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Encounter God through Extraordinary Prayer
By DONNA GAINES
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Donna Gaines
All rights reserved.
All of Scripture is God-breathed;in its inspired voice, we hear useful teaching, rebuke, correction, instruction, and training for a life that is right.
—2 Timothy 3:16
Shortly after our fourth child was born, I was longing for my time with the Lord. After the birth of each of my children, there was a significant adjustment period. My orderly world had been turned upside down. Trying to keep a household going for my pastor husband and four children (ranging from newborn to ten) while sleep deprived proved to be beyond me. I cried out to the Lord as I trudged through my days. I remember walking into my laundry room one day and just turning around and walking back out—too overwhelmed to tackle the mountain that faced me.
A couple of days after the laundry episode, I returned to our Tuesday morning women's Bible study. My newborn was three weeks old. I was lonely and looking forward to adult conversation. But what I was really longing for was a word from the Lord.
Driving back to the house, I felt somewhat uplifted, but still yearning. I stopped routinely at the mailbox as I pulled into our driveway and found a package. Denise George had sent me her recently published book, A Longing Heart Hears God's Gentle Whisper. The words jumped out at me as though I had received a postcard from heaven!
About three o'clock the next morning, as I was up nursing my baby, I opened the book. I just "happened" to open to a section where the author was comparing the miracle of prayer to the miracle of a newborn baby. As I looked at the delicate features of our little girl and then back at the book, I read these words:
Imagine! Through prayer, you and I can call upon the One who fashioned our delicate bodies, who gifted our hearts and minds. The One who created us and gave us breath! The One who listens to us, our prayers of thanks and our prayers of complaints. The One who loves us so deeply that He would rather die than live without us.
At that moment, the presence of The One filled the little nursery where I rocked my baby, and I was overwhelmed by His love. His love! Not reprimand because I hadn't been having my quiet time, but love, pure and unrestrained. My heart began to pound and tears began to flow. He loves me! He heard and He saw me. I thought my heart might burst right open. His goodness had filled that room, and I was at once both comforted and encouraged.
Dear friend (I hope I can call you that since I have prayed for those who would read this book, and I feel that we are friends), this same intimacy and awareness are what God desires for each of His children to experience. Perhaps God may seem distant to you, as He did to me. Or maybe you aren't convinced His promises include you. But I can tell you from personal experience, the only One who can satisfy is seeking you!
The way you get to know Him is through His Word. The Bible is God's autobiography. It is written by God, about God, for us. This is not just any book. It is God-breathed and living and has the power to breathe new life into your soul. Read through it slowly and intentionally. Expect God to speak to you. When God begins to reveal a specific truth to you, you can't look at the Scriptures without seeing it. When you pick up the Bible, He will reinforce that same truth on page after page.
Do you remember Magic Eye pictures? They were images created by lines of repeated characters. If you looked intently into the center of the picture—you almost had to cross your eyes—suddenly a hidden image would pop out, actually appearing to come to the surface. After that initial realization, every time you looked at the picture, you saw it. You couldn't help but see it. My sister Julie had a Magic Eyes picture that had a dinosaur hidden in it. It seemed to take me forever to be able to see it. I tilted my head, almost crossed my eyes, and looked intently into the center of the picture. Then, suddenly, I saw it! After that, no matter from what angle I came up to the picture, I saw it. Once you have seen it—you can't not see it!
As we work through the Scripture chronologically, we will see over and over again the great lengths to which God was willing to go that He might dwell with His people. Because God desired to have an intimate relationship with them, He gave them instructions for the tabernacle. To understand the significance of the tabernacle as our model for worship and relationship, it will help to look at the big picture of God's story. He longs to be with us. His presence was manifest first in the garden, then when He cut covenant with Abraham, then in the tabernacle, and centuries later in the temple. In the New Testament, He became flesh through His Son, who literally "tabernacle[d]" among us (John 1:14 YLT).
After Christ's ascension, God sent His Holy Spirit so that "whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Those who believe are indwelt by His Spirit. It is the same Spirit that indwelled the tabernacle in the wilderness, the temple in Jerusalem, and Christ Himself.
And now, Christ is preparing for the day when nothing will separate us from His presence. The apostle John wrote, "And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away'" (Rev. 21:3–4 NASB).
Eternity is what we have to look forward to, but the questions most of us are asking are about life on this broken planet.
How are we to live until then?
Why does life have to be so hard?
Why do the things of this world never really satisfy?
Why are relationships so difficult and betrayal and loss so often our constant companions?
For those of you who relate to the never-ending search these questions bring about, there is good and bad news. The bad news first: you're not going to find satisfaction in this world. But the good news is, you can find it through intimacy with Jesus.
There is a longing in every heart to know God. Our Creator, who loves us, placed that desire within. Remember Ecclesiastes 3:11, which says that God has set "eternity" in our hearts (NIV)? That is why we are constantly searching and never satisfied. We know we were created for more than this world has to offer. This incessant longing for more drives me to my chair to meet with God every morning.
That longing began when I was in college. I started to seriously read the Bible. As I read, I realized my personal walk with God did not reflect the kind of relationship that the people recorded in Scripture experienced. I wanted to walk with Him and talk with Him. I didn't just want to know about God; I wanted to experience Him! First Corinthians 2:11–12 tells us that we have been given the Spirit of God, who knows the very thoughts of God. If His Spirit lives within me, why was I having such a difficult time knowing His will and discerning His voice?
This desire led me to commit time each day to Bible reading and prayer. Obviously there have been times in my life when I have been more disciplined than others, and every day is not a mountaintop experience. There are also seasons of life when it is more difficult to carve out this time. However, I soon came to realize that God's Word and prayer were nonnegotiable—absolute necessities. Without them the extraordinary Christian life is impossible!
Why is it that we so often neglect the Word of God and only pray at mealtime or before bed? Could it be that we are living presumptuously? Do we actually think we can make it in this broken world apart from God? How can we honestly believe we can live without being deceived, if Adam and Eve couldn't?
Prayer is our lifeline. It truly is to our spiritual bodies what breathing is to our physical bodies. Without it, our spiritual life will leave us gasping for more. It is absolutely imperative that you understand how much God desires to be in relationship with you. This may be just the realization you need to step out in faith and turn your life over to Jesus in worship and prayer.
All of us are dissatisfied when we attempt to live our lives apart from a thriving relationship with God. This dissatisfaction can be traced all the way back to the garden. To understand the restlessness within us, we must go back to the beginning to comprehend all that was lost in the Fall. God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the perfect environment of the garden—lush vegetation, trees laden with fruit, rivers flowing with fresh water, no fear, no shame, no guilt (Gen. 1–2). It was an environment created specifically for relationship—the relationship between God and His people and between husband and wife. Adam and Eve enjoyed innocence, significance, and companionship. When God inspected His paradise, He was pleased and declared that it was excellent in every way.
But then something went drastically wrong. Suddenly, nothing seemed to satisfy. The perfect environment wasn't enough. The perfect spouse wasn't enough. It wasn't enough that God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. In fact, all it took was the hiss of the serpent and a vague promise of "something more" to cast doubt on God's Word and on His character. Eve fell for the lie that she was missing out (Gen. 3:1–7). She fell for it hook, line, and sinker, and Adam went right along with her.
In one split second, every negative emotion now known to humankind came crashing in. Instantly, Adam and Eve were overwhelmed by the shame, guilt, and fear that came along with their sin. Their futile attempt at fig-leaf clothes to hide their shame exposed their guilt. "Hiding. Covering up. Self-protection. Feeling exposed. They are telltale signs of shame."
The next day, they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden, and they hid from Him. Notice God's gentle approach. What did He do? He questioned them before He judged them. Genesis 3:9 says, "Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, 'Where are you?'" (NASB). Of course, God knew exactly where Adam was.
God knows all things, but He used that question to bring Adam to a realization, an understanding, of what had actually happened since he had chosen to rebel against God. God was really asking, "Where are you now that you've gone your own way? Where are you now that you chose not to listen to Me, and you listened to the voice of the serpent? Where are you now, Adam? Where has your defiance taken you?"
Like Adam and Eve, we, too, seek satisfaction outside of our relationship with God. We also listen to the voice of the enemy who taunts us with the suggestion that God is holding out on us—that we are missing out. Really? What had God been keeping from Adam and Eve—except pain, fear, guilt, shame, and death? What is God keeping from you except the same?
Adam answered God's "Where are you?" this way: "When I heard the sound of You coming in the garden, I was afraid because I am naked. So I hid from You." God probed deeper: "Who told you that you are naked? Have you eaten from the tree ... I commanded you not to eat from?" (Gen. 3:10–11). As God's spotlight shone on his heart, Adam realized God knew exactly what he had done.
Imagine the humiliation Adam must have felt as the revelation of his sin echoed throughout the garden. Caught. Exposed. Ashamed. We all fear exposure of our sin before God. Sometimes that fear is what keeps us from praying and sends us into hiding as well. Yet, God would not leave them or us in hiding. He progressively asked Adam questions to reveal the real issue. Does God not do that with us? So often, when God is approaching us, convicting us, it is as though He is gently peeling back layers until we see the real root issue.
Adam's response sounds typical. He said, "It was the woman that You gave to be with me" (v. 12 NASB). Eve joined in the blame game with, "The serpent deceived me" (v. 13 NASB). What can we learn from them? We all want to pass the buck, don't we? We all want to blame somebody else. Adam hurled blame at Eve, and she hurled it at the serpent. Hiding and hurling are instinctive responses to guilt. They didn't want to be responsible for their own actions, and neither do we.
God immediately put a halt to the blame game. First, He said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life; and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel" (Gen. 3:14–15 NASB).
This passage is the first time the "Promised One" is mentioned in God's Word. God's way back to Him would be through His Son, born of the seed of woman. In the midst of the curse, there is a ray of hope—the Promised One would crush the serpent's head!
God then pronounced judgment on Adam and Eve. He told Eve that her pain in childbirth would be greatly increased and that she would experience conflict and separation in her relationship with her husband. Gone were the days of innocence and trust. Now their relationship would be a struggle, the result of sin.
Wives, we need to listen cautiously to God's words to Adam. He told him because he had listened to his wife, the ground would be cursed. Toil and pain became a part of their daily reality. How careful we must be as we influence our husbands with our words. Most of us have not considered how influential we really are. We will each give an account for every word we speak (Matt. 12:36). May we wield this influence prayerfully and carefully.
From the beginning, God's great mercy has been evident. God pronounced judgment, but then after the judgment, He protected Adam and Eve. He took care of them. He provided for them. God took an animal He declared good and killed it, establishing from the beginning that it takes the shedding of innocent blood to cover sin. With the skins, He created clothes for Adam and Eve, for they could no longer walk about uncovered.
God banished Adam and Eve from the garden, protecting them from themselves. He prevented them from eating from the Tree of Life and being forever separated from God in their sinful condition: "After driving them out, He stationed winged guardians at the east end of the garden of Eden and set up a sword of flames which ... turned back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life" (Gen. 3:24). Why? Because God still desired to dwell with Adam and Eve and with us. He values relationships over rules.
But breaking the rules separates us from God and from one another, distorting our relationships. The rules are in place to protect us and to point us to the Father.
With God, mercy triumphs over judgment—if you doubt that, read the book of Judges. Relationship is always the priority. Rules guard the relationship, which is at the center of the heart of God. God yearns for us and longs for us to be restored to right relationship with Him.
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To read more in God's autobiography about the garden and the Fall, read Genesis 1–3.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
1. Reflect on what you have read. Conflict is inevitable. How has conflict in relationships affected you? How has it affected your marriage?
Conflict will either drive us to despair or to our chair. We will face up when we go facedown.
2. Is there any sin in your life that continues to separate you from God? Have you brought it to the Lord? Let His Spirit "peel back" your defenses and get to the root of the issue.
3. God has pronounced and yet He has provided. In the midst of it all, He gives a promise—He will make a way. He will not leave Adam and Eve. He will not leave us. What promise of God brings you great hope and comfort?
Excerpted from LEAVING ORDINARY by DONNA GAINES. Copyright © 2014 Donna Gaines. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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