Tag Archives: answered prayer

my work and God’s work

it has been quite a busy month.  there’s a lot that still needs to be accomplished.  but it’s good to know God is always at work…if we just stop to notice.

being away on paternity leave a month ago opened my eyes up to my own insecurity and identity wrapped up in the work that i produce.  although having plenty of time with my family and newborn son was full of windows of joy, there was a gnawing sense of not feeling “productive” being unable to do all the work i’m usually a part of. why is it that if there isn’t visible exciting results of my labor, there’s a part of me that doesn’t allow myself to enjoy God and what he has given me?  isn’t it God’s will that i am joyful and thankful in ALL circumstances just as much as that i do good?

as i returned back to work there was still that sense that i needed to catch up for the lost work at best and at worst haunted by what i imagined was people’s disapproval that i wasn’t doing enough.  many of the people i am reaching out to were struggling or unresponsive.  the focus of the work was just on maintaing.  one night at youth group i gave a teaching on our Heavenly Father’s commitment to love us and was challenged to, along with the youth, listen to what God wanted to speak to us.  as i looked out into the group of people present, i saw in my mind’s eye kernels of wheat sprouting and i sensed God say to me “don’t focus only on what you see…I am at work.”          

later that week, through a facebook post of all places, God led me to this stunning passage in scripture:

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
    and makes flesh his strength,
    whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
    and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
    in an uninhabited salt land.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
    that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
    for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
    for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

– Jeremiah 17:5-8

here i was wearing myself out with what i could do and the results of MY work when i was not trusting what HE could do with what is ultimately HIS work.   if i looked back in the past months he had been leading me through chapters 40s-50s in the book of Isaiah…the constant theme is how HE is God and we, or anything else we set up to focus on, is not.  i just hadn’t been making the connections to work.

don’t get me wrong, we shouldn’t just throw our hands up in the air and neglect our responsibilities with the work God’s entrusted to us.  it’s just that at the end of the day who or what are we really trusting in to get things done?  for me, in my heart of hearts, that trust was not in God.  if you’re unable to sleep at night stressing about all that you need to do maybe it’s not God that you’re trusting but yourself.  so i kept doing what He put in my care but i threw my weight into prayer to God for the results.  i got a little bold in asking God to do what He promised he was about in His word.  it’s been pretty sweet to see Him at work now that i’m looking at it with fresh eyes.  one of the people i’ve been i’ve been investing in who had been ignoring my calls/texts initiated with me and has been coming to church after a long absence.  through an urban leaders conference we went to last weekend, i got to witness God softening and ministering to the hearts of a number of young leaders that had been distant but God’s been opening them up to His goodness again. God has been exciting me with visions of things to come…that still haven’t happened yet.

we still got a ways to go.  i still have a ways to go.  but let’s not be like shrubbery in the desert.  let’s be fruitful trees planted in His Living Water.

trees water better

hunger pains

i don’t think it’s a coincidence that since our church leaders have challenged us to pursue God in prayer this month, the youth leaders have experienced spiritual attack. 

we’ve been studying the book of Acts as a church and we are seeing a pattern that has also been true historically in the life of the people of God: there is a crisis or gaping need, there is desperate prayer, there is a visitation of power, and there is transformation.  Our church elders sensed God leading our church to seek Him more earnestly for transformation in our lives and community.  In the lent season of 40 days leading to Easter we have been challenged to join in on at least one of the prayer meetings happening every day of the week (except fri.) and to fast from something in order to have our “hunger” filled by Him.

it is hard enough to not turn to the things that we usually do, things that do not fully satisfy us, to cope or escape from worries of this life.  fasting and prayer forces us to deal with the hunger in our souls…to turn to God.   but satan doesn’t want us to do that.  he tries to make this pursuit of God even harder.

our youth leader team has experienced that this past month.   the week the elders presented this challenge to the leadership team, all sorts of spiritual attack broke out.  all 7 of our youth leaders, as well as the pastor of the youth leaders, experienced unusual and disruptive occurrences (demonic near possession of a family member, demonic paralysis and disturbing visions, very distorted and disturbing dreams, relationship strife-standstills, and crazy night time diarrhea for me before my first big church fundraising push).  then the sunday the prayer push announcement was made to our whole church, the youth leaders happened to have a meeting.   there was an abnormal and uncharacteristic amount of tension throughout the meeting.  we couldn’t seem to agree on how to apply this prayer push to the youth.   even after some prayer the meeting still ended with a sense of division.   our team members felt a mixture of frustration, confusion, hurt, and anger.

after some conversations we realized our youth group leader team was under spiritual attack, with things happening in our own lives largely outside of our control.   the youth leaders started a prayer chain throughout the week.  we asked various people to pray for our next youth leader meeting.

that youth leader meeting happened a couple days ago.  I thought I had an idea of how it would go down.  I was wrong.

i thought we would be ready to hit the ground running.  but we weren’t ready.  there was still some hurt, confusion, tension…a block.  I had to let go of my own plans.  after listening to each other share and some personal prayer time to little avail, we had to come together and ask God what was blocking us from uniting.  then God started revealing scriptures to the team and, one by one, us youth leaders began confessing and dealing with stuff we weren’t really seeing clearly before.  the tension began to clear, the fog started to lift.  we asked God to show us where He wanted to guide the group.  then God started showing us various visions, images, senses, and words.  we shared out what God had revealed to us.  and lo and behold, each of us had a piece of the puzzle that came together to make a picture of where God wants to lead the youth next.  the creative juices were flowing and a general plan came together within minutes.  it was awesome.  God led our meeting and I don’t know how it couldn’t have come out better.   we closed our meeting worshipping God.

we are back on track as a team.  the battle is won, but not yet finished.  we are hungry and we’ve taken some hits. but we know God can fill us if we turn to Him.   

our team of youth leaders
our team of youth leaders

a life in transformation

“i’m gonna choke that motherf***in b***h!”  screamed a large young man as he came storming down the street from the building where our youth group was meeting.  he had overheard another young lady speaking about him and he began making threats.  much of the youth group just watched him explode.  another youth leader tried to speak with him but he just kept on walking.  i don’t know what came over me but i acted on the impulse to hug him as my heart broke watching this scene unfold.  he pushed me aside yelling “get the f*** offa me!”

 

he apologized to me and the youth leaders the next day but, needless to say, after this incident that happened about this time last year, the church leaders had to make the tough decision of banning him from youth group for a month.  this is when God opened the door for me to begin meeting up with him one-on-one.

 

this young man’s name is ese.  ese, has grown up in a notorious public housing project in our community.  he has struggled with abuse as a child, violence, substance abuse, his sexual orientation, sexual promiscuity, trouble with the law, and dropped out of high school a couple years ago.  he started going to our church a couple years ago as well but was unable to make it through a service, frequently getting into arguments with other people at church.  however, the youth leaders started focused praying for ese and he started to receive curious visions/dreams from God, that soon led to him accepting Jesus into his life.  since giving his life over to Jesus in the winter of 2012 it has been a privilege to witness the transformation of his life.

 

before he didn’t feel connected to God.  now he hears from Him regularly.
before he wouldn’t talk to Jesus.  now he talks to him in prayer…even for others.
before he could not sit through a sermon or bible study at church.  now he engages with the Word.
before he would get into damaging sexual relationships.  now he has been sexually sober for over a year.
before he would balk at the idea of speaking publicly before his peers.  now he has experienced publicly sharing a very personal poem on the mic to his peers.
before he would explode on people and get into fights.  now he has learned to walk away from such situations.
before he would not engage with peers his age.  now he attends our post high school bible study…and likes it.
before he would start arguments with people at church.  now he faithfully sets up and cleans up for church service every sunday, even becoming a set-up captain.

 

in fact, contrary to what anyone (even myself) would have believed, out of all my mentoring relationships this past year, ese has been the most faithful. ese still has a long way to go but i know that God is working in Him.  i have seen it with my very own eyes.  only God makes everything beautiful in His time.
ese

Like a seed planted in the ground…

I wasn’t certain if or when the answer would come.  Now, I’m starting to see some light break through.   The past couple summer months of reaching out to youth in the neighborhood has been tough.  There’s a battle going on for the souls of the young people of our community and it felt like we were losing ground.

But God is faithful.  One of the youth that had been drawing back from not only me but even opening up to anyone about his life, has slowly been letting people in.  After some group prayer of the youth ministers near the beginning of the summer, he spoke with his father.  Midsummer we started small talking again.  This past month he’s been sharing a little with another youth leader and about a week ago he started contributing again to small group at church.  It’s slow going but I have been encouraged.  Gosh, some people pray for years without seeing fruit and I was getting discouraged from just a couple months…I’m such weak sauce.

This comes around the time I have been getting much helpful perspective from others.  First and foremost has been God’s word to me from Galatians 6:9 in which he reminded me – “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  This horticultural analogy has been a breath of fresh air.  Like planting a seed, I am brought back to the truth that I cannot control the time for when a seed will break ground and bear fruit.  No matter how much I desire it to show itself…it will not come forth with me just desiring it.  So it is when you pour out your life and heart into another.   All I can do is to keep on doing what I know is good.

Our caring shepherd over the youth ministry also reminded me that there are seasons of life for our young people…seasons that seem to change so drastically.  For teenagers in general any given circumstance can feel like the end of the world (hehe I remember it felt like that for me in those times).  These relatively volatile responses seem exacerbated with inner city youth, since much of the people and environments they are living around are already unstable as it is.   There are seasons in which a young person seems to turn away from life and there are seasons when they come back to life…I’ve seen it this summer.  My role is to let them know that the door is always open when they’re ready…and that I will keep praying for them regardless.

Seasons change, His faithfulness does not.

**no joke about 30min after writing this post  I was driving out to youth group, praying for a couple guys I hadn’t seen in a while, and as I was stopped at a red light I saw two of them walking across the street directly in front of me.  I drove back to where they were and caught up with them.  They ended up coming out to youth group tonight and they were encouraged.  I am so encouraged.  Thank you God, for reminding me it’s worth it to persevere in prayer…even when I didn’t see anything happening.