Pray for Parking Places?

The cold, damp day grew colder and wetter as the rain fell steadily when I went to make hospital visits. When it comes to church, cold and wet days often have a direct correlation on the number of people who show up. More rain and cold tends to equal more parking places. That wasn’t the case at the hospital that day, however. I pulled into the parking deck looking for a place to park hoping I wouldn’t have to park outside so I could stay moderately dry. I had only been in the deck a matter of seconds before I knew parking places would be scarce. At another entrance to the deck, I noticed a car drive out toward the outside parking while another car drove in ahead of me to look for a place. As I scoured the rows of parking places on each level, following a few cars doing the same, I quickly surmised that I may need to weather the weather and walk in the cold rain. So after one round through the parking deck, I skirted out to the outside spaces.

Full too. Row after row. Lane after lane. I had never been to the hospital where there wasn’t at least a place or two outside, but that was the case that day. After two passes through the outside lots, I said to myself, “Well, I guess I could pass back through the deck one more time and see.” About that time, a thought hit me. I should pray for a place to park. My wife makes a habit of praying for parking places. A couple times a month, she will tell me of her prayer parking adventures when God answers her need for a place to park for her and my son to get in at the grocery store or some other place. Me? Well, I’m often a stubborn man. I don’t need to park that close. I don’t have a halfling tagging along who needs to stick close by on the walk in to the store. Did I mention that I’m a man? You know, that kind of person who doesn’t like to “need” or “‘rely on” someone else to solve my problems. It’s often just this type of attitude that hinders me from praying for parking places and such. But I was getting desperate. I had been driving around and around and around eating into an already busy day. So I decided to pray about it.

Quite instantly, as I offered a prayer for a parking place, a lady climbed into her car right in front of me in the parking deck on my pass back through it. The timing was nearly seamless. In the exact moment I finished asking God to provide a parking place, she got into her car and turned her back up lights on. With as much speed as that prayer reached heaven and received an immediate answer, the Spirit of God whispered to my heart, “I care about parking places too.” Then the convicting edge of that truth pierced a good bit more deeply. God wants us to need him for parking places.

You see, we often know we need him for the big stuff. We are anxiously praying about the biopsy appointment to determine whether or not we have cancer. We lay sleepless at all hours of the night pleading with God to bring back our prodigal, or restore our brother’s marriage, or save our drunken dad. We seek God’s protection over our child’s first trip to college. We pray intensely for discernment about a crossroads with our career. As believers, we know these types of challenges require the kind and gracious care of God. But it’s the little things that sometimes booger up our faith more than the big ones. Parking places. Five dollar expenses. Homework assignments. Neighborhood conversations. Radio selections. Dessert choices. When we assume many of these small decisions are in our realm of control not requiring our inquiry of God, we tend to take the middle-level issues we face and keep them under our control too. Cable or satellite? Or neither? Do we increase our giving to our church this year? Two week family vacation? One week mission trip? New car or used one?

Do you realize that God cares about each one of these choices you and I face? The big ones, the small ones, and the in between ones. He wants us to bring everything to him.

6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

When the Bible says “in everything” it really means exactly that. God wants us to pray about everything. Does that mean God will always give you a parking place right when you pray for it? Nope. Will he write in the sky the brand of dog food you should buy? Probably not. But he urges, even commands, us to bring all of our concerns to him in prayer so that by our doing so, we may realize deeply and regularly that God cares about our needs and concerns more than we do. And in the process of pulling us to our knees about everything, he’s growing our faith and confidence in his wisdom, provision, and guidance each step of the way.

I had the chance to share this story with my church last Sunday. This week, a deacon told me he was looking for a parking spot and decided to pray because he remembered what I had said. Within 5 seconds God provided one. Why? Because he cares about parking places, and everything else too! I plan to keep praying for parking places. What about you?

Are You Afraid of Graveyards?

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I grew up in a pastor’s home.  For us, that meant Tuesday evening visitation, a wedding or two, church twice on Sunday and every Wednesday, many funerals, and parsonage living.  If you’re not sure what a “parsonage” is, well, let me inform you. Many Baptist churches like the ones my dad served owned a home near the church where the pastor and his family could live.  It was usually a nice perk.  Growing up, we never had to drive to church. We could play basketball, run, ride our bikes, and even hit golf balls on the fairly large church property.  Parsonage living only caused problems for us in about three different ways to my kid eyes back then.  First, from time to time cantankerous church members thought my dad should be at their beck and call at midnight for their ingrown toenails, which happened almost exactly like that just a time or two.  Second, con artists and professional beggars assumed it was my dad’s duty to mortgage the church property so they could travel out of state to visit their dying parent. They only took cash of course.  Third, late evening errands (better worded nearly-heart-attack-inducing-pranks) at my brother’s and my expense kept my dad entertained between the con artists and cantankerous church members.  You see, the parsonage we lived in for about eight years stood roughly a short 100 yards from the church doors.  About fifty yards out, though, the church’s oldest graveyard spread out right across the most direct route from our house to the church.  You could go around it to the left, or right, but you’d walk a good half a mile (well not really) out of the way.  To us youngins, those extra steps around felt absurdly ridiculous when you could much more easily slip right through the graveyard.

My dad knew this.  So, that mean ole…I mean that troublesome…I should say that trickst…no that old codg…that guy we affectionately called dad,* phoned from the church about dusk one evening to have my mom send my nine year old twin brother and me to the church for an “errand.”  Dirty liar.

Unbeknownst to us, he slipped out to the graveyard, snuck in behind a large gravestone, and waited.  Hop-a-long and I bounced right past him being none the wiser till that cruel fiend pounced scaring the living daylights out of us. To this day, I still don’t know what the “living daylights” are because after that moment, I had none left.  I don’t know how fast I ran, but I do know I beat the socks off my brother back to the house that night. If he remembers differently, I assure you, his memory fails him. That’s one night my longer legs and childhood fears outdid him on both accounts.  If we hadn’t screamed so loudly, we would have heard my dad horse cackling as he rolled all over the ground in that graveyard.

Life’s that way sometimes, isn’t it? You find yourself cruising along, headed toward the next item on the to-do-list, only to have some frightful enemy jump out where (and when) you least expect it sending you back the way you came in sheer terror.  Or freezing you in shuttering dread.  Or shaking you down to your bones.  These “life frights” may even take days or years from you.  And just like my dad horse laughing, your dreaded enemy is likely cackling at your expense.

I’m glad Jesus doesn’t leave us without help, or hope, in such moments.  That day years ago, momma came to our defense.  I’m pretty sure she told my dad he’d be buried under one of those gravestones if he ever did such a heartless thing to us again.  At least that’s what I imagined her to say when he came laughing into the house while she consoled us.  When sin, or Satan, or one of his earthly minions, or life circumstances chase after us, we always, always have the alternative to run back to Jesus. In fact, that’s exactly what he wants us to do.

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.
Proverbs 18:10

For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.
Psalm 27:5

1 In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! 2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!
Psalm 31:1-2

He is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.
Psalm 144:2

*Important Note: I’m tempted to believe one of the unmentioned “spiritual gifts” in the Bible could be pestering. And I have learned by experience that my dad mastered the discipline of said gift. In like manner, I am striving to follow in his footsteps, although I have yet to scare my eight year old in a graveyard. But there’s still time 🙂

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 6

In the previous posts in this series, we’ve explored David’s command to “be still” in Psalm 46:10 and each of the specific meanings of that idea.  As I have alluded to through out those posts, our relaxing, waiting, and letting go aren’t some sort of mindless exercise. “Being still” has a direction, a target, a goal, and we cannot overlook the point of this pause.  The command to stillness finds its source and sustenance in knowing the identity, power, and authority of God.  We are to find our way to stillness with one explicit purpose–that we would see God be God.

David identifies characteristics of God’s power and authority that should reverberate loudly in our stillness.  He is a refuge, strength (46:1) and a fortress (46:7, 11).  He is the God over nature (46:2-4) and the God over wars (46:9).  In every line of this worship song he penned, the God we are to know in our stillness is anything but still, silent, or powerless.  He urges us to quiet ourselves in the raging and roaring of nature and hear his authoritative voice quell the wind and seas.  This Psalm echoes forward to the New Testament as Jesus stood up from his sleep in the boat to still the waves and stop the wind with the calming command, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:35-41).  When we still ourselves, we can know the One who rules nature with a simple whisper.

While the torrents of the skies and the seas submit to his words, we can also take comfort that the actions of humanity must kneel to him as well.  In the raging of nations and tottering of kingdoms (46:7), God is the one to stop wars and destroy weapons of warfare with just as much ease as he calmed that storm. Again, we see Jesus taking up this scepter of authority.  This time, his throne is not the tossing, titling bottom of a boat.  The full assault of Jewish hypocrites and Roman tyrants had focused all their resources to end his life.  But in power, the power of life over death, Jesus cried out in victory, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).  Three days later, his victory would be finalized as he burst forth from the useless and temporary chains of death in resurrection power (Romans 1:7).  And as he did, the spiritual kingdoms of raging tottering nations halted still, crumbling into heaps of dust.  When he completes his victory lap at his second coming, all nations and enemies will kneel before him (Philippians 2:10-11) powerless to any longer make war against the one who ceases all wars.

If you would be still, on God’s terms, you will see him work.  He will declare himself to be God in spite of your circumstances, challenges, relationships, or trials.  Storms stop when he declares himself.  Wars cease when he announces his presence.  We need only to relax, wait, and let go. We need only to be still.

Other Posts in this Series:

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 1

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 2

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 3

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 4

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 5

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 5

Tighten your fist. Hold it. Count slowly to 30 seconds. Now imagine how often you do just that emotionally. Reflect upon how many times in a given week your anxiety knots up just like your hand just did. Ponder how frequently you bind up your insides trying to hold together, or pull in, or fix, or — dare I say it — control what’s going on around you. I’m like that far more than I’m comfortable admitting. But I am also encouraged, because God’s Word here in Psalm 46:10 has an antidote for that symptom of “busyness” as well.

In a couple of the previous posts, we looked at how the word translated “be still” means to relax and wait. The word also means to let go. This closely related idea pleads with us to comprehensively loosen our grip of control on the circumstances and situations around us. You see, when we relax, we wait. When we wait, we let go. When we let go, we relax. Each idea, while distinct, is really an interrelated way of doing the other two.

“Be still, and know that I am God.” Yes. “Let go, and know that I am God.” Exactly.

Let go of control. Stop grabbing at it. As you do, look to God. That’s the point of each application. In our relaxing, waiting, and letting go, we aren’t to mindlessly stall out, quit on our responsibilities, or break from relationships. We are to meditate on God’s power, authority, presence, and majesty. We are to reflect on his past involvement in our lives. We are to seek his active authority in our day-in, day-out routines. We are to know that he is God!

Other Posts in this Series:

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 1

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 2

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 3

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 4

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 4

An Illustration in Waiting

I am an answer to persistent prayer and a diligently waiting mother. Much like Hanna (1 Samuel 1) and Elizabeth (Luke 1) pleaded for children and God graciously answered each one, my Mom implored God for a child and He answered her three-fold: twin boys and a girl. She had experienced a number of health complications in her teen years and early adulthood that led doctors to warn, “You may never have children.” Not long into her marriage to my Dad, her longing for a child turned to praying for God to give her what she feared she may never have. Prayers early in the morning and late at night continued for weeks. Weeks began to bleed over into months. Months and months of prayer eventually creeped into years. Those years stretched into more than a decade. That decade of praying and pleading with God was marked by seasons of great intensity, days of fasting, and stretches of settled faith. God didn’t answer her prayer for a child until she and my Dad had been married more than 10 years. When He answered the first time, He gave her twin boys. She would pray again. Three years later, he gave her a daughter.

Nearly 4 decades later, I never want to forget that my Mom waited and prayed anticipating God’s ears hearing and his hand acting. I never want to forget that because she waited expectantly, I’m here typing these words right now. I never want to forget that her waiting displays what David commands in Psalm 46:10. Be still. Wait.

In contrast, Sarah didn’t wait on God. Although she would be the eventual mother of Isaac, God’s promised child to her and Abraham, she couldn’t be patient. She took matters into her own hands, giving her servant Hagar to Abraham as a wife and surrogate mother who would give birth to Ishmael. Sarah’s impatience would cause much turmoil in her home and eventually lead to great contention between Ishmael’s descendants and Isaacs descendants for generations.

To wait on God, as David commanded, means to remain actively actionless. It’s an expectant waiting. It’s a hopeful waiting. It’s an eager waiting. It’s a prepared waiting. But it’s waiting! Sarah grasped and manipulated and “helped” God, and in so doing made most everything worse. But her gracious God still gave Isaac. While this is pure speculation, it almost appears that Hannah and Elizabeth looked to their ancestor Sarah and refused to “help God out.” They waited, and pleaded, and he acted. In his due time.

On January 15, 2018, after years of battling heart issues and other physical difficulties, my Mom finished her waiting. If she had lived longer than she did, her course would’ve meant constant pain and doctor’s appointments to maintain, at best, her disintegrating health. Much as she had years ago, she waited on Jesus to visit her. This time she was waiting on him to take her home. And he did. All of her waiting is over. But ours is not, so let us wait patiently, prayerfully, intentionally, expectantly. For he will act!

Other Posts in this Series:

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 1

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 2

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 3