Monday, September 29, 2014

PSALM 139 - God Can't Keep A Secret!

Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there!   (Verses 7-8)

"Am I a God at hand," declares the Lord, "and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? Do I not fill heaven and earth?'' declares the Lord.
Jeremiah 23

What's your secret? The thing no one knows you did or are doing? It's interesting to me the things people hide for fear that if discovered the shame will destroy them and relationships they've formed. Sometimes, that's true. If we are hiding sin because we want to keep on doing the thing that feeds our soul instead of allowing God in there to satisfy whatever it is we medicate. Addictions are huge secrets people keep. No light means no accountability. But what about other things? I know of a divorced father who never told his children that he'd been married before the mother who left the family. Made the mom promise not to disclose the previous marriage to them. Finding out about it years later when they were grown, the girls were much more upset by the fact that there was this secret than they were about his past. I have spoken with a man molested when he was a child--a thing he'd never felt free to share with anyone until I told him about my father's arrest. The man had struggled for years with the event and couldn't talk about it for fear others would shame him--make it look like he'd somehow been responsible for the thing done to him. Secrets like his create addicts. It's difficult to look at a person and to discover what's hidden from view. The happy-go-lucky woman I know who has very dark thoughts. A rich neighbor who wishes she'd never married her husband. A suicide in the family. Heartbreak over a relationship which ended years ago but still drives the social drinking of another. We have no idea what's in another person's heart most of the time.

Where do you hide? In all the wrong places? That is very easy to do in this world where a lot of wrong things are actually legislated into "rights." For any secret place you want to go to medicate or deny your behavior, there are scores of opportunities to obfuscate the pain. Hide in relationships, in work, at the bar, under the covers, with busyness, with hobbies...and everywhere we go the secret goes with us. Creating shame. And many times, what we're hiding wouldn't be the shock to others we might think. But as long as the enemy can make us think it's too horrendous to share with anyone, he wins.

Where can you go? Ah. All the blathering, noisy earfuls that Satan screams at us about the hidden things in our lives would have us believe we would be left with no one to love us if they only knew the real story. So we live over it. I did this with the pedophilia of my father for a while. It's difficult to not take on the shame of someone so close. For the first couple of years the crime he committed against children was unspeakable for me. I literally couldn't say what he'd done. I'd loved and trusted my father, so the heaviness of what he was, not just what he'd done, poured into my soul like viscous muddy water. Making it hard to breathe. Like I was drowning. But I had three kids and a husband. Needed to plod onward. Couldn't really talk about it, anyway. I needed to rethink my life in light of the new knowledge. It took me several busy years to realize shame had made a place in me, directing my actions in the wrong direction. I tear up thinking even now about how soul-cleansing it would have been for me to be still in the first moments of realization and know God. Not to rush around like my hair was on fire, lit by the awful realization of Daddy's sins. Not try to fix a broken man that only God could redeem. Not move forward one miserable step after the other chanting, "It will be okay." But to sit with my God in the pit of those circumstances and allow Him to meet me there. I didn't do that. I ran from Him because I was mad at my God, too.

But, you know what? I couldn't run away from this God Who relentlessly pursues me. Who loves me to the moon and back, literally. My God is a God Who is at hand, not far away. His love never fails. And we have no secrets from Him. If we are a child of God, secrets are inappropriate in our family. For one thing, they are stupid. Try hiding something from a Father Who knows all of the hiding places in the entire universe! In the spaces between heaven and hell, there is the Spirit of God. The same Spirit, Who in the beginning hovered over the waters in the moments after the Word, Jesus, spoke the nascent Earth into being, hovers over the vast creation of the Godhead even now. Knows just as clearly what goes on in hell as He does what goes on in heaven and on Earth. And this God is near. I've found myself in a miserable hell of my own making, and, oh, man, the joy of finally turning to say, "You are here!" I was filthy and covered in shame. The secrets of my heart squeezed into submission by the serpent that could have destroyed my life. But, no! I couldn't get to God. I was too ruined for Him. That's what shame says, anyway. With Jesus came light...on secrets...healing shame. And I didn't die. Like I thought I would. But lived to tell of the wonder of my God's love.

No more secrets. Open, honest, transparent. No more lies. No more manipulation, wondering what others will think if they know the real me. Free of the crippling power of shame. Loved from head to toe by a God Whose eyes wander to and fro watching out for my life. If I toy with hell, even, and happen to fall in, He is there. Because I belong to Him. When I go to heaven, He will be there. Because I belong to Him. And while I live here on Earth, He will be here. And at all points in between.

Friday, September 26, 2014

PSALM 139 - It's Wonderful, Wonderful!

Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. It is high. I cannot attain it.   (Verses 4-6)

In a recent conversation with a friend whose faith was wavering, I asked her this question: "Do you want a God Who is as surprised as you are at every little thing that happens, or do you want a God Who is prescient, knows you inside out, has the world in His hands and your life in His scope?" It's a daunting question, actually. Because the god who is surprised with you about life is no god at all. Perhaps pantheistically. He set the world in motion then stepped back and let it spin. But that God isn't even interested in what happens to the universe or us. That does free one up to do whatever she wants, though. No one really cares what happens if God made the world then flew off to another realm and let us be. The God of the Bible is a personal, involved, and loving Father to children He has chosen to be His for eternity. He knows the beginning from the end because He is the Alpha and the Omega. Our God, then, knows what we are going to say before we say it. What we are going to do before we do it. God knows me and all the other billions of people who live and who have ever lived and who will live in the days to come. Each spirit covered in these tents of flesh. We all came from the infinite dwelling place of the God of All. It's very hard to fathom. God's breath so close to our faces. God's eyes watching our choices. God's hand atop our heads in blessing. God's messengers standing about us as a hedge of protection against the wiles of our enemy. The Person, God. The Triune One Who made us a triunity to be like Him: body, soul and spirit. We can't get away from that God.

Bill and I were challenged several years ago when we had to sell our home in order to move to a different state. He went ahead in front of us while I stayed with the children to sell our house, which was in the country in an out-of-the-way community that didn't bring a barrage of buyers to our door. As the weeks of trying to sell the place turned into months, Bill tended to languish in loneliness. So every day he would take a long walk in a field near the hotel where he was staying. There were no set paths in the grassy pasture, so he'd wander in all directions praying and quoting scripture to his God. Psalm 139. Because it made Bill aware that though he was a lonely father and husband, he was not alone. As his feet cut through the tall crunchy weeds on a summer's eve, Bill reminded himself and God that God knows all about our present moment. How confused we are. How we long for family. God knows the very psalm He put into Bill's spirit for comfort and strength. Urged my husband, in love, to repeat it for confidence in the Father's knowing altogether what is going on in our lives at any given time. And that God isn't looking at it all with passive indifference wondering what on earth we are going to do about the mess. No! He's working it out for us. With us. Stepping in front of us on the path when He sees the enemy blocking our way. Hemming us in when dangers He won't allow pop up on our journey. We walk with Him having our back and showing us the way forward. Bill was reminding me of this yesterday as I was telling him that I didn't feel like I could do Psalm 139 justice in these Psalm Calm blogs. It is my favorite. It speaks for itself. But the daily reminder of God's continuing Presence as confidant, comforter and counselor was what got my husband through those trying days of separation. That God knows. Cares. Listens. Watches. Protects. Blesses. Hears. Who has a God so wonderful? Can we ever hear about such love too much?

It brings such peace to know my Father's face is so very close to mine. That if I close my eyes, I can see myself reach up with both my hands and caress His face between them. To look into His eyes as the child that I am and speak to this One Who loves me. That just as I want to be there for my own kids, our Abba wants to be with me. To hold me close so that His fragrance stays upon my skin as I go and do today. So that I cannot forget my God is there, in everything, in every way, this moment and until I know as I am known. It is too wonderful for me!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

PSALM 139 - For You, Robin.

O, Lord, You have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and rise up; You discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.   (Verses 1-3)

Vanessa had a pretty gnarly day yesterday, her first full day in her new position at work. All kinds of new things to learn, some very frustrating and coming from an even more frustrating corporate type. We listened to her last night while she became emotional about the day. But underneath the obvious first day jitters was the fact that she misplaced her keys to the restaurant...ALL the keys on the same ring. And she's a manager now. They all looked everywhere. Nothing. Feeling inadequate and a little irresponsible, it just made the day rougher. I hate losing things. You wouldn't know that because I'm still always doing that--losing stuff. My glasses. My car keys. Where I just put the papers I was rifling through. It makes me feel stupid. Stupid is my go-to response to circumstances I think are my fault. So, in the night and early this morning I just prayed and prayed over those dumb keys for Vanessa! Lord, You know where they are. You see them right now. Please make them visible to others. You can imagine how great I felt when Vanessa texted me cheerily part way through the day to say they had been found!

This little incident pretty much sums up these three verses. God sees and knows me. He knows what makes me tick. The things that thrill me. Circumstances that make me fighting mad.  He understands how I'm probably going to react to life because God knows when I sit down or stand up. What I'm thinking at any particular time. Where I'm going and where I've been. All of it. Every bit. My best and worst thoughts. My greatest failings and my highest achievements. God is inside my head. And His Spirit is like a heat-seeking missile checking out my heart. My heavenly Father knows me. Better than I know myself. That can either be a comfort or a shame. It certainly makes me stop and think. There are times when what goes on in my mind is anything but what I'd want Jesus to be looking at, much less what I actually do! It should be sobering to us, but also a great comfort. If we are intentionally living for Him, we want God there all the time. And, we want to know Him the way He knows us! Intimately. Fully. I say to Him all the time: "Don't let me get away with anything that doesn't please You." That's why I don't sleep all the time. Yep.

It's what we all want, though, to know and be known. For someone to care so deeply about us that when we talk with her she just gets us. Wants to hear our story. God is so interested in our lives that He wants to answer the prayer, "Where are my keys, Father?" It's not too simple for Him. I'm still praying that Jesus will tell a precious friend of mine where a ring is that her mother gave her. That's not a prayer I think is silly to pray because God, for Pete's sake, has better things to do with His time than care about our stuff. No! My God is there. In everything I do. Knows me. Loves me. Cares about what I care about. That makes me want to love Him reciprocally. Care about what He cares about. Know what makes Him tick. Know as I am known. Someday I will. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13).  I want to know Him more. And more. And more.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

PSALM 138 - Tuesday Blues

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You preserve my life. You stretch out Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand delivers me. The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me. Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of Your hands.
(Verses 7-8)

He Who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it at the day of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:6

There is a path before each of us that leads up a road paved with purpose. Specific purpose. Along the road are thorns and thistles, mountains and streams, deserts and valleys, snow and sunshine. It's not a straight road, but winds here and there, taking us into countries we've never heard of and feel ill prepared to travel through. There are also forks in the road. Confusing to our sensibilities. Which one? An opportunity for faith? A diversion for us to choose? All leading to the same place, perhaps. And lest we think the path leads to our one purpose, we find gratifying joy and aching growth all along the way. It is the path that is purposeful. And the road leads home.

I've been up since two-thirty this morning grappling with purpose, so it's interesting that this should be the portion of Psalm 138 that has been divinely assigned to me today. To have to look at the quandary: What am I doing with my life right now? It seems to me that I've been called to just do it in my journey. Without the compensation the work deserves. Either to me personally as in "Great job, Kay!"  Or monetarily as in money. It's led me to ask on several occasions, probably ad nauseam to my Father, "Where are we going?" The obvious answer is, "Not where you thought we were going."

That's all right with me as long as I know I'm on the right path, the one where He holds my hand and leads me on. I will confess to being an over-achiever...I like A's. Or A+'s. I feel like a C student right now. And I'm working really hard on this gravelly road to Him. Maybe too hard. I think He would say to me this morning to enjoy the journey a bit more without the stress of the outcome...or income. It's all purpose. No twist or turn unproductive. Nothing surprising my Father. Oh, my I didn't see that coming sort of thing. I might feel lost. He never is.

There is an enemy standing in the way sometimes. His foot stretched out across the way to trip me up when I come along. And,  man, has he kicked me about at times. Yelling, throwing rocks, cursing at me, bringing shame to the very path I cling to. Wrenching me from the hand I was holding. Lying to me that the path goes nowhere. And if it did, I'm not good enough for the destination. The enemy is a robber. Wanting to take all the gifts my Father has given to me. To open each one and laugh that I thought myself good enough for such stuff. There's trouble on the trip. Don't think it's always going to be easy. But it is always going to be worth it! I've seen my Father slap the enemy away from me. He's even told me I can do that His name. To clear the path ahead of even the shadow of the thief.

Jesus promised He'd keep us. Present us one day to the Father as those who belong to Him. In fact, right before His death, Jesus prayed this prayer: "I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one." That God not forsake us on our way home. That He fight for our hearts and minds. Push away the scoundrel who would darken our footpath, snuff out our joy and kill our purposes. So maybe the path isn't very clear on down the road today for me or, maybe, you. But I'm up for a new day. It's all I really have. The light to my feet sheds enough clarity that I know what I'm going forward into on Tuesday, September 23, 2014, the Lord willing. I have purposes that are not circumstance specific. Be salt and light. Trust in the Lord with all my heart and don't try to lean on my own understanding. Enjoy Christ. Love others. Live in peace as far as it is in my power to do so. Share the gospel. Listen to the voice of my God. I've got lots to do that has nothing to do with Tuesday, but has everything to do with eternity. How about you?

Monday, September 22, 2014

PSALM 138 - Running Into Traffic

For the Lord is high, He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar.  (Verse 6)

Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself/herself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that He has made to dwell in us"? But He gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore, submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.     James 4: 4-8   Italics, mine

Vanessa was almost four years old when a little girl moved in down the street from us. Also almost four years old. The child lived with her grandmother who had sole custody of her. I know there must have been issues in her little life. Her baby teeth were rotted and blackened. She wasn't always clean. And she ran around the neighborhood at will. Including crossing the relatively busy street in front of our house, daring traffic to hit her. Vanessa was told she could play with her new friend at our house. Where I could watch them. Our children understood they were never to run out into the street. There was no equivocation about it. Do not run out into the street!

Of course, there came that morning when I was doing dishes and Vanessa was with her new playmate. In a second's time, they were out the front door. By the time I reached the doorway, I could see my daughter with the little girl running with all their might into the middle of the road. "Vanessa Joy, get right back here!" Screaming my command at her as my heart beat with both anger and fear.
She turned her head, blond pigtails flapping in her face, and kept on going. "Vanessa!" Firmly this time. "Come and get me," she cried, taunting and testing. Flying into disobedience with a certain joy. Like running across the street was taking her into a foreign land filled with excitements she couldn't possibly imagine. And then there is the thrill of doing the thing that you know is wrong. Certainly rules are made to be broken because rules keep us from all the fun.

I came and got her. Bigger than she. Smarter than she. I grabbed her sweaty body up into my arms. Pointed out to the neighbor girl that their playtime was now over. And, yes, I swatted Vanessa on the rear. "You can never, ever do that again!" I didn't say: "If your friend jumped over a cliff, would you jump over with her?" Afraid, perhaps, the answer in that moment would be, "Yes!".  My child stayed inside close to me that day. I was jealous over her life. Over the guidelines we'd set that kept our children safe. Farish children don't play in the traffic. And if their friends draw them away in rebellion, Farish parents go get them! It's just that simple. So, as I stooped down in front of Vanessa that morning, explaining why she must obey me, I was trying to make her understand that our guidelines were set up to protect her because we love her. She cried. I teared up. Looking into her big blue eyes as they tried to make sense of my words. My daughter had to calm her disobedience, too. It made her mad that I stopped her folly. Running headstrong into disobedience had the reward of the rush of adventure.

Not hard to see where I'm going with this. God has put His Spirit within those of us who are His. He doesn't want that tainted--marred by disobedience. The yielding of our lives to the enemy whose desire it is not only to confuse us, but to absolutely destroy us (John 10:10). As the good Father that He is, He will take charge. But it's a lot more difficult with who just want to disobey, knowing somewhere deep inside that God is making them miss the fun. It creates resistance in God, too. Those of us who keep on rebelling against His will create a certain determination in God toward us. It's very hard to help someone who doesn't want it. I'm glad to say today that Vanessa is grown up and not racing out into the street. She tested me in a thousand other ways, but the boundaries were firm. As an adult, she has said over and over again how grateful she is for parents who loved her enough to reign her in sometimes. We all test God this way. Even if it's just sticking our toe into territory He has deemed off limits. The humble have it a whole lot better. Sidling up to the Father in perfect peace. Knowing that He is right in His judgments. Loving in His responses. And if we keep kicking against what God knows is right for us, wanting to experience all the pleasures of the world (which, by the way, He doesn't withhold from us) with the world, we will eventually look just like everyone else. Not like a member of God's family.

Our God stoops to make us great (Psalm 18:35). For those who will listen, the Father will crouch down in front of our faces, as I did that day with Vanessa, and teach us how to be joyful, fruitful, peaceful and happy. It's what the world is looking all the wrong places. God is higher than we are...thoughts and all. And the God of the universe wants to impart those thoughts to us! Draw near to the Father's face and listen. For He would stoop before you and speak life.

Friday, September 19, 2014

PSALM 138 - "Meh" Is Not The Correct Response

All the kings of the earth shall give You thanks, O Lord, for they have heard the words of Your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.
(Verses 4-5)

Behold, My Servant shall act wisely; He shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at You--His appearance was so marred, beyond human resemblance, and His form beyond that of the children of man--so shall He sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of Him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard, they understand.  Isaiah 52:13-15     Italics, mine

If you are a Christian, what drew you to Jesus? What made the difference for you--kept you from walking away from Him? For most of us, I think, it's the cross. How could a person who understands what really happened there say, "Meh...not so much"? For those who've heard the gospel, the good news, and chosen another path, I'm guessing one of two things happened: they didn't fully understand the cross of Christ or some Christian/s turned them off with hypocrisy or self-righteousness. I can't speak to the second, but I can speak to the cross.

I was discussing atonement Wednesday night with Will's sweet girlfriend, Nikki, with whom I have the privilege of going through the  New Testament book of John. We came upon Chapter 3 that evening. Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, came to see Jesus at night, out of the glaring light of day and away from the eyes of the other counsel members. Jesus says three spectacular things to this ruler. "You must be born again." Not by going back into your mother's womb, of course. The other part of you...the inner one that is truly you...needs to be born a different way. Transformed, really, from all self into an everlasting soul capable of looking for eternity into the face of a holy God.

Next, Jesus said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life." Jesus was referring to the time when the refugees from Egypt complained in their journey that they had no water or food. Well...they had manna. "We're sick of this stuff!" Really. That's what they cried out to Moses. An angry God allowed pretty much all the snakes in the desert to slither through their camp and bite them. Poisonous and deadly. God was outraged by their ingratitude and grumbling. They were terrified of the snakes. "Save us!" From the serpents. "Moses, wrap a fiery snake around a pole and lift it up between heaven and earth," said God. "Everyone who looks upon the pole will be saved...healed." God, finding a way to excuse them once again. So Moses fashioned a serpent from bronze and held it high as God instructed. Jesus was telling Nicodemus that there was going to be a wooden structure lifted up between heaven and earth once more. This time Jesus would be on it. The serpent's power forever voided for all who look to Jesus. Referring, of course, to the lying serpent, Satan.

The third stunning thing Jesus said was this was going to happen because God loves the world enough to sacrifice Himself on our behalf. For God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son that whoever believes on Him should have life everlasting (John 3:16).

The central question of salvation in my mind is Why?  Why did Jesus need to be a sacrifice? Isn't there some way besides God becoming man and bleeding out for our eternal life? This is what Nikki and I discussed. In the moment, God gave me an example based on recent news of the beheadings of three journalists by ISIS. Using a crude knife the Islamic terrorists brutally murdered three innocent men, all of it captured for our horror, on video. Our government reacted. We recoiled. How do we atone for their deaths? Get even? Make their deaths not be in vain? How can we right this wrong, for a price has to be paid for such horrendous injustice? We all know this. Have a sense that one must pay for wrongs done.

In that scenario, we are not the journalists. We are the terrorists. Guilty of stuff, great and small. And it's all disgusting to a holy God--a just and holy God. We need either justice or forgiveness. Those are our options as sinful people. Sin is sin to God. Jealousy, envy, cheating, lying equals murder, adultery and armed robbery. All need justice or forgiveness.

God so loved the world, He came to us to be a sacrificial atonement for the sin we all commit. All of us. It doesn't matter how good we think we are, by His standard of holiness, we will all fall short. He knows this. And fixed it. So there's no argument about God being mean and oppressive, unforgiving and malevolent. No one would say that about another human who took a death sentence for them here on Earth. To that person, we would understand our debt. On a personal level, one by one, Jesus set us free. We can trade His righteousness for our sin. Christ was beaten beyond recognition as a human being even before He was hung on the cross to finish the sacrificial death. God blood sprinkled the whole Earth. Not just the Jewish nation. All nations in the whole world. For every conceivable sin--large and small. Kings and paupers alike need to stand in awe. See and understand. For one day every nation, kings and princes, ambassadors and premiers, tyrants and zealots, will bow down as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords comes in obvious glory. At long last receiving the acknowledgement long denied Him. So great a love should compel us to surrender our sinfulness for His grace. How could such a gift be refused?

"The cross in not simply an atonement, but a revelation of how God works with the people He loves."
Tim Keller


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

PSALM 138 - Unanswered Prayer?

On the day I called, You answered me. My strength of soul You increased.  (Verse 3)

Daniel lived in Persia when Cyrus was the king. He and three of his boyhood Jewish friends were taken to Babylon during the captivity to live in King Nebuchadnezzar's palace where they'd learn the Chaldean language and literature. The young men were picked because they were handsome, good students and as nearly perfect as teenagers can be. When the Jewish nation left their captivity in Babylon seventy years later, Daniel stayed. He was important in the courts by then. A wise and tested leader. An interpreter of dreams. Cyrus had been king for three years when Daniel was given a vision that disturbed him so much he spent three weeks in mourning and fasting. Though the prophet understood the vision, it seems he didn't know what to do with it. In those three weeks of fasting and prayer, crying over the devastating news he'd seen in the vision, there seemed no real answer from God.

When the fast was complete, Daniel went for a walk on the banks of the Tigris River with some of his confidants. In the midst of an ordinary day, taking an ordinary walk an extraordinary thing happened. Daniel looked up to see a man standing in front of him. He was clothed in fine white linen with a glistening gold belt cinching it closed. The man's body glowed like a faceted jewel and his face was bright like lightning with eyes that glowed like flames of fire. His skin looked like polished bronze and when the man spoke it sounded like a multitude was speaking from his mouth. Only Daniel saw this man; his companions were overcome with fear, however, and hid themselves in the nearby bushes. So, Daniel was left alone with the fearsome messenger, and his strength left him as the man began speaking. The prophet passed out.

The stranger didn't leave him in a fainted heap on the banks of the Tigris, though. He touched Daniel and the prophet rose in his quaking fear to his hands and knees.  And the first thing the messenger said to him was, "Daniel, you are greatly loved." An amazing thing to hear when Danile had prostrated himself in unanswered prayer for three weeks. "Understand the words I'm saying to and stand up straight. Now I've been sent to you."

Daniel managed to stand up on very unsteady legs and looked into the face of the one sent to him. "From the very first day you began praying and fasting, humbling yourself before God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. Since then I have been fighting the demonic prince of Persia, along with Michael, a chief prince of heaven, for these twenty-one days. I have come now to answer your prayer and tell you what will happen to your people in the last days."

I have a few "unanswered" prayers. I have a multitude of answered ones! But we often struggle, like Daniel did, with aching hearts and confusing circumstances, and we've given them to God over and over again without seeming result or answer. For Daniel, it was of national importance. For us, most of the time, it's about our family, our finances, our health or our future. But God's answer to us is the same. "Child, you are loved very much." First and foremost, that was what God wanted Daniel to hear as he rose from his crumpled humility to face the glowing angel. The prayer wasn't delayed because you aren't precious to God. There is a battle you couldn't possibly have known about going on over that prayer. Demonic princes fighting mighty warring angels over the request Daniel made...and, I'm confident, over ours. And the angel said, "Your prayers were heard immediately!" Not the third or fourth time you prayed. Not at the end of the three weeks of fasting. No! As soon as the prayer came from his lips, it was heard! Daniel had to wait because there were things going on only God knew about. It had nothing to do with the fact that Daniel wasn't valuable and that his prayers weren't as good as someone else's.

When the angel finished interpreting for Daniel what God wanted, he touched the prophet again and strengthened him. "O, greatly loved man, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and courageous." And Daniel said, "I was strengthened as he spoke to me and was brave enough to stand and listen to all he said." Ah, the power of knowing we are loved and heard. That all along God has been working out what so concerns us. What the angel told Daniel needed courage to hear. It wasn't roses and sunshine. But it was the message of a powerful, loving God to a man who needed an answer. And it gave Daniel the courage he needed to obey his God.

Answered prayer tells us God sees us and loves us. It is such pure joy to swim in the wonder of knowing our Father is listening. It gives us the energy to go on. In faith. Unanswered prayer should signal that God is doing something we can't fathom in the moment. The faith inspired by all the times we've been obviously heard and answered should encourage us in the times when God seems silent. Because He's always working on our behalf. And if the answers are tough, He will strengthen us to hear it. Always, always prefaced with these words: "You are greatly loved."