The following is my talk from the prayer breakfast at Cenergistic’s National Training Conference on January 21, 2014. Cenergistic is an energy conservation company that partners with our company.
A shocking thing happened this past Christmas Day, but it can revive the most important conversation of your life.
About a month ago, I began feeling pain in my chest. At first it felt like a pulled muscle, tightness, like a rubber band being asked to stretch beyond its capacity. It was irritating, so I took aspirin and did my best to ignore it. I went to work, did last minute Christmas shopping, attended the Christmas Eve service and had Christmas Day at home.
But it was while watching The Christmas Story in the evening, after Ralphie asked for his Red Ryder BB Gun, when I couldn't take the pain anymore. My chest felt like shards of glass were being scraped under my skin. I could only take short, narrow breaths. I went to the ER.
They did various tests and scans, and finally delivered the diagnosis: I had suffered a pulmonary embolism--a blood clot in my lung. They admitted me to the hospital and said I was going to be there for a few days. It ended up being a week.
At first it wasn't bad. They brought pain medicine every three hours, and I got to fill in my meal choices on the little menu every morning, and I had lots of visitors. Plus the Titanic marathon was on TV.
During a commercial, a question popped into my mind: How serious is a pulmonary embolism anyway?
I pulled out my iPad and did some research:
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 60,000 to 100,000 Americans die every year from blood clotting in a vein. I later learned that my wife’s grandmother died from it, as did a friend’s brother. And just a few days after my clot, a 29 year-old woman, newly married, who was a bank teller in our town, died from it.
This was serious. I turned off the TV (I knew how Titanic ended). I wanted to listen to the rhythm of my life. My life could have been over, but it was not, so now what?
Listen to me, we all have moments like this, when life and death intersect. A family member dies, or a friend and coworker, a friend's spouse. Or we ourselves have a near-death experience or a medical question that gets us fretting. Or the loss of strangers in tragedies like plane crashes and house fires.
But these brushes with death can be gifts to remind us of life's importances.
Have you ever listened to the rhythm of your life when it was in danger of being taken away? How did it sound?
If you don't mind, I would like to offer you my sound today, in case God would use it in your life. And I would like to offer three lessons.
My sound came in the form of a Bible passage:
In John 15:4-5, Jesus said, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."
I understood that rather than being VP of Marketing for EnergyCAP, Inc., or an author and speaker, or even a father and husband, my primary work is to remain in Jesus. By remaining in Jesus, I can be the best marketer, minister, father, and husband possible. Why? Because the fruit of remaining in Jesus is first of all, inward fruit.
We like to think of fruit as getting results, getting 'er done. Having all hats and all cattle, so to speak. It's having the work of our hands to show for it. But, says Galatians 5:22-23,"the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." God says this fruit comes first. It doesn't come overnight. Fruit is grown.
So friends, let's begin with the work of God's hands in us, then let the work of our own hands follow. This inward fruit will yield incredible fruit outwardly. But the converse isn't true. Outward fruit--results and doings--will not necessarily yield incredible fruit inwardly.
Lesson 1: Who you're becoming is more important than what you're doing.
I went on a date one time and made a complete fool of myself. This shouldn't surprise anyone. I mean, just a few years ago I discovered the truth about gas stations. Did you know the numbers at gas pumps--87, 91, 93--don't refer to the year the gas was produced? Gas doesn't work like wine. The older reserve isn't the better reserve. This confused me for many of my driving years.
And so it shouldn't surprise you at all that when a girl asked me if I was a mountain biker, I said yes, not because I actually was a mountain biker, but because I had a mountain bike. Same way you can have a car but know nothing about how it works.
And it shouldn't surprise you that I showed up for our ride with no real mountain bike gear, and when she let me borrow her biking shorts and instructed me to put my shorts on top of hers, I forgot. I emerged from the bathroom in her spandex like a trapped manatee. And when we got to the mountain, I went out too fast, and had to pull over because I got sick.
And it wouldn't surprise you that after I felt better, we kept going, but I wiped out riding down a gradual incline, and tore up my leg and her shorts. But we went to buy burritos and I had to pull my ten dollars from somewhere in my shorts, and the ten dollars wasn't enough to cover our meal, so I had to borrow money from her.
It wouldn't surprise you that I didn't expect to see her again.
As I drove home, I reflected on my disastrous display. I felt so small. What an idiot I was. I began to talk to the LORD about it, maybe for some consolation. I said something like, "Wow, she's so beautiful, so amazing...and I'm such an idiot."
But God said something so surprising I almost pulled the car over because it caused my eyes to water. He said, "Yes she is...but you're just as amazing." I immediately felt so seen, so held, so loved by God. I remember sitting up straight and high, like my stature was adjusting to the truth that was being spoken.
We got engaged three months later and this August will celebrate 13 years married. She's my Colette.
Jesus said, "Remain in me and I will remain in you" because he loves us. He wants to be with us. Even if we act like idiots and make messes and have to ask for money.
Some things about God's love:
- The Bible says God will never leave you or forsake you. God always keeps his Word. God will not leave you.
- God’s love is not based on your own nature or ability or goodness—it’s based on His. God is a God who remains, so believe it.
- God loved you as a sinner. He’ll love you if you sin today. He’ll love you if you sin tomorrow. Your sin does not determine if God loves you and it does not disqualify you for God’s love. The Bible says God loved you first.
- If you feel unworthy of God's love, that's not his doing. God’s love is essential—remember He loved you first. First in chronology, first in importance.
- God doesn't just love you, he delights in you. Zephaniah 3:17 says, "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."
The greatest proof of God's love for you is that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
Sin created a barrier between you and God, but God sent Jesus to remove it. So if you ask Jesus to remove it, he will. You cannot receive the fullness of God's love without Jesus.
Lesson 2: God's love for you is far greater than you can imagine.So how do we remain in God's love all the days of our lives? For one, we pray. I'm convinced that in prayer is where God pours out his love every day. In prayer is where God loves you.
If you listened to him more, you would hear him saying, "I love you," and you would say, "I know." But God would say, "No, you don't understand. I really love you," and you would say, "I know." But again God would say, "You don't get it. I really, really love you," and you would finally get it, and you would blush that the God of the universe, the bright and morning star, thinks of you so much. It would change your entire day.
Listen, prayer is the reward of walking with God, but so often, we treat it like a punishment. That's because we haven't found our voice in prayer. In Psalm 77:1, King David writes, "I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice, and he gave ear unto me."
He said my voice not once but twice, and what other option had he but to cry out with his voice? Something important is going on here--God wants to hear from you.
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When you pray, God gets something no one else can give him--God gets you. The challenge is for you to find your voice in prayer, which is the most important conversation of your life.
- When you understand your personality traits, it's easier to live day to day.
- When you pursue your talents, you gain satisfaction.
- When you discover your spiritual gifts, you find your place of service,
- When you find your callings, you impact the world.
I believe the same goes with prayer. You’re wired for God, so you’re wired for prayer, and since your main work is to remain in Christ, you must find your voice in prayer. I'd like to help you do this.
I discovered 12 different types of prayer in the Bible and found that different Bible characters prayed in different ways. For example, of the 13 books of the Bible that Paul wrote, 10 of them contain thanksgiving prayer. But Jeremiah didn’t prefer thanksgiving prayer, he prayed prophetic prayer. And Mary of Bethany sat at the feet of Jesus and listened for him—this is listening prayer.
Like them, I believe you lean toward certain prayer types and can discover the types that work best for you:
- Praying the Bible
I created an online prayer assessment. Take the 60-question or 120-question version. Then read the book, Made To Pray, to learn about the prayer types. The book ought to confirm the results of the assessment. Both resources and a short video are at www.MadeToPray.com.
Lesson 3: God wants you to find your voice in the most important conversation of your life.
Doctors still don't know why I got the pulmonary embolism, so I’m still undergoing procedures to discover why. You might say I'm not out of the woods yet. But none of us are certain what will happen next, are we? So let's live out our days the best we can.
Choose to remain in Christ so you can become who you're supposed to be. Remember, who you're becoming is more important than what you're doing.
Receive as much as God's love as you can bear. God's love for you is far greater than you can imagine.
And let God love you in prayer. God wants you to find your voice in the most important conversation of your life.
Thank you for your attention. God bless you now and beyond!