I’ve always been intrigued by the scene in Mark 9: 14-29. The disciples tried to cast out an unclean spirit and failed to do so. The father pleads with Jesus to help his son. Jesus asked him a question and the father answered, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus, replied, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” Without hesitation the father said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” and it was granted to him. I’ve quoted that line many times: Lord, I believe, help my unbelief! But it isn’t that line that intrigues me most. At the end of their time there, the disciples pulled Jesus aside and asked him why they couldn’t cast it out. Jesus replied, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
Prayer. That’s what the disciples were lacking. It wasn’t that they needed greater knowledge or more strength. They didn’t need an increased gifting or boldness. The disciples needed to pray and ask God to do what only he can do. And that’s what you and I need too.
I became a Christian at the age of 22 but it took three years from the first time the young girl shared the gospel with me to the moment I surrendered my life to the Lord. After I became a Christian, her friends and other church members would come up to me at different times with a repeated phrase, “I had been praying for you!” That stuck with me. All of those people had been praying for me for years and God heard their cries on my behalf. What captured my heart and attention could not be driven out by anything but prayer. Now I’m his forever.
Maybe there’s something impossible that you have on your heart but have been reluctant to bring to the Lord. If you are anything like me, perhaps you haven’t asked him to do a miracle because you are afraid of being disappointed. That’s where we join the father in Mark and proclaim, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” Today, ask God to do the impossible. It just might be the thing that cannot be driven out by anything but prayer. Pray—he is listening.
(Over the next several months I will be running a series on my site called First Drafts. You can learn more here and feel free to join me in writing your own first draft series!)
Over the past few weeks, prolific blogger and author, Tim Challies, has posted a series of tweets and an article lamenting the changes he is seeing in the blogosphere. In short, writers are simply abandoning blogs, at least blogs that are personally owned. I believe he is right and as I’ve thought about it in regards to my own site, I know why I have not posted as frequently and it is simple, time.
It takes time to write, then edit, and then have someone else edit. Writing often takes research and reading and referencing. Then you have to upload it, add links if you have any, find a picture that works, and make sure when you hit publish it actually publishes correctly. That has been my experience and I’ve had to weigh whether or not I can spend that amount of time and effort on a blog or if it would be best spent writing articles for other outlets where there’s an editor in place and someone who can take the time to upload the post, etc. And evaluating my own blogging habits has also revealed a level of fear.
I think part of the desire to write and edit and rewrite is because people are actually reading my words and I don’t want to publish something with errors or something that could prove to be unhelpful. I want my work to be readable and relate-able. I also fear the Lord—I will give an account for every word typed on this site. Yet, I also believe there’s an unhealthy fear. I don’t want to be thought of as a terrible writer. I want to polish my craft and make sure that the commas are in the right place and the grammar isn’t awful. I hesitate then to publish because I want to look good. That’s a terrible reason not to write. In my heart of hearts I desire to serve you, my reader, and also in the back of my mind I wonder if I’m good enough. Did that sentence need a comma? Am I using passive voice? Yes, those are the things I worry about.
I imagine that temptation to fear pushing publish isn’t isolated to me. I know it’s not. I know others fear but for other reasons. Mine is about grammar but I know others would be about content. People hesitate to write because they want to make sure it appeals to the current issues of the day or that the reader would enjoy reading the content rather than writing about something the author actually enjoys writing about.
So, what you’ve stumbled upon here is a first draft. (Actually, my computer froze and I lost the last two paragraphs. So, this part is new. See, writing takes time!!) Over the next few months, I’m going to write first drafts and post them. No editing. No scheduling when it’s done. I’m going to write when I can during the week, giving myself about 30 minutes and then post it. I will look for a photo but I’m not going to spend more than 5 minutes hunting. I will write about whatever my heart desires: my time with the Lord, the weather, what I’m reading, confession, whatever. This series will be appropriately called First Draft. J
What about you?
Do you read blogs or has your blog reading slowed down? Are you a writer and have you stopped posting on your site? What would you enjoy seeing me write about? If you had a blog, what would you write about?
We know how to act, and there are things we likely wouldn’t do just for fear of what others might think. But our minds are another story. No one sees what we’re thinking — at least, that’s the lie we tell ourselves. We can have vengeful, angry thoughts; we can lust; we can be anxious; we can judge others — all within the confines of our mind. We don’t have to say a word or make a move to sin.
I share more at the Proverbs 31 Ministries: What You THINK vs. What You DO
We can find ourselves busy doing good things, many good and wonderful things, and before we know it we are flat on our faces exhausted. Maybe for you it’s serving in every ministry in your local church, bringing meals to every woman who gives birth, or picking up the phone instead of paying attention to that deadline. The Lord graciously used my Bible study with him to show me that I had my priorities mixed up and forgot to nurture my own love for Jesus. My Bible reading had become a task to do for others. But in doing that He also revealed my fear of what others would think if I simply said no. I saw how my over-commitment was affecting everything.
You can read more of my thoughts on this at Lifeway: Saying “No” to the Glory of God.
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
Anytime, anytime while I was a slave, if one minute’s freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute,
I would have taken it—just to stand one minute on God’s earth a free woman—I would. -Elizabeth Freeman
My mind struggles to understand slavery. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to wake up chained—metaphorically or literally—and owned by another human being. When my mind goes there, when I allow myself to try to put my feet in a slave’s shoes, I all but fall down in sorrow.
Slavery was an atrocious institution in the early days of our country, and it didn’t exist only in the South. A slave named Elizabeth Freeman actually took the new state of Massachusetts to court, seeking to be freed. She fought for her freedom. And she won! She became the first African-American slave to be set free under Massachusetts law and is credited with informally abolishing slavery in the state.
Elizabeth Freeman’s burning desire to stand on the earth for even one minute as a free woman isn’t hard to imagine. And once she tasted the sweetness of freedom, surely she would never, ever have desired to return to slavery.
And yet we sometimes do just that, in a sense. Though we are free in Christ, time and time again our hearts return to that time when we were slaves to our flesh, slaves to our fears, slaves to the law and the law’s demands on us. We fall back into old, fearful ways of thinking. In this text we see Paul reminding the church that God doesn’t want that for us. God desires our freedom—and He provides it through His Son and through our adoption as His children (8:15).
To the first-century church, this reminder of freedom from slavery would have great significance. Slavery was a daily reality in that culture, so people in that day would instantly understand the analogy of being released from slavery and not falling back into it. Like Elizabeth Freeman, they knew in their bones that there was a big difference between being a slave in someone’s household and being a free member of the family!
We may not witness slavery on a daily basis anymore, but Paul’s analogy still holds powerful truth for us. We were once slaves to our sin (Rom. 6:20), but once we’re in Christ this is no longer true. We do not have to submit or obey or entrust ourselves to those old ways. God has made us new, and as new creations we have the privilege of adoption. Now we are not only free, but children of almighty God. And not only children, but beloved children who can relate to our Father intimately.
It is no small thing that we can use the word Abba as we cry out to our Father. This Aramaic word for Father is an intimate term, even somewhat childlike—it could also be translated as “papa” or “daddy.” Significantly, it is also the name Jesus used in addressing God. It is a grace to us that we can cry out to the Lord in prayer in such intimate and personal ways. He gives us that access. Theologian Douglas Moo puts it this way: “In ‘adopting’ us, God has taken no half measures; we have been made full members of the family and partakers of all the privileges belonging to members of that family.”
Today remember this great access you have to your Abba. When you have to fight not to fall back into your old ways of thinking, cry out to your heavenly Father, who is available to you and listening. Remember that you are His, that you’ve been bought with a price. And that means you are truly free.
**This is an excerpt from my new study on Romans 8. Find more devotionals like this one in If God Is For Us! Order via Amazon and other retailers.
Leon Morris, e Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 315; Douglas J. Moo, e Epistle to the Romans, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 502.
Moo, Epistle to the Romans, 503.
If someone had come up to me on the morning of my wedding day and asked me if I knew my husband-to-be well, I would have said yes without hesitation. Now, fifteen years later, I realize that while I did know him before I married him, I know so much more about him now. Our relationship has deepened, and my knowledge of him has exponentially increased since our wedding.
Why? Because we’ve spent hours upon hours together. We know each other’s history. We know our backgrounds. When one of us reacts to something, the other knows the context from which the reaction comes. We know each other because we have studied, learned, enjoyed, and listened to each other over the course
of these many years. And I’m looking forward to learning even more in the years to come!
It takes time to really know a person—and the same thing is true about getting to know the Bible. After nearly twenty years of “living with” the Bible and many, many hours of study, I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of its rich depths. And even with all my studying, I realize I will never exhaust the potential depths of learning about the Lord.
My hope is that you and I would get to know our Lord in greater ways through If God Is For Us, a study of Romans 8, a cherished book and favorite chapter. If you ask believers for their favorite book of the Bible, many would place Romans at the top of the list. And if you were to take a survey and ask what specific chapter in the Bible has had the most impact on their lives, a number would name the eighth chapter of Romans—and for good reason.
Tim Keller has written that “the book of Romans is the most sustained explanation of the heart of the gospel, and the most thrilling exploration of how that gospel goes to work in our hearts.”1 I agree wholeheartedly. And to me, Romans 8 is the heart of that great letter. It provides the assurance of this great salvation, summed up in its first compelling sentence, which proclaims to its reader that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (8:1).
That amazing declaration would be enough, but there’s more, so much more. We learn throughout Romans 8 that:
- The Spirit is actively at work in us (8:4–11);
- We are heirs with Christ, the adopted children of God (8:12–17);
- Our suffering is for a great purpose and doesn’t compare to the glory we will
- Even in our weakness, the Spirit is at work (8:26–27);
- God is working all things for our good (8:28);
- And absolutely nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ (8:31–39).
Need I go on? Oh, I can, and I want to! I haven’t even gotten to the five life-changing questions that solidify our conviction that God is absolutely, undeniably for us (8:31–38).
So in case you’ve been concerned whether a single chapter in a single book can sustain an entire six-week study, don’t worry. We could probably spend another six weeks—or a lifetime—and still find more.
If God Is For Us will take us on a journey into Romans 8, reminding us of our great salvation, our inheritance, and ultimately the love of our good Father. Romans 8 can be easily quoted—and often is—but through If God Is For Us I hope that we might meditate deeply on it, soaking in the goodness of this truth and rejoicing in the mind-boggling reality that God intends nothing but good for us. My prayer is that, together, we’ll gain a greater understanding of the significance of this passage of Scripture and why these verses mean so much to so many.
We will accomplish this through reading the text, through studying God’s Word, through daily reflection on the passages, and ultimately through prayer. But God must do the work in our hearts for us to understand. Let’s ask God to help us as we seek to know the God of our salvation in ever-deepening ways.
Grab the Book and Make It Work For You!
If God Is For Us is formatted to provide flexibility and I encourage you to make it work for you! It’s designed to be done in a group setting or individually. Here are just a few of the possibilities.
- Do the study entirely on your own at home.
- Meet daily with a few friends in-person (maybe for coffee) or online to share
your response to the devotionals and the questions.
- Try a combination—do some of it (like the devotionals) at home and some of it (like selected study or reflection questions) in a weekly group gathering. Or study at home and then come together to discuss your insights and discoveries.
You can follow the suggested pattern of five days of study, two days off, or you can stretch out the material to cover six or even seven days. Personally I like the idea of reading and study on one day, devotionals and reflections on five more days, and then taking a “sabbath” day of rest.
My hope and prayer is that you would enjoy God through this study!
Grab the book at Amazon! You can also purchase it at other retailers and see what others have said about the book on my book page: If God is For Us.