Whatever It Takes

I wasn’t sure what was going to happen last Wednesday night.

I had prayed a lot and I knew our leaders were praying too.

I had challenged all of our students to bring one friend. “Plus 1” we were calling it.

I tried my best to show from Scripture that following Christ necessitates inviting others to follow Him as well.

I promised that the gospel would be shared and their friends would have a chance to respond.

Our office had sent out reminder emails, Facebook posts, text updates and gathered supplies. (My administrative assistant is amazing!)

We were offering lots of FREE food and exploding watermelons with rubber bands. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?!

We also gave incentives for meeting certain attendance goals. Pies in the face. Getting slimed. And the thing no sane adult looks forward to–a Lock-In.

I’m not sure what else we could have done.

I was confident it would be a good night, but there’s always that doubt. There’s always that question of “What if nobody shows up?”

I mean, I’ve certainly been a part of events that didn’t go as planned and I’m sure I’ll be a part of more in the future. Haven’t you? You pray, work hard, get commitments from people who say they’re going to come, and then they don’t show up, a projector breaks and it rains. Total bummer.

And in this case, it’s middle school. We’re depending on parents. So if we have a student who is iffy about coming, a parent can say “get in the car, you’re going. You’ll have a great time!” Or, we could have a student who really wants to come, but a parent gets off work too late to get them there, doesn’t feel like bringing them, or makes the student stay home to get homework done (I’m not against doing homework, by the way). There are lots of factors.

All to say, in faith, I was believing it would be a great night!

So what happened?

We had a Wednesday night attendance record and 5 students prayed to receive Christ! Amazing!! And for breaking 1 goal and coming within 1 person of another (We had 139 in attendance and the second goal was for 140. I showed some grace.) I and 3 other leaders got a pie in the face. And gladly, I might add.

It was a FUN night. Lots of laughing. Lots of celebration. And we will be doing another night like this in the near future.

Some might criticize and say, “Oh that’s gimmicky. You should want kids there who want to be there. Kids who have the right heart. And just preach the Word. Stop all the shenanigans.”

Sure.

No doubt.

I hear ya.

But often times it takes doing something you don’t want to do, or even doing something for the wrong reason, to be exposed to a message that changes your heart.

So if playing a crazy game and getting pied in the face brings a student out who wouldn’t have come otherwise, we’ll keep doing it. At least 5 students are glad they came. Their eternity has been altered. 

Also, we do this kind of night once every couple months. It’s not an every week thing.

And don’t forget, Jesus didn’t just walk around preaching. He performed miracles, hung out with people and gave away a lot of FREE food. 

Bottom line: We need to have a more “whatever it takes” approach to life and ministry instead of doing the “same old thing” and expecting different results. 

What could you do differently for your next event to see extraordinary results? What do you need to change in your life personally to see some change? Have you truly exhausted every opportunity and option to do your part, or are you being stubborn or lazy and just praying that God will do something miraculous?

What happened last Wednesday night was an “Only God” moment. God was the one who brought the students, changed hearts and made the night a success. He gets all the glory. But at the same time, there was an incredible team of people that He used to accomplish the night. Those people get all the credit.

So, thank you volunteer leaders! It’s a honor to serve with you each and every week.

Thank you Parents! It’s a privilege to partner with you to reach and grow your students for Christ.

Thank you students! I pray you continue to catch the vision that life isn’t about you, but is about serving others and inviting others to follow Jesus. Keep it up!

Let’s continue to pray for God to do incredible things in our lives and ministries and work hard to see them happen. Let’s do whatever it takes.

Why You Should Stop Telling People You’ll Pray For Them

I’ve said it countless times. And I bet you’ve either said it or had it said to you.

The conversation goes something like this:

You kindly ask how someone is doing.

Instead of getting the rote response of “I’m good. you?”, the other person actually thinks you care and feels comfortable enough to open up to you…so they do.

If you aren’t in too much of a hurry or insensitive, you listen as they tell you about something going on in their life. Maybe how they are struggling, that they or someone they care about is sick, that they are in need of a job, etc.

After trying to empathize and show concern, you then say those 5 comforting, seemingly magical words to wrap up the conversation.

“I’ll be praying for you.”

The other person is very appreciative.

They might even reciprocate and ask how they can pray for you.

You tell them.

They assure you they will be praying.

You thank them.

You both nod.

Smile.

Then walk away from the conversation feeling better.

Have you been there?

Chances are if you know a Christian, or are one, you have.

And it needs to stop.

Seriously.

The next time you feel the “tug” to tell someone you will be praying for them, don’t do it.

Why?

Because you likely don’t do it. You won’t pray. 

Right?

You mean well. You really do. You may even plan on praying for them when you get around to it.

But at the end of the day, “I’ll be praying for you” has become in the Christian subculture a phrase of comfort more than a promise that’s delivered.

And that’s a shame.

Because prayer throughout the pages of Scripture is shown to be an incredible asset in the life of a Christian. It’s literally our access line to communicate to the God of the Universe. It’s how we can connect and grow in our relationship with Him. It should be something we cannot go a day without doing.

And it’s powerful. It’s a game changer. We are promised that things may be different if we pray.

Scripture is replete with examples concerning prayer.  Here are just a few:

  • 2 Chronicles 7:14 – If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgivetheir sin and will heal their land.
  • James 5:16-17 – The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
  • Colossians 4:2 – Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
  • Mark 1:35 – Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

There are obviously many other passages on prayer besides these. What’s interesting is that none of the commands to pray or examples of people praying are future tense. It’s always understood that the time to pray is now, in the present.

We don’t see Jesus interacting with people and telling them “I’ll be praying for you.” 

A couple months ago I was confronted with this issue head on. I had a short meeting with a pastor on our staff and towards the end of our conversation he asked specifically how he could pray for me. After telling him, instead of saying “I’ll be praying for you,” he did something remarkable. He prayed!

As I walked out of his office I began to recall many other times I’d seen him praying with someone in the hallway, out in public and even for me. And I realized I’d never heard “I will be” come out of his mouth. He just did it.

When we say “I’ll be praying for you” and don’t follow through, as tough as it is to admit, we lie to the person. And more than that, we reveal a disbelief in the power and importance of prayer. Because if we truly believed prayer worked, we would pray.

We all have good intentions when we utter that phrase. I know that nobody sets out to be a liar. So here are 3 things I’m committing to that I think are better options:

1. Remove the phrase “I’ll be praying for you” from your conversational default. There is no command in Scripture that says you have to say that. So just let it go. And you will immediately stop lying…at least in this area of your life.

2. Pray with someone on the spot. It’s a bit scary if you aren’t used to it. And I’ll admit I rarely do it in public.

3. Keep a prayer list. If I’m ever talking to you and I pull out my phone, I’m not messaging someone. I’m writing your name down and how I can pray for you. I have a lot on my mind, just like you do, and I know I’ll forget if I don’t. Writing it down is a way for me to remember and to hold myself accountable to pray. I’ll look at that prayer list more regularly than I’ll remember who I said I’ll be praying for.

If you do deliver on your promise to pray for others, that’s wonderful. Keep it up!

For the majority of everyone else, just stop saying it. And in the majority, I’m including myself. We can do better. We can actually pray.

What are some other ways you help yourself remember to pray for others?

When God Says “No”

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This past Monday, my daughter, Avonlea, turned 1 year old. ONE! It’s crazy how quickly this last year flew by. And it’s been too. much. fun!

I’ve held her.

Changed her diaper.

Given her baths.

Fed her.

Tickled her.

Read to her.

Prayed with her.

Laughed with her.

Cheered her on as she learned to crawl.

Tried to keep up with her as she’s learned to walk.

Picked her up after she’s fallen and bumped her head.

Said the phrase “Say _________” hundreds of times as we are teaching her words.

Been amazed by her HUGE personality!

Cleaned up after her mischievous adventures (the picture above shows that quite well).

And I’ve fallen more and more in love with her as each day passes.

She’s my “Avie Rose.”

The last couple of weeks I’ve noticed 2 new things.

First, I’ve repeated a tiny, 2-letter word more than any other time in my life. Every parent knows which word I’m talking about.

“No.”

And the funny thing is, I’ve had to say “No” in connection with other words I rarely had to before.

Toilet. Toilet paper. Outside. Leaves. Eat. Mouth. Etc.

You get the picture.

Second, Avonlea isn’t just developing mentally and physically, she’s developing her will. That precious gift given to us by God to freely use. That ability to make choices. To act and react. Yup. She’s learning that quickly. And I knew it would come, although I, like every naive first-time parent, thought it wouldn’t be as pronounced with my child. Ha!

With those 2 things in mind, get this story. It was dinner time and we had all 3 sat down at the table. Rachel and I began to eat, but Avonlea’s food was still a bit too hot. As Avonlea reached for her food, I pulled it back and said to her “Not yet, Avonlea. It’s too hot.” She got distracted by something and maybe 15 seconds later reached for it again. It was out of her reach this time and she was growing frustrated as she strained for it. I looked at her and said in a serious, slightly raised and concerned voice, “No.” She immediately started crying and then made a face that I’m pretty sure had we been filming could have won her an Oscar. It was dramatic to say the least!

I was shocked by her ridiculous reaction to that 2-letter word. Rachel and I both laughed a bit, as we watched Avonlea transform into a drama queen. And then I quickly became bothered by it all. I thought, “I know she’s only 1, but shouldn’t she be obeying me when I ask her to do something? I mean doesn’t she love me? And not only doesn’t she obey me, but she gets upset at me for just saying ‘No.’ And not just upset, but in tears. I’m not even mad at her. What’s going on?” 

As I began to rationalize with my 1 year old, I was immediately confronted by how I react when God says “No” to me.

Have you ever been there?

Maybe you’ve prayed for something and the answer, by way of the prayer not going your way, seems to be “No.”

Maybe you see what everyone else is doing around you and you want to do it, but it goes against a verse in the Bible where God has said “No” to doing that very thing, and you get angry.

Maybe it “feels right” to do what you are being enticed to do, but you know God has said “No” to doing it. Maybe you give in.

Maybe you feel stuck in this season of life and there is a shortcut you could say “yes” to, but God is saying “no.”

Maybe you want to do something right now, in the moment, but God is saying “No. Later is better. Wait. Be patient”

Maybe you are tired of even considering following God, because you feel he’s all about the rules. He’s judgmental. And the answer is always “no.”

Let’s be real: maybe you’re done feeling guilty for doing what everyone else seems perfectly content doing. And if God would just get out of your conscience life would be much easier. You could watch porn, have pre-marital sex, lie, cheat, steal, etc. with no worries.

If any of these describe you, I’m with you. I’ve been there. But hold on, take a deep breath and keep reading.

In each moment we all ideally want all of our desires to be answered “yes” and for that “yes” to not be delayed. We want what we want right now. Immediate gratification is the name of the game. And daily we are marketed to in countless ways with messages that reinforce our desires: “You deserve it. Take all you want. Enjoy it. No boundaries. Don’t wait. Do it now. The answer is ‘yes.'” 

The scary things is there are obvious consequences to this way of thinking and living.

The scarier thing is since God doesn’t at all operate like this, we often get upset with him, see his answers as irrelevant and irrational, and in the end, see no need for him at all.

What we are really doing is distrusting God’s character. And we are missing out on a much better life.

What if the next time God says “No” to your desire, you stopped and considered that maybe he knows something that you don’t? Maybe he knows what’s best for you and a “No” answer is exactly what you need.

When I was in seminary, one of my professor’s said this: “God’s commandments are to keep us from something bad and to save us for something better.”

That has stuck with me to this day. And I believe it always will.

When God says “No,” he is not trying to make your life miserable. He is not trying to make you miss out on what everyone else is doing. He is not punishing you. He is not trying to put fear in you. He is not mad at you. He is not trying to give you unattainable standards. He is not all about rules.

He actually cares about your life more than you or I ever will.

When I said “No” to Avonlea eating the hot food it was because at my core, I wanted what was best for her. I didn’t want her to get burnt and I wanted her to enjoy her food at the right time. It was an act of grace for me to warn her and give her boundaries.

Have you ever considered it’s the same way with God?

It is.

So, the next time God says “No” to something in your life, remind yourself of 3 things:

1. God wants what’s best for me.

2. God wants to keep me from something bad.

3. God wants to save me for something better.

Then obey his “No” and see how that works out for you. I’m betting it goes better than obeying your own “yes.”

The 3 Things I Pray for Just Before I Speak

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Have you ever been talking with someone who nonchalantly made a profound statement? They weren’t trying to be philosophical or impress you. They just said something that ended up impacting you tremendously. (If you don’t think it happens to you, you either aren’t listening, aren’t talking to the right people, or think you know it all and can’t learn from others. Because people are full of profound statements.)
This regularly happens to me. I’ll be talking with someone and they’ll say something that catches my attention. I’ll then quickly write it down, often times into the notes section of my phone. Later I’ll revisit it to see how I can apply it to my life or save it for later. It may relate to God, relationships, culture, ministry, parenting, leadership, etc. Whatever it is, I know when I hear it that it’s good stuff.
One of these times happened several years ago when I was speaking at a youth gathering. It was a large event and one of my first times speaking. So I was definitely nervous. As I waited backstage the youth pastor came up to me and we chatted for a couple minutes. He prayed for me. And then right before I walked out he said, “Matt, tonight speak with passion, integrity and conviction.”
It was a simple statement. A profound one. And the youth pastor didn’t even realize it.
It was something I’d thought about, but hadn’t categorized. I knew I wanted those 3 characteristics to be true of my speaking that day. What I didn’t realize was how those 3 characteristics would shape me as a speaker going forward.
Since then, every time before I speak publically I pray a simple prayer. “God, help me to speak with passion, integrity and conviction.”
I’ve thought about these 3 characteristics quite a bit over the years, and when I pray that short prayer each word has a specific meaning to me. To hold myself accountable and to get better, lately I’ve been trying to ask some of the following questions after each message.
Passion
Did I bring energy?
Did I show that I cared about the content and people listening?
Did I speak with emotion and inflection?
Did I bring out the excitement within the text of the Bible I’m speaking from?
Integrity
Did I honor God with my words?
Did I faithfully represent what other authors I quote were trying to say?
Did I tell the truth in the details of the message?
Did I honestly represent my beliefs and not try and seem like I had all the answers?
Did I give people a reason to think I’m a person of integrity after my message?
Conviction
Did I allow God to lead me while speaking?
Did I allow my beliefs to have greater influence in my presentation than my fears?
Did I convince others that I personally believed what I was trying to convince them of?
Did I communicate in a way that caused others to experience some level of conviction about the topic I spoke on?
Passion. Integrity. Conviction. 
Praying for this to be true of my speaking has made a significant difference. These 3 characteristics don’t encompass everything I want to be true of my speaking.
There are certainly other things I aim for like simplicity, clarity and practicality.
I have a process for my preparation and an approach for my delivery.
I’m unapologetically trying to reach non-believers in every message I give.
I am influenced by certain speakers.
I have many convictions that I hold to.
And I’m still learning a lot about how to communicate.
But at the end of the day, if I am speaking with passion, integrity and conviction I can sleep well that night.
You might not give formal presentations on a regular basis, but you still interact with people.
Do others think of you as someone with passion, integrity or conviction?
What other characteristics do you think are important for communicators to have?
PIC credit HERE

Have a Quiet Time

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Last week I wrote a post titled “The Reason You May Be Struggling to Believe in God.” While there are lots of reasons people struggle, the reason I talked through was this: most people haven’t tried a relationship with him. I went on to show how a relationship with God can come before belief and can actually be what helps many to believe in him. And then I clarified that’s it’s not just a “whenever I feel like it” relationship, but a personal, daily one. If you haven’t had a chance to read that post you can check it out HERE.

At the end of the last post I asked the obvious question: “This all sounds great, but how can I have a personal, daily relationship with God? What does that look like?” I’ve heard from many people who said last week’s post was encouraging and challenging and were looking forward to today’s post. So let’s jump in.

You can have a personal, daily relationship with God by following Jesus’ example in Mark 1:35. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

Now I just lost many of you with the “very early in the morning” part. But stay with me. Before Jesus started his day he personally connected with God, his heavenly father. It wasn’t something done with a large group of people. It wasn’t something he did in public for everyone to see. It was just a designated time for him and God to relationally connect through prayer. You could say he had a “quiet time.”

Several years ago I was taught to have a quiet time each day. I was told that more than anything else in my life a quiet time would grow my faith the most. I was told it would be a tool to having a personal, daily relationship with God. And it has been.

So how can you have one? It’s not complicated. It’s quite simple actually. And there are many different ways to have one. But what I wanted to do is give you a way so that you could begin having a quiet time if you don’t already.

What You Need

Place. Find a place where you can be uninterrupted for a period of time. It should be familiar to you and somewhere where you can stay awake and engage with God. Laying down in your bed is probably a bad idea. For me, it’s my study at my house.

Time. For Jesus, that was first thing in the morning. That’s what I do and prefer. By doing it first thing, it shapes my perspective on the day and allows me to pray for what is ahead of me. It also ensures that I do it. I know for me, it would be easy to forget or be distracted from having a quiet time daily if it wasn’t first thing in the morning. You may have another time of day that works better. Maybe you are more alert in the afternoon and have a break where you could work it in. Try that. The time of day isn’t as important as having some time during the day. Also, the length of time will vary. For some people they spend 15 minutes and for others they spend an hour. Again, the length isn’t as important as devoting some period of time each day.

Readable Bible in print. You shouldn’t have trouble understanding what’s being said. If you are, try a different version. That might mean moving away from the KJV. Versions that I use are the NLT, NIV and ESV. It should also probably be a physical Bible in print. I have a Bible App on my iPhone and iPad and love it. But when I do my quiet time, I use a physical copy of the Bible so I don’t get distracted by notifications popping up, texts, phone calls, etc.

– Notebook and Pen.

What You Do: One Example of a Quiet Time to Try

Pray: Say a short prayer asking God to speak to you through his Word. I regularly pray through Matthew 4:4, “It is written, Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” That reminds me of my daily need to connect with God and hear from him.

Read: Pick a passage of Scripture to read through. It can be 5 verses, a paragraph, a chapter, or more. If you’re just starting out, try reading where the chapters are divided with headers in each chapter. In the past I’ve gone through one chapter of Proverbs each day that corresponds to the day of the month. I recently read through Jeremiah and now I’m going through Matthew one chapter at a time. Whatever passage you choose read through it slowly, at least once, trying to digest what is being said.

Write: Now, try and boil down 1 main idea from the passage you just read and write it down. If it’s a longer passage there may be more than 1 thing you write. Then, I try and answer a couple more questions:
-What does this passage show me about myself?
-What does this passage show me about God?
-What does this passage tell me to do? / How can I apply what I’ve learned?

Pray: Now you are ready to pray. In the book, “Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods” a very helpful prayer guide is given for your quiet time. It models Jesus’ teaching on how to pray in Matthew 6:5-14. Here it is:

-Praise. Start by thanking God for who he is and what he has done for you in your life. Take time to specifically acknowledge how he has provided for you. Tell him why and what you are most thankful for. Express your love for him.

-Repent. To “repent” means to agree with God that what you have done that he says is sinful is so, to be remorseful for it, and to ask him for help turning away from it. Take time to repent for specific sins that God brings to your mind.

-Ask. Ask God to answer personal prayer requests you have. They can be for you, friends, family, others you don’t know, situations you believe God should step into, etc. Writing these down helps you to remember who you’ve prayed for and helps you look back and see the prayers God has answered.

Yield. Acknowledge that God is God and you are not. That you want his will to be done on this earth. Commit to trusting in him for the prayers you have offered, the sins you need to avoid, and for providing for you. Ask that he will help you to obey what it is he has revealed to you today through your quiet time. Finish with thanking him again.

So how can you have a personal, daily relationship with God? Have a quiet time. It will be a game-changer for your faith. And you will begin to connect with the God of the universe, your heavenly father, like never before.

I’m not perfect. I miss days having a quiet time. And on those days, I miss out on what God wants for my life. So what do you say? Give it a try. What do you have to lose? And what might you gain?

Pic Credit HERE