When You’re Up Against the Wall – 6 Powerful Prayer Principles

Jacob was scared. Really, really scared.

He was headed home, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Twenty years earlier he had fled from his brother Esau’s presence and his father’s house. 

“As soon as Dad dies,” Esau had vowed, “I will kill you.” And he meant it. 

Now, after decades of self-imposed exile, Jacob was coming home. And he was bringing his family with him. Granted, he was a new man. Years of spiritual growth had transformed him from a conniving, self-centered mama’s boy into a man of integrity and courage. 

But Esau didn’t know that. As far as he knew, Jacob was still the manipulative weasel who had stolen his blessing – and the one he had promised to kill. 

It’s not surprising, then, that Jacob found it difficult to sleep the night before he knew he’d encounter his brother. The faces of his young children danced before his eyes every time he closed them. His wives’, too, women he’d promised to love and protect. 

But instead of figuring out a way to avoid an encounter with his brother, like the old Jacob would have done, he did what the new Jacob had learned to do – he prayed. And it wasn’t just any old prayer. It was a prayer we can learn from and apply. Let’s take a closer look at Jacob’s prayers, as recorded in Genesis 31:9-12. 

6 Powerful Prayer Principles 

1. Acknowledge God’s faithfulness in the past. 
Jacob began his prayer with "O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac.” By doing so, he reminded himself that God had been faithful to his family for three generations. He had kept the promises he had made to them. He could trust him. 

2. Acknowledge God has brought you to this place. 
Jacob recognized God as the one “who said to me, 'Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper.’” Essentially he said to the Lord, “I’m in this scary place, with my uncertain future, because I’ve followed you.” 

The same is often true in our lives today. Obeying God’s call on our lives doesn’t guarantee that we’ll avoid bad, sad, scary places. It does, however, assure us, as Billy Graham often said, that “The will of God will not take us where the grace of God cannot sustain us.” 

But what if we find ourselves in a precarious place because we’ve disobeyed or ignored God’s direction? Are we on our own? Thankfully, no. God also hears and answers the honest prayers of a repentant heart. 

3. Humble yourself. 
Jacob understood that all he had, and all he had become, was because of God’s mercy and grace. “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant,” he prayed. “I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups.” 

The same is true for us. Acknowledging that God is the source of our blessings protects us from an ungrateful, entitlement mindset. 

4. Ask boldly. 
“Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau,” Jacob said. Despite his precarious position and Esau’s superior strength, he boldly asked God to protect him and his family. 

Like Jacob, we sometimes find ourselves in impossible situations with the odds stacked against us. And we, too, can pray to the God of miracles to do the unimaginable. 

5. Be honest. 
“I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children,” Jacob confessed. There is no need to hide our fears from God. He knows our hearts better than we do. Honest transparency unburdens our hearts and draws us closer to the Lord, whose shoulders are broad enough to bear our burdens. 

6 Claim the promises God has given you. 
Jacob concluded his prayer this way: “But you have said, 'I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.'" By recounting to the Lord (not because God had forgotten, but because Jacob needed to remember) the specific promises God had given to him, Jacob’s faith was strengthened. 

When we pray back to God appropriate promises that fit our situation, our faith grows stronger, too. By claiming the promises in God’s word, we remember that God is a covenant-making, promise-keeping God who encourages his children to call on him. 

Unlike Jacob, most of us won’t be fearing for our lives today. Most of our problems fall somewhat lower on the fear factor scale. But regardless of their severity, we need God’s intervention. 

Whatever you’re facing today, I encourage you to remember God’s faithfulness, acknowledge that he has brought you to this place, approach him humbly, ask boldly, speak honestly, and claim the promises he has given you. By praying like Jacob did, we, too, can access God’s power on our behalf and watch him answer for his glory. If you’d like someone to pray with you, leave a comment below and share your request.

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Are You Struggling to Make a Decision? 6 Tips to Discern God's Will

When I was 18 years old, the weight of the life decisions I had to make almost broke me. Where should I go to college? What career should I choose? Who should I date (and subsequently) marry? Where should I live? 

I suspect you’ve experienced similar anxiety. What if we make the wrong choice? 

I wish I had read Genesis 24 as a high school senior. I could have learned from Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, and avoided a host of sleepless nights. 

Abraham was living in Canaan, the land God had promised to give him and his descendants. At this point he only had two sons and one plot of land – the burial site of his beloved wife, Sarah. 

But Abraham believed God was going to raise up from him a nation of people to follow the Lord. So when the time came for Isaac, Abraham’s sole heir, to take a wife, Abraham knew he couldn’t marry a pagan Canaanite. He had to marry kin. (It was okay in those days. The gene pool hadn’t yet become corrupted.) 

So he dispatched his trusted servant, Eliezer, on a mission – find a wife for Isaac from among my family in Mesopotamia. This was huge, and Eliezer knew it. Abraham had just entrusted him with the continuance of his line (and the future nation of Israel). 

But Eliezer had grown up in Abraham’s home, and he had watched his master make wise (and not-so-wise) decisions in his hundred years of walking with God. He knew what to do. 

From his example, we can draw six principles for decision making. 

1. Follow the revealed will of your master. 
Abraham was very specific: Do not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac (Gen 24:3). When we face similarly-significant life decisions, we don’t always have such specific instructions from God, but we do have the general wisdom of the Bible. It’s a no brainer, then, that we should never violate any of God’s biblical principles or commands. 

2. Pray and invite God into the search. 
Eliezer asked for God’s favor and direction: "O LORD, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham.” This point seems simplistic, but it’s the one we most often forget. We consult friends and advisors, but we fail to ask the wisest of all Counselors to bless and guide our decision. 

3. Pray specifically. 
Eliezer didn’t ask for “some pretty girl to cross his path” that he could bring home to Isaac. Instead, he looked up, saw the young women of the city coming to draw water from the well, and asked God for specific direction. “May it be that when I say to a girl, 'Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,' and she says, 'Drink, and I'll water your camels too' – let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master" (v. 14). 

 And what do you know? “Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, who was the wife of Abraham's brother Nahor” (v. 15). 

Notice he didn’t pray outlandishly: “God, please make a spotlight appear over her head and a host of angels surround her with rainbows and unicorns to show me she’s the one.” Instead, he simply prayed for God to reveal his will through timing and circumstances. 

4. Worship God when he answers your prayer. 
When Eliezer realized God had answered his prayer and Rebekah was the one, he bowed in holy awe. "Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the LORD has led me on the journey to the house of my master's relatives” (v. 26-27). 

5. Tell others how God has guided you. 
Sharing faith stories with others strengthens their faith and helps them trust God, too. When Eliezer described the details of his quest to Rebekah and her family and how specifically God had answered his prayers, they couldn’t doubt that the circumstances were from God. They surrendered eagerly and wholeheartedly to God’s will. 

 "Laban and Bethuel answered, 'This is from the LORD; we can say nothing to you one way or the other. Here is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master's son, as the LORD has directed'” (v. 50-51). 

 6. Watch how God uses your obedience in far-reaching ways. 
Eliezer’s assignment was to find a wife for his master’s son, Isaac. We know that Isaac married Rebekah, who gave birth to twins, Jacob and Esau. Jacob had twelve sons. Their descendants became the twelve tribes of Israel. Through the tribe of Judah came a young virgin named Mary came. She gave birth to a tiny baby named Jesus, the Messiah, who brought salvation to every tribe, tongue, and people in the world. 

“Through you, God told Abraham, all peoples on earth will be blessed.” And blessed indeed are we. 

My fretful, tormented time of decision making as a young adult ultimately led me to see how much I needed God’s wisdom to guide me. I surrendered my life to his control and have never looked back. 

Each year I learn more about what it means to trust and obey him. I hope, as I share my flawed and sometimes fragile faith, others will be inspired to trust him, too. Like Abraham, I want others to be blessed because of what God has done and continues to do in me. 

How about you? Are you struggling with a decision and unsure what path to take? Why not follow Eliezer’s example? I’m confident that as you obey what God has already told you, pray specifically, worship God, and tell others about your experience, the same God who answered Eliezer’s cry for help will also answers yours. I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do.

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Five Ways to Disagree without Being Disagreeable

“Whoever writes this stuff is very ignorant of the Bible and its meaning. . .”

“Someone who denies Christ and isn’t very educated wrote this *#%.” 

These are two comments I received lately in response to one of my articles, two of a long string of responses. Some were positive and kind. Others respectfully disagreed with a point or two I made. And others were rude, disrespectful, and abusive. 

The contrast got me thinking. 

We live in a country that allows its citizens to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of persecution or imprisonment. Social media, especially, gives the average person the platform to air their views on a far-reaching and even global stage. But does the freedom we enjoy give us carte blanche to say whatever we think however we want? 

I think not. 

Especially if we’re believers. God holds us to a higher standard than our civil authorities, and we answer to a higher law than that which rules our nation. 

Unless we live alone in a cave on a mountain in Tibet, we’re going to eventually encounter someone with whom we disagree. 

So how do we disagree without being disagreeable? 

Here are five ways: 

1. Examine our motives. 
Why are we disagreeing? To be contrary and stir up dissention? To demonstrate how smart we are? If so, Proverbs 16:28 has a word of warning: “A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.” 

If, however, we embrace a belief or perspective that differs from the person with whom we’re talking and have pure motives, we might have legitimate grounds to approach someone. 

2. Pray about the right words. 
The right words, carefully chosen, can unlock a person’s heart and open their mind to consider an alternative view point. The wrong words can cause someone to shut down or react defensively. The best hope we have to convert someone to our perspective is to speak thoughtful, intelligent words, seasoned with grace and truth. 

If we have a legitimate concern to share with another, and our motive is to educate or edify, Ephesians 4:15 gives us wise guidance: “. . . Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Speaking the truth in love requires us to approach someone with whom we disagree gently, humbly, and respectfully, with the desire to educate, not insult. 

3. Choose our timing well. 
Especially if the point of disagreement makes you angry, don’t open your mouth (or your computer) immediately. Take time to think, pray, consider the facts, and examine your motive. Many times I’ve been convinced I was right until I talked to the Lord about it. If, after time and prayer, you still feel compelled to address the issue, choose a time that allows for a thorough, unhurried talk. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” James 1:19 tells us. 

4. Ask, does it really need to be said? 
Much of what we disagree about probably doesn’t need to be spoken aloud. But some of it does. How do we know? Here are a few things to consider: If you don’t speak up, will it harm the person? Does the Bible give clear biblical precedent or is it a biblically grey area? Is it a major point or a minor point, a matter of principle or a matter of preference? Is it any of your business? Proverbs 26:17 cautions, “Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own.” 

5. Focus on the idea, not the person. 
The examples I shared at the beginning of this post are examples of attacking the person, not the idea. Name calling, defamatory statements, comments about one’s salvation, education, or personal life have no place in the discussion. Other readers who disagreed with me focused on the biblical reasons they took exception to what I’d written. This is healthy, helpful, and respectful discussion. I welcome it.

Philippians 2:3-4 gives us perhaps the greatest guideline for dealing with disagreement: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” 

So the next time we wonder if we should disagree with someone, we’d do well to examine our motives, pray about the right words, choose our timing well, ask if it really needs to be said, and focus on the idea, not the person. 

Then, we can successfully disagree without being disagreeable.

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Satan's Favorite Question

When I was younger, I believed a lot of lies. And I’m not talking about the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus (oops, sorry, spoiler alert). 

I believed I’d be fulfilled if I chose the right career, happy if the cute guy in Algebra class asked me out, and secure if I earned plenty of money. 

I believed my parents were out-of-touch, my friends were all-knowing, and everyone else’s family was way cooler than mine. 

I believed education was the key to success, women’s liberation would set me free, and faith was quaint and outdated. 

Most of all, I believed I was the master of my destiny. 

Then I discovered the Truth. 

I discovered I’d been looking at life upside down and believing lies that originated in the dawn of time. Genesis 3:1 contains history’s first lie, one humanity has been happily swallowing since. 

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’” 

There you have it – the essence of mankind’s deception, in one tiny little sentence. God is lying to you. 

Such a simple plan, yet so fatally effective – get Adam and Eve to doubt God’s Word, and they’re sunk. Finished. Destroyed. And not only them, but their descendants to thousands of generations. Satan for the win! No wonder Jesus called him, “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). 

It’s easy to see Adam and Eve’s error from our 21st-century perspective. We look down our theologically-superior noses and wonder how they could be so gullible. Trust a talking snake instead of the God who made them? You’ve got to be kidding. 

Yet if we’re not careful, we eagerly sink our teeth into the same deceptive fruit as our forefathers. Every time we think or act contrary to God’s Word, we stand shoulder to shoulder with Adam and Eve, nodding our bobble-heads to Satan’s lies. 

You can’t afford to give to God’s work. Let the rich people donate. 

Stay in that difficult marriage? You deserve someone who treats you better. 

Believe God can soften that wayward child’s heart? Give up, and quit praying. 

Work hard, be honest, and put others before yourself? You’ll never get ahead that way. 

Trust God to redeem the bad/sad/broken parts of your life? Forget it. Your life is too messed up to fix. 

Pray instead of taking matters into your own hands? What a waste of time. 

A new year has begun, one filled with choices. At the root of every circumstance and situation is the question Satan asked: “Did God really say . . .? Who are you going to believe – me or God?” 

When I was 18 years old, I rejected the lies in favor of the Truth. I placed my faith in Jesus Christ and committed my life to following him. I acknowledged the truth -- that he was the master of my destiny. But that was only the beginning of walking by faith. 

Every day since, I face the same choice. You do, too. Who are we going to believe? Every decision we make and every action we take boils down to this question. 

Whatever you’re facing right now, God’s Word has the answer, and you can trust it. 

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). 

And so I ask, Who will you believe today?

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Look for Opportunities, not Excuses

Nell and Lairy Easterling are 93 years old. They are founding members of our church. For more than 50 years, they’ve served faithfully, given generously, and modeled the faith life to our congregation. 

Nell’s also a really good cook. 

As I sat across from her at a recent pot luck dinner, I asked for the recipe for the dish she’d brought. As with most good cooks, she could recite it from memory. 

But halfway through, somewhere between the cottage cheese and the Mandarin oranges, she stopped. Catching her husband’s eye, she tapped the tablecloth in front of her. 

“Honey, let’s take these home and wash them,” she said. He nodded. “We can’t do much anymore, but we can do that.” 

I wrote down the rest of the recipe, but came away from the conversation with much more than instructions for a new dish. Without realizing it, Mrs. Nell had shared a life lesson with me. 

I told my husband about it on the way home. “If I was 93 years old, could barely walk, and had been serving in the church for three-quarters of a century, I think I’d probably say, ‘I’m old. I’ve done my time. Let someone else do it.’"

"Instead she looks around and says, ‘I wonder what I can do to help?’” 

Mrs. Nell is living out 1 Samuel 12:24: "But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart."  

Her example challenges me to serve God with the abilities and resources he’s given me. To jump in wherever I see a need instead of waiting to be asked. To look for opportunities, instead of excuses. 

As we begin the new year, will you join me in pledging to serve God whenever he gives us the chance and the ability? If every church member served this way, imagine what God could do. 

Now it's your turn. Has there been someone in your life who has modeled biblical servanthood? I'd love to hear about them. Leave a comment in the box below and share your story.

Happy New Year!

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