat up and abandoned, don’t give into the doubt, God is with you. If he’s not answered your prayer yet, He will. And like Paul’s triple request for relief, if God in his wisdom chooses to leave you in the situation, it’s’ because the outcome is going to be so much better than you can imagine, that it’s worth the wait.

I pray for that atmosphere of faith to rule in my heart.  “Lord I believe… Help my unbelief.” 

Pastor B.

Additional notes and links:

John Piper has multiple sermons and resources at DesiringGod.org on 2 Corinthians 12 – This is the one that was most helpful for me –  

BibleHub.com has a great array of Commentaries as well – the one by Barnes was so helpful in providing the detail on how these thorns create permanent changes in us.

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Roadtrip Reality-Check

Looking back at the past few years, it seems each summer has become a bit of a blur.
I find myself extensively travelling. Usually gone five or six weeks out of eight each summer. This year is no exception. As I get older… the thrill wears a bit thinner, and the risks and struggles seem to grow. I miss my familiar comfy bed and family more and sooner than ever before…I miss my parish and the lives of those I serve with. I find myself longing for the green hills of TN and the smiles and hugs of my comrades at Four Winds. Travel is awesome… for a week… and then it get’s old.
I know, I’m supposed to be the ultimate RoadTrip enthusiast, but I have my limits. This summer I’m finding myself feeling more and more weary… and so with the steepest hill still ahead, I’m asking for your help. Call it the Road Trip reality check if you will…
The process of Road Tripping is awesome for sure… the discovery of new sites and experiences, the joy of travel and adventure… the thrill of being with a group. But it is also incredibly chaotic, stressful, and always includes the unexpected developments of life on the road.
As a pastor, parent, and media exec… it’s a stretch to keep everything in balance during my absence. By God’s grace… so far so good. But I don’t want to assume anything this year. With the crazy events of the past few weeks and months, I am asking for your help, for your prayers… for protection and spiritual support as we go.

 

Summer 16' S&AShow CastCrewpic - Copy (2)

Summer 16′ Shock and Awe Show Cast and Crew!

Grateful to my wife, my church family, and my co-workers for their patience and support and for carrying the extra load in my absence. (not something I ever want to take for granted, the heroic service of folks like; Kevin Herrick, Shane Tucker, Anne Whitehouse Ciccoline, Mimi, and the entire 4W congregation), all of these amazing friends and family chip in to make a summer like this possible. I am incredibly thankful and dependent on them. They always step up faithfully, making huge sacrifices of time and energy to ensure our church family at Four Winds is well cared for. Without this community of faith… I would be lost.

This year will feature our longest trip yet. 20 days across the Northern USA, Pacific Northwest and Western Canada, and back to Nashville.
Please consider making the extra effort to cover our little band in prayer. We will be traveling with a dedicated, but small group of high-school/college age artists, crew, and staff as we criss-cross the Creation Festival circuit. 7-10 people all crammed into a rental SUV for thousands of miles. Facing an infinite number of potential risks, we need prayers for safety, unity, good weather, health, border crossings, functional gear and for stamina as we put in over 7,500 miles together… in very tight quarters. (it might surprise you to know… after 12 hours in a car…people can get a bit cranky, and crazy  :crazy pose - yellowstone '15 roadtrip
We’ll be repeatedly; loading, unloading, setting up & tearing down, and then rehearsing, sound-checking, and then presenting our six hour, 3 day… “Shock and Awe Show”. Living out of suitcases and sleeping in random hotels… each time we perform, mentally pushing aside our fears, fatigue, frustrations, and every-day life distractions…straining to give the best possible effort and all of it is done live.
We’ll be doing radio and TV interviews, sight-seeing, and recording our own video at some of the most beautiful places in the world. All of it in response to a desire to change the world one tween at a time. We’ll be capturing new video for the Shock and Awe pre-teen curriculum and gathering artist footage for season six of the iShine KNECT TV series.
Whenever we go out like this we always feel the increased spiritual oppression that comes with the territory. Your prayers are GREATLY appreciated. I promise to take lots of pics and to post them whenever possible.
Pray… for us by name, for the Rubyz girls (Tanner, Jessica, and Addy), for Alexis Slifer… for Tyler Hardin, for Caleb Mathias, and their parents.Pray for Tom Coverly (illusionist and host of our show) for our partners, artist’s and friends;  Abigail Duhon1GN and TJ Prodigy, for their families… for the staff of iShine (Mimi and Robert Beeson) for the Creation Fest teams at SonShine and North West festivals… for the gospel seeds of Christ to find open hearts and fertile ground to grow.
We are trusting God to work in and through us, and believing that His strength will be made perfect in our weakness. We are asking for hearts to be changed, for lives to be saved and for the future of our nation to be re-directed by a new generation of faith filled tweens and teens. We’re also expecting to see God reveal Himself to and in each of us in totally unique and unprecedented ways.
So please make the commitment to pray for us… and Lord willing, we’ll see you on the other side, with testimonies of God’s faithfulness and lifelong memories to share.
Thank you.
Pastor Brad…
#CreationFest16
#iShineontheRoad
#theRubyz
#iShinelive

The Unresolved Dilemma’s of Life…

For me, Faith is a lot like our culture… I perceive it to be an immediate thing.

I have a problem.

I pray.

God answers.

Problem solved.

Sometimes when I pray, God’s response is to say “No” and I hem and haw and shuffle my feet… grumbling a bit as I slowly start to obey. Other times it’s a resounding ‘Yes” and I nod my head in agreement, confidently striding through the next open door of life. But sometimes… the answer is “silence’.

adrianashton.co.uk

adrianashton.co.uk

What do we do when God doesn’t seem to respond to our urgent requests for an answer ? 

Do I quit asking and move on to wise counsel and best selling Christian books for direction? Maybe flip a coin 🙂 and hope for the best ?

Here’s a third option to consider. When God is seemingly removed and unconcerned with our immediate need for resolution, we may want to simply ‘wait’ for His still small voice.

Remember the prophet Elijah? His moment with doubt and struggle, hidden in the wilderness while all of Israel was out to kill him, a price on his head from the evil king. In that moment of severe isolation and distress, God shows up for Elijah and reminds him of the faithfulness of God to provide, protect and even ‘direct’ His servants lives.

I’ve found that ‘my’ preference for immediate faith isn’t always the way my heavenly Father works. In fact, it seems that God allows for difficult circumstances and challenges to exist in my life as a way to keep me close to Him. A chance for me to stretch my faith a bit further than ever before and time for me to really learn to find God in the ‘unresolvedness’ of my life. (my word)

May you find renewed hope and faith in the issues and stresses of life, knowing that your Father in heaven is avidly watching and working despite the delays.

As Saint Paul wrote to his son in the faith, Timothy!

“for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. 13 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:12-14 ESV)- Source BibleGateway.com 

Peace and Grace,

Pastor B.

Minor Miracles… Major Faith

We tell our kids the stories in the bible are more than a symbol, that in fact they are “literal” illustrations of God’s power and presence in our lives. But do we really believe that?

listverse.com

I only ask because I’ve noticed that kids seem to really believe that God will respond to their prayers. As kids pray, they do so expecting to see something happen… when parents pray, we often approach prayer as our duty, rather than the spectacular privilege it is, a chance to directly ask God for help.

I had a chance to see God work some miracles in my family this week. One was subtle, the other spectacular.

The subtle answer to our prayer could have been missed as “coincidence” or a totally natural outcome to the time and effort and desire we invested to get a solution to one of kids chronic health concerns.

My wife and I know better. The answer we received was after months and months of praying, seeking and waiting for God to direct and confirm. When the answer came it was a simple and profound revelation as to the true cause behind our health concern. Wonderful.

Very cool. An answer to our prayer, but certainly not the parting of an ocean or the revived breath of someone recently deceased. But a minor miracle none the less. It’s answer has influenced my daughter and her entire understanding of faith and God and divine intervention. She has taken a major step up in her faith as a result.

The other miracle was spectacular. Undeniable. Fantastic! Everyone who knows of it can only nod and shake their heads to the awesome grace and power of God to intervene and overturn injustice and pending punishment to one of our other family members.

These modern day miracles in my home, have reminded me how essential and practical prayer must become for our problems, our frustrations and our fears. God has provided us not only with a method to deal with our stresses and anxieties, but an opportunity to share that with our kids as we experience life together in a family setting. When we share in the challenges of life and ask God for help together, we all get to see faith in action and the sure to be seen minor miracles become the major steps of faith for our kids.

The next personal or family crisis you experience…put it before God in prayer first. Ask your family to pray with you. Then step back and watch as God shows up and works in and around the situation or circumstance in ways that can only be described as “Miraculous“.

Peace out,

b

Can you REALLY Hear God? part 2

It was time to step out in faith, and trust that the God who has always had my back… wouldn’t change or fail me now. He didn’t, and he won’t fail you. But to find out how He actually showed up for my daughter and for me…

I remember thinking of the pain in my daughters eyes, pain and frustration. She had been taught since a little girl of a God who would answer His children’s prayers, all you had to do was ask. She had asked, but nothing had happened and when she kept asking and asking… with nothing to show for it. All that she had believed about God started to come into doubt.

It was late at night and I was tired, and I wanted to just share the “pat” answer “that God is always at work, whether we can see it or not”, or “God’s timing is not our timing… ” but something inside me warned to NOT go Sunday School on my 14-year-old. It was time for her to hear God for herself.

So, I grabbed my bible and quickly looked up the day in my dailyaudiobible journal to see what verses were pre-set for the days reading and found the Psalm for that specific day. I read it quickly and it came alive to me. It specifically reflected the angst of King David in one of his many hours of desperation and loneliness and frustration with God himself. The Psalm was exactly describing what my daughter was experiencing

I sat down with daughter and read her the Psalm and as I did so, I asked her if that was how she felt ? She nodded her head with tears in her eyes… and then I shared with her that I believe God WAS answering her prayers. He had been all along, but she just had not yet learned how to hear Him.

When I told her the verses I read were for the day’s exact calendar date and were written over four three thousand years earlier by King David, it suddenly connected with her. God was speaking to her through His sacred word, not in the darkest corner of our church sanctuary with a deep baritone voice, but in her room, straight from the verses of the Bible.

Bethany connected the dots that night…God was speaking to her, she  just hadn’t known how to listen for His voice.

I then asked her if she would be willing to trust God one more time and pray with me for a friend ? She cried, and she sobbed, but in the end she spoke the words of pure faith and desperate hope that God would hear her cry. I agreed with her in prayer and promised to pray for her request with her for 30 days, and she promised to read her daily Psalm for thirty days and off we went.

Within two weeks of that evening, my daughter connected for life with her best friend Lilly Ann Gee. They are inseparable, joined at the hip. Good for each other, strong in their faith and in their bond that is like a sister and of course…supernaturally blessed. God answered Bethany’s prayer and mine, He showed up and exceeded all of our expectations.

The best part of the story… Bethany still reads her Psalms and she can and does hear God’s voice on her own now. Her faith is like any teenagers, but growing and stronger because of the testing. I hate to think what might have happened if I had just brushed her concerns under the proverbial “rug” that night.

Don’t pass up the chances God gives us as parents to show them the real Jesus in their world.

May God richly bless you with wisdom and grace for the journey of parenting as you like me struggle to “keep our families in between the lines and on the road of life”.

brad.

Can you REALLY Hear God…?

Can you REALLY hear God’s voice ? This significant question came up from one of my teenagers last year. My daughter was struggling with feeling friendless and alone in her freshman year of High School. She had been praying for God to provide her some guidance, to help her out, but felt He had abandoned her.

What began as a simple request from a fourteen year old had become a frustration that was rapidly evolving into bitter resentment that God didn’t hear or respond to our pleas for help. She felt that IF God was alive and interested…, why didn’t He choose to act ? When would He actually answer her prayers ? How would she know if He did ?

Those are tough questions, important questions! I mean we all kind of know…basically the general idea of what it means to “hear from God”. Don’t we ?

As parent’s we can’t afford to blow through the sincere fears and frustrations of our kids as “incidental”, or secondary issues that will resolve themselves in time. Doubtless my daughter would have made a new friend in time and doubtless this little concern would fade into the memory of a difficult adolescence, but the opportunity was rare to actually engage her with the faith her mother and I held so dear.

Recognizing the opportunity is one thing… providing good sound advice on how a person can Hear from God is quite another…

It was time to step out in faith, and trust that the God who has always had my back… wouldn’t change or fail me now. He didn’t, and he won’t fail you. But to find out how He actually showed up for my daughter and for me…well thats detailed in my next blog.

Part two… on Tuesday.

Peace Out Fellow Parents,

brad.

Faith or Fame for your tween? Beware the Disney parable…

Watching Miley Cyrus saturday host SNL sobered me a bit as I realized how much she really has changed. In just over six years she had gone from a fun and energetic, wholesome child star to a jaded and worn young woman. From the grocery store checkout rag’s to the primetime interviews… Miley’s family has been the focus of countless millions as they have been literally torn apart by her quote “successes”.

What happened ? It appears that somewhere in all of the success and stardom her values shifted dramatically. Her youthful innocence was replaced with something much different. Something darker and more destructive has touched her family, ironic as it seems… this destruction of family is one of the common denominators with most if not all child tv pop stars.

Why did it happen ? Somewhere along the way… her parents lost their ability to influence her more than the environment she was allowed to live in. Miley’s parents were affected by her success as much or more than she was… and it destroyed their home. The roots of their values, beliefs and faith were not deep enough to withstand the tsunami of her exploding popularity, wealth, influence and stardom.

What can we do to prevent similar loss in our families ? Stay close to God’s word, and to each other. Simple, but profound. By staying close to God’s word, we stay close to “reality” and in doing so, maintain perspective on who we are and how much life is not about us. When we skip that step, we start to immediately drift into another reality. One dominated by the influence of media, popular culture and the despair of a self-absorbed life. When we stay close to God, our roots of faith grow deep and wide… preparing us and our families for whatever may come.

Where do we go from here as a generation? As parents of faith, our first duty is to be intentional about our faith and guard our own hearts and mind. Time with God is irreplaceable and powerful. It restores our hearts and minds and prevents us from the presumption and deception of living  lives without the influence of the Holy Spirit. When we model our faith in our homes, we’re leading our kids to find a source of life and purpose much deeper than ourselves.

Our kids, our pre-teens need us to maintain our connection with our faith and our values. When we falter, we open them up to being influenced by someone else, for purposes that will ultimately destroy our lives. I Peter 5 describes the Devil as a ravenous lion, its true. He has plans to steal, kill and destroy us and our kids. The first line of defense comes on our knees and in the word of God.

I grieve for Miley, her family has been swallowed up by the very thing they so desperately wanted. Fame. As parents, we need to exercise some caution in our life choices… no matter how awesome the opportunity.  When we pause and pray before acting… we include God in our choices and in doing so we avoid the devastation of our very lives. I’m confident the opportunity to star as Hannah Montana seemed perfectly harmless on the front side, but in the end it led to a path full of pain and loss.

For all of us its the same…, we are in need of a savior, and in accepting His help, we must learn to accept His will. When we choose to let God pick… we’re protecting our families in ways we will never truly appreciate until eternity.

As a media executive in the pre-teen and teen world of music and television, I’ve seen this mediacentric scenario many times before. But it’s not exclusive to media…many parents want to live out their hopes and dreams through our kids and we never hesitate to encourage them to pursue their desires to the fullest.

From the performance pressures of little league to dance class to those pushing for academic scholarships… we as parents are risking the same outcome as the Cyrus family when we don’t offer a healthy life perspective, one full of faith, balanced in activities and content with whatever God provides.

God protect us from getting our own way ! Here’s to encourage us all to carefully steer our kids through their tween years knowing that we must model our faith and hope in something more than ourselves… Keeping it on the road and in-between the lines of life.

Peace out,

brad.