Thursday, March 29, 2012

Book Review: Opening the Gates of Heaven

(I'm pleased to now be doing Book Reviews for Charisma House. So here is the first review!)

I so wanted to immediately LOVE this book, but I got bogged down with tedious, although Scriptural, multiple details within the first couple pages. So much information! The author, Perry Stone, writes on an important topic but supports almost every statement with some Biblical reference to the geography of Israel, the specifics of tabernacle sacrifices, geology specifics--and that's all in the first chapter!

Perry, Perry! I want to exclaim. Help us out here! This is the reason why many people are frustrated in their prayer lives: they can't figure out what they're doing right from wrong because it all seems so hard, so much, so confusing.

But there are many nuggets of gold in this book-- you just have to expect to do the hard work of a miner and dig for them. I wouldn't try to read this book in one sitting, that's for sure! A page a day and you could have plenty to chew on and think about.

And one minor detail: for some reason, there are so many references to what God did back then, back in 1982, "many years ago," sometime back in..., I recall when.... , that it seemed like answers to prayer happened, for him, long ago. It's just how it came across to me, initially; but as you read you discover, of course, that God is working NOW as well as then in his life, and God will give you history with Him as well as a future. It was just a reminder to me, though, that we need to tell a current story of God's favor and deliverance and help.

My favorite chapter was Chapter 13: it's motivating, encouraging, and specific. There are some concrete truths that he puts words to that are helpful, such as "Grace is unearned and is a free gift from God, but favor may be deserved or gained." Hmmm, tell me more, I think. He addresses questions such as "Why some (people) seem more 'highly favored' (than others)?"

The last chapter is powerful: "Important Principles for Opening Heaven's Gates." And that's when you discover that, like getting through this book, walking in "the favor of answered prayer and blessing" is not walking, or tiptoeing, through the tulips. You want favor with God? You want your prayers to be answered? Don't give up after saying one prayer, after reading one chapter of a book on prayer. Persevere. Study God's Word.

Make the pursuit of God your aim, and the answered prayers will follow.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Charisma House, a Strang Company, as part of their Book Review Blogger Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

When You're Down...But Not Out

Yesterday I folded laundry, made a pot roast, worked on a chapter in the book I am writing. If anybody had been watching me do all this, they might have thought it was pretty insignificant, my day. Nobody would have been able to tell I was doing all faith. Because the truth is, I felt like lying down, pulling the covers over my head and going to that murky place of dream land. Any dream I could have slipped into would have been better than the reality I was experiencing.

I'm not going through any severe trial or catastrophic circumstance. What I am experiencing, though, is the doldrums, the spirit of heaviness. I feel exhausted but more than that I feel helpless, incapable. There are a number of reasons why I've lost confidence in my God-given abilities, but the point I want to make here is this: sometimes people are acting on the last bit of energy, faith, and hope that they have.

You see them doing a load of laundry, and really they are doing an incredible feat of accomplishment because they would rather just go to bed and forget everything. You see them walking their dog, but really they are taking step by step, in faith, because they are trying. Period.

We have no idea of what some people are experiencing because we don't always see what they are feeling. We see them as capable and talkative, and in reality, they are mustering their last bit of strength and faith just to talk to you.

Yesterday there was a knock on my door. Harry went ballistic with his barking. I could barely hear the guy, when I opened the door, because I had Harry by the collar and was trying to restrain him. He's a sweet dog but don't mess with his territory or threaten his masters. This guy was no threat, but Harry didn't know that.

"Would you like to see the seafood and meat we have for sale?" he asked me hopefully. I couldn't even hear the name of the company, but even if it had been legitimate and known for delicious food, I already had a freezer full of meat. And we're not much for seafood, except for in the summer time. So I told him no thank you, and I hope he heard the sincerity in my voice. He might not have because Harry had not ceased to growl and bark.

He left and I went back downstairs to work on the laundry. But immediately I felt something in my spirit for this man- and it was compassion. What a hard job he had, I thought. I wouldn't like to have to go door to door-- not in this day and age, not in this economy. But the operative words were "have to." He probably had no other choice. He probably had a family to feed. He probably had something better to do in previous years, but wound up with this job to do--because it was the only thing he could do.

So I prayed for that man. Oh I prayed a thunderbolt of blessing to come and hit him. I prayed for a flood of encouragement and provision into his life. It was too late for me to go call him back to my house, and I really couldn't have bought much from him other than maybe a steak for that night. But it wasn't too late for me to reach him through prayer.

Maybe it was good that I was feeling so low yesterday, so dispirited and discouraged. That allowed me to relate to someone else who literally had a hard road ahead of him. That caused me to pray for, and bless, that man. And believe me, we do have the power to bless, and not curse.

It is no small thing to ask God to bless someone. God loves it when we pray for others and want others to have what we would want to have. So I wanted this man to be lifted up. I wanted this man to know hope and strength. I wanted this man to get a break and get a better way to make a living. I wanted his family to see him come home and say to them, "I don't know why- it was a crummy day in sales- but I feel encouraged. I feel hopeful." And then out of that encouragement, he may try to send out a resume again. He may try to start that business. He may decide to go back to school and get that degree that everybody told him he was too old to get. He just might decide that he can keep going.

Friend, no matter how down you feel, God will send someone to encourage you or pray for you. Be assured that He will not let you stay down when you feel down. He wants to lift you up. He wants to answer prayers that are spoken over you by someone else who saw you struggling to do faith.

In Judges 6, we read the account of an Angel greeting Gideon with an amazingly positive proclamation, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior." Gideon did not feel like a mighty warrior. He didn't even look like one. But the Angel is there to tell Gideon about the mission assigned to him of saving Israel from the Midianites. And here's the incredible thing the Angel says to him,"Go in the strength you have." The little that you have, use it. The bit of strength you have, fight with it. It might be more than you realize.

Today, please know that if YOU are reading this, and you need encouragement, I care about your predicament. But more than that GOD CARES. He cares about salesmen out on the road, about stay at home moms who are exhausted, about teenagers overwhelmed with choices, about men who are out of work and out of hope as far as they can see. He cares about you doing the ordinary things that are taking seemingly extraordinary strength to do. HE sees you trying to take the next step of faith. He sees you using the bit of strength you have-- and He wants to multiply that strength.

So, go throughout your day, you mighty warrior!! There is more strength on its way to you. More blessing. More power.

There's just, simply...MORE.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spiritual Exhaustion

This post is for exhausted people only. If you're pumped up about life and you've got everything figured out, enjoy your day and God speed. See you next post.

Okay, if you're still here reading, it could be that you've had a hard week so far, or maybe a rough month, or maybe it's been a really long winter. You might feel beyond tired-- you're actually weary. You feel like a wet noodle,maybe. If you're floppy and you know it, say amen.

But I've got some good news for you, friend. You can be weary and weak and just about out of steam. In fact you might have one last little prayer of "Help, God!" in you and you're about to utter it pleadingly- and even then you're not sure it will availeth much.

Can I tell you something about spiritual exhaustion? It happens. It happens to the best and the brightest and the strongest and the most well-intentioned of us. The fact that it happens is not the thing I want to tell you. That's just what I want to establish as our base line truth. Here's what I want to tell you though: spiritual exhaustion is not necessarily evidence that you've done anything wrong. In fact you may have been doing many things right, lately. You've prayed up a storm. You've read your Bible faithfully. You helped someone and never bragged about it. You've tried to utter blessing and not cursing when you've been hurt or rejected. You've tried to do good and not cause pain. You've tried, period.

Last summer, on vacation, my son tried and tried to skim board. Skim boarding is when you take a board and "skim" across the surface of the water-- but it's shallow water. You can't drown in it. You're just supposed to glide across it. Glide, I said. Not pound the surface. Not fight the current.

And now let's enter the "deep" end, here: you were not meant to always be pounding the surf, hitting against hard wave after wave. You were also meant for gliding. You were made for "easy" times too.

Don't get offended about that word easy. So many Christians do. I can hear all the pulpit pounders telling me that life is hard and the life of a disciple is harder and get ready to fight the good fight. And fight again. And fight to the end.

Do that. Fight when you need to. Contend for things when it's a matter of faith verses sight. But don't forget to glide....when you can. When there's a wave of ease and opportunity, by all means, take it! When Christ offers a yoke that is "easy" and a burden that is light, He is talking about ceasing from trying so hard and accepting the suitable and comfortable yoke of obeying what He's asked you to do. And sometimes obedience requires such perseverance and denying of self. And sometimes God sends a wave of refreshment and He expects you to take it ...and glide. Step out into the Spring air and breathe deeply. Enjoy that late evening walk. Take the hand that is offered to you instead of saying, "Oh, no, I'm fine."

Psalm 46:10 tells us to "Be still and know that I am God...." Stop all the strenuous exertion and get a revelation of how powerful He is and how weak and floppy you are. It's okay to be blown away by the contrast. One commentary on this verse digs deep into the meaning of "be still" and explains that it has to do with casting down or letting something fall. " be relaxed, slackened, especially the hands: It is also employed in the sense of not making an effort; not putting forth exertion; and then would express the idea of leaving matters with God, or of being without anxiety about the issue."

I'm all about persisting in prayer, persevering in prayer. I believe in contending for the promises of God. I believe Scripture tells us, over and over, that we must be bold and strong and obedient and faithful. But it also tells us that when we are weak, HE is strong. When we are "relaxed" He is still powerful--and not at all offended by our taking a glide across the water and shouting "weeee!" as we go.

Stop striving to make things happen. Let God see you relaxed and expectant at the same time. I can raise my hands to heaven and pray and I know this pleases God. But I can also let my hands hang down in exhaustion and marvel at the fact that God is never weary. I can honor Him even in my weakness; perhaps because when I know I am weak, I might just realize, in a greater way, how strong and powerful and capable God is. When I understand this, really understand this, that's my faith in God showing. I might even display more faith in God when I am going through a time where I'm weak and exhausted-- if I can admit He is not offended by my fatigue and I am not resistant to His offering of help and grace.

Be still before Him. Let go. Let your hands flop down in fatigue if you have to. Rest easy in the knowledge that He's got a wave of refreshment coming to you. It's for you. It's yours for the taking. Glide on it.

There's more where that came from.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Caution!! Open Doors Ahead!

Safety Bill and I had just fallen asleep. Well, I was about to enter that deep stage of sleep when little noises and nagging thoughts start to disappear and you give in to that wave of blessed slumber that should hopefully last for about eight hours. Mine lasted for about eight minutes-- because I woke to a strange whimpering, scratching sound. It didn't sound like our dog Harry because he either barks with conviction or cries pitifully (and theatrically, at times). This was more like a very panicked cry for help and the sound of struggle.

"Did we leave Harry outside by mistake?" I whispered to Bill, elbowing him awake. If it was a robber in the living room I didn't want to advise him that we were awake.

"No, I brought him in. He was with me downstairs just before I came to bed."

Oh. Now I knew what the noise was and where Harry was: he was between a rock and a hard place.

My poor shaggy boy is now about ten years old and getting slightly arthritic and more than slightly unbalanced. He has fallen down the last couple of stairs a couple times and scared us and ourselves by his lack of ability to do things he used to so easily do.

I ran to the door leading to our downstairs finished basement and carefully but quickly opened it. It was dark and there was the sound of his nails scrambling on the top painted step; and then he flopped into me. He could have fallen the other way, down the stairs.

You see, he was at the top of the stairs, but the door was clsoed. It was dark. (Bill had left Harry asleep on the couch downstairs when he had come up to bed.) The stairs are slippery because they are a painted wood, with kind of a enameled coating. The stairs- each tread- are narrow. Harry is wide. And thus his predicament: he was waiting for us on the very top step, leaning against a closed door, his body half falling over the step and threatening to tumble down. He was in the dark. And what scared him the most, I think, was not that the door wouldn't open if he cried out or barked loudly, but that the door would suddenly open and he'd lose his balance and tumble down.

You know where I'm going with this, don't you? Opened Doors are not all that they're made out to be. You think you're waiting for an opportunity so you can get to something better, but if God opens the door suddenly, are you ready for it? And more than that, just the door opening itself can sometimes be a violent act, a scary sudden thing. Opened doors are not necessarily safe.

Oh, I don't mean that God will ever lead you into unsafe, sinful territory. He won't ever, ever, tempt you to fall. God does not work that way. (When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone...James 1:13). But God will bring you into a promised land filled with giants. He will bring you to the edge of the Red Sea with a chasing army thundering behind you. He'll open doors alright, but then you'll find yourself with greater responsibility, greater opportunities to need a miracle. You'll find yourself between a rock and a hard place, or in Harry's case, between the top of the stairs and a closed door.

But I would rather perilously rest against a closed door that I want to open, than to stay at the bottom of the stair and just pitifully cry and whimper for God to do something in my life. You want God to move in your life? You want a long-awaited door to open for you? REST AGAINST IT.

Fall asleep praying about your problem. Let God find you with your hand to the plow- even if he finds you asleep. Be like the widow in Luke 18 who kept asking for justice and because of her persistence, received it. Let Him find you faithful in carrying out the tasks that you CAN do, such as actually climbing up the stairs. You can do that. Even if there's a closed door at the top of the stairs, at least climb up the stairs and position yourself, in faith, at that closed door. .

You know, I'm pretty much an expert when it comes to closed doors. (Some of these closed doors never opened or still haven't opened.) I would rather be an expert on opened doors, and I pray someday I'll get there, but for now, let me tell you what I experientially know about closed doors. There are different kinds of closed doors. The kind of closed doors I want to have in my life are closed doors that could have, might have, opened, given the right timing, the right situation. But I never want to have doors that are closed because I was asking for something wrong. I don't ever want God to look at me with that knowing look that says, "Lauren, really? You want me to open a door that is actually sinful to open?" May it never be that I ask God to open a door for me that is sinful or that leads to sin.

But if we ask God to open doors that we KNOW are in His will- these are doors that lead to healing, that help others, that bless others, that use our God-given talents and gifts- then if these doors don't open, we know it's not because they're not in His general will. We know it's not because we asked wrongly. They're not against His will- they're just not in His specific will for that specific time and place. For some reason--God's reason.

Think about Joseph (in the book of Genesis), in prison, waiting for release from that dark place. He's praying for God to open the door and get him out of there- because he never deserved to be there in the first place. But circumstantially speaking, God allowed his brothers to gang up on him and put him in a pit and then sell him off as a slave. God allowed the defamation of Joseph's character when Potiphar's wife falsely accused him of rape and he wound up in prison. He wound up without any resource for deliverance, unless God opened the door for his release. His only recourse was God sovereignly, powerfully and at the right time, getting him out of prison. And GOD DID.

You have to know with conviction, when you're leaning against a closed door, that it is right for you to press against it. You have to know that you are, to the best of your conscience, asking for something good- not evil. And then once you know this, you have to entrust yourself and the door-opening to God's timing and providence. There will be some doors that don't open-- and not because you asked for something bad or sinful. And there will be some doors that eventually open, maybe after years and years of waiting. Notice the "some" the "eventually", the "maybe." Because we only know in part, we only see in part.

When I opened the door last night, I did it carefully and with the knowledge of what could happen. I knew Harry was leaning against the door and he was in a dangerous place-- he could fall and tumble down the stairs if I jerked the door open too quickly and he lost his balance. But it most certainly was my desire to open the door and let my poor sweet dog come up and be with us. Bill did not deliberately leave him downstairs in the dark as some kind of punishment. Harry, as sweet and not-very-bright as he is, hopefully knew that, even if he didn't know the particulars and how and why he came to find himself resting against the closed door.

I want to take care to consider the doors before me. I can easily rule out some that I should never try to open. And then there'll be some that I think He might want to open. And then there'll be some that have not opened for a long time, but I'm still resting at the doorstep against the closed door. I'm not afraid to wait or rest there. I'm trying to stay ready to tumble forward if it suddenly opens. And most of all, if a "great and effective door" opens to me, I know it could be sudden and scarey and it could catapult me into unknown territory in which I will need Him more than ever--and will need Him to open more doors further down the road.

But one thing I know now: God's love is in front of every closed door and behind every closed door. An opened door does NOT mean I get more love from Him. I am loved, right now, where I am--opened door or not. My shaggy bear of a dog knows this truth. He was relieved when I opened the door and he flopped forward. Then he walked over to the living room couch, jumped up, made a little nest for himself with the cushions, and promptly fell asleep. His trial of waiting was over.

I went back to bed thinking about the particulars of what just happened, envisioning myself wedged on that top slippery step, pressing up against the closed door. Maybe I identify with Harry too much! But he's such a trusting sweet dog. It was clear to him that the door would eventually open. Yours will too. And if it's not the door to your dream, if it's not the direct answer to your problem right now, there most certainly will be an open door to more grace for however long you find yourself having to wait at the top of the stairs, resting at the closed door.

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Invisible Ceiling Above You

It all depends on your perspective- but there could be a ceiling of limitation above you, whether you see one there or not. According to Wikipedia, "A ceiling is an overhead interior surface that covers the upper limit of a room. It is generally not a structural element, but a finished surface concealing the underside of the floor or roof structure above"(italics mine).

You may not see this ceiling but it could be there: it's the limitations that you, or others, put on you. Try to break through that invisible ceiling and you'll see what I mean, because you'll sense resistance and pressure and limitation. Perhaps, in your family, no one has ever gone beyond a high school diploma. Or maybe you're facing a career change and it doesn't make sense to those who know you, but deep down inside, you're yearning to break through that barrier that says you don't deserve to be that fulfilled in a job. Maybe there's a ceiling on your finances or a blockage in your ability to do that one thing you know you need to do- and it's scaring you.

Of course there may be some people who don't feel like they have any limitations on their lives and maybe some are exploding through their limitations even as I write this. But chances are, if you're reading this, you might have an invisible ceiling above you, and you're realizing it now.

Let me help you get this negative covering off you. It's not really a structural element anyhow. It conceals things more than it supports things. We have dear friends who have entertained royally for months, maybe years, with a big gaping hole in their kitchen ceiling. We sip our coffee, standing underneath the exposed beams. We love their gutsy, loving hospitality that says they don't have to have a pristine perfect kitchen before they can invite people in.

Take a deep breath and ask yourself what, exactly, is your ceiling made of? What's blocking your view of God's resources, His available help? Why does it seem like problems are so big and God's promises, well, don't seem bigger? It's your ceiling. It's that limited faith: you want to believe, you try to believe, b ut you just can't believe big enough, sometimes.

Jesus addressed the issue of our limited faith in Matthew 17: 20 and said, "For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” He didn't say it won't seem impossible, just that it won't be impossible.

Ah, you have seen your invisible ceiling when you address the word seem. What things seem to be are, many times, imposing, impossible, impenetrable. When things seem overwhelming, you're hitting your head against that ceiling of limited faith or constricted faith. Yes, you can start with a mustard seed of faith, but you won't get too far in your journey of doing great exploits if it only stays the size of that seed. Start with a mustard seed of faith, yes; but LET that mustard seed GROW, because when it does, the mustard seed explodes into a plant incredibly huge in proportion to its size at the beginning. I would venture to say that the mustard seed explodes through its ceiling of limitations.

And you know what's on the other side of the ceiling of man's limitation? Heaven's floor. Remember, the ceiling conceals the underside of the floor above you. If your mustard seed of faith is growing, you'll start to hit the ceiling of resistance and then go through. You'll go from the constraints of this earthly life to the principles of the kingdom of heaven. You'll discover more and more that what things seem to be are inconsequential compared to the truth of what Jesus says they will not be: they won't be impossible.

So speak to your ceiling. It's probably yellowed with age and cracked, anyhow. It's not serving a good purpose. And when you walk around with an invisible ceiling above you, you really can't see the forest for the trees. Or I should say, you can't see heaven above you. But if you pull down the rest of the crumbling plaster above you, pull down those strongholds of resistance to new things and resistance to new journeys, you'll see God's arms opened wide, and the smile on His face. They've been there all along.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Loud and Clear

Well my dear blog friends, for those of you faithfully dropping by here to see if I have gotten going on my intention to make things "loud and clear" here at FAITH FUEL, the answer is No, I am not yet at the point of broadcasting live or vlogging, but I haven't been silenced either. Sometimes when you're trying to break through into doing something new and you haven't completely succeeded, you can at least say you haven't stopped trying.

And you know why I'm trying to make a change in how I get my messages to you? Because certain people in my life are prodding me to do this and I have been resisting as though they were asking me to jump into a pool of alligators. I like writing down my thoughts and my struggles and my "lightbulb moments" of sudden illumination that I share with you all here; and I love speaking at Retreats and Conferences and Bible Studies. But to speak out into the blog world and try bringing you some words of encouragement in that manner- well, I would; I mean I'm not against doing that; but really, is that what I should be doing? (Can you hear the resistance?!)

My husband, Safety Bill, has been telling me that Change is in the Air. He says he can almost smell change coming, that it smells like something fresh and new. I don't smell anything. Well, other than Harry, who is in desperate need of a bath and total mowing- I mean, grooming. The only thing I sense is that I'm used to writing my thoughts and I'm used to posting them quietly. The only way you'd hear my posts is if you read them out loud. And now I've got a bit of prodding to change things, change the way I do things. Change the way I come across to you, how I come across to you.

But the key thing is that we do cross over- from resistance to cooperation, from fear to faith, from old ways of doing things to new ways of doing things. I don't even think you have to know exactly what you are doing when you start to make concrete changes in your life. Nobody would make changes if they waited till they were exactly sure of what they were doing!

I'm never exactly sure of what I'm doing- it's more like I'm sure of what- or Who- is motivating me to make the changes that I will eventually not be sure of. Does that make sense? I'm sure that God is behind the prodding for these changes. And actually, I'm sure God is behind not so much the changes themselves, but the willingness I need to have to make these adjustments and turning points.

God looks for bendable people. Flexible, bendable people are not willy nilly in their convictions- they're just open to how their convictions will be carried out. They know that when all is said and done, things just might look completely different than when they first started out on their new journey to Change.

Maybe you feel impressed to take a certain path, pursue a certain job, and you're just about to reach out and lay hold of it when- poof- it almost seems to evaporate. The offer is withdrawn; someone else gets the job. Maybe a serious relationship that you thought for sure was going to lead to a proposal of Happily Ever After is now a relationship crumbling into the dust. Maybe the Answer that you fasted and prayed for is now turning out to not exactly be the answer you were looking for. But, hold on! Don't throw the baby out with the bath water!

"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (1 Cor. 13:12) Sometimes we only get part of the picture; sometimes we get a partial revelation of what God is doing but then we add to that partial our idea of what's happening. We need to get used to saying "I only know in part, but I can fully obey God." God is after our willingness to pursue Him and His will in all things. He knows we only see in part, but He's got the full picture. He will lead, and keep leading you, into the fullness of His will and His abundance.

Stumble about, if you have to- but at least stumble forward. Stumble into change. Thrash and flail about it, but do it anyway. That's what I'm doing. My techno-son is helping me make this transition with changes coming to my blog and website. My husband is prodding me. My friend Scott who has a ministry going through changes is encouraging me to get going. And most of all, God is calling me to enter into the Transition Time with gusto and excitement for the new things He has ahead. I don't really know what the changes I make now will lead to in the future. But I do know that my willingness to change- to move with God- will definitely keep me hearing Him calling me onward- and I will hear Him loud and clear.