Saturday, September 26, 2015

When Prayer Becomes Worry

The apostle Paul told us to be anxious about nothing, but to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Philippians 4:6). Why, then, did I find recently that my prayer time on occasion left me with a feeling of unrest, rather than the peace that passes all understanding? (Philippians 4:7)

My husband and I were blessed with the unique opportunity to dance as soloists with the Spectacular Senior Follies in Dallas, an amazing, high-caliber, professional level show featuring a cast of more than one hundred talented, seasoned entertainers over age 55. 
There were five performances in Dallas at the Charles Eisemann Performing Arts Center, a beautiful venue seating more than 1500 people.

God brought together all the arrangements, working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), and we were delighted with the hospitality and professionalism of all those involved in the show. Our early rehearsals had gone well, with much enthusiasm and support from the directors and cast, and we were blessed to know that many in the cast were praying for us.

We were thrilled by the experience of dancing our choreography to a live band and an amazing Christian vocalist who brought new expression and meaning to the song, “You Light Up My Life,” with her unique, powerful, and Spirit-anointed interpretation.

But our first rehearsal at the Eisemann was a disaster. The floor surface, space, lighting, and music were all accommodating to our dancing; our bodies were in good shape and well prepared; and we were well rehearsed, with no reason for mental distress. Yet our balance, timing and connection were off to the point that we missed many moves ordinarily done with ease and consistency.

Our confidence being shaken, we turned to the Lord in prayer even more fervently than before. I felt like I was wrestling with God in prayer (Genesis 32:22-32). I found my prayers focused on God’s Word that without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5), and that thought reverberated through my prayers so much that I feared it had become a vain repetition (Matthew 6:7).

Even worse, I wondered if constantly voicing my fears in prayer would result in a self-fulfilling prophecy, just as Job admitted that the thing he greatly feared had come to pass (Job 3:25). Yet I knew that with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26), and I longed to yield to His Holy Spirit, to be an empty vessel He could use to His glory (Romans 9:21; 2 Timothy 2:21).

Our next rehearsal and first two shows went well, yet I still felt that something was missing. I kept fretting over being able to do nothing without Him. One of the cast members had encouraging words about our dance ministry and told us of his approach to praise and worship. He compared it to floating weightless in outer space, lifted up by Him to heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6) where there is no pressure, only the blessing of being filled with praise to Him (Psalm 71:8; Philippians 1:11).

Suddenly I realized why my prayers had turned more to worry than to praise, and why my dancing lacked the inspiration I sought. I was obsessing over being able to do nothing without God, and all the while God was saying, “This is true, but you are not without Me. Fear not, for I am with you!” (Matthew 28:20)

As our friend in the cast reminded us, and as we read in his book that he gave us, we have God the Father above us (Ephesians 4:6); Jesus the Son is Emmanuel, or God with us (Matthew 1:23); and the Holy Spirit is within every believer (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30). We have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5), and He will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He will answer our prayers exceeding abundantly beyond what we could ask, imagine or think (Ephesians 3:20).

I felt that God was grieved (Ephesians 4:30) by my apprehension and worry, which actually represent the sin of unbelief (Mark 9:24). His Word commands us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and to be anxious about nothing, but to bring all our requests to Him in prayer (Philippians 4:6). Giving thanks and praise in our prayer, knowing that He knows what we need before we even ask Him (Matthew 6:8), should remove all anxiety. His perfect love casts out our fear (1 John 4:18).

Without faith, it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). He has given us richly all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17), and He wants us to share in His great joy and rejoicing over us (Zephaniah 3:17) by expressing our joy in the Lord (Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 27:6; 32:11; 35:9). This reminder allowed us to let go in our dancing, to yield completely to His guidance (Romans 6:13), and to experience our dance as worship and praise to His glory (Psalm 149:3; 150:4) and not as a performance that we had to control or manipulate.

For the remaining three performances we felt transported to heavenly places in Him (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6), and we pray that the audience was moved closer to Him also. Many who approached us afterwards had a tear in their eye or spoke of watching us dance as being a spiritual experience. One of the cast who viewed our dance from the wings said he felt as if I had gone into a trance and become like an angel, used by God to communicate His message.

In our flesh we can do no good thing (Romans 7:18), but with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). May we yield to Him, praise and worship Him in every word and deed, and let Him use us mightily to His glory!  

© 2015 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Covering Our Sins

Photo by CSIRO 2001

A charming, handsome young couple dined at an exclusive, five-star restaurant to celebrate their engagement. The wait staff was most attentive, anticipating their every need, escorting them to their table chosen for the spectacular view, pulling out the chair for the lady to sit, and offering in hushed tones suggestions on the chef’s recommendations.

The waiters presented the first course with panache, exclaiming, “Voila!” at the synchronized moment they removed the silver domes from the plates. The first bites were delectable, so much so that the bride-to-be wanted her fiancé to sample the unique flavors in the quail leg she was enjoying. But, sadly, as she transferred a forkful to his plate, a small dollop of brown sauce found its way onto the pristine white linen tablecloth.

Before they could even fully realize what had happened, a waiter magically appeared and fluffed out a linen napkin as if making a dove fly out of a top hat. He gently laid the napkin atop the stain, and ceremoniously smoothed it into place, emphasizing the gravity of what she had done while covering all evidence of her transgression.

“Always showing off,” her fiancé chided, rolling his eyes, yet they both had enough grace and humor to laugh off the incident and its momentary awkwardness. In fact, they began joking about what would happen if they spilled something else, or continued to make a mess – would the pile of napkins covering the stains grow so thick that it would be like having a phone book on their table?

Or, Heaven forbid, what if he spilled the lobster bisque on his dress shirt – would they tie a napkin around his neck like a bib? Or worse yet, what if she exited the ladies’ room with the back of her skirt stuck in her pantyhose – would a team of waiters have draped her in tablecloths until she could rectify the situation?

It reminded me that grace, forgiveness, and a sense of humor (Proverbs 15:13; 17:22) are invaluable assets in marriage and in life. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble, and we should all be humbled by His self-sacrificing love and submit to one another in humility (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).

We cannot cover up our own sins (Psalm 85:2; Proverbs 28:13; Isaiah 30:1; Romans 4:7), for the truth will be made known (Luke 8:17). Adam and Eve could not cover their nakedness with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7), for only God could do that with animal skins (Genesis 3:21), requiring the first animal sacrifice and atonement of sin through shed blood.

Had the young woman tried to hide her error by pridefully blaming the server or her fiancé, or by dabbing at the spot with her own napkin and soiling two linens, the tension of the moment would have escalated and perhaps even ruined a beautiful, memorable celebration. Instead, the mercy of the waiter and of her fiancé spared her any embarrassment.

The young man in the story set his beloved’s heart at ease by laughing with her in joy and celebration, and poking fun at himself in an imaginary scenario rather than being critical of her mistake. Jesus commanded us to forgive (Matthew 18:21-22) and love one another as He has forgiven and loves us (John 13:34-35; 15:12,17; 1 John 3:11,23; 4:7,11,12; 2 John 1:5).

The apostle Paul later repeated these commandments of Christ to love one another (Romans 12:10; 13:8; Galatians 5:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:9). May we always be considerate, compassionate, and loving toward one another, for self-sacrificing love covers a multitude of sins (Proverbs 10:12; Romans 4:7; 1 Peter 4:8).

This story also brings to mind how in the Old Testament, sins could be covered by the ongoing sacrifices of the priests (Leviticus 4), but never removed (Psalm 32:1; 85:2). Not until Jesus came to earth as the perfect Sacrifice (Hebrews 5), the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), could our sins be removed from us as far as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12).

I wonder if the Old Testament saints shuddered at the thought of the heap of animal remains accumulating as the result of their sins. No matter how diligent they were to carry out the needed sacrifices, on their own behalf, or to cover the sins of their family (Job 1:5) or of their congregation (Numbers 15:25; Hebrews 2:17), it was only a temporary covering. Just like the napkin hiding the gravy stain, a new sacrifice would be required for every additional transgression.

Praise God that when Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay our sin debt in full, He uttered “It is finished!” (John 19:30) because it was! No more sacrifices were needed to cover our sins (Hebrews 10:11-14), for He forever removed born-again believers (John 3:3-8) from the penalty of sin, which is eternal death in hell (Romans 5:21; 6:23).

All those who have trusted in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6) will one day be freed even from the very presence of sin, for He has promised us glorified bodies that will never sin, age, die, or experience pain or sorrow  (1 Corinthians 15:35-54).

Though our sins were red as scarlet, He has washed us clean in His shed blood (Psalm 51:2; Revelation 1:5), making us white as snow (Isaiah 1:18), clothing us in His garment of salvation (Isaiah 61:10). The diners in this story could no longer see any evidence of wrongdoing, for the mistake had been covered.

Praise God, once Jesus Christ robes us in His perfect righteousness, God no longer sees our sins, but only the pristine holiness of His Son!

© 2015 Laurie Collett
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