Find your wilderness

“However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities. So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.”‭‭Luke‬ ‭5:15-16‬ ‭NKJV‬‬
In Luke chapter 5, Jesus healed two lepers and told them not to tell anyone. The Bible says “However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities.” All of a sudden, Jesus’ ministry work became more demanding. 

Can you imagine what it’s like to personally minister to a multitude of people? The best example I could come up with is from my days working fast food in college. 

In college, I worked at an Arby’s restaurant that was located two blocks away from Jordan-Hare Stadium at Auburn University. On football game days, all five registers would be opened with all five lines stretching out of the lobby and through the opened double doors. The people just kept on coming. It was stressful, demanding work being pressed by such a large crowd. At the end of the day I was drained and fatigued. 

What do you do when life just keeps on coming? How do you handle the stress and fatigue? Jesus gives us the answer: withdraw and pray. 


We all need to withdraw and rest our bodies to help with physical fatigue. But we also need to withdraw our minds, hearts, souls, and spirits through prayer to help us deal with other forms of fatigue. Here are a few examples:

Decision fatigue – the mind is so overworked making decisions you either choose not to make a decision or all your decisions are automatically “no”. 

Emotional fatigue – your heart has experienced so many intense emotions (joy, anger, happiness, pain) that you’ve become numb and can’t empathize with others. 

Social fatigue – your mind is so overworked trying to fulfill all of your social roles (spouse, parent, employee, parishioner, neighbor) that you begin to act out of character at the wrong times. 

Sensory fatigue – you’ve been so bombarded with images, videos, sounds, and smells that you become annoyed by the hum of the motor on your refrigerator. 

Spiritual fatigue – you’ve wrestled with the devil and yourself so long in an attempt to live right that you’ve decided church isn’t working, and you’re just gonna let yourself go this weekend. You justify it by saying “I’ve been good so I deserve it.”

Prolonged exposure to these types of fatigue can lead you to snap on your kids, leave your spouse, quit your job, curse out your friends, quit your ministry, leave your church, or worse. 

The best way to respond to this fatigue is to withdraw and pray. Find or create your own personal wilderness where you can be alone with God. Get away from the noise and distractions so you can let God resettle you and recharge your batteries. 

My wilderness is my porch. That’s where I get alone with God to pray, think, and strategize. Sometimes I have to create a wilderness when I’m in public places by putting on my earphones with worship music, classical, or soft instrumental jazz. 

Let me encourage you to find your wilderness. Get alone with God. Let him help you process all of the issues of your life. He will give you to strength to move forward. 

A Prayer for Charleston


Lord,

You are the creator of the universe. You have made all things according to the counsel of your own will. You are worthy of glory, honor, and praise. We acknowledge your sovereignty as we submit to your authority.

Today, God, we plead for mercy. We ask that you hear our cry and have mercy on Charleston, South Carolina in the midst of tragedy. Your bride, the church, Emmanuel A.M.E. Church, has been desecrated by an act of hateful murder. One of your pastors, a chosen and called servant, has been killed along with eight other believers. A manhunt has begun and emotions from anger to fear have been released into the community. We call on you for help and plead for mercy.

God, families have suffered the loss of loved ones. We humbly ask that you provide comfort and stability for them as they grieve. Meet their needs in every facet of life during this troubling time. Protect their hearts so they won’t be overcome by sorrow. Provide Godly counsel for them as they seek to make sense of the circumstances and their feelings. Fill in the gaps where their fallen loved ones are missing.

God, friends and co-workers have also suffered a loss. Help them to support the families of the victims in a way that brings honor to their lives without being a burden on family members. Lead them to express themselves in positive ways without adding to grief and sorrow. Quench any fires of rage that burn within them.

Lord, help the church to stand strong. Do not allow fear to grip them and keep them away from fellowship with one another. As this church seeks your face to identify their next pastor, give them clarity. Send them the pastor you have chosen for them. May the next leader be spirit filled and courageous.  Inspire other churches in the community to draw near and support Emmanuel A.M.E. Church, showing unity in the body of Christ. Bless Charleston to physically see the manifestation of a church without walls. Break down the barriers of denominations, races, generations. Let the church rise up and show her strength to the city. Make it beautiful in the eyes of those who do not know you and lead them to salvation. Lord, let spiritual revival ignite in Charleston.

Lord, the city of Charleston and the state of South Carolina has suffered a loss. They have lost a leader and senator. They have lost a sense of peace. They have lost the veneers of racial equality, unity, and safety. Help them to respond with genuine concern that lasts beyond the news coverage. Let their support and activism for change continue long after the shock of the moment has subsided. Lord, you have been exposing America’s secret discrimination and racism one city and state at a time. The laws say one thing but the hearts of many people are still filled with the hate of previous generations. For decades we’ve been hiding behind a mask of political correctness. Being politically correct is no longer enough to cover moral corruption. Help our nation, states, and cities to develop a moral compass that always points to you.

Lastly, God, let the saints arise in prayer all over this country and around the world. Inspire us to pray with passion. Help us to lift up effectual, fervent prayers that change the atmosphere around Charleston. Help us to minister to Charleston the way your angels ministered to and strengthened Jesus as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before his betrayal. Let them feel your power emanating from our prayers. Hear us from heaven, forgive our sins, and heal our land, in Jesus’ name, Amen!

Dropped Calls

IMG_5739

I live in Newnan, Georgia and pastor Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Tuskegee, Alabama. To get to church I take I-85 South. During this 1 1/2 hour drive I listen to audiobooks or make phone calls to pass the time. But there is one spot on the road where my calls get dropped. Right near the state line there is deep valley right in front of the KIA plant in West Point, Georgia. That valley is so deep my cellular signal gets lost, my call gets disconnected, and I can’t reconnect again until I’m out of the valley on the other side.  

Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear. (‭Isaiah‬ ‭59‬:‭1-2‬ NKJV)
 
Prayer is our communication with God. It’s kind of like a phone call. But sometimes it seems our calls or prayers are not getting through. According to Isaiah, there’s no problem on God’s end of the connection. His hand isn’t so short that he can’t reach us and his ears are not so heavy that he can’t hear us. The problem is our sin. Sin literally means to miss the mark. Imagine an archer who is aiming his arrow towards a bullseye but when he releases the arrow it misses. The distance from the target to the place where his arrow landed is called sin. 

Our iniquities and sins separate us from God and hide his face from us so he won’t hear our prayers. It’s like sin is a deep valley and every time we go there our calls to God get dropped. To reconnect we must recognize how far we’ve gone astray and steer our lives out of the depths of sin. Our repentance will bring us closer to God again. Then we can make a strong connection and get a prayer through. 

My First Lent

20140318-103116.jpg

For years my mother has celebrated Lent, the season of prayer, fasting, and consecration leading up to Easter. Each year I watched her offer up to God things like sweets, fried foods, and sodas. She is always dedicated and believes her fasting truly brings her closer to God. This year, I’m celebrating Lent for the first time along with our church family. But you know what I’ve noticed? Mom was right. As Lent progresses, I’m getting closer to God, and I want to sacrifice even more. 

“that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,” Philippians 3:10 (NKJV)

I believe this Easter will be significant in my life because my awareness of God is being increased each day of Lent. I’m being drawn in to the “fellowship of His sufferings” and I’m being lifted by the “power of His resurrection”. My eyes are being opened and I can see Jesus more clearly. His life, death, burial, and resurrection are becoming more personal to me.  

If you have never participated in Lent, I invite you to join with me in prayer, fasting, and consecration. There are resources like the 40 day reading plan and a link to a guide for fasting here to get you started: http://www.greaterfriendship.com . Don’t worry about any days you’ve missed. Start reading John 1-5 today. Pray and let God lead you to determine what foods and/or habits you will sacrifice to God for Lent. In the end, I believe you will know Him like never before.

He’s Just Famous

20140211-085921.jpg

For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. (II Timothy 1:12 NKJV)

Have you ever met someone famous? In 1994 I met John “Hot Rod” Williams, power forward for the Cleveland Caviliers. Well, I sort of met him. I was living in Dallas at the time and visited a bookstore downtown on my lunch break. I went to the magazine and comic book section and there he stood towering at 6-11, 215lbs, reading a comic book. I guessed he must’ve been in town to play the Mavericks. 

I said hello and he returned the greeting, avoiding any prolonged eye contact, sending the message “I’m busy, please don’t disturb me”. So, we both stood there in silence reading comics. Then eventually, doing my best to act casual, I turned to leave and said “good luck in tonight’s game”. He said “thanks”. 

I know “Hot Rod” Williams, sort of. Sure, I’d seen him on TV many times and heard commentators say a lot about him, but none of that qualifies as knowing him. In my encounter with him, we spoke and I learned that he likes comics but it doesn’t mean I truly know him. He’s just famous. 

I believe in my heart there are many people who have the same relationship with God that I have with “Hot Rod”. We’ve heard about God at church, on TV, radio and the web. We’ve seen movies and heard stories about him. Preachers have given us years of commentary about God. But aside from a chance encounter with God, we still don’t know him. He’s just famous. 

Paul told Timothy “I know whom I have believed”. God wasn’t just famous to Paul. He knew God deeply and personally. We can too. God is always with us. We don’t have to wait to bump into him at church like I bumped into “Hot Rod” at the bookstore. He’s with us in all times, in all places, and in every circumstance. Even though he’s running the universe and keeps the world spinning, he’s never too busy to talk to us. We can commune with him through prayer anytime. If we make spending time with God a priority in our lives, he won’t be just famous to us. He’ll be known. 

Spirit Prayers

20140204-113537.jpg

Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26, 27 NKJV)

Have you ever been so overwhelmed by life’s challenges you didn’t know how to pray? I must admit there are times when being a husband, father, pastor, entrepreneur, friend, grad student, and more seems to swallow me. In those times I usually just approach God’s throne in prayer and sit there in silence. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what to say. Even though I may not feel like I’m accomplishing anything in my silence, I hold on to two truths that give me hope: the Holy Spirit within me is praying for me and he’s praying according to God’s will. 

Praying for Me
As believers we have the person of the Holy Spirit living within us. He’s with us in every place, at all times, and in every circumstance we face. He knows our challenges because he’s facing them with us. When we can’t form the words of prayer, Paul says he intercedes to God the Father on our behalf with “groanings which cannot be uttered”. In other words, because of his intimate relationship with us and with the heart of God, the Holy Spirit communicates our passions, our feelings, hopes, fears, and desires. I don’t know about you but I’m glad to know when I can’t find the words, my constant friend, the Holy Spirit, is praying for me. 

Praying God’s Will for Me
When I’m stressed I don’t always pray for God’s will to be done in my life. Here’s why, I’m selfish. My survival instincts kick in and I try to pray my way out of discomfort. But the best place to be in life is in the will of God. Think about it; what if God allowed me to endure the trials to purge, prune, and challenge me to grow in my faith? What if he was allowing me to endure my trials so those around me could see a witness of faithfulness? When I think about it this way, I’m glad the Holy Spirit prays for God’s will in my life. It gives me hope because I know he’s seeking what’s best for me.

A Prayer for Leaders

Image

20130903-113622.jpg

Lord,

Empower your leaders with personal integrity. Let their authenticity cause others to trust in their leadership. Give them a desire to become leaders worth following. Give them the energy and physical wellness necessary to carry out their daily responsibilities. Grant them healthy habits in life and work. Help them find positive techniques for dealing with stress. Teach them to embrace seasons of rest.

Help them to nurture their families. Surround them with genuine, dependable, and honest friends. Bring balance in their lives. Remove blemishes in their character and vices in their lifestyles. Grant them passionate tenacity for their leadership coupled with sincere personal humility.

Remind them of their humanity even as they work with their teams to complete projects that are greater than themselves. Instill in them the necessity of personal development. Put people, resources, and opportunities in their path to build their leadership abilities. Inspire them to be life long learners as leaders.

Give them genuine care and concern for the people they lead. Give them versatility to lead unique personalities across cultural barriers and multiple generations of workers. Give them the courage to develop other leaders without fear of losing their positions. Help them to not be intimidated by those who appear to be more competent or talented than themselves. Let then acknowledge and face their insecurities while trusting in you, Lord.

Help them be moldable like children when faced with changes in their industries. Help them face challenges within their teams with hopeful resolve. Help them make their calling and purpose sure. Lord, lead your leaders to fulfill the visions you’ve purposed in their vocations. Make their organizations better because of their influence. In Jesus’ name, Amen.