Praying the Proverbs

Today I woke up with a new spiritual vim and vigor. Don’t be too impressed. It has happened before and always seems to fade. But I am hopeful to make this one last, at least for this next season of spiritual growth.

I’ve decided not to start my day until I have prayed through a proverb. I read it slowly and turn it into a personal prayer. I fell under conviction last night in a Bible class as we discussed the enemy and all that he is and seeks to accomplish. I deeply desire to avoid the pitfalls of pride and self-worship that led to Lucifer’s evil downfall. Of course, I can’t accomplish this on my own, but through the power of Christ in me. To be aware of Him and His power and to clearly see the enemy, I must arm myself better with the Word. So Proverbs, here I come!

In Proverbs 1, Solomon is setting up the stage for the entire book. In the first seven verses, he reveals his goals to the reader.

The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel:
2  To know wisdom and instruction,
To discern the sayings of understanding,
3  To receive instruction in wise behavior,
Righteousness, justice and equity;
4  To give prudence to the naive,

To the youth knowledge and discretion,
5  A wise man will hear and increase in learning,
And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,
6  To understand a proverb and a figure,
The words of the wise and their riddles.

7  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

My prayer went something like this:

Father, let me know Your wisdom and forsake worldly wisdom. Meet my desire for wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity. Cover me with prudence, knowledge and discretion. Forgive my naivety and self-centered mindset. Let me be wise! Increase my learning! Shelter me with wise counsel and help me heed godly advice with a willing heart. Give me the necessary understanding to interpret Your Word accurately. I fear You. I honor You. I exalt You. Don’t let me be a fool! Plant your wisdom deep within me and use me even today . . .

There is no perfect way to pray. If there were, I’d be in real trouble. Sometimes my prayers are messy and filled with whining. Sometimes they are more clear-headed and focused on Truth. Praying the Word helps the latter to be true.

What about you? How do you pray? Why not use the Word as your source of prayer and join me in a season of Word-centered praying? Once again, I’m ready for less of me and more of Him.

We Remember the Cross

This worship song isn’t one I’ve sung very often, but maybe I should. The cross stands before us as the ultimate symbol of hope and grace. We can rest in its shadow through every trial, knowing they are producing endurance and steadfastness. When the storm begins to blow, may we count it joy as we remember the cross.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).

WE REMEMBER THE CROSS
Amy Branson Fata
© 2011 Portion Music (ASCAP)

Bearing it on His shoulder
Falling beneath its weight
The cross, a cruel companion
Ushered the Lamb to His fate
Willing to take this journey
Willing to drink this cup
Willing to suffer greatly
Willing to be lifted up

Chorus
May we count it joy
When we suffer loss
Jesus, Lamb of God
We remember the cross

The Father’s plan accomplished
The Son obeyed His will
My sin, my hate, my sorrow
He bore it all on that hill
A Priest who sympathizes
A King who understands
A Lord who has provided
A Friend with wounds in His hands

In every trying moment
In every painful sigh
In every teardrop forming
We have a hope in this life
Through Christ we claim our blessing
For Him we run the race
Let us be found professing
There is a balm full of grace

We remember the cross
We remember the cross

The Hatter

“What’s the matter?” said the Hatter. “I think I hear somber chatter.” His customer looked forlorn. She then revealed her hat was torn. “Oh, you’ve come to the right place, my dear. I have all that you need right here.”

The Hatter was known around the world for His gentle ways and skillful hands. The hats He made were worn by people from faraway distant lands. All sizes and shapes and purposes had they. His hats never shown wear or fray. But what made His creations so special to own was the love He poured into each from His home.

When you left His house, the Hatter would say, “Wear my hat each and every day.” Some chose to wear it only when it rained. The hat was a comfort if there was pain. Others hardly wore theirs at all, taking it out for the occasional ball.

But here stood this woman, a torn hat to present. The Hatter knew its maker was one who charged rent. You see, some sell hats that promise protection, but the Hatter’s keen eye of detection knows instead what each head needs, depending on their thoughts or even their deeds.

“I believe I can make you a hat of perfect fit. Come into my house for a while and sit.” The customer meekly entered the door, her daughter was with her, around age four. “Can you fix my mama’s hat?”

“Oh no,” said the Hatter, “I’ll do better than that. You see, this hat must be thrown out. It only brings confusion and doubt. It doesn’t match the rest of her clothes, or even cover her forehead and nose, but I will give your mother exactly what’s best. It will be my joy to see her find rest.”

The little girl seemed delighted yet confused. For how does a hat do all of that, she mused.

Then her mother stood tall, her new hat in position. She seemed relieved, well past contrition. Life looked suddenly clean and bright, it’s as if the Hatter had turned on a light.

The little girl took His hand and looked up at Him, “This hat is different. It comes from a friend.” “Indeed it does.” His smile was clever, “You can depend on it forever.”

As they entered the street, they heard Him say, “Wear my hat each and every day.”

Christmas Goodies

For some reason, people have been overly generous to us this year with gifts of Christmas goodies. We have fudge and fine chocolates and sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies and chocolate-covered pretzels and candies, and all kinds of various sweet concoctions that people have created with toffee and chocolate and peppermint. There’s currently an almond kringle danish and a sugar cream pie in my refrigerator as well.

Merriam-Webster defines a cookie as a “small flat or slightly raised cake.” I find this definition humorous because if you are small or flat and you eat a cookie, you are then slightly raised! I don’t even want to look at the scale. At least I won’t until January when I get brave enough to take that slightly raised step up onto it and look upon my slightly raised number. Maybe then I will be slightly motivated to do something about it. For now, it seems survival is my best bet.

Sometimes I wonder about the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season and ponder if this is how the good Lord intended us to celebrate His coming. I’m worn out and don’t have much more to give, even though performances are still looming, and the entire spring is staring me in the face beckoning me to plan it. Ugh. Maranatha!!

There are, of course, moments of blessed quietness. He speaks His peace in my weariness, reminding me I really have nothing to complain about or be anxious over. I see the tremendous blessings that surround me stemming from that baby that was laid in an animal trough. He is the ultimate Gift. He is the reason for my hectic season and that makes it all worthwhile. He is the sweetest Christmas goodie possible and I love when I am slightly raised by Him. His presence and power embolden me, and somehow everything gets accomplished. And in the end, I am wiser (and fatter) because of it all. And hopefully, He is glorified. May He be extremely raised this Christmas season!

More Thanksgiving

Because of Thanksgiving, November is the designated month in which we express our gratitude. We tell people we are thankful for them. We cook rich foods and celebrate loved ones while preparing our hearts for the next fast-approaching holiday. Despite the cold weather, I do enjoy all of these things. Yet I find myself wishing for more this year. Not more food or shopping, but more thanksgiving.

Our roof is in crummy shape from a leak. Mold is beginning in our family room. Also, our master bathroom toilet surprised us by flooding our garage recently. It’s easy to gripe and moan over such things. And yet any amount of healthy perspective reveals the wealth I experience compared to most of the planet. I am spoiled. Let’s face it, we all are. Many things that we desire, we end up receiving. Many things that we dream up can actually come true. Of course, each person faces trials and difficulties, and sometimes, intense sorrow and suffering. But as a general rule, when these things are lacking, our gratitude seems to teeter as well.

Paul encouraged the Colossians to keep alert in their prayers with an attitude of thanksgiving (Col. 4:2). Why would he tell them to stay alert? We know the Colossian church was struggling with the intrusion of false teachers and human wisdom. We also know that prayer is an action that requires our minds and hearts to both engage. We can stay alert by including thanksgiving in our prayers. Gratitude thwarts our personal selfish motives and helps us keep appropriate focus. Our King deserves full hearts of thanksgiving and gratitude, for He has met for all our needs.

Some people keep gratitude journals. It helps them to be thankful throughout their day as they take note of what they will soon express with their pen. I’m going to make a feeble attempt to express my list now.

I am thankful for . . .

A holy God Who sees me as holy because of His Son
A thousand scars that remind me of His grace
A family that loves me despite myself
A friend who never wavers in her support
A friend who always makes me laugh
A friend who has stuck it out with me
A church that loves Christ most
A fulfilled dream to sing
A dog who is almost sixteen years old and still thinks I’m awesome
A warm home on this icy day
A night of solitude and quiet allowing me to scribble these words
A hope of being used for His glory
A reminder that I need more thanksgiving

Six Crucial Steps

Do you remember the first time you were aware of your sin?

Around age four, I remember stealing a penny I found on the living room floor of my neighbor’s house. I thought about it for weeks. Should I return it and be honest about it? Or should I just casually drop it out of my pocket the next time I’m over there? The world would say, “It’s only a penny.” But for this little girl, my sin lay heavy on my heart. Unfortunately, I can’t remember how the story ends. I’m guessing I was never honest about it, because I am pretty sure I would remember that!

I also remember sitting in Sunday School in our tiny country church in Kentucky as an eight-year-old, listening to the teacher discuss sin, and thinking proudly to myself, I don’t do those things. I can’t even think of one sin!

Thomas Watson, an English Puritan pastor in the 17th century, wrote about the process of repentance. He believed there were six steps to take in understanding and dealing with our personal sin.

1. SIGHT OF SIN
First, we must see and acknowledge our sin as offensive to a holy God.

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us (1 John 1:8, 10).

Charles Spurgeon said, “Do not give fair names to foul sins. Call them what you will, they will smell no sweeter.”

Let us ask God to reveal the horribleness of our sin to us that we may see it as He sees it.

2. SORROW OVER SIN
The question to ask ourselves is, “Are we sorrowful because sin is sinful or because sin is painful?” This is a step that can be easily counterfeited. Are we truly broken before God? Or is there some sort of ritual we are going through to deal with our sin in an insincere manner?

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise (Psalm 51:17).

3. CONFESSION OF SIN
We must take ownership of our personal sin and the pain it has caused, both in generalities and in particulars. No blame shifting should be present. The Lord sees our hearts and we cannot hide behind any walls of deceit with Him. He desires true and sincere confession. We should leave nothing behind and leave nothing out.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Confession is a vital step in repentance.

4. SHAME OF SIN
Watson remarks, “Blushing is the color of virtue.”

David cried out in Psalm 69:19, “You know my reproach and my shame and my dishonor; all my adversaries are before You.”

David rightfully felt shame over his sin. He was also aware if its consequences.

Our sin makes us guilty. Our guilt is removed through Christ’s blood. When we consider the cost of the cross, all that Jesus suffered on our behalf, we feel the full weight of our shame. But thanks be to Him that we don’t have to stay under that burden. Christ willingly received our shame.

Spurgeon also said, “When you think of what you are, and despair; think also of what he is, and take heart.”

5. HATRED OF SIN
It’s been said, “Christ is never loved till sin is loathed.” When we get angry over our own personal sin, we are understanding God’s holiness.

Do we hate our sin? Do we take it that seriously?

6. TURNING FROM SIN
The things of Christ draw us away from sin. Repentance isn’t the last step, it’s the first! We then must determine to constantly turn away from it. Fight and flee!

“Repent and turn away from your idols and turn your faces away from all your abominations” (Ezekiel 14:6). The warnings that God speaks through Ezekiel to His people are powerful, unrelenting, and even harsh at times. But the purpose and desire behind those warnings were for their repentance and restoration.

We also see that God does not delight in punishing His people.
“For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live” (Ezekiel 18:32).

If we find ourselves repenting of a sin, only to continue returning to it, one of the above steps is probably missing. We weren’t made to fight sin on our own. Let us look to the conquering Savior who emboldens us through His grace and mercy. He was triumphant over our sin! Now let us be!

The Lord Provides

I penned these words seven years ago and they are even more precious to me today. Our God is abundantly good and gracious, ever providing for His people in ways we could never hope or imagine.

THE LORD PROVIDES
Amy Branson Fata
© 2011 Portion Music (ASCAP)

If you are thirsty, come to the waters
His fountain never runs dry
If you are seeking, come to the Father
Call on Him while He may be found

Chorus
Jehovah Jireh
The Lord provides
Ever wand’ring we would be
But for the precious gift of Christ

If you are weary, come to the Savior
His yoke is easy and light
If you need mercy, lay down your burden
Rest in the pure sweet love of Christ

The rain and snow fall down from His heaven
Bringing provision to man
His Word will likewise nourish His children
And will complete His perfect plan

Blind Spots

One of Webster’s definitions of a blind spot is “an area in which one fails to exercise judgement or discrimination.” I hear it mentioned regularly that everyone has personal blind spots. What is implied by this comment is that we are unable to sufficiently see and analyze all the areas of our lives.

Our physical eyes look easily in front of us or peripherally, but they have no ability to see behind us. We can see parts of our surroundings but not the whole, unlike our Creator, whose eyes see all things all the time. “No creature is hidden from His sight” (Hebrews 4:13), states the author of Hebrews. The writer also declares that the Word of God discerns the thoughts and intentions of our hearts (4:12).

Just as our physical eyes cannot see behind us, our spiritual eyes can become blinded as our flesh shows us what we want to see more than what is reality. I fear this happens when our desires outweigh our spiritual wisdom. If we are not scrubbing ourselves with Scripture, our blind spots have a tendency to grow. A small blindness can easily turn into a full-fledged belief, value system, tradition, stumbling block, idol of the heart, and so on.

Quite frankly, this is scary. And if I have blind spots, what am I doing about them?

Ought I to ask those who know me best what my blind spots look like?
Ought I to question daily what they must be and determine to put them to death?
Ought I to plead with the Holy Spirit to direct me to truth?
Ought I to seek the forgiveness of Christ knowing I have these spots?
Ought I to take the log out of my own eye in order that I may help my brother with his speck (Matthew 7:4)?

I ought!

O Heavenly Father, give me eyes that see. Help me live authentically and vulnerably and purely as I focus my sights on Your Son, His sacrifice, and the wisdom of Your Word as You give sight to my blindness. And may this be my daily prayer, that I may never fall into hypocrisy and shame, but rather, walk in the light of the Truth for Your Name’s sake. Amen.

Praise Before the Battle Begins

In 2 Chronicles 20, the Israelites are facing a big battle against their enemies and things look grim. Jehoshaphat cries out to the Lord, “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.”

He also proclaims, “O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

Oh, I have said this: “I do not know what to do, but my eyes are on You.” What a precious image. In those times when we have nothing left, we can look to Him and realize we actually have everything! The war is never too big for Him.

After Jehoshaphat’s prayer, the Spirit of the Lord comes upon one of the Levites, and he encourages the people not to be afraid because the Lord is indeed with them.

Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord, worshiping the Lord. And the Levites, of the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.

And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.” And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say,

“Give thanks to the Lord,
for his steadfast love endures forever.”

I can only imagine this sound. The singers declare the same words found in Psalm 136:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever . . .

They are using these words as a battle song, as a cry to the Lord—and what does the Lord do? He moves against their enemies!

Verse 22 says, “And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against their enemies . . .”

Victory is theirs! Even a great spoil is gathered!

And finally, verses 27-28:
Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, and Jehoshaphat at their head, returning to Jerusalem with joy, for the Lord had made them rejoice over their enemies. They came to Jerusalem with harps and lyres and trumpets, to the house of the Lord. And the fear of God came on all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard that the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel.

They returned in the same manner as they had gone out: with music and worship and praise. The people began their praise before the battle was won! That is faith! We can give Christ our worship before we enter our battles. We “give thanks to the Lord, for His steadfast love endures!” And we can offer the same praise following the battle, regardless of the outcome, knowing He is on His throne as our Sovereign Lord.

Obey and Rest

I’ve spent almost all of June in my bed. It feels like a waste of time to be sick. It’s such a bummer to lose valuable summer hours. I make plans. I cancel them. I have found myself mourning all of this.

The reality is, however, that nothing is wasted. I do understand this about my sovereign Lord. I may never know why He’s chosen this for me at this time, but I know that with Him nothing is for naught.

For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the LORD, And He watches all his paths (Proverbs 5:21). 

As His child, my job is simply to obey and to rest. My ways are before His eyes. He is watching my path. I simply must look back at Him! I don’t need to fear or to mourn. No need to carve a new path. Obey and rest. That’s it! Life in Christ Jesus is simultaneously safe and liberating. The moment we forget that, we’ve lost sight of Him and what’s truly valuable.

Whether it be from the platform or from my bed, Lord, keep my eyes on You.