Our biggest and boldest prayers.

Our Biggest and Boldest Prayers

I remember hearing someone say in a sermon (actually, it might have been a testimony), “If I had realized all along that my prayers would be answered, I would have prayed better prayers.”

He was being facetious, a little. But there is also some truth to what he said.

We have a tendency to pray safe prayers, small prayers, never presuming to ask for too much. And we’re careful to include the qualifier, “If it be thy will,” just in case nothing happens.

Of course, praying within the boundaries of God’s will is a fundamental element of prayer; we know this. [1 John 5:14]

Our problem, however, is that we often pray for less than God’s will, with something less than an attitude of faith.

We pray for a cabin in the corner of Glory Land, while God is offering us a mansion of our very own.

We ask for the ability to accept defeat, so to speak, while God has promised us victory.

We’re asking for the courage to cope when he is ready to give us the power to overcome.

God has promised us great things. We often respond by asking for small things.

What if we were to zero in on one or two requests that we know beyond a shadow of a doubt are surely part of God’s perfect will for our lives — and what if made these areas a target of our biggest and boldest prayers of faith? Things such as: Holiness. Victory. Joy. Courage. Motivation. Patience. Purpose. Power. Self-Control. And so on.

These are the birth-right of every believer. If they’re lacking in any of our lives, there is arguably only one reason:

You do not have because you do not ask. (James 4:2)

So let’s be sure to ask.

This is our challenge: Pray within the boundaries of God’s perfect will — and keep in mind those are huge boundaries.

And then pray big and bold prayers.

And pray like you know your prayers will be answered.

Making First Things First

Dr. Gerald Bell is the co-author of the best-selling The Carolina Way with legendary basketball coach Dean Smith. He’s also the founder of the Bell Leadership Institute.

Several years ago, Dr. Bell surveyed 4000 retired business executives, with an average age of seventy, asking one key question: If you could live your over again, what would you do differently?

The number one answer:

“I should have taken charge of my life and set my goals earlier.”

The other top answers included:

– Taken better care of my health.
– Managed money better.
– Spent more time with family.
– Spent more time on personal development.

Few of us are at the beginning of our career; some of us have already rounded third. But it’s not too late to make your life about the things that matter most.

Anyone who’s willing can take charge of their life today, even if there’s not much as time left on the clock as one would like.

Anyone who’s willing can take charge of their health today, even if it’s more of an uphill climb than it once was.

Anyone who’s willing can begin making themselves available to their closest friends and family today, even if the relationship has faced hurdles in the past.

And so on.

For those still in the early stages of their career, these five values are certainly good guidelines to follow.

For those who are in the later stages of the journey, they’re still good to go by.

It’s never too late to make first things first.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

The One Digging the Well

An ancient Eastern proverb says, “Those who drink the water must remember who dug the well.”

In every area, our lives are made lighter through the efforts of others.

Take a look around. Everything you see is a call for gratitude: The house you live in, the clothes you wear, your table, your chair, your bed. Someone dug the well, so to speak, to make these available.

There were also those who taught you in school, and Sunday School. Who told you about Jesus, who volunteered for VBS and, later, youth camps and retreats. Who prayed for you, who encouraged you along the way … they were digging the well, and they deserve your gratitude.

Our job, then, is to remember to remember those who put the well in its place, to say thank you in person when we can, and to say thank you to God for bringing this person our way.

And our job goes just a little bit further.

We need to be digging wells of our own, in service to others. It’s a simple step to ask ourselves throughout the day: Who, besides me, will benefit from what I am doing right now?

During his second and third missionary journeys, the apostle Paul “dug a well” in Ephesus: planting a church, leading people to Christ, training leaders.

And yet, it is he who expressed gratitude to them…

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers… (Ephesians 1:16)

Our work involves digging wells that will last for eternity. Let’s tend to the task in a spirit of gratitude — thankful for those we serve, and thankful for those who have played a role in guiding us along the way.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!

Not the Final Chapter

In February 2013 NFL wide receiver Cris Carter was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — an honor well deserved. He had a great career.

However, it didn’t look like he was headed in that direction after his first few seasons in Philadelphia.

Carter was a gifted athlete, but his early career suffered because of off-the-field issues, mainly related to drug abuse.

After being cut by the Eagles, he was picked up by the Vikings. It was around this time that Cris got serious about following Christ.

In Minnesota, he made the most of his second chance. He began the process of turning things around personally and professionally.

And what a turn-around it was: He went on to play in eight consecutive Pro-Bowls, and broke several receiving records, becoming one of only a handful of receivers with more than one thousand career receptions.

In an interview a few days before his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Cris had this to say:

“I wish I had done everything right. I have regrets. And when you’ve got a dark chapter in your life, people will try to make that the final chapter in your life. But it doesn’t have to be.

“For me, when it got the darkest, I said ‘this is not going to be the end of my book.’ I was able to start making decisions and start doing the right things, and one thing happened after another…”

YOUR SECOND CHANCE

Some days it may appear that you’re at the end of your book, as if the way things are today is the way things will always be.

Don’t believe it. There are chapters in your life yet to be written.

Even today you can begin making decisions to change the outcome of your story.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)


Taken from Steve’s book It’s All in the Dailies.
Cris Carter HOF photograph by Eric Daniel Drost.

The Price We Pay for the Right Words to Say

Do not believe that he who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good.

His life has much difficulty and sadness and remains far behind yours. Were it otherwise he would never have been able to find those words.”

— Rainer Maria Rilke
Letters to a Young Poet


This quote from the 19th century Bohemian poet makes me think, first, of the life Christ lived for us.

He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. We sometimes forget.

He did not consider equality with God as something to cling to, but instead he humbled himself, taking on the nature of a servant, becoming obedient, even to the point of death.

He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. He suffered for our sins, that by his stripes we may be healed.

And it is this attitude of humble, sacrificial service that Paul calls us to imitate.

I also think of how Rilke’s words apply to those in ministry, especially the preaching / teaching ministry.

It is through the struggles we face and the challenges we endure that God is able to give us the necessary words that can offer strength and hope to others.

We’re often tempted to ask, “Why is it necessary that I endure this hardship?”

Let’s consider the answer might be: “Because the people you’re called to serve will someday need to learn, from you, how to overcome this same kind of challenge.”

An Ancient Example of Forgiveness

The first time the word forgive appears in the Bible is in the final chapter of Genesis, when Joseph receives a message from his late father, saying…

“I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.” (Genesis 50:17)

His brothers had been worried about it. They wondered…

“What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” (Gen 50:15)

It had been more than 30 years, but they knew that didn’t matter. Joseph could have held on to the hurt all this time; he could have waited until this moment to exact his revenge.

Instead, Joseph did the unexpected.

When their message came to him, Joseph wept. (Genesis 50:17)

I don’t know why Joseph wept. Was he just now letting go of the hurt? Was he just now finishing the process of forgiveness that he had begun years before?

Who knows? Forgiving others sometimes takes time.

But he refused to let the past ruin the future. He said to his brothers…

“Don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:21)

Joseph spent his final years in peace, surrounded by his family, his brothers and their children.

And his perspective on the past?

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

The hurts of decades past may still sting like they happened yesterday. It may be tempting to hang on to them just a little bit longer …

…but if you’re willing to let go of yesterday’s pain, you can experience the peace of God’s presence today.

And tomorrow, too.

When the Director Yells ‘Action’

Imagine you’re on a movie set.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. The director yells “Cut.” The angle wasn’t quite right. Adjustments are made and they try again.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. This time he fumbles a phrase. The director yells “cut” and they try again.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. Again, the director yells “cut.” We’re getting a shadow. Let’s try again.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. “Cut, cut, cut.” The words were right, but there’s something missing. We need to feel it more. Let’s try again.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. The director yells “cut.” Not bad, this time. I think we can use this one, but let’s do a few more, just in case.

It can be exhausting, saying the same words again and again, expressing the same emotion again and again, striving for the same result again and again.

This is why Randall Wallace, screenwriter of Braveheart, said that the most exciting day of your life is your first day on a movie set, and the most boring day of your life is your second day on a movie set. Making movies is tedious work.

Is it worth it? Any actor would say, “Yes!”

Our lives are made up of one take after another, one attempt after another to do our job and meet our obligations and fulfill our purpose with excellence.

How many takes does it take to get it right?

It takes as many as it takes.

Sometimes it all comes together on the first try. And sometimes you have try again and again and again.

Others see only the end result. But we know what was left on the cutting room floor. We know it’s not always as easy as it looks.

Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Every day is a new day. A new take. A new chance to get it right, to deliver the performance of our lives. This day deserves the best you have to give.

Are you ready?

“Action.”

And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. (2 Thessalonians 3:13)

The Never Again List

Every one I know has had to celebrate Christmas this year in a modified manner. People didn’t travel. Families didn’t get together. Fewer presents were passed around. (One young man told me, “This year my family decided we could only afford to draw each other pictures and write each other poems.”)

That’s how it was in 2020.

I’m sure we’ve all taken a ‘count your blessings‘ approach to the season, making the best of it, being thankful for what we have, rather than focusing on what’s been left out.

This is a good idea, of course, but I would also suggest that we resolve in the coming year to adopt a new attitude: Never Again.

As in:

Never Again will I take for granted the things that were missed or the things that were lost this year.

This year I know people who are unemployed. Others have lost their business. They will never again take a job for granted, and will likely never again complain about having to work for a paycheck, even when the conditions are less than perfect.

This year I know some who are without a home. Never again will they take for granted having four walls to call their own.

This year I know some who are spending this Christmas by themselves, without their kids and grandkids, for the first time in decades. They will never again take for granted a family get together.

We have all survived — maybe even taken in stride — the many required adjustments this season. That’s what most people do, especially those whose lives are built on a foundation of faith.

But it’s OK to feel the absence of that which has been lost this year.

And now is a good time to decide: Never again will I overlook even the smallest of God’s many blessings in my life. When God restores what was lacking this year, as he most certainly will, I will take notice, I will give him thanks, and I will treasure the gift of his goodness.

Cry out, “Save us, God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise.” (1 Chronicles 16:35)

Merry Christmas!

A Shortage of Trees / A Lack of Vision

This may sound like a Christmas illustration, but it’s not. It’s a vision illustration.

There has been a Christmas tree shortage off and on for the last few years. And it could last a couple years more.

Why the shortage? Drout? Fire? Pandemic?

There are several suspects in the case, but the primary reason can be traced back to the recession of 2008, when fewer people bought trees — a trend which continued for a couple of years.

Since fewer were buying, tree harvesters planted fewer trees, thinking the need was dwindling.

As the economy began making gains, business picked up again … but short-sighted harvesters weren’t prepared. They had forgotten that there is a difference between a temporary lull and a long-term shift in consumer behavior.

Something similar can be said for ministry.

This is a temporary situation that we face today. But the lull won’t last. It requires our attention, to be sure. It requires that we be flexible in our plans and procedures.

But, as we deal with the ‘now’ all around us, let’s not be lulled. Let’s not lose sight of our vision. We must continue to look ahead, and plan forward, just as God has called us to do.

This moment in time is temporary. Our mission is long-term. Let’s make sure we’re ready when new opportunities for ministry come our way.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13)

The Picture Perfect Promise of Christmas

I love Christmas cards. Especially the traditional kind.

Like a snow covered landscape, with a cozy cottage nestled in the woods. In the window you see the decorated tree. The smoke rising from the chimney tells you there’s a fire inside. You can almost feel the warmth; you can almost smell the gingerbread and pumpkin pie.

Or the scene with the rosy-cheeked carolers gathered on the front steps of a neighbor’s home. You can imagine how their angelic voices would fill the crisp winter air as they sing…

Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright…

When I see pictures such as these, I think: What a beautiful world to live in.

But that’s not the world where many find themselves today. Instead of peace and tranquility, they’re surrounded by heartache and pain, even darkness and despair. For many, the dream drawn on canvas seems forever out of reach.

While we hope for a world that we cannot create, we continue to live in a world we cannot escape.

This is why we need Jesus.

He came to change that which we cannot change for ourselves. He came to turn something ugly into something beautiful. He came to…

…comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:2-3)

Oh, how I love to read these words.

Maybe today you see only ashes — but there is a crown of beauty waiting for you. The oil of gladness. A garment of praise.

The most idyllic scene you can imagine, he came to make real. Not just for a moment, captured in time, but for all eternity.

Merry Christmas!

Friends & Health & Happiness

In The Pursuit of Happiness, David Myers cites research demonstrating that once creature comforts are in place, there is a very weak link between income and happiness.

Neither do citizens of the wealthiest nations experience more happiness than those in developing countries.

In fact, rates of depression and alcoholism have increased in the United States since World War II, in spite of our having experienced unprecedented economic growth.

Money just can’t guarantee happiness.

However, a good circle of friends pretty much does guarantee happiness.

According to a survey from the National Opinion Research Center, the more friends you have, the happier you are.

Other studies show that close relationships promote health.

Author Robert Putnam says, “Social isolation is as big a risk factor for death as smoking. Your chances of dying in the next 12 months are halved by joining a group. By far, the biggest component of happiness is how connected you are.”

It’s been said, “Money is like a glove. Friendship is like your hand. One is useful, the other essential.”

The lesson here is: Make Friends. As the cliché goes, it will add years to your life and life to your years.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Hebrews 10:36

Which Will It Be?

In a boxing match, when a fighter is too beat up to continue, what does he do?

Instead of getting back into the ring when the bell signals the next round, he tosses in his towel. The towel admits defeat. It says, “I quit. I lose. I’m done.”

But there’s another phrase from the world of boxing to consider.

In the good old days, it used to be that spectators at a boxing match would be invited to come out of the stands and have a go at one of the pros.

In the noisy, smoke-filled arena, some courageous man would make it official by throwing his hat into the ring. The only way to get it back was to step onto the canvas and take on the champ.

In other words, to throw your hat into the ring was to accept a challenge from which you could not back down.

I think you know where I’m going with this.

Each day, in every area of your life that matters, you hold in one hand your hat, in the other hand a towel.

Each day, by your actions and your attitudes, you throw one or the other into the ring.

It’s either your towel or hat.

Which will it be today?

Make it your hat.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:36)