A Few Thoughts on Biblical Hebrew from a Neophyte

I just completed a semester of Biblical Hebrew. In my lifetime, I’ve had the privilege to study 17 languages, and Biblical Hebrew was by far the most difficult.

I’m not sure why I struggled so much, but every time I looked at a sentence for translation, the first thing I did was cry! Then, I just went to work deciphering each word at a time, working backwards as Hebrew is written from right to left, until I had enough written down to try and make sense of the sentence. It reminded me of deciphering code, which should have been a fun challenge if I weren’t pressed for time and stressed about grades.

Each sentence took me about half an hour to translate. When I say “translate,” that means I gave my best rendition. It doesn’t mean I got it right. On the final exam, I noticed each sentence only took 20 minutes. That was either a sign of improvement through the semester, or a sign of the professor’s mercy in crafting the sentences. Probably a little of each.

The Biblical Hebrew words are so different from English that I had no frame of reference in memorizing meanings. I had to really stretch my imagination. For example, one word for “beneath” is pronounced something like “ta-chat.” With a little imagination, this sounds like “the cat.” My cat always used to sit beneath the table. So that’s how I remember that word. It was like that for every vocabulary word, and I got very creative with those associations of meaning.

When I was in the midst of studying for finals, I was talking with a friend about Biblical Hebrew. As we talked about the different aspects of the language, she noted that it sounded as if God had chosen the perfect language to communicate the Old Testament scriptures. I agree! Here are some of the reasons that come to mind, and I’m sure there are many others.

An ancient language like Biblical Hebrew is difficult to understand and communicate. We have only consonant clusters (three consonants in a row) and those can represent lots of different words.

The language also adds multiple sets of prefixes, suffixes, enclitics, and various other grammatical marks,  all on top of each other. This means a whole sense of meaning can be built by the marks that are added to a basic consonant cluster.

As if that weren’t hard enough, sometimes one “added letter” would swallow another one, or a consonant would simply disappear!

This is one of the main reasons it took me so long to translate a sentence. I would have to decode all of the various affixes, enclitics, and grammatical marks, not to mention guess at the missing letters, to figure out what a particular “word” really said. Often, it said a lot.

All of this means that it takes time to recognize what’s being said. Biblical Hebrew is not a “fast” language. It takes work to read a sentence, and even more work to grasp the full meaning. I dare say I rarely grasped the full meaning of anything. Mostly, I wrote translations like a toddler learning English. In fact, I would give the toddler more credit for understanding.

This means we really have to keep going to God and asking Him to help us understand the words of the Hebrew scriptures. In that regard, this was the perfect language for building relationship between people and God and among all the people.

And no, I don’t mean to suggest that the people who initially read and spoke Biblical Hebrew had the same struggle I have. After all, I’m not a native speaker. But I can tell you it is a challenging language. I know God had many reasons for giving the scriptures when and where He did. I don’t know if language was one of them. Regardless, it was certainly the perfect language to draw people closer to Him.

If God gave the Old Testament scriptures in a language like modern Italian, for example, we would have no need to seek Him for understanding. (Italian is one of the easiest and most “perfect” languages to understand because it is structured simply and beautifully with very few exceptions to the rules.)

There is also such a nuance of meaning in each word of Biblical Hebrew that we have to keep seeking God. And we have to really listen – not just with our ears and our minds, but also with our hearts. It is a language that requires active listening and intentional focus, and it especially speaks to the heart. I think today in our modern languages, unless we read and write poetry or letters to loved ones (a dying art), we are not so in tune with a “heart language” as the ancient Hebrews would have been.

Biblical Hebrew was also primarily an oral language. Words about and from God spread from person to person and were learned by recitation. This is another aspect of the language that builds community and grows heart understanding. It reminds me of Jesus’ description in the New Testament of how the kingdom of God grows and spreads like the mustard seed and the good leaven (Matthew 13:31-33).

Another aspect of Biblical Hebrew that makes it perfect as the language of the scriptures is that there is no direct verb for “to have.” There are ways of indicating possession, but the meaning sounds more like “this object comes to me,” rather than “I own/have/possess this object.”

This reminds me of how the Hebrews in the wilderness were given manna to eat. That’s just one example. When I think about a lack of “possession,” that seems to characterize the whole of God’s kingdom, up to and including the New Testament (think about Acts 2:44 and 4:32). It also allows for better understanding of our relationship with God – everything belongs to Him, and we receive only because He gives.

Finally, I was struck by how the verbs in Biblical Hebrew emphasize “aspect” over “tense.” It’s less about past, present, and future, and more about “completeness and perfection” versus “ongoing and in progress.” Doesn’t that sound like life with the Holy Spirit!

For all these reasons and more, I would have to agree with my friend that God certainly chose the perfect language through which to communicate the Old Testament scriptures.

Even though I became  frustrated and discouraged by the end of a grueling semester, I was encouraged by something our professor said on the day of our final exam. He told us we are just getting started and not to give up, not to lose heart. So I am continuing to try and read my Hebrew Bible. As difficult as it is, it is worth the investment of time, effort, and heart. Besides, for those who choose to learn and read Biblical Hebrew, we have plenty of help available from the God who breathed these words to life.

 

 

A Prayer in Times of Pain and Sorrow – Psalm 22 (Jesus Prayed It Too)

I love Psalm 22. In this psalm, God provides us with an awesome way to connect with Him in our sorrows, and to find His strength and peace in that place.

In this psalm, God doesn’t tell us our sorrows will completely disappear. But He shows us that He will be present with us in that place, and bring us HIS peace.

Jesus Is with Us in Our Pain

To show us that He truly understands the pain in our hearts, Jesus prayed Psalm 22 from the cross.

Here is the first verse of Psalm 22:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (NRSV)

And here are Jesus’ words from Matthew 27:46:

“And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

In His most difficult hour, when God the Father Himself had to turn away from Jesus (because Jesus had taken on all of our sin), Jesus began to pray Psalm 22. 

In praying this psalm, Jesus gives us a model for how to pray during times of sorrow. He also shows us that He is with us in our pain.

Psalm 22 Helps Us Pray in Pain

How does Psalm 22 guide us in prayer? The psalmist begins with a lament, an expression of his sorrow. From the very start, he makes it clear he is telling all of this to God – all of his pain, all of his sorrow. Out loud. To God.

In verses 1-21, the psalmist offers three laments, and they get progressively worse! He gets to the point where he feels like he is at death’s door (verse 15). And honestly, some of the other stuff sounds worse than that.

But in between these laments, something interesting happens. The psalmist remembers about God’s faithfulness. He turns to the truth He knows about God.

The Struggle in the Heart – It’s Real

That doesn’t mean the psalmist feels that truth in his heart. His heart is hurting. He knows what the truth is, but he doesn’t feel it yet. There is a battle going on in his heart. His pain and his sorrowful experiences are very real. But he also remembers that God is good.

It’s in the midst of that struggle within the heart where God does His best work.

So the psalm goes like this:

Lament (verses 1-2) – the psalmist feels abandoned by God.

Truth (verses 3-5) – the psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness in times past.

Lament (verses 6-8) – the psalmist feels scorned.

Truth (verses 9-11) – the psalmist remembers God has always been with him.

Lament (verses 12-18) – the psalmist is at death’s door (and worse).

Truth (verses 19-21) – the psalmist is confident God can deliver him.

Heart Change – God’s Peace Is Here

Notice that the truth doesn’t take away his reality or his sorrow. But it does bring peace to his heart, the peace of knowing God is present. How can we tell? Verse 22 says it all: a change of heart, where the psalmist begins to praise God in the midst of suffering. This praise grows with great intensity to the end of the psalm.

He doesn’t praise because he “has” to (although that would be okay). He praises because God has brought him peace in the midst of his very real suffering. The psalmist knows God hears his pain. He says this in verse 24. And not just his own pain, but also the pain of everyone who is suffering.

There is a lot of peace and comfort that comes from knowing that someone else is present with us in pain and really hears our heart. We need this from each other. Most importantly, we need this from God.

Sorrow and Truth – We Need Both

The beauty of this psalm, as a prayer, is the movement between lament (expression of our sorrow) and truth. Often when we pray in times of pain and sorrow, we end up with one or the other, but not both.

We need both.

We can lament and lament until there is nothing left of us. But if we haven’t taken the next step to pray for God’s truth in our situation, we end up consumed with lament, and no peace (just like the psalmist at the end of verse 2 – unable to find rest).

On the other hand, sometimes we rush too quickly to speak the truth. And we overlook the pain in our hearts.

Sometimes we do this because we are afraid of giving words to our sorrow or struggle – afraid that once we start crying out in pain, we will never stop.

We might also avoid the pain because people around us might get uncomfortable with our expressions of grief and sorrow. Society (even in the church) doesn’t really like “lament,” and we rarely feel like we have permission to grieve. We’re supposed to just “get over it” and move on. “It’s under the blood” – we hear that so often, meaning that whatever we are struggling with, God’s already taken care of it, in some way or another.

But when we say things like that, we risk applying truth like a band-aid without draining the wound.

It’s important that we do both: That we lament, expressing our sorrows out loud to God; and that once we have completely poured out all the pain that’s stuffed in our hearts, we then remember God’s truth.

Psalm 22 teaches us beautifully how to pray both, back and forth, until God’s peace comes into our hearts. The situation may not change. But we have His peace. We can take the next step forward in our daily life, even in the midst of painful things.

Again and Again, until Our Hearts Know God Is Here

What I also love about this psalm is how very real the psalmist is. He doesn’t just stop at verse 5. He laments again. And again! Until he is done. Really done.

Only then does he turn to praise.

When you read verses 22-31, you can tell that God’s peace has come into his heart in that place of deepest sorrow. There is nothing quite like the tearful and heartfelt praise of someone who has just cried out all of her pain to God.

Jesus Prayed This for You

If you are in pain or sorrow of any kind right now, I encourage you to read and pray through Psalm 22. Remember that Jesus Himself also prayed this psalm at His worst hour. He prayed it while carrying all of your pain and sorrow in His own body, mind, and heart. So in a way, He has already prayed this psalm for you.

When you join Him now in praying Psalm 22, He will meet you there and will bring His peace to your heart, as only He can.

That doesn’t mean your pain or sorrow will lift completely, or that your circumstances will change overnight, especially if you have experienced and are grieving a loss. But it does mean that you will have the strength and comfort of Jesus’ presence with you in that place.

You will be able to experience His peace, which is a peace like no other. It’s the peace that helps you take the next breath and keep going.

It’s also the peace that reassures you, deep in your heart, that God is here, and that He loves you from a deep well of love that’s almost beyond imagining.

Thank God for Everyday Miracle Healings

Bible Verse

“For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.” – Psalm 139:13-14 (NRSV)

Reflection

Recently in a class on healing prayer, I was introduced to a new understanding of “miracle healing.” I’ve always believed God heals in many ways, including through medical science. At one point in my life, God used surgery to heal me because it was the only way to get me past my lifelong fear of doctors. (You can read about this in my book, I Choose Life.)

But until I took that class, I had never understood that medical healing is also considered “miracle healing.” Even the body’s natural ability to heal itself, after a cut, bruise, or burn, is a miracle healing. Why? Because God created our bodies. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Today I was reminded of an example from my own life. I was editing a book for a retired sports physiologist, based on his writings from the 70s. He was talking about the dangers of heat stroke, and my mind went immediately back to the mid-70s, growing up in Miami, Florida.

I was about eight years old taking baton-twirling classes. We had an all-day outdoor baton clinic to attend on a broiling June day. My mom had dropped me off and I waited with the other kids outside a large gymnasium. We waited, and we waited. Turned out no one had the keys. This was in the days before cell phones. It was also in the days before lawsuits for putting children into dangerous recreational situations.

The clinic director made the decision to hold the clinic outside. All we had for hydration was a small cooler of water. We practiced baton twirling and marching outside for six hours in the summer Miami heat, with two mini cups of water per child.

By the time my mom picked me up, I was not well. I felt like my insides were broiling. My mom didn’t know what to do, but she felt led to stop at a convenient store and get me a Coke. When we got home, the sprinklers were on in the yard. I told her I wanted to lie on top of one of the sprinklers. That was all I could think to do. I felt too sick to sit up but I just knew I needed cold water on my body.

An hour later, my mom helped me walk across the street to our neighbor’s swimming pool and I just sat on the steps, letting the water wash over me. She kept asking if I could drink anything, and I said no. Fortunately, she didn’t force me. I know God was leading both of us.

My parents were planning to visit another neighbor for dinner that night. They had thought about canceling, but I said I felt strong enough to go along, even though I couldn’t eat. They tucked me into our neighbor’s guest bed while they had dinner, and I slept for a long time.

Finally, my mom woke me and held a plate with a little food. Miraculously, I felt able to eat. And I had the feeling you get when you know you’ve turned a corner in getting through an illness. I had enough strength to walk out to the living room and visit our neighbor for a little bit. Then my parents took me home to sleep. By the next morning, I was completely fine.

Those who live in hot climates or have experience with outdoor athletic activities will recognize that I had heat stroke. It actually could have killed me. And if my mom had forced liquids inside of me, that would have made it worse. For heat stroke, the outside of the body has to be cooled with water first. How did we figure out what to do? We didn’t have internet research back then. I listened to my body and my mom listened to God.

It was a miracle healing because our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Prayer

God, thank You for helping us recognize everyday miracles of healing through our amazing bodies. Remind us, the next time we watch a cut heal, that we are experiencing Your miracle of healing. Thank You for being with us during our times of sickness and injury. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Thought for the Day

What miracle healing have you experienced recently? Take some time to pray and thank God for your healing.

How Do I Pray for a Performance-Driven Child?

I was asked a question about prayer from a mom who also works with children. Her concern was about how to pray for/with children who are performance-driven.

We see a lot of that, especially in American society. I’m not sure about other places in the world, but in the United States, we have a way of raising competitive, driven, perfectionist performers from a very early age.

What Does Performance Look Like?

When children are performance-driven, this can lead to all kinds of behavior that is not biblical fruit of the Spirit. And the fruit of the Spirit should be how we measure our behavior. If something is not producing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, it is not led by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Think about the fruit you might see in a performance-driven child. The fruit can vary depending on the personality of the child, situations at home, family history, and more. But here are a few examples: anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, inappropriate appetite (either stress eating or lack of appetite), addictions (which can take many forms), meanness, lying, manipulation, intolerance of others, self-hatred, pushiness, irritability, inability to focus, emotional instability, self-injury, and so many other struggles.

Whatever form it takes, and whatever the immediate causes may be, performance-driven behavior ultimately runs on a lie the child believes deep in his or her heart: “I have to perform in order to be loved.”

As a parent, you might wonder, “How can my child not know he or she is loved!”

There can be many reasons for this lie to take hold in a child’s heart. No matter how good you are at parenting, children misunderstand things and react to things. Look at God – the best parent ever. And look how we, His kids, behave. If you see performance-driven behavior in your child, don’t let the enemy win by beating yourself up. There are powerful ways to pray and invite Jesus to turn things around.

Why Do Children Think They Have to Earn Love?

It might help to realize how children begin to misunderstand, react, and take lies into their hearts. This happens because every child is conceived in the womb with free will. From that moment on, the child is brought into a sinful world. And what a way to enter that world – without a fully formed brain, without the ability of speech, without an understanding of emotions, and without knowledge of God’s Word. If it weren’t for Jesus, we’d all be a train wreck.

Reflect for a moment on what it might be like for a little one in the womb. She hears voices around her, and those voices might express any number of emotions. She senses things from mom and dad. Even the best-intentioned parents will have bad days, fears, worries, and sinful reactions to things that happen. The little one in the womb picks up on all of this. Add in the fact that some sins carry down through the generational lines, and the child is already being harassed by the enemy because of this.

The little one doesn’t have cognitive abilities to understand what’s going on or know how to express emotions in healthy ways. (Most of us can’t even do that as adults!) Instead, the little one just reacts to whatever is happening. Seeds of behavior get planted in the child’s heart, and now the enemy has a project: To nurture those seeds in the child, rather than allowing the fruit of the Spirit to grow.

God Has a Plan!

Of course, the enemy isn’t the only one with a plan. God has a plan too! And from the moment of that child’s conception, Jesus is on the move. He is ready to help that child take truth into her heart, rather than lies. This is where your prayers come in. You can invite Jesus to help your performance-driven child learn that he is unconditionally loved by God. And that there is nothing he needs to do to earn love. He is loved just for who he is. (As adults, we need to learn that too, for ourselves.)

Extremes of Performance

Performance can take extremes as well. Some children will bend over backwards in the effort to earn love. They believe love is available, but they also believe they have to drive themselves into the ground just to find it. When they are “rewarded” for their performance, that immediate feeling of love doesn’t last. They are already trying to earn the next reward.

On the other extreme are children who don’t believe love is available to them. I was one of those children. They perform to avoid punishment. They constantly worry when the next shoe will drop, and they race and perform to stay ahead of that. This can happen even in a loving home. My parents loved me and were kind to me. But my mom was emotionally unpredictable. Somehow in my little heart, I came to associate that with fear. I tried everything in my power to prevent an emotional outburst from my mom, which was way too scary for me. Do you see how this stuff happens?

Not only does performance or driven behavior hurt your kids in childhood. If it’s not taken care of by Jesus, it will stay with them into adulthood. Then it just multiplies and takes on so much dysfunction. However, if you start praying with your children now regarding performance, and help them learn the truth – that they are unconditionally loved by God – not only are you saving them a lot of grief now. You are also helping them have much less strife as future adults.

Praying for Jesus to Help Your Child

How do you pray for/with performance-driven children? Ultimately the Holy Spirit will have to lead you, but here are some suggestions to help you get started:

1. Pray the truth with them. Pray God’s Word. Help them hear, in the words He gives us, that God loves them unconditionally. John 3:16 is always a great place to start. Pray this verse with your children. Help them pray it out loud. Help them turn this verse into a prayer about God’s unconditional love. And teach them what “unconditional” means.

Help your child know that when the Bible says, “God so loved the world” that He means your child specifically. Put your child’s name into the verse. Keep praying this until the truth gets into your child’s heart.

It’s important for you to realize the difference between “heart” and “head.” Your child may have learned John 3:16 in Sunday school (that’s “head” learning). But now your performance-driven child needs to get this truth into his little heart. It’s easy for a child who has learned about the Bible to “know” something about God without believing it with his own heart. (For performance-driven children, this tendency can be magnified, as many of them will try to memorize Bible verses in order to please their parents or teachers, without believing the Bible verses in their own hearts.)

Then look for other Bible verses – there are many! – that teach about God’s unconditional love. Zephaniah 3:17 is a great one. It talks about how God sings over your child. How awesome! And how God brings peace to your child’s heart by His love. It would be wonderful to help your child pray and sing this verse back to God.

Psalm 139:13-18 helps children realize God has been with them from conception (and they were in His heart already, even before that moment). This Bible passage teaches your children how God carefully and lovingly planned and created their life. Depending on the age of your child, you may have to help put this Bible passage into words they can understand. I recommend that you pray over these verses first, and really hear God’s heart. Hear His love for each person that is so clear in these verses. Then help your child hear God’s heart through this beautiful Psalm.

Whichever Bible verses you choose, help your child hear God’s unconditional love specifically for her. Help your child make it personal. Be sure you read and pray it from the Bible. It’s fine (and necessary) to teach these things to your child, using your own words. But your child also needs to hear it from God directly, in His own words. That biblical truth, prayed straight from the Bible, has a spiritual power that will take root in your child’s heart. That truth will counteract the lies. Pray it, sing it, read it together. Then on your own time as well, pray those verses for your child, in intercession, putting your child’s name in each verse.

2. Help your child recognize the ways he performs to earn love. Help him see how this is affecting him. Do this prayerfully and filled with love. The enemy will try and use this to heap shame and more self-loathing on your child. So help your child recognize performance, but in a way that is healthy and loving. Help your child know that he is forgiven and that Jesus is here to help make things better. Give your child permission to be exactly who God has created him to be. Then pray together. Here is a sample prayer, but it’s always best if you let the Holy Spirit lead you in your prayers together:

God, thank you for showing me that I’ve been trying to earn your love. And thank you that I don’t have to earn love. What a relief! God, you love me just for who I am. Not because of what I do or don’t do. You just love me. Period! You made me exactly the way I am, and you are so happy about that! Help me to feel your love in my heart every day. Help me to love myself the same way you love me. Jesus, I know you live in my heart. Teach me about your unconditional love. Amen

3. Help your child to realize that she learned performance somewhere in her young life. She may have learned it from someone, and she may even know where it came from. The Holy Spirit might show her, or you. Either way, help your child pray to forgive whoever taught her to perform. (If the Lord shows you some responsibility in this, repent to your child.)

Even if she doesn’t know where it came from, she can still pray, “God, I don’t know who taught this to me, but you do. I want to forgive those people.” (That prayer alone might bring specific situations and people to mind, for further prayers of forgiveness.) And then have your child apologize to God for deciding to perform to earn love: “Jesus, I am sorry that I’ve been trying to perform to earn love. Thank you that you forgive me. Help me to just be who I am and to be filled with your love.”

Then you can be God’s messenger: Tell your child, in your own words and from your own heart, that you love your child just for who he is. That you are proud of your child just because of who she is. Children need to hear this. They need to hear it from you. And they need to hear it more than once.

4. Then pray together and invite Jesus to show His love to your child every day. Jesus will do this. He will absolutely answer this prayer. Jesus wants to show your child how much He loves him. So pray and invite Him to do this. Help your child to pray this directly to Jesus. And then on your own time, pray it for your child as well.

Jesus will show His love to your child in different ways. It might be through a Bible verse, or He might put words of love in her heart. She might have a dream that tells her God loves her. Jesus might show love through people who encourage her. Through friends who show unconditional love. Or it might be an overall feeling of being loved.

But trust that Jesus will answer this prayer, and He knows the best ways to answer it. Keep your eyes open and watch for what Jesus does. Help your child to recognize how Jesus shows His unconditional love. Notice it and celebrate it together. The more your child sees and feels Jesus’ love and takes it into his heart, the more he will accept that he is truly loved by God.

Let the Holy Spirit Lead

These suggestions barely scratch the surface. And they are just suggestions. Be careful not to turn these prayers into another type of performance – a religious performance. These prayers are meant to help you and your child simply connect with Jesus so He can heal a performance-driven heart. Remember that you don’t need to pray more, or prayer harder, to earn God’s love in response.

Just sit together with your child and share your hearts together with God. He will meet you there. Jesus knows what to do, and you can trust Him with your child’s heart. As much as you love your child, God loves your child infinitely more than you can imagine. And He is so proud and pleased with your child – just for who your child is.

For Teachers: A Word of Caution

Everything I have shared here is geared toward praying with your own children. But for those who are reading this, who work with children in a spiritual environment, you may be wanting to pray for these children as well. For teachers, I would add two words of caution:

First, it’s best if you and the parents are on the same page with this teaching and with these prayers. Whenever you are praying for deep issues of the heart, other issues can come up. So it’s best if the parents are involved in this process wherever possible.

Secondly, this teaching and these prayers should be offered in an environment where children understand how to honor their parents (Deuteronomy 5:16). Getting free of performance issues is not about placing blame on someone else. It’s about repenting for how we ourselves have responded to situations. And it’s about forgiving the people who have taught us to perform. It should be done in a loving and honoring way. These prayers shouldn’t become an excuse for anger, resentment, or rebellion.

Adults Can Pray This Too!

One final thought – If you, as an adult, recognize performance tendencies in your own life, you can pray all of this for yourself as well. You were taught performance somewhere in your childhood. Just as you pray these prayers with your child, on your own time you can pray them for yourself – and maybe ask your spouse or a trusted friend to pray with you. Jesus can show His unconditional love to your heart, so you too will stop believing the lie that you have to perform to earn His love. If you let Jesus break you free of your performance tendencies, this freedom will affect your children spiritually as well.

Please feel free to share in the comments below. Your questions, experiences, and testimonies will help others.

Are You Abiding?

I heard someone share recently that she was reading John 15 about abiding in Christ (John 15:1-8). She had become worried when she read the part of branches not producing and being cut off (verses 2 and 6). She is being called into a season of rest and recalibration right now (as many of us are). She was worried about not producing in rest, and thus being cut off.

While I understood her concern – a common concern that many of us are probably asking – I reminded her to go back to the part about abiding. If we are truly abiding in Christ, we are where we need to be in any season.

John 15 reminds us that we ourselves are not producing (verse 4). Rather, it is the Holy Spirit who is producing in us.

Sometimes we may see this visibly. It may be a season where we are discipling or serving, and we can see the fruit. In other seasons, the fruit may be less visible – but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. We have to discern by the Spirit and not with our human eyes.

If we are genuinely abiding in Christ, we can trust that God is producing His fruit in us, no matter what season we are in.

Jesus often taught using examples that His first disciples were used to seeing in daily life. In John 15, He gives an example from nature – vines and branches. It might help us also to watch God at work in nature.

Fields lie fallow for a season. During that time, it looks like nothing is growing. What we don’t see is God at work, replenishing the soil. Trees are barren in winter. The landscape looks bleak. What we don’t see is God feeding nutrients and energy into the roots deep underground, which leads to those blossoms and baby green leaves we love in spring.

Or think about how God works in us physically. Have you ever had a deep cut, or a bad cold, and you wonder how you will ever feel better? Time goes by, and you become well – as if you’d never been hurt or sick in the first place. What you don’t see during that time is God working inside the cells of your body, setting the healing process in motion.

In the same way, it is God who produces His spiritual fruit in us. We don’t “make” the fruit happen. He does.

Sometimes we can see the process. More often, we don’t see it. We have to discern it. Sometimes we can’t even discern it. We just have to know that we are abiding and trust that He is working in us, especially in seasons of rest.

It helps to remember the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). If we are truly abiding in Christ, we can count on the Holy Spirit to be producing these fruits in us. And people will “feel” them coming from us, even if they can’t point to a specific “action.”

Have you ever known someone who brings peace into a room, simply by walking through the door? That is a fruit of the Spirit being produced in that person – even if that individual is in a season of rest.

Have you ever known someone who brings joy to your heart, even on difficult days, even without smiling or laughing? That’s because the fruit of joy is being produced in that person – and it speaks deeply to your spirit, even if that person is weeping with you in a time of grieving. Even as your heart grieves, your spirit is reminded that a time of joy will come again for you, like the promise of Isaiah 55:10-13.

The body of Christ needs to learn how to abide. As a church, we don’t teach or practice it as well as we need to. We often miss our season of rest and replenishing. This is one area where that warning verse (verse 6) really comes in. So often, we get this backwards.

We also need to get away from a “works” mentality and learn to discern the genuine fruits of the Spirit. If we are truly abiding in Christ, God will grow the right fruit in the right season.

This is what James 2:14-26 means by evidence of faith. This passage is often misinterpreted through a modern cultural lens of “work mentality.”

Remember that the fruits of the Spirit are produced by God, not by our own efforts. If we are truly abiding, His works will come through us in the right season. And the fruits of the Spirit in us are tangible evidence of our faith.

However, if we aren’t abiding in Christ, our works will bear the stamp of our own wounded, striving, and burned out flesh. Nobody needs to drink from that bitter fountain (James 3:11; John 7:37-39).

Today I encourage all of us to spend time meditating on John 15, asking God to help us discern the genuine fruits of the Spirit in every season, and most importantly, to help us learn to abide in Christ in every moment of life.

John 15: Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” (John 15:1-8 NKJV)

What Does It Mean to Be an Intercessor for Someone?

Has anyone asked you, “Will you be an intercessor for me?”

We all need intercessors praying for us. Daily. Weekly. (Sometimes hourly!) And whenever led by God. If you don’t have intercessors praying for you, ask God to give you the names of people you can ask to pray. My article, “Why Every Intercessor Needs a Cover” goes into more detail of why this is so important, and how to go about it.

What happens if you are on the receiving end of this request? If someone asks, “Will you be an intercessor for me?” what does that mean?

The simplest answer is to ask the person, “What kind of intercessor do you need?” Does this person want someone to pray for her daily? Once a day? Throughout the day? At certain times? Does this person plan to email or text you of specific needs? Or is it more like this: “Pray for me as God leads you”?

When I was leading intercessory prayer at a church, I needed a group of people who were praying for me daily. The daily cover was vital to keep me hidden from the enemy as I went about my work of coordinating the church’s prayer cover.

This daily intercession can be as simple as, “Lord, please help this person today. Keep her covered.” Or it can mean inviting the Lord to bring that person to your heart throughout the day. God will help you know what kind of intercession He is calling you to offer. I knew I had a group that prayed daily. And others prayed as led by God.

At that same church, we had teenagers who volunteered to pray for staff members and special situations. I remember one young teen, who I asked to pray for one of our ministers. She set her alarm early every morning, so she could wake up and pray for that minister. What a comfort it was to the minister being prayed for. And what an awesome time that teen had with God each morning.

I have covered individuals and families in prayer as a dedicated intercessor. Sometimes, the person has asked me and God has confirmed it. At other times, I have felt prompted by God to intercede,  without the person asking me. Each time, I have told the person, “I feel like God has called me to intercede for you.” Then I have asked the person if there is a specific need. If not, I have trusted that God would lead me in how to pray.

In some situations, I intentionally keep the person before the Lord throughout the day. In other situations, I pray as prompted by God or by the person.

I have also interceded for healing ministry sessions, where I pray at certain times when sessions are taking place. I literally set aside that time to pray – but that’s because this is what I’m called to do.

When someone asks you to be an intercessor for her, and you feel called to respond with a “Yes,” just ask the person: “What does this look like?” Also ask that question of God. The reason for asking the person is to be sure you’re on the same page. The reason for asking God … well, it’s because He knows what He is calling you to do as an intercessor. You want to be in line with His plan, and follow His leading.

Sometimes being an intercessor for someone means asking God to keep our hearts and spirits open to a person’s prayer needs.

This happened recently with a friend of mine. I was going through a circumstance where I desperately needed immediate prayer. I told God that I needed this particular friend to pray. Because I was in the middle of a difficult moment, I had no opportunity to contact her.

Imagine my amazement (and relief) when out of the blue, I received a text from that very friend, saying, “I am praying for you.”

I managed a quick text back to her, “How did you know?”

Later, she told me God had nudged her, while driving, to pull over, text me, and pray for me.

I have long believed that when we cry out to God, He can nudge even people we’ve never met, perhaps on the other side of the world, to pray for us in that moment.

As intercessors, we can make ourselves available for those kinds of prayers as well.

So, when someone asks, “Will you be an intercessor for me?” the first thing to do is pray and ask God if this is what He is calling you to do.

If God says no, that is okay. Just tell the person you don’t feel called in that way. Trust that God will bring the right people to that person’s heart to ask. It is much better for you to say no than to take on a burden God has not called you to. It won’t help you or the person you’re praying for.

If God says yes, then you can prayerfully consider what that might look like for you. What can you offer that person by way of prayer? Do you feel called to be a daily intercessor? If not, do you feel that you’d be able to receive and respond to prayer requests as they come up in that person’s life? Don’t offer what you can’t commit to. Once again, trust God to orchestrate all of this, and follow His leading.

Do you feel called to pray for just that person, or for the person’s family, or ministry? Or do you feel called instead to be available for God’s promptings, like my friend who prayed for me at the side of the road?

All of these are good, and needed. It just depends on how God is leading you. God will orchestrate the prayer cover needed by that person. Just do what you feel called to do, offer what you have, and leave the rest up to God.

Once you feel like you have your response to that question, just let the person know what you can (or can’t) commit to. Don’t overstep or over-commit. Stay focused on what God has called you to do.

Remember that to be an intercessor for someone means that you are following God’s lead, and praying in the spirit. You are not responsible for carrying that person (that is Jesus’ job!).

When you pray for someone, it might be tempting to take that person’s burdens on yourself. But those aren’t for you to carry. Ask God to lift those burdens Himself.

God might help you to be aware of specific burdens, but that is only so you will know how to pray. The burdens are His to carry. Read Matthew 11:28-30 whenever you need to be reminded of this.

Just keep inviting God, through prayer, into that person’s life and situations. Let Him do the rest.

Do you have examples of how God has used you as an intercessor for someone? Daily? Weekly? As led? Have you ever felt prompted to pray for a person you don’t know? Or an unfamiliar situation the Lord has placed on your heart? I would love for you to share your experiences in the comments.

God bless you for your prayers for others.

 

Now … Later … Yes … Not …

A fellow intercessor and I were just talking about how easy it is to feel schizophrenic when listening to God and praying for people.

If you’re an intercessor, you can probably relate to this feeling. Not just intercessors, either. Any follower of Christ can feel this way.

It’s that question we all have when God shows us something in prayer for another person: Do I share it with the person? Or is this just for intercession?

I can’t answer that question. There’s no formula, unfortunately, and there’s a reason for that too. God wants us to seek Him. He wants us to bring those questions to Him – again, and again. The Holy Spirit wants to guide us – not just giving one formulaic answer for all time, but rather guiding us, step by step, through each moment of every unique situation.

It can be frustrating. You might feel like you’re losing your mind. Your friends may think you keep changing your mind. But really, it’s simply the step-by-step process of navigating in the spirit realm, and the way it affects life in the natural. You’re following the Holy Spirit, and often that means step forward, back up, move sideways, come back this way, go that way, stop, start, rest, okay, let’s run!

Don’t be discouraged. This is a normal part of worshiping God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). He knows how to lead you in every situation. He will make Himself clearer as you press into Him. With every step, keep looking at Him for your next direction. You won’t get the big picture. But you will get what you need for this moment.

You’re not schizophrenic. You’re a human being (and perhaps someone who is called as an intercessor) learning to follow the Holy Spirit, the creator of all things, who is absolutely Other than we are.

Keep at it! Keep following the Spirit, listening, praying, seeking Him with every question, at every turn, in every step. He is molding you, growing you in relationship with Him and with others, and restoring His image in you. It’s an amazing journey. Enjoy the ride!

Singing Prayers

Earlier this month, I enjoyed watching the movie, Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World.

One moment that really spoke to me was how Martin Luther encouraged singing in church services. These hymns were also a great way for people to keep singing praises and scripture while working in the fields throughout the day.

The Psalms were created for this as well. They are meant to be sung. I was thrilled to learn that Seedbed Publishing has created an online resource for singing Psalms to popular hymn tunes.

This is a powerful way to pray the scriptures. Often, it’s easier to remember words when they are set to music. Singing the Psalms helps us draw the words into our hearts. And music does something amazing to our spirits.

Look at Revelation 5:8 – the verse on which the harp and bowl style of worship is modeled. Music and incense (representing our prayers) rises before the throne of God.

When we sing Psalms, that’s exactly what we’re doing. We are participating in the worship around God’s throne. And we can do this any time of any day or night. How amazing!

Often, people hesitate to sing in praise because they feel like they don’t have a “singing voice.” That doesn’t matter. We don’t need voice training to sing to God. And we don’t need to feel like we can carry a tune. All He asks is that we make a joyful noise (Psalm 100:1). God gave each one of us our unique and beautiful voice. He loves to hear us.

So let’s start singing the Psalms in prayer, praise, and worship. God is worthy!

Praying around the World

As a missionary of prayer, I believe it’s important to pray locally, for my nation, and also for the world. There are many ways to pray for the world and the Holy Spirit should lead our prayers.

Praying for the world can also open up many educational family prayer opportunities – learning together about different countries, cultures, and attuning our hearts to the daily lives of people in different places. Even within a particular country, prayer needs can be vastly different from one region to another.

There is so much to learn and so much to pray. No one person can cover it all. It requires the body of Christ praying together with the Holy Spirit’s guidance and orchestration. I trust that the Holy Spirit prompts our individual and family prayers for the world, placing on our hearts something specific we can pray for our brothers and sisters around the globe.

One of my favorite ways to pray around the world is to contact specific organizations and missionaries to learn more about them and to find out about their specific prayer needs. Sometimes prayer points are listed on an organization’s website. It can be a fulfilling family project to look up some of these online and set aside time to pray for them. At other times, I have emailed organizations and missionaries to ask specifically how I can pray for them.

As I have searched for different ways to pray around the world, I was delighted to come across a blog that publishes prayer needs for ministries in different countries:

Pray for Ministries around the World

I subscribed to this blog and enjoy receiving these global prayer updates by email. Each blog post focuses on people serving in a specific location. It helps me focus prayers on specific people and current situations. I appreciate knowing that my prayers are joined in unity with people around the world. The praises are also wonderful – to hear how God is moving in different places. This is very encouraging.

I hope you will enjoy visiting this blog and praying around the world.

Thanksgiving Prayers

Thanksgiving Day is a beautiful time to reflect on God’s goodness in our lives. We are reminded to really focus our hearts on who God is and how much He loves us. It’s an opportunity to ask God to align our hearts with His, so we can see through His eyes, and love with His love.

As we give our thanks to God, we become aware of the many ways – large and small – He is involved in our daily lives. Thanksgiving is a time to recommit, through our prayers, to live in gratitude each day. Our Thanksgiving prayers can open our hearts to be more thankful, and to pay attention to what God is doing in our lives daily – even (and especially) on difficult days.

As I began to prepare for my Thanksgiving prayer time, I wondered what kinds of prayers people are praying. I found this beautiful website that shares prayers for Thanksgiving, along with prayers for many other moments of our lives. It’s a resource I have bookmarked and will revisit often. I hope you will enjoy their collection of Thanksgiving prayers as much as I did:

12 Thanksgiving Prayers for Family, Children & Dinner Times

May God bless you and  your family on this Thanksgiving Day.