A Pure Intention of Heart

I would like to share a prayer written by Jonathan Coussins (b. 1757), one of John Wesley’s itinerant preachers (or perhaps written by his wife Penelope). I was especially struck by the phrase “a pure intention of heart.” It reminds me of the “naked intent toward God”i of the unknown monk, the “fixing of our eyes on Jesus,” the throwing off all the things that lure away and weigh down and entangle. In my mind I see them discarded along the side of the path, littering the Way. 

This prayer was committed to memory and was a great blessing to another early Methodist, Elizabeth Rhodes. She recorded it in her journalii in hope that “it may prove of equal benefit to others.”  May this prayer bless another generation of journeyers toward God. 

  “Grant me, gracious Lord, a pure intention of heart, and a steadfast regard to your glory in all my actions. Possess my mind continually with your presence, and fill it with your love, that my whole delight may be to repose in the arms of your protection. Be light to my eyes, music to my ears, sweetness to my taste, and full contentment to my heart. Be my sunshine in the day, my food at the table, my repose in the night, my clothing in company, my succor in all necessities. 

  Lord Jesus, I give you my body, my soul, my substance, my fame, my friends, my liberty, and my life. Dispose of me, and all that is mine, as seems best to you, and to the glory of your blessed name. I am not my own, but yours; therefore claim me as your right, keep me as your charge, and love me as your child. Fight for me when I am assailed, heal me when I am wounded, and revive me when I am destroyed. 

  My Lord and my God, I ask you to give me patience in troubles, humility in comforts, constancy in temptations, and victory over all my ghostly enemies. Grant me sorrow for my sins, thankfulness for my benefits, fear of your judgments, love of your mercies, and mindfulness of your presence for evermore. Make me humble to my superiors and friendly to my equals, ready to please all and loathe to offend any; loving to my friends and charitable to my enemies. Give me modesty in my countenance, gravity in my behavior, deliberation in my speech, holiness in my thoughts, and righteousness in all my actions. Let your mercy cleanse me from my sins, and your grace bring forth in me the fruits of everlasting life. 

  Lord, let me be obedient without arguing, humble without feigning, patient without grudging, pure without corruption, mercy without lightness, sad without mistrust, sober without dullness, true without duplicity, fearing you without desperation, and trusting you without presumption. Let me joyful for nothing but that which pleases you, and sorrowful for nothing but what displeases you: that labor be my delight which is for you, and let all weary me that is not in you. Give me a waking spirit, and a diligent soul, that I may seek to know your will, and when I know it may I perform it faithfully to the honor and glory of your ever blessed name. Amen.” 

i The Cloud of Unknowing, Anonymous. 14th century. 

ii Memoir of Mrs. Elizabeth Rhodes. By herself. (Mason, London, 1829).

Image, free download from Pikest

All there is

When despair has obliterated ordinary prayer, when the psalms fail and all words are stupid and meaningless, the mantle of loneliness surrounding me becomes a mantle of dark and wordless love. This darkness reveals the paradox of prayer: in the absence of God, all there is, is God. 

Suzanne Guthrie 
Grace’s Window 

Enough

If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.  Psalms 66:18 (NKJV) 

I always looked at this verse as saying that if I coddled some unrepented sinful act or thought in my heart, the Lord could not listen to my prayers. And it does mean that, but I think God is saying something more to me. The word in the above verse translated “regard” is the Hebrew word ra’ah. It means to look at, see, regard, gaze at, behold, perceive. Derek Prince had a slightly different take on this verse: 

“If I ‘regard iniquity in my heart,’ it means that I come to God with a consciousness in my heart of something that condemns me.”  

I have been having a hard time in prayer. I have been feeling like the Lord did not hear. Suddenly, I realized that I had not been coming to God in prayer with a clear conscious. I was always under the burden of some kind of guilt. Guilt about not being a good enough friend, a good enough wife and mother, not serving God enough, not praying enough, not calling my elderly parents enough — not being enough. I had been listening to those accusing voices in my head and had been feeling a closed door, a heavy curtain, between me and God. My heart was condemning me. I was gazing at my failings and not at Jesus.  

Then I read this from J. Vernon McGee. He was describing the tabernacle in the wilderness and its three parts: the outer court where the sacrifices were received and their blood shed, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place, or Holy of Holies, where God dwelt between the cherubim. About the articles of furniture in the Holy Place of the tabernacle, he writes that it included “the table of showbread and the golden lampstand. Then, in the background was the golden altar, the altar of incense, which speaks of prayer – no sacrifices were ever made there” [emphasis mine]. 

No sacrifices were made at the altar of incense, the place that symbolically represented the prayers of the saints (see Revelation 8: 3-4). Why? Because the sacrifice had already been made out in the courtyard on the brazen altar. The sacrifice had already been made. Therefore, the priest could go into the Holy Place and offer the prayer-incense without further sacrifice.  

But these Old Covenant sacrifices, made over and over, “were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper” (Hebrews 9:9). It is only the once-and-for-all sacrifice of the Lamb of God that can clear our consciences. 

I was bypassing the altar where the Blood of the Lamb has been shed. Should I (in pride) be surprised that I am weak and sinful? No, I should throw away all expectation of ever being “enough.” I can never be enough for anyone, and it’s not my job either. It is not my wonderfulness that helps or saves. Only God can be enough. All I can do is offer my love, serve with the strength he gives and trust him for the rest.  

“We have to get rid of any attitude that suggests some kind of righteousness in ourselves. We have no righteousness of our own. We must come to a place where we are trusting in God’s faithfulness, and that produces confidence … There must come a time when we lay side every attempt to justify ourselves and say, ‘I receive by faith the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to me by my faith in Him according to the Word of God. I will not worry about my merits. I will not worry about my sins. I will not parade my good deeds. I will not blush for my bad deeds. I will not examine and analyze my own heart all the time to see if I am good enough. I will trust God that the blood of Jesus has cleansed me from all sin. And now I am going boldly right to the throne, right into the holiest place of all.’” Derek Prince, Secrets of a Prayer Warrior, chapt. 2, Basic Conditions for Answered Prayer [emphasis mine] 

Instead of beholding, gazing at my real failings and unrighteousness and listening to the accusations of our enemy, I need to fix my thoughts and eyes on Jesus, Our Righteousness (Hebrews 12:2). As the Holy Spirit points out sin, I repent of it and give it to the One who washes it away with his Blood as if it never happened and forgets it. 

The humble find the Holy One. Just when the consciousness of sin and weakness, and the discovery of how much of self there is, makes you fear that you can never be holy, the Holy One gives Himself. Not as you look at self, and seek to know whether now you are contrite and humble enough—no, but when no longer looking at self, because you have given up all hope of seeing anything in it but sin, you look up to the Holy One, you will see how His promise is your only hope.” — Andrew Murray, Holy in Christ [emphasis mine] 

But you know what the really wonderful, amazing, grace-filled thing is? We don’t have to stop at the altar of incense in this new temple. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we can go all the way into God’s very presence and talk to him in person. Let us go there with assurance. 

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a Great Priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22 

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. Romans 8:1 (Message) 

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14  

But he answered me, “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (The Passion Translation)

Photo copyright Jack Bair

Draw Near

This week the theme highlighted for me by the Spirit was obviously prayer! I received a cascade of blogs and devotionals on this subject, a welcome confirmation as God has been speaking to me about prayer too. “If you love someone, you talk to them.”  

… I had a strange epiphany in my early college years at the realization that I didn’t really understand why I was praying. Have you had similar thoughts? As soon as you utter, “Amen,” you start to doubt the words that proceeded it. If God is good, why is He waiting on me to pray to bless me, heal that friend, or right that injustice? And if He already has those things in mind, then why am I praying at all? … while I can’t fully explain the theology of prayer, I can explain a little bit about relationships. If you love someone, you talk to them. You relax and talk and (read this part carefully) listen. — 5 Practical Ways to Grow (or start!) Your Prayer Life, blogged by A Grateful Life Lived. Read the whole excellent post here https://agratefullifelived.wordpress.com/2020/11/08/5-practical-ways-to-grow-or-start-your-prayer-life/  

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.  Romans 8:26 

 We realize that we are energized by the Holy Spirit for prayer; and we know what it is to pray in accordance with the Spirit; but we don’t often realize that the Holy Spirit Himself prays prayers in us which we cannot utter ourselves. When we are born again of God and are indwelt by the Spirit of God, He expresses for us the unutterable. — Oswald Chambers, The Unrivaled Power of Prayer, from My Utmost for His Highest Updated Edition 

Your part in intercessory prayer is not to agonize over how to intercede, but to use the everyday circumstances and people God puts around you by His providence to bring them before His throne, and to allow the Spirit in you the opportunity to intercede for them. In this way God is going to touch the whole world with His saints. — Oswald Chambers, The Undetected Sacredness of Circumstances, from My Utmost for His Highest Updated Edition 

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:6, NAS) 

What’s the “inner room”? I think it’s the place of stillness; the place where you’re shut off from all other voices and influences and you can really hear the voice of God, and when you’re in that relationship with stillness in your inner room, then God speaks to you, you receive faith, you receive revelation and your prayer has a different quality to it. — Derek Prince 

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 

“Come to Jesus, come the Great High Priest, come to the throne of the Living God, the Lamb who was slain BUT is alive, the grave could not hold Him and you will find His grace is sufficient for your every need. 

Draw near – love Him, fellowship with Him, worship Him, hunger and thirst for Him, cast your cares on Him – draw near with a sincere heart in intimate relationship. 

Note this is not an invitation to come to church, nor is it an invitation for intellectual assent, nor is it an invitation to empty works … this is an invitation to bring our hearts into the very presence of God and commune with Him. The blood of the Lamb, Jesus the Christ, gives us access to into His Presence …” Let’s Approach God, by Beholding Him Ministries https://beholdinghimministries.org/2020/11/10/lets-approach-god/  

Image from Flickr, Praying Woman Hands by Long Thiên

Trusting in Chariots

Having faith in faith is a lot like being in love with being in love.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. Psalm 20:7-8 

This was an old friend of mine, Josephine’s favorite verse. She was in her nineties when I got to know her. Telling me stories of her life, she said that when things got really bad – and things did get very bad for her at times – she would go into her closet and pray that prayer. Then she would come out and face what she had to face in God’s strength. And God would answer. She trusted God through being kicked out of her home as a teenager, freezing in an unheated attic apartment, days of hunger and grueling hard work. Through her whole life, she had a thick prayer notebook. She often prayed that verse for the problems and people on her list. 

It was Josephine who taught me to pray. She would say, “Let’s pray! You start.” I would pause, composing a wonderful prayer in my mind. She would give me about two seconds and demand, “Well are you going to pray?” I learned early on to just jump in and start talking, hoping God would give me the words. And you know what? He did! And I learned to stop putting my faith in my ability to put together the correct prayer – putting faith in my chariots and horses, faith in my faith – and just trust and let his Spirit pray in me. 

The Hebrew translated “we trust in the name” in Psalm 20:7 actually says, “The name, reputation, fame, glory, honor, authority, character of the Lord we will recall, call to mind, mark so as to be recognized (i.e., remembered), recount, think on.” We mark to be recognized or remembered – like putting a bookmark in the page of a great book to go back and reread over and over again – we remember his character, who he is, and we trust.   

A.W. Tozer warned against having faith in faith, not in God. 

There are preachers who devote themselves completely to preaching faith. As a result, people have faith in faith. They largely forget that our confidence must not be in the power of faith but in the Person and work of the Savior, Jesus Christ … It is the character of God Himself, you see, that gives us this confidence. — Faith Beyond Reason 

Having faith in faith is a lot like being in love with being in love. We just like the idea of being in love. It is exciting and makes us feel good. But it might not have much to do at all with the actual person – their feelings, thoughts and desires. Having faith in our ability to have faith – or even having faith in the promises of God – is really just trusting in chariots if our faith is in how well we can dredge up “faith” and memorize and proclaim. Our faith must rest on the Faithful One, on the Promise Keeper. Its foundation must be on the name, reputation, fame, glory, honor, authority and character of our Lord. It is because we know him, who he is, that we can believe. 

This is important, because when things get really bad and it seems your prayers are not being answered, you will not be thrown for a loop, you will not be overwhelmed. You will come out of your prayer closet and stand firm on the Rock. Put your bookmark there, in the great I AM, Immanuel, God with us, Shepherd, Comforter, Redeemer, Savior, in his proven character, in his unfailing love and mercy.  

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:2

In him our hearts rejoice, for we are trusting in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone. Psalm 33:21-22 (NLT) 

But we trust in the name. 

Here is a place to start getting to know the goodness of our Father https://biblereasons.com/who-god-is/

Image, Tattered Spine by Tim Samoff on flickr https://flic.kr/p/51oAP  

How Long?

He knows that a thousand years may seem like a day to him, but it sure seems like a long time to us.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me. Psalm 13

The beginning words of this Psalm are familiar to me. I have said them a lot in the past 48 years. “How long, Lord? Feeling like I am forgotten, that God has turned away. Especially the “wrestling with my thoughts” part. These verses seem almost scandalously unfaithful – Charles Spurgeon called this the “How long Psalm,” or the “Howling Psalm.” But the words are real. It is how we feel many times. I am so glad that God let them stay in the Bible.

There are many other places, especially in the Psalms, where the Holy Spirit includes these scandalous thoughts and cries. Our being real with God does not bother him. In fact, he loves it when we turn to him and cry out to him, even with doubts in our hearts. Because he knows that a thousand years may seem like a day to him, but it sure seems like a long time to us. And he will respond. His father-heart cannot help but respond. And we can trust in his unfailing love, his chesed. The Psalmist always, somehow, comes back to that trust.

It made me smile when I saw that the Hebrew word chesed, which tries to encompass the kindness and mercy and goodness of God, is translated into Greek as Bethesda – the House of Mercy. This is the name of the pool where they would lay the many disabled people – lame and blind and paralyzed – and they would wait. Wait for the chesed. One man had waited 38 years when Jesus came and healed him. I imagine he may have wondered many times “How long, Lord?”

But sometimes God has to wait for us. Jesus asked the man, “Do you want to become well?” I can hear him adding to himself, “now? Yet? Are you ready?” Because we have much to wrestle with – me in particular. Much anger and resentment and pride and rebellion to fight through and howl about.  But God is there. And he is working in us, whether we can see or feel it or not. He won’t give up on us, even if it takes a thousand years. So, we can say:

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

My Impossibles List

It seems the whole world has an impossibles list right now. And, I don’t know about you, but my list just keeps getting longer.

Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” Luke 18:27

Impossible = Greek adunatos: without strength, impotent, powerless, weak, disabled, unable to be done, impossible

Possible = Greek dunatos: able, powerful, capable, mighty, strong, possible

I’ve started keeping an impossibles list. All the impossible things I’ve been praying for. The unable to be done, not possible things. So much of what I am praying for seems impossible. Sometimes the impossible thing is to just get through the day; sometimes it is the healing of a brokenhearted nation. We all have that same struggle right now, to keep from sinking into hopelessness and despair at the impossibilities.

But recently, God has been showing me – no that is too wimpy of a word – he has been blazing this light of truth into my darkness, that he, and he alone, is the one who can do the impossible things. All the stuff with what is going on in the world and our own problems – our kids and financial problems and job problems and health concerns. All our impossible things. The things that wake us up weeping and gasping in the middle of the night. If fixing these things are just up to me and you they are without strength, impotent, powerless, weak, disabled, unable to be done, impossible. Not possible.

But all things are possible with God. That’s what Jesus impossibly proclaimed. So, I have been making a list of all my impossibles. And then, like Hezekiah I take it and spread it out before the Lord.

Hezekiah was the king of Israel when King Sennacherib of Assyria came to lay siege to Jerusalem. His armies had already roared through Judah, capturing the fortified cities. And now they were surrounding Jerusalem and mocking Hezekiah’s God (Isaiah 36), sending letters full of sneering impossibilities.

Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? Isaiah 37:11

But Hezekiah took those impossibilities to the Temple and spread them out before God.

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD.  And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.” Isaiah 37:14-16

It seems the whole world has an impossibles list right now. And, I don’t know about you, but my list just keeps getting longer. And this impossible army surrounds me and mocks my God, either in anguish or arrogance. Even in writing this it besieges my mind and heart with black-hole doubt and ancient fear. But I am spreading my list out before the One who is able, powerful, capable, mighty, strong, possible. The One enthroned between the cherubim, the One who alone is God. And I’m saying, “OK, God here are some more impossible things for you. I am giving them over to you. For, nothing is impossible for you.”

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles. 2 Chronicles 32:7-8

I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard (too difficult, too high, beyond one’s power, extraordinary, wondrous, marvelous) for me? Jeremiah 32:27

“But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Mark 9:23-24

Photograph copyright 2018 by Derek Bair

A Thousand Defects

I think that those inexpressible prayers, those prayers reaching out from our hearts to His, stripped of everything but childlike, unguarded, helpless desire for Him – those are the most powerful and – for God – the most satisfying prayers of all.

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 (NASB)

“The throne of grace.” The word grows as I turn it over in my mind, and to me it is a most delightful reflection that if I come to the throne of God in prayer, I may feel a thousand defects, but yet there is hope. I usually feel more dissatisfied with my prayers than with anything else I do.”  —Charles Spurgeon[i]

A thousand defects. Over the past ten years or so I have read a lot of books on prayer. I have twenty on the shelf before me right now. They all are good and have lots to offer. They have all enriched my prayer life. But there are many, many times, overwhelmed in the clouds of doubt and fear, words do not come. And I feel “a thousand defects.” I feel dissatisfied with my prayers, but worse, I fear that God is dissatisfied too. That’s why I love Spurgeon’s “but yet [!] there is hope.”  And I am comforted when he goes on to say:

But, brethren, suppose in our prayers there should be defects of knowledge: it is a throne of grace, and our Father knoweth that we have need of these things. Suppose there should be defects of faith: he sees our little faith and still doth not reject it, small as it is. He doth not in every case measure out his gifts by the degree of our faith, but by the sincerity and trueness of faith. And if there should be grave defects in our spirit even, and failures in the fervency or in the humility of the prayer, still, though these should not be there and are much to be deplored; grace overlooks all this, forgives all this, and still its merciful hand is stretched out to enrich us according to our needs.

One of the books before me is The Cloud of Unknowing by an anonymous monk. In it, the author recommends one-word prayers.[ii] That is about my speed in these times when I am in this “cloud of overwhelmed.” One of my favorites has become, “Help!” Just “help.” In the same chapter the author speaks of “a naked intent toward God, the desire for him alone.” And I think that those inexpressible prayers, those prayers reaching out from our hearts to His, stripped of everything but childlike, unguarded, helpless desire for Him – those are the most powerful and – for God – the most satisfying prayers of all.

It’s not a magical incantation. It’s not a precise liturgy, though liturgy is beautiful and can help lead us to the throne. It’s not a perfect recipe of words mixed with the right amount of faith, seasoned with the correct sprinkling of fervency or humility, in the prescribed position and vocal volume.

“True prayer is an approach of the soul by the Spirit of God to the throne of God. It is not the utterance of words; it is not alone the feeling of desires; but it is the advance of the desires to God, the spiritual approach of nature towards the Lord our God. True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise not a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that. It is spiritual commerce[iii] with Creator of heaven and earth.”

It’s a spirit to Spirit communication, a reaching out in the darkness and overwhelmedness. But it’s also that confidence thing. We cannot come to him naked and bare without complete trust and confidence. The word translated confidence in Hebrews 4:16 is parrhesia, which means “openly, frankly, without concealment, free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance.”

Little children come this way to their moms and dads all the time, with requests, inarticulate, but confidently and with complete expectation of being understood and answered. “Owie,” “drink,” “belly,” “up!” Little one-word requests that we jump to satisfy. Or sometimes they come with no words at all, just arms outstretched yearning for the parent’s comforting embrace.

“Help!” may be all I have right now. But it is all I need. Let me run into His merciful arms.

From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2 (NKJV)

(For more on the naked intent toward God, see A Naked Intent Toward God)

 

[i] All Spurgeon quotes from The Throne of Grace, sermon given November 19, 1871. Reprinted in The Power in Prayer. Whitaker House, 1996.

[ii] The Cloud of Unknowing and Privy Counseling. Edited by William Johnston. 1973. Chapter 7.

[iii] Definition of the word “commerce” from Spurgeon’s time: interchange (especially of letters, ideas, etc.); communication. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles.

Image by DVIDSHUB, from flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/dvids/13938506188

To Him Who is Able

Now to him who is able (is capable, strong, has the power)

to do (to produce, construct, form, fashion, be the author of, make ready, prepare, carry out, execute, perform a promise)

immeasurably (superabundantly, exceedingly, out of measure, beyond measure, extraordinarily)

more (beyond, over, exceedingly abundantly more)

than all we ask (beg, call for, crave, desire, require )

or imagine (comprehend, heed, consider, perceive, think, understand),

according to (beyond measure, mightily, after the manner of)

his power (strength, ability, power residing in him by virtue of his nature, power to perform miracles, mighty, wonderful work)

that is at work (operative, active, effectual, fervent, mighty) within us,

to him be glory (honor, praise, worship) in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

Every Evil Attack

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 2 Timothy 4:18 (NIV)

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards you will take me into glory. Psalm 73:23-24 (NIV)

For months I had felt the urge to go on a road trip. I thought God was prompting me to go to a women’s conference. I asked friends and family to go with me to various conferences, but nothing worked out. Then out of the blue I was given a brand new pair of perfect fitting hiking boots (my old ones had literally fallen apart), and a couple of weeks later my son asked me to go with him to Yellowstone National Park. What a glorious gift! I knew this was what God had been preparing me for.

I had some qualms. First, I have always been afraid of the grizzly bears and wildfires “out west.” My niece was just then a few miles from the Carr fire in Redding, California. To be honest, I was also afraid of things going wrong – again. My son has had a lot of challenges in his life. Born premature, he suffered from severe asthma growing up. He also has a learning disability and endured bullying and misunderstanding from students and teachers. More recently, he had been beat up by a couple of teens playing the “knockout game,” been diagnosed with more severe health issues, and consequently lost his job. The year before he had tried a Yellowstone trip only to have it cut short when his car broke down. While his advice to me when I had my panics was, “Don’t worry about it” (with a Rocky Balboa accent), he had to fight off defeatism. So, I asked God for a verse or two to cling to, and he gave me the above verses. I particularly hung on to “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack,” thinking of the bears. What I didn’t know was that the “attack” God was thinking of was not to be a physical one.

As we traveled, we prayed together Psalm 73:23-24, that the Lord would hold us by our right hands and guide us with His counsel. The trip out was wonderful – beautiful scenery (we saw a waterspout coming down from a big, white thunderhead surrounded by a rainbow, antelope in endless grasslands, and miles of sunflowers) and sweet fellowship. When we arrived at Yellowstone, we were greeted by two things: a small forest fire started by lightning (https://yellowstoneinsider.com/2018/08/07/new-yellowstone-fire-emerges-bacon-rind-fire-keeps-growing-albeit-slowly/), and a sign at the campground announcing that grizzlies frequent the site. Did I mention that we were tent camping? I could almost hear God chuckling. But, we drove in and immediately got a place to set up our tent, though we had no reservation. I clung to 2 Timothy 4:18, especially the first part – tried not to think about the “heavenly kingdom” part.

Every day we had a wonderful time praying together as we drove through amazing scenery. Once, overcome in the Holy Spirit, my son had to pull over as he prayed. We kept praying Psalm 73, that God would hold us by our right hands and guide us with his counsel, and things went well. We got places to park in crowded parking lots where long lines waited just as someone was leaving. Geysers erupted as though just for us. We had good weather, no rain, we didn’t hear anything more about the fire – and we didn’t see any grizzlies. It was glorious. But after a few days I felt a warning from the Lord that a time of testing was coming and to be ready.

The first thing that happened was that Derek’s GPS died and he ran out of minutes. We had been relying on the lady in the phone to tell us where to go and we had no maps with us. All I had was a little 10-year-old flip phone and no way to charge it, so it was fading fast. Our next destination was Mount Rushmore, but as we headed East with no map and no place to buy an atlas, we both were fighting off fear and not a little panic. We prayed Psalm 73 out loud and asked God to continue guiding us. And God continued to give us little gifts along the way. We found ourselves driving right past Little Bighorn, a place we had wanted to see but seemed too far out of the way on our previous route. So we stopped in. We got a little more direction there from a park ranger and found our way to Mount Rushmore. At that park we picked up a little one-page handout that got us on the road again heading East, and I noticed going right through Wall, South Dakota, and the famous Wall Drug store, another place I had always wanted to visit. We decided to stop there for the night.

Wall Drug was very cool, but when we came out and got in the car it would not start. My son chose now to tell me that he had been having trouble with the starter. We tried some things and a couple of helpful men on the street took a look, but they just shook their heads and, yep, pointed to a possible problem with the starter.  I called my sister for prayer, but my phone ran out of power just as I finished telling her the problem. And there we were. Almost a thousand miles from home and no phone. It occurred to me that God was slowly taking away from us everything that we had been relying on, leaving us with only Him. I was immediately in my paralyzed PTSD panic mode and my son started to sink into a familiar “what’s the point?” mentality, a feeling my husband had identified as futility.

The Sheriff deputies assured us they wouldn’t tow the car and pointed us to a repair shop that would open early the next morning, so we loaded up and walked to the motel. I knew we needed another word. I told my son to ask God for a verse to hold on to and he opened up the Bible. In just a few seconds he looked up and said to me, “Mom, repeat this after me.”

We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you. Psalm 33:20-22 NIV)

With tears I sang it back to him, for these were words to a song that God had given me when my son was a baby. I had offered it to the music ministry at church, but it had never been used and had lain dormant all these years. “God meant it for now, Mom,” he confirmed. My son’s faith was boosted. Mine not so much – too many bad things had happened – I was having a real hard time.

The next morning, we got up early to walk to the auto shop and wait for the mechanic to arrive. On the way my son decided to try once more to start the car. He put the key in the ignition and then stopped and looked up at me. “Mom, do you believe?” I admitted my struggle, but I had to make the decision to put faith in God’s Word and fight off fear. “Yes,” I told him. He turned the key and it started. I knew I was watching a miracle happen – and not just the car, in my son. We drove over to the repair shop where the mechanic told us we could wait around for a couple of weeks for a part, or drive all the way home without turning the car off. At first, in the cool of the morning, we thought, sure we can drive 16 hours straight if we take turns. Well, that didn’t happen. We had to turn it off a couple of times, but, as we trusted in Him, God was “our help and our shield” and we got home the next day with no problems.

When we returned my sister told me that, while praying for us, God had given her a vision of two big, strong men, dressed in black, attacking us by the car. She thought it was a physical attack and prayed for our safety and help. But those two big strong men were fear and futility. Faith is something, I learned, for which we must fight.

Fight (struggle, compete for the prize, contend with the adversary) the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:12 (NIV)

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:5 (NASB)