Hoping to grow wise.

Rob Maupin


Posts Categorized as: prayer




Pressing in, Pressing on...

For me, it is a stunningly clear memory…mostly because it was so painful. I was walking around the soccer field at Lincoln Christian University praying as hard as I’d prayed in many, many years. I’m not a genius, but I can usually see what’s coming down the road in regard to next steps during big changes. The truck coming at me was our imminent move to Texas. Did I feel a sense of God’s calling? Yes. Did I believe I was being obedient? I hoped so. But I knew that the housing market in Illinois was down. The recent refinancing (trying to do what had Dave Ramsey said), a new furnace and $5000 worth of plumbing was compounding the fact that my house was worth much less than when we had bought it.

So, in “faith,” I spent two hours stomping around praying as passionately and fervently as I knew how. Outside of a miracle, I was going to be more broke than ever before in my life. I prayed for miracles…miracles were what we needed.

We left for Texas with the house unsold. It did not sell for 10 months. My financial situation became dire. Miracles felt like mirages.

During that time our kids had to transition, and our medical bills skyrocketed. We had terrible health scares/diagnoses, and we had to pay apartment rent on top of our unsold mortgage. Things got tense. I felt so disappointed in God. I was hurt—deeply. Words were not enough to describe my disappointment. God is everywhere (Psalm 139 and Prov 15), and even though I had read this, I tried to avoid him and focused on getting through the season. My prayers changed for a long time during that season.

As I write this, years later, I’m embarrassed at the depth of my hurt and my childish reactions. Mentally, I can play the “you-should-consider-yourself-blessed” game with the best of them. I’ve been to the dark places of the world. Shoot, I’ve lived in some dark places. I KNOW the coping mechanisms: count your blessings; consider the lilies of the field etc. But I was crippled and disoriented by my context and my pain.

Pain In Our Hearts and Ears

It seems to me that our post-election cultural context is like that on a massive scale. If you read the news or social media people are freaking out. Some with joy, some with sorrow. Often there is rage that lets loose words that are horrifying in their scope—both for the victors and the politically defeated. Blame, accusations, and labels are flying around like debris in a tornado. Many people feel a sense of defeat right now. Others feel a rush of triumph. Regardless of which side you voted for, it is terribly painful to see the deep division in our nation. The pain in our hearts keeps our ears from hearing hope. It’s a complicated time to be a Christian leader.

Recently I was in my morning prayer/reading time, and I was praying about the whole situation. I have not written or posted anything about it because no matter what anyone says, they seem to fall into one of three categories: “Told you so” (nyah nyah), “The (x) bigots won and we’ll fight back”, or “everybody-relax-Jesus-still-is-in-charge.” None of those seem particularly helpful to me in getting us to engage more in the Kingdom of God.

As I read my Bible that day, I was asking for help for myself. My kind of work does not really fit this climate. I need wisdom… Think about it—my job is to help our church engage the immigrant, the refugee, the orphan and the “far-from-God.” Yet these are often the very groups we are afraid of and that are being used (by both sides) as pawns and fodder in the current debate. The very nature of what I do is to find and love the “other.” How on earth can this work right now? You can bank on the fact that I’m praying for wisdom.

As God does in response to a prayer for wisdom, I happened to be in Proverbs 15 and Luke 4. Proverbs 15:33 “The reverence of the LORD is the instruction for wisdom, And before honor comes humility.” (NASB). I was turning that phrase over when I turned to where Jesus was led out to the wilderness with the Devil. Every process the Devil used against Jesus just wrecks me: personal suffering (bread), capacity to change the world (all the kingdoms), and proving God (throw yourself off the temple). Now, likely you’ve all read those things before.

But I was struck by something about Jesus that I admire so much: When he was weak, when he was tempted, and when he had opportunity to (wrongly) change the world, he reverently pressed into God’s Presence and the Word. He used reverence for God as the anchor for everything else in His life.

You might be thinking, “Nice work Einstein…this little bit of teaching has been around a while now…way to go, Captain Obvious.” But (while that might be the case) what struck me was that in my worst times, I am the focus in my pain—and then I question God’s work in my life. I wonder why he doesn’t want me to be happy, healthy, rich, more influential etc. And I think that’s normal. In pain, I seem to have such a hard time hearing God. The pain numbs my hearing. But what Jesus did in the desert, that is so extraordinary to me, is that in pain, in weakness, in defeat, and ultimately in death, he pressed into God’s presence and promise REGARDLESS of the outcome. He trusted in the Father so profoundly that he was forever rooted in truth. Instead of Himself as the center, asking why God was not addressing His needs, Jesus pressed into a reverence for God as the center of everything—including his very reason for coming to earth.

Renewed Reverence

So, during this climate of fear, rage, triumph and word-bombs being lobbed around, I am going to work harder at pressing in to God’s presence as I press on in His loving work. I’m asking for God to help me use HIM as my reference point instead of the cultural angst or how I’m feeling today. In His Presence and truth, I am in the exact spot I want and need to be in order to be obedient.

Being preachy here isn’t my point. People’s pain is real and it matters and I want to respond to that as lovingly as I can. But the God who prophesied Immanuel 700ish years before His birth is not surprised by today. And America isn’t the center of God’s activity or inaction. So, my delightful, complicated work of welcoming the stranger, the immigrant, and the unborn must go on. Our need to trust and preach God’s word co-exists with our task of feeding the hungry and loving the “other” and even our enemy. I need to continue to love people regardless of gender orientation or political stance while I lift up orthodoxy. We will press on to plant churches, to pack meals for orphans, to reach out to the refugees, the hungry and the broken in our midst! This work costs time, money, and emotion. Yet as we press into God, we can, “press on so that (we) may lay hold of that for which also (we were) laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”* Rhetoric is not what will convince a broken world of our love. Only the love of God, displayed in the power of God will do that.

Jesus returned from the desert full of the power of the Holy Spirit, and he began something that continues to change the world to this day. As we lean into trust, we rely upon that same Spirit to empower our work. Pray for me. Pray for all our church leaders. We need wisdom in this era…this work of mission leadership requires nothing but our best right now. I am praying for strength to press in and thereby press on. When God answers this prayer, I believe we are in for an amazing ride!

God, be our reference and give us the grace to revere You more than our own suffering, fear, or discomfort.


*Plural version of Philippians 3:12


Miracles and Dark Days: Review and Reflection

Dark Days Indeed:

Several of my readers and students have asked me to address some of the recent social issues that are plaguing our world today. I have hesitated to put my opinions about these issues into print because of the current climate of volatile dialogue. You and I live in an era where making any kind of statement instantly labels you: bigot or activist, hateful fear-monger or hateful defender of the status-quo. I recently read that we are in an era where people don’t want freedom of speech, we want freedom from speech (that bothers us). One person warned me that if I didn’t say something, my silence on these issues implicates me on the side of the bad guys… what’s a teacher/pastor to do?

There is a season for provocateurs and prophets. I used to think that I was someone who played both roles. As I’ve grown older, I don’t think I have either the wisdom or authority to do so. My roles of husband, Dad, pastor and teacher have more than enough challenge.

It is true. We are plagued by some really difficult issues today: Injustice, Trafficking, ISIS, War, Political disasters, Racial divides etc. It can be easy to be completely discouraged when your personal life is hurtful and the society you live in seems to disintegrate around you. What we need is a miracle. Thanks to God, there is a great new book about this.

Background:

Recently, I received an invitation to be part of the launch team for Eric Metaxas’ new book, “Miracles.” Once I accepted, I got a free book and an introduction to a well-organized group of fellow readers. I was unable to read the entire book in one sitting but, when I finally finished, I was determined to write a review that would encourage others to read this book. As I was reading the book, I began to realize that God was giving me a way to respond to the darkness of our era. Rather than opining on particular issues, this was a chance to bring encouragement and healing rather than more division. I want to start with a quick review of the book. Here are a few things that I want to share with you that I liked:

Review:

  1. This is a readable book. Make no mistake, it’s well-researched and full of complex issues but it is written in a way that a broad audience can enjoy and grow from this book. He does not shy away from some very difficult issues but the tone is never one of speaking down to someone.
  2. The key elements in understanding the big issues of miracles are dealt with (check out the subtitle on the pic above). Metaxas discusses the nature of miracles, the reason they happen, how to determine what a miracle is, why they sometimes don’t happen and discusses miracles in the Bible. Then he gives a series of miracle stories from real people. This leads to my next point:
  3. These are stories from Metaxas’ own life or people he personally knows. This allows the reader to see the experiential aspect of the topic. The stories are amazing and so moving! No hagiography here; just real people with real miracle stories.
  4. Chapter six could be seen as the fulcrum for the whole book. I’m saying this as a Pastor. As a professor, I liked chapter two the best because of the tight logic and good research about the ontology of miracles. However, almost no one I love gives one hoot about the word “ontology,” let alone what it means. What almost everyone wants to know is this: what will God do for me? We don’t mean to be myopic but pain in life does that: we don’t see the peripherals (even if they’re important). This chapter addresses the difficult questions that apply to our personal experience with miracles.
  5. The book is a harbinger of hope. In our world today, there are myriads of people bashing the church, pointing out where the strong ones fail, critiquing models of ministry and decrying the deterioration of society. Few voices are shouting that God is still active, still powerful and present. This book give hope in a tangible way and I loved that.

Current Reality:

We all want God to do miracles in our lives. I think this is normal and should be expected by those of us who believe the Bible is true. Every day I am praying for miracles to happen in my life…I’m not kidding. When I pray for Kate’s legs or Shannon’s healing, I ask God to miraculously heal them. I am extremely urgent in my prayers for my house to sell. I call out to God to help my Mom with her Alzheimer’s. Yet sometimes the long days and unanswered prayers can extinguish the fervor of faith. So, on top of just asking for miracles, I want to encourage you to keep your eyes open for the miracles that God has already done for you and for others. This book is a good part of that!

When I do this in my own life, I think of my son-in-the-faith, Kevin.

There are no geographical, historical or logical reasons that we’re so close. Nonetheless, God has healed the social and racial divide that would have separated us. God has made us family! His entire life is a miracle and I thank God almost every day for bringing him into our lives…Kevin remains on my daily prayer list.

I also think of how God urged us to move to Texas. We did not know that Kate needed a more accurate diagnosis when we felt Him tell us to leave. I marvel at the doctors God has brought into our lives. I think of how God has used our local church in NE to help my Dad during these dark days… the list of miracles in my life goes on for a long, long time. Even though God has yet to answer some of my prayers, He has lovingly given me a great amount of large and small miracles! The give-and-take process of asking for miracles and then counting the ones already given has helped me have a more robust faith in God despite my sorrows and heartache. Metaxas said it well, “True faith is not a leap into the dark, it is a leap into the light” (pg14). It is in this tension that we walk—it is the already and not-yet. The light shows that God has not left us alone. He is still acting despite all the evidence being heaped up against peace.

Can you imagine the era during the birth of Jesus—the Romans, the oppression, the injustice, the loss of hope? It was during the worst of times that God sent his Son to dwell with us; to suffer with us. In our own era of darkness, there is hope that God is still working. It might be quiet and hidden in a manger, but He is here and He sees us. I hope you are able to read this book. It re-ignites my faith and I think we all need that from time-to-time…especially during the Christmas season…especially if this season brings heartache. God is with us in joy and blessing, and in pain and poverty. He is with us now.

Blessings on you. Merry Christmas and may God give you miracles.


*I am not getting any reward or compensation from this review. I’m hoping that someday I might get to meet Eric Metaxas… but no guarantees…