Psalms: Lessons In Prayer

How To Enjoy Richer, Deeper And Fuller Conversations With God
by Eric Elder

Thirty inspiring devotionals based on the oldest prayer book in the world.

This is our current series! You can read along each week as we’ll be publishing a new message nearly every Sunday in 2017 here on The Ranch. You can read all of the messages we’ve posted so far below!

 

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CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD
Introduction to Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

I love talking to God. It’s often the highlight of my day.

For some, like my friend Dan Mountney, waking up and talking with God brings focus to everything else that happens in his day. “It centers me,” Dan says.

For some, like Adrian Rogers, talking to God brings clarity to what God wants him to do. When asked by a reporter if God had spoken to Adrian like the reporter had just spoken to him, Adrian replied, “Oh, no! It was much louder than that.”

For some, like Billy Graham, talking with God is like talking with a best friend. “How do you know God exists?” Billy was once asked. “Because I spoke with Him this morning,” he replied.

What about you? How would you rate your conversations with God? As much as I love talking with God, I still feel in many ways that I am just scratching the surface of what my conversations with Him could be like.

Five years ago, my wife Lana and I were talking about prayer. Lana said, “I’d like to learn more about prayer.”

I was stunned. Lana’s prayer life was already deep and rich and full. She prayed continually, in private and out loud, for me, for our family, for our friends, for missionaries, for entire countries. She prayed for breakthroughs and healings and restorations. She prayed for forgiveness and for a greater love for others. Yet with all she had learned about prayer over the years, she still wanted more.

For me, that was Lesson #1 in going deeper in my own prayer life, to simply know that there’s always more.

At that same time, I was wanting to take a closer look at the book of Psalms. What was it about this book that made it one of the most beloved books in the Bible? What secrets did it hold that made publishers often publish it by itself, or pair it as the one Old Testament book to go along with the entire New Testament? Why do people seem to quote so often from the Psalms, as Jesus did, more than any other book in the Bible?

By combining my curiosity about the Psalms with Lana’s desire to learn more about prayer, we took a deeper dive together into this book to see what we could discover in its depths. We learned that the book of Psalms is really a book of prayers; in fact, it’s the oldest prayer book in the world. The word “psalm” means “song” in Hebrew, the language in which the psalms were originally written. And since they are all songs to God, they are often considered prayers as much as anything else–conversations with Him that came from deep in the author’s heart.

We learned that over half of those “conversations with God” were voiced by King David, as specifically noted in the text, with many of the others alluding to his authorship based on the situations described in the psalms. I was personally looking forward to learning all I could from this man whom God described as “a man after My own heart” (see Acts 13:22).

What I wasn’t expecting was that the next year of our lives would take such an unexpected twist: soon after we began this deeper dive into the book of Psalms and the topic of prayer, Lana was diagnosed with cancer. Ten days later, we were told it was terminal. And nine months after that, Lana was gone, having passed from this life to the next.

It crushed me, and it crushed a part of my heart at the same time. If I had known this would happen when we first decided we wanted to have a deeper, richer and fuller prayer life, I’m not sure we would have done it.

But I was reminded of this thought again when a friend was telling me how he had recently made a decision to go deeper in his relationship with God. He began by waking up ten minutes earlier each day to read his Bible and pray. The following week, he woke up ten minutes earlier still. And the week after that, he woke up ten minutes earlier still, continuing this pattern until he was now waking up an hour or more earlier than usual so he could have as much time with God as possible.

He then told me about several things that had gotten increasingly harder in his life during this time: his work situation, family’s heath and his finances.

It reminded me of the difficulties Lana and I had faced soon after we made our decision to go deeper with God. I was tempted to say something to this effect when my friend said something that stopped me:

“I am so glad I decided to do this with God,” he said, “because if I hadn’t, I don’t know how I could have gotten through this time in any other way.” 

My friend was right. He was absolutely right. If Lana and I had not committed ourselves to a deeper walk with God, I don’t know how we could have gotten through what we had to go through, either. And how much better it is to be on the path of going deeper with God before life throws its worst at you, rather than waiting till it hits you full on? The time I’ve spent grounding myself in God, and in my relationship with Him, is the one thing above all else that has helped me through some of the most difficult challenges in my life.

So here it is, five years since Lana and I decided to take that deeper dive into the topic of prayer as seen through the lens of the Psalms, and now I’d like to share with you some of the lessons that I’ve learned. Along the way, I’ll also tell you about some of the miraculous answers to prayer I’ve seen and some of the amazing conversations with God I’ve had, many of which are no less miraculous or amazing to me than those I read about in the book of Psalms. The same God who walked with David through his highs and lows is the same God who has walked with me through mine–and who will walk with you through yours.

I pray God will speak to you in a special way during your time with Him, both while we’re doing this study together, and on your own for the rest of your days. I can think of nothing more incredible than to be able to talk personally with the God who created you, who knows you better than you know yourself, and who loves you like no one else on earth ever could.

I’m looking forward to our time together. I hope you are, too. I’ll share the details of how we’ll work through the book of Psalms in the P.S. below. But first, will you pray with me?

Dear Jesus, I am so thankful that we can come to you each and every day, all day, at any time during the day, and have a conversation with You. You are so loving and gracious, so kind and helpful, so wise and so knowledgable about all things, including me. Help me as I go through this day. Walk me through every situation I face. Help me to learn all that You want me to learn as we walk through this study of the book of Psalms. In Your name we pray, Amen.

P.S. Here’s my plan for going through the book of Psalms:

There are 150 psalms in the book of Psalms, each containing its own particular thought or theme. For this study, I’m going to share some thoughts with you from 30 of those 150 psalms. If you’d like to read all 150 on your own, I’d suggest reading one psalm a day for five days, starting with Psalms 1-5 this week. I’ll be highlighting one of those five psalms every week in my weekly Sunday message. By reading just five psalms a week, you’ll have two extra days per week to take a break or catch up on your reading as we go along. I also plan on taking a break for a week or two every six or seven weeks, which will give you a break and still more time to catch up if you need it. If you follow along with this plan as we go through the study, you’ll have read through the entire book of Psalms by the end of it. For those who like charts and check marks, I’ve typed up my weekly plan for this series, which you can view or print to put in your Bible. Here’s the link to the 2017 Reading Plan For Psalms.

Thanks for reading along with me! Enjoy!

Eric Elder

 

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MORNING PRAYERS – PSALM 5
Lesson 1 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 5, read by Lana Elder, with music by Bach played by Bo Elder

As I was reading through the book of Psalms, I was looking for secrets to having a more effective prayer life. I didn’t get very far into the book when I found one:

“In the morning, O Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation” (Psalm 5:3, NIV).

There’s something about morning prayers that make them hopeful. After a night of rest, it’s time to start a new day, a fresh day.

I’ve often prayed in the morning, waking up, taking out my Bible and a journal and a pen, then sitting quietly before God. But what I noticed differently in this Psalm is that the author, David, came to God with a spirit of expectancy.

David didn’t just come to God with a list of requests. He came with hope in his heart, expectant that God would answer. David knew the goodness of God. He knew that God was with Him. He knew that God was for him, just like He is for each one of us.

Our prayers have a purpose–not just because they quiet our hearts or help to organize our thoughts. Our prayers have a purpose because they involve another Person. They involve Someone who knows what you’re facing and who has the wisdom and ability to do something about them.

God really does know what you’re going through. He really does care. And that’s why you can come to God with the pieces of your life and ask God to help you put them together.

I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases David’s words in The Message translation of the Bible:

“Every morning you’ll hear me at it again. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on Your altar and watch for fire to descend” (Psalm 5:3, The Message).

Those words are so hopeful–so helpful. When I read these words I began doing this in my mind’s eye, with my own prayers. I began laying out the pieces of my life on God’s altar, with expectancy in my heart, then watching throughout the day for God’s fire to descend–just like it had descended in times past when people offered their sacrifices to God’s on an altar.

And I began seeing answers, that very day!

After having just written in my journal about what I should do for the day, I got a text from a neighbor at 7:05 a.m. offering to bring over lunch. Then I received word that an anniversary party was cancelled, which I had been wondering if I should attend or not. Then, after taking a morning walk with my wife and praying with her about a situation our daughter was facing, our daughter texted to say how God had just worked it all out! It was as if God were underscoring the words of David for me about laying out the pieces of his life on God’s altar, then waiting in expectation.

It’s good to pray at night or at the end of a project, as that allows us time to reflect on what God has done and to give thanks for what’s been accomplished. But in order to be most effective, it’s also important to offer our prayers up to God on the front end, inviting Him to speak and to work and to be involved in whatever we’re facing.

Martin Luther famously said:

“I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”

God wants to be a co-laborer with you.  He has things He wants to accomplish in and through you. And when you talk about those things with Him up front, He can help you sort them out and let you know what He can do and what you can do. In that way, you can bring it to pass together.

Not every answer comes right away, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t have expectancy in our heart. The past few weeks, my kids and I have been praying every morning for some royalty checks to be deposited in my account for some music I’ve written and produced.  While I normally receive these checks monthly, and they help to pay for the ministry that we do, the checks were delayed because of a new arrangement between the music companies involved. Every morning we’ve been praying, and every day we’ve been hopeful for an answer. At the same time, I’ve been working with the music companies, sending emails and making phone calls and having online chats, trying to help move the process along. I’m doing everything I can, but I’m trusting God with those things I can’t do. So every day we pray for the people involved in this process–the computer programmers, the accountants, and the decision-makers–asking God to give them wisdom as they work out the details.

Then just on Friday night, for the first time in months, I started seeing those deposits coming into my account. One, two, three, four of them! As the night went on, there were more: five, six, seven, eight! The deposits kept coming as the system started working again! I praised God, together with my kids, knowing that relief was on the way!

Come to God in the morning. Sit down with Him and go over your day. Ask Him what He wants you to do. Ask Him to do what you know you can’t do. Then be on the lookout for His answers. They may not come that day, but they might! And they may not come the next day, or the next month, as I had hoped while waiting for my missing royalties.

But even if you don’t see an answer right away, don’t think that God isn’t working on your behalf. Remember what God told Daniel, through an angel that God sent to him twenty-one days after Daniel had begun praying:

“Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them” (Daniel 10:12).

God hears your prayers the moment you utter them. So why not utter them the first thing in the morning? Invite God into your day. Let Him order your steps. Lay out the pieces of your life on God’s altar, then wait in expectation.

Will you pray with me? Then after the prayer, I’d like to share a short thought with you in the P.S. about today’s reading of Psalm 5 that I shared in the link at the beginning of this message.

Jesus, thank You for loving me the way You do. Thank You for caring for me. Thank You for creating me with a purpose in mind, with good works that You want me to do. Help me, Lord, to accomplish those works today. Help me to know that You’ll be with me, working right alongside me, doing what only You can do, while I do whatever I can do. Help me to see the answers to my prayers, whether today, tomorrow, or down the road. Help me to trust You and look to You with a spirit of expectation, knowing that You are good, that You are kind, that You are loving, and that You are ultimately for me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. When I first contemplated writing this series of messages on prayer, I asked my wife, Lana, if she would be willing to read and record each of the thirty messages I was going to use in this series. Lana had a beautiful reading voice, and she had recorded other Scripture CDs in the past, which I paired with some beautiful music in the background. I had sometimes even invited her onstage with me when I preached, so she could read the passage about which I was preaching, as her voice was so calming and beautiful.

Soon after we planned out the series, Lana was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We were shocked, but we were committed to prayer and to this series, no matter what. Lana went ahead and recorded all thirty passages, plus a few more, knowing that no matter what happened to her, God’s Word, once sent out, would never return without accomplishing that for which God sent it. It’s been almost five years now since Lana recorded these passages for this series. And while her life passed just a few months after she recorded these psalms, like a radiant flower that blooms one day then fades the next, she knew that God’s Word would never fade away. As it says in Isaiah:

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:7-8, NIV).

Here’s the link again to Lana’s reading of today’s psalm, paired with music by Bach (“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”) played by our son, Bo. I pray as you listen that God will fill your heart with a spirit of expectancy that He will answer your prayers. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Psalm 5, read by Lana Elder, with music by Bach played by Bo Elder

And here’s the link again to our reading plan for this series if you’d like to read read through the whole book of Psalms with us this year: 2017 Reading Plan For Psalms.

 

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MAGNIFYING PRAYERS – PSALM 8
Lesson 2 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 8, read by Lana Elder, with Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” played by Eric Elder

I set up a telescope one night to look at the moon and the stars. My kids couldn’t believe what they were seeing: how detailed and three-dimensional the moon looked, hanging there in space; how many stars there were–hundreds, thousands, millions–all glittering in the night sky.

They could hardly believe that each star was like our own sun–some bigger, some smaller, spread all throughout space! Each flicker of light that looked like it was no bigger than the head of a pin was, in fact, full of power, warmth, and wonder like our own sun–and there were a shining multitude of them everywhere we looked!

All this revelation, all this insight, all this awe came from simply holding a type of magnifying glass up to what we normally see on a regular basis nearly every day.

As I was reading through the psalms and looking for secrets of effective prayer, these words from Psalm 8 stood out to me:

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! … When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him?” (Psalm 8:1a, 3-4, NIV).

Something happens inside us when we hold up a magnifying glass to the world around us. It opens us up to seeing the incredible work that God has created in a new way. And that fresh perspective can help us to see our own problems in a new way as well.

King David, who wrote these words from Psalm 8 nearly 3,000 years ago, was struck with the same awe and wonder as my kids on the night I set up a telescope for them. As he considered the heavens, the work of God’s fingers, the moon and the stars which God had set in place, he burst out in praise! “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!”

And that made David look at his own life in a new way, saying, “What is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him?”

Yet David realized that God was mindful of him. God did care for him. In fact, the same God who took such care to create the world that David saw created him with the same care–and not only created him with care, but considered him worthy to take care of the incredible creation around him!

God, it seems, has a magnifying glass of His own. When He looks at us, He looks with such detail that He can count the number of hairs on our head (see Luke 12:7). He cares for us so much that He has created us in His own image, and given us the task of caring for the rest of His whole creation.

If you wonder if God cares for you, just take out a magnifying glass today, literally, and look at one or two things in God’s creation. You’ll get a new perspective on your own life almost immediately.

This is what happened to William Wilberforce, a member of parliament who played a major role in ending the slave trade in England in the early 1800’s. He came to faith one day, not by looking up into the sky, but by looking down into the majesty of his garden. What he saw there so fascinated him that he plopped down on the wet grass to take a closer look. What he saw was the marvel of a spider’s web.

The movie Amazing Grace captures this faith-defining moment in the life of Wilberforce like this, as his butler finds him in the garden and wonders aloud what he’s found:

“It’s God,” said Wilberforce. “I have 10,000 engagements of state today but I would prefer to spend the day out here getting a wet arse, studying dandelions and marveling at… bloody spider’s webs.”

“You found God, sir?” the butler asks.

“I think He found me,” Wilberforce responds. “You have any idea how inconvenient that is? How idiotic it will sound? I have a political career glittering ahead of me, and in my heart I want spider’s webs.” 

Wilberforce found God by looking closely at a spider’s web, or, as he puts it in the movie, “I think He found me.”

I learned something new about spider’s webs just last week. My son told me that he learned in his biology book that a spider’s web is sticky only on certain strands of the silk it weaves, but that other strands aren’t sticky at all, so that it doesn’t get stuck when scurrying around on its own web. God somehow endowed the spider with the ability to spin different types of silk depending on the need.

I must have missed that fact when I took biology, but it was a little tidbit which enlarged my awe and wonder of God once again. How God instilled in a spider the wisdom and ability to know how to spin a web at all, or which silk to spin for which purpose, made me consider not only how clever the spider is, but how clever the God who created the spider is! And if God did this for a spider, imagine what He’s done for me, whom God says He has created as the pinnacle of all He has created on the earth, made in the very image of God Himself!

That thought makes me want to burst out in praise to God as well: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” And it makes me look at the situations I’m facing in a new way as well.

What loomed large and overwhelming to me at the beginning of my prayers suddenly seems puny in comparison to what God could do in each of those situations.  Heal a cut?  Mend a relationship? Breathe new life into something in my life that has died?

What seemed improbable just moments earlier suddenly seems no problem for the God who placed every star in the sky and knows each one by name (see Psalm 147:4)!

The God who holds creation together can certainly hold my life together as well. By magnifying God and His creation, I can see how small–how manageable–my own problems are in comparison. Whatever I face, God knows how to handle it.

If you’re facing problems today that are overwhelming you, take out a magnifying glass. Literally. Take a look at one or two things around you today–your fingerprint, a flower, or even a spider’s web. Or take out a telescope and look at the nighttime sky. Or just take a look around you at any ordinary object, but look closely to see the colors, the shapes, the details that you may have overlooked before.

Then marvel and wonder at the God who created all that makes up everything you see. Marvel and wonder that the same God who created each of these things created you with the same care–and has believed in you and trusted in you enough to put you in charge of the care of His incredible creation.

Will you pray with me?

Jesus, thank You for your magnificent creation. Thank You for including me in your plans when You created the world. Thank You for Your promise to finish the work You’ve begun in me. Help me to sort out the things I’m facing. Bring order to my world. Bring peace to my heart. Bring wisdom to my mind. I ask all this in Your name, Amen. 

Eric Elder

P.S. Here’s the link again to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 8, read by Lana Elder, with Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” played by Eric Elder

P.P.S. And here’s the link to our reading plan if you want to read with us through all of the Psalms this year. There’s plenty of time to catch up. Just pick up and keep reading along! 2017 Reading Plan For Psalms.

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RAW PRAYERS – PSALM 13
Lesson 3 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 13, read by Lana Elder, with music by Tchaikovsky played by Makari Elder

One of the beauties of reading through the psalms is that it touches on so many emotions that you don’t have to read very far into it to find something that will match what you’re going through. And when you find that something, you can pour out your heart to God in prayer, often using the same words that you’re reading on the pages in front of you.

Within just a few psalms, we’ve already seen David’s emotions range from eager expectation to awe-filled wonder to today’s psalm, in which he pours out some raw prayers full of pain and sorrow. Psalm 13 starts with these words:

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide Your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13, 5-6a, NIV).

This is a man in pain, a man in anguish, a man who’s wondering if God is even listening any more. In The Message translation of the Bible, David’s words are paraphrased like this:

“Long enough, God–You’ve ignored me long enough. I’ve looked at the back of Your head long enough” (Psalm 13:, 5-6a, MSG)

Those are some raw words. They’re guttural. And they express the real sorrow in his heart..

Maybe you’ve felt this way before. Maybe you feel this way right now. If so, let me encourage you to say some raw words of your own to God. The pain you’re feeling is real, and it’s really okay to express to God how you’re really feeling. God can take it, and there are times when you just need to say it like David did.

I was speaking to a group of people a few weeks ago who were going through various tragedies in their lives. They had lost husbands or wives, sons or daughters, friends or family members. They were dealing with divorce. They were trying to find their way out of addictions. They were experiencing pain at its worst, and I was asked to speak to them about worshipping God in the hard times. (You can listen to the message here.)

I don’t usually say certain words. They’re not part of my normal vocabulary. But during my talk, in an unscripted moment, I covered the microphone and said out loud what I knew many in the room were feeling. I said, “In some of these dark times, you just say, ‘God, this really sucks.'” Nods of agreement began throughout the room.

When the night was over, one of the leaders of the group told me that my talk had really touched the people. And the one thing they said that impacted them the most was the moment when I covered the microphone and said what I said. In that moment, they said, they knew that I knew exactly what they were going through, and that opened them up to hear the rest of what I had to say.

Sometimes we need to get really honest with God, too–to say exactly what’s on our hearts–even if it’s not “pretty,” or “religious,” or what we think we’re “supposed” to say. Sometimes we just need to just let it all out–lay it all out–before God, who sees our pain and knows what’s on our hearts already anyway.

Sometimes we read the psalms, or sing them in songs, and they begin to sound so holy, so poetic, so “nice,” that we can miss just how raw they really are. Eugene Petersen, who translated the Psalms from the original Hebrew into English for The Message translation, said this in his introduction to the Psalms:

“In English translation, the Psalms often sound smooth and polished, sonorous with Elizabethan rhythms and diction. As literature, they are beyond compare. But as prayer, as the utterances of men and women passionate for God in moments of anger and praise and lament, these translations miss something. Grammatically, they are accurate. The scholarship undergirding the translation is superb and devout. But as prayers they are not quite right. The Psalms in Hebrew are earthy and rough. They are not genteel. They are not the prayers of nice people, couched in cultured language.”

I can only imagine the types of words David and the 400 men with him used while they were hiding out in the caves of the dessert while the king and his army were hunting them down to kill them. The men with David were described as “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented…” (1 Samuel 22:2a, NIV). I can guess that at least a few of their conversations were far from genteel.

And I can believe that at least a few of David’s conversations with God sounded just as earthy and rough. I can hear it in the English translation, but only if I really think about what he was really going through and how shocking it is that he really said some of the things he said to God. It’s not like David suddenly switched into his “religious” voice when talking to God. He just said it like it was. He told God what He was feeling, in a way that he really felt it.

But then somewhere along the way, while pouring out his pain to God, David begins to praise Him instead. He begins to sing to God that not matter what he’s going through, he still trusts in God’s unfailing love. No matter what happens, he still praises God for having been so good to him. The psalm ends with these words:

“But I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me” (Psalm 13:5-6, NIV).

How can a man go from pouring out his pain to pouring out his praise in the matter of a few sentences? We see the same thing happen in the book of Job, where Job, who has just lost nearly everything that was dear to him in a single day, tears his robes and falls to the ground. Yet he didn’t just fall to the ground and lie there. The Bible says “he fell to the ground in worship,” saying:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21, NIV).

Somehow, Job was able to pour out his pain and pour out his praise, nearly simultaneously. Somehow, like David, Job knew he could still trust in God’s His unfailing love–no matter what.

If you’re in pain today–in anguish–or if  things look so bleak you’re not sure how you’ll be able to stand it, let me encourage you to try doing what David did, what Job did, and what I at times have had to do: pour out your pain to God, in words that are real and raw, then pour out your praise to Him as well, trusting in God’s unfailing love for yourself.

You might feel like God is being slow to show up, taking His dear sweet time to answer your prayers. You might wonder if He’s even listening at all, because you feel like the only thing you can see is the back of His head. But the truth is, God is listening. He does care. And He is answering your prayers, even if you can’t see those answers yet, or even for a long time.

Pour out your pain. Keep trusting in His unfailing love. And you might just find yourself like David, pouring out your praise as well, saying, “for He has been good to me.”

Will you pray with me?

Jesus, thank You for giving us David’s example of how to pray raw prayers, guttural prayers, prayers that truly express what’s on our hearts. Thank You for letting us see how David and Job and others have been able to not only fall down when they’re in pain, but to still worship You as they fall. Help us to talk to You like they did, and help us to trust in You the way they trusted in You. Thank You for being so worthy of our trust and praise. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. Here’s the link to the audio message I mentioned earlier:
Worshipping God in the Hard Times

And here’s the link, once again, to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 13, read by Lana Elder, with Tchaikovsky’s “The Sick Doll,” played by Makari Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan if you want to read through all of the Psalms with us this year:
2017 Reading Plan For Psalms

 

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PLEASING PRAYERS – PSALM 19
Lesson 4 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 19, read by Lana Elder, with music by Edward MacDowell played by Josiah Elder

In my previous message, I talked about the value of saying “raw prayers,” prayers that pour out to God exactly what’s on your heart, without regard for whether it sounds pretty, or religious, or even kind. God can take it–and He already knows what’s in your heart anyway. Sometimes you just have to say it.

But in today’s message, I want to talk about the value of saying “pleasing prayers,” prayers that are also honest, but which are intentional about being pleasing to God. As a parent, I’m glad when my kids feel the freedom to come to me and express their raw emotions that they’re feeling on their hearts, without holding back for fear of what I might think. While it might sting sometimes, and their perceptions may not always be right, it helps to know what they’re honestly thinking so we can work through their thoughts together. But I’m also glad when they intentionally take time to say things which they truly believe, and which they know will please me .

Such is the case in David’s prayer today, which he ends with these words:

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

This entire Psalm is filled with “pleasing words,” words which David carefully and intentionally poured out to the God who gave him life.

He starts by talking about how glorious God is, and how His creation declares His glory to the ends of the earth:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4a)

I can see how those words would be pleasing to the God, the Creator, the One who created the earth and everything in it. Then he continues by speaking poetically about how magnificently the sun crosses the sky:

“In the heavens He has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat” (Psalm 19:4b-6).

Then he launches into a carefully worded anaphora, a grammatical technique of emphasizing an idea by repeating that same idea in different ways. The Psalms are some of the first writings in the world to use this technique which has been subsequently used by writers like Shakespeare and speechmakers like Churchill:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.”
(Psalm 19:7-9).

When I read this Psalm this week, I thought, “Imagine the care and thoughtfulness David must have put into crafting his words of praise to God in this way. He took a topic that was dear to him and dear to God’s heart, and then through repeating phrases, was able to express to God what he was feeling deep inside.”

I wondered what it would do for my prayer life if I could be as careful and thoughtful in my prayers to God as David was in this Psalm. It seemed like so much work, though, so I just continued writing in my journal as I normally do. But what came out of my pen next surprised me! It was a fully formed anaphora of my own!

“A desire for alcohol is not only for alcohol, but for relief from pain.
A desire for a person is not only for that person, but for relief from loneliness.
A desire for food is not only for food, but for relief from hunger….”

My poem went on for several more lines, describing the various things that people crave to bring relief from real pains. I was surprised at how easily the thoughts flowed from my mind to the paper in front of me. At the end of my thoughts, and my conversation with God, I wrote:

“Thank You for my mind and the ability You’ve given me to think. It’s remarkable. Thank You.”

And as I wrote those words, along with my thanks and praise to God for something I saw that He had created–my mind—I felt a touch of what David must have felt when he wrote his words, giving thanks and praise to God for something he saw that God had created–the heavens and His Word. Any father would be pleased to hear his children think and speak about those things in the world around him which the Father had a hand in creating. It shows honor and respect and true thankfulness.

There’s a time and place for “raw prayers,” prayers that just pour out whatever’s on our hearts to God, however they might sound. But there’s also a time and place for “pleasing prayers,” prayers that are carefully crafted to express other truths on our hearts that also bring pleasure and praise to the God who gave us life.

These aren’t words to butter up God to get what we want, but to honestly acknowledge Him for who He is, realizing how good and right and wise and perfect He is in all of His ways, and in all that He’s created–including us.

We can trust Him and trust His Word, even when He says things we don’t want to hear. We can trust Him that He really does know best.

What words could you speak today that would be pleasing to God? What insights has He given you into His ways or His Word or His creation that could bring out your praise for Him that is truly in your heart?

Why not take some time to voice those thoughts to Him, to write them out with a pen and paper, or type them out on a keyboard or keypad, or voice them out in a song or a poem?

Let the words within you flow out from your heart as a stream of praise to Him, as David’s words did when he said:

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Will you pray with me?

Father God, thank You for letting us see that David not only poured out his pain, but also his praise, in ways that brought pleasure and glory to You. Help us to do the same, being honest and real with our problems and pains, but also with our praise and adoration. Help us to think carefully and intentionally about ways we can bring glory to You, both in our hearts and in our words that flow out of them. Let them be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

And here’s the link once again to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 19, read by Lana Elder, with Edward MacDowell’s “To A Wild Rose,” played by Josiah Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan of the Psalms. There’s plenty of time to catch up–even if you haven’t already started reading!
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

 

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COMFORTING PRAYERS – PSALM 23
Lesson 5 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 23, read by Lana Elder, with music by Leopold Mozart played by Kaleo Elder

There are many ways to look at today’s psalm, Psalm 23, which is perhaps the most famous psalm in the book of Psalms, and perhaps the most famous passage in the whole Bible.  Today, I’m looking at what we can learn from Psalm 23 about praying more effectively.

While prayer often involves asking for God’s help or wisdom, struggling to know what to do or how things will work out in a situation, the beauty of this prayer is that it simply invites God into your life to let Him comfort you–to put your whole faith and trust in Him; to let Him take full control of your life and your situations; to allow Him to lead you beside still waters, to lie down in green grass, and to restore your soul; to trust Him that no matter what comes your way, He’ll be with you.

Listen to the words David wrote:

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
(Psalm 23:1-4, NIV).

David was a shepherd, and he knew that good shepherds watch out for their sheep. When David was a shepherd, he had attacked and killed a lion one day and a bear another, all to protect his precious sheep. He knew the care that shepherds take of their sheep. So when he faced troubles of his own, it’s not surprising that he talked to God in terms that he understood well: “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

Sometimes we just need to let God’s comfort pour over us–to slow down long enough to let Him speak His soothing words to our hearts.

One way I’ve found to do this–to slow down and let God speak deeply to my heart–is to take time and savor not just every thought in a portion of Scripture, but every word.

Take the first sentence of Psalm 23, for instance. It has only five words: “The Lord is my Shepherd.” But if you’ll focus on each and every word, you’ll see how God can use a simple sentence to speak volumes to your heart.

Think about the first word: THE. THE Lord is my Shepherd. Not “a” Lord or “some” Lord or “any” Lord, but THE Lord, THE One and Only God, THE Lord of all creation, THE Author and Perfecter of your life. THAT’S your Shepherd. THAT’S the One you’re talking to. THAT’S your Lord. “THE Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

Think about the second word: LORD. The LORD is my Shepherd. What’s a lord? A lord is a master, a ruler, a caller of the shots. And if God is your lord, that means that you’re not! He’s got this. And He’s not just ANY lord, He’s THE Lord, THE Ruler over all, THE One Who’s got the whole world in His hands, including you.  He’s totally trustworthy, because He’s THE LORD.

Then think about the third word: IS. The Lord IS my Shepherd. It’s not “The Lord WAS my Shepherd, years ago, when I needed Him to save me, or when He showed up that one time in a special way.” It’s not “The Lord WILL BE my Shepherd, some day in the future when I get my act together or clean things up a bit.” But it’s “The Lord IS my Shepherd, right now, today in the midst of everything I’m going through.” The Lord IS your Shepherd, if He really is. And if He’s not, then there’s no reason to wait even one more minute–you can make Him your Lord today, right now! Then you’ll be you’ll be able to say, like David did, “The Lord IS my Shepherd! I shall not want!”

You’re getting how this works. Let’s do two more, and you can think through them with me.

Think about the fourth word: MY. The Lord is MY Shepherd. What does that say about you, that the Lord is your Shepherd? If He’s your Shepherd, that means He’s actually, truly concerned about you! Not just the world in general, or the people around you, but you! When Jesus told the parable about the good shepherd, what did He say about that shepherd’s heart for the one lost sheep–out of the hundred that He had? He said that the shepherd would go after that one sheep because He didn’t want even one of His sheep to be lost. God really cares about you, personally.  He is your Shepherd, just like He is mine. “The Lord is MY Shepherd, I shall not want.”

Now let’s finish with the last word: SHEPHERD. The Lord is my SHEPHERD. What’s a shepherd’s job? To look after the sheep. That’s their whole job! They take the sheep out to green pastures to get food. They lead them beside still waters to get water. They let them lie down to take a rest. They protect them from wild beasts. And they bring them back home again when the time is right, leading them through the gate when it’s time to sleep. “The Lord is my SHEPHERD, I shall not want.”

We’ve only looked at five simple words in this psalm, but you can see how those simple words can speak volumes when you slowly focus on each one, letting God speak to your heart. And perhaps you can see why David concluded this prayer to God with the words that he did, knowing that the Lord was his Shepherd:

“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6, NIV).

If you ever need comfort from the Lord, take your time, and let Him speak to you. Don’t hurry through it. Come back to Him and His Word again and again, meditating on a few more words, and a few more until the comfort of God pours over your heart.  Let His goodness and love follow you today and tomorrow and all the days of your life.

I think God knew we could all use a bit of comfort now and then. No wonder this is the most famous passage in the Bible!

Will you pray with me?

Father God, thank You for being our Lord and our Shepherd. Thank You for David’s example of coming to You and receiving Your comfort and goodness and love. Help us today as we continue to spend time in Your presence, whatever we do next, to know that Your goodness and love will follow us throughout this day today, and all of our days ahead, if we’ll keep putting our faith and trust in You.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

And here’s the link once more to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 23, read by Lana Elder, with music by Leopold Mozart played by Kaleo Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan of all of the psalms in the Bible if you want to read along this year:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

 

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REJOICING PRAYERS – PSALM 30
Lesson 6 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 30, read by Lana Elder, with music by Franz Joseph Haydn played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

Today’s psalm reminds me that there are seasons for everything. Here in Illinois, summers are hot, over 100 degrees Fahrenheit many days. Winters are cold, often below 32 F for many days, with snowstorms that block us in our homes for hours.  Spring and fall are beautiful, with budding flowers and blossoming trees in the spring, and changing leaves and crisp, cool nights in the fall.

As George Carlin says (in what is probably the most accurate weather forecast of all time):

 “The weather will continue to change on and off for a long, long time.”

The seasons in our life change, too. And as much as I sometimes wish things would never change, there are definitely times when I wish they would: like living through the pain of losing my wife to cancer, for instance. Thankfully, God promises that the hard times we go through won’t last forever, that the pain we may be facing now can one day be behind us.

As King David said in Psalm 30:

Sing to the Lord , you saints of His; praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning”  (Psalm 30:5).

Sometimes it’s hard to believe, but it’s true: “Rejoicing comes in the morning.”

When I first went through the book of psalms five years ago, looking for ways to pray more effectively, my wife was going through her cancer treatments. Things looked bleak, and they turned out even bleaker, as she passed away just nine months after her initial diagnosis. I couldn’t see anything in the future other than blank, gray days of nothingness. There was nothing that I could imagine ahead for me if she were to die.

As I read this psalm back then, I wrote some notes to myself:

“God says that weeping lasts for but a moment, and in light of eternity He’s right, even if it seems longer than a moment here.  Rejoicing comes in the morning. Wailing turns into dancing.”

I couldn’t see far enough ahead at the time to know what was going to happen or to know if that would ever be true for me. But it’s been five years now since I first took those notes, and I can look back now and see how true those words were. God was right. He really did bring back my joy. He eventually turned my wailing into dancing.

But in the midst of that painful season, I didn’t even want to think about rejoicing some day. I didn’t want to think about dancing some day in the future, or any time in the future. I just wanted things to go back to the way they were before tragedy hit, before our lives were turned upside down.

At that time, I was asked if I would be willing to film an interview to give people hope who were facing terminal illness. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to talk about it. I frankly didn’t know what I could say. Saying anything was like admitting that the prognosis in our case was, in fact, terminal. But I felt God wanted me to do it, so I did, and the film team called the short interview Eric’s Hope. A few months later, and two weeks before my wife died, a couple more people from the team came to our house to film another interview, this time with our whole family. They called it Lana’s Hope. (You can watch both interviews online by clicking their links).

One of the things I remember distinctly at that time was a conversation with the woman who asked me to do the interviews. She was writing a screenplay for a feature film they were going to be making in Hollywood based on a fictional story of a woman facing terminal cancer. She asked me if I wanted to know what happens at the end of the movie. I said, “No, I really don’t.”

She said, “It’s good. You might want to hear it.”

I said, again, “No, I really don’t.”

I didn’t want to hear that someday everything would get better for the husband in the movie, or that he got married again or something, and that somehow, some way, everything turned out to be okay. I didn’t know how the movie was going to end, but I didn’t want to know, because whatever it was, it couldn’t possibly be better than it was for me and our family before my wife got sick. I couldn’t imagine having to live in this world without her, and I didn’t want to have to think about it.

But you know what? That Hollywood movie came out last fall in theaters, and online just a few weeks ago, so I watched it Friday night. There were still moments that were hard, but you know what? I realized I no longer had that stabbing pain I once had. And the ending was touching, sweet, and hopeful, even if things would never be the same as they were before. (The movie is called New Life, and you can stream it from iTunes or Amazon by clicking on their links, or you can get the disc from a variety of stores.)

My life isn’t the same as it was before our lives took that turn. And it never will be. But I have seen God turn my weeping into rejoicing, my wailing into dancing. Things do change, and sometimes, very thankfully so. As Mark Twain is credited as saying:

“If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

I sometimes wish things would never change. But that’s as unlikely as wishing the weather would never change.

When praying, keep in mind there are seasons in life, too. Too hot? Just wait. Too cold? Hang on a bit. Weeping?  Rejoicing comes in the morning.  Wailing? God can turn it into dancing.

No, things may not go back to the way they were before. But the truth is that as much as I sometimes wish things would never change, there are definitely times when I am thankful that they do.

Sing to the Lord, you saints of His; praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning”  (Psalm 30:5).

Will you pray with me?

Father God, thank You for the changing seasons, and thank You for the changing seasons in our lives. I pray that You would give us hope today in the fact that some things DO change, that things WON’T always be the same as they are now, and that there are times when that is the BEST way for You to work in and through our lives the way that You want to. Help us to keep putting our trust and faith in You, for as much as things here on earth may change, You never do  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. We’ll be taking a break from the Psalms for the next two weeks, then we’ll return to them again after Easter. Now’s a great time to catch up if you’re behind in reading along through the Psalm with us! Here’s the reading plan for the year:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

And here’s the link once more to today’s scripture reading:
Psalm 30, read by Lana Elder, with Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Country Minuet” played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

 

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SWEET PRAYERS – PSALM 34
Lesson 7 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 34, read by Lana Elder, with music by Christoph Graupner, played by Eric Elder

I love chocolate chip cookies. I especially love them when they’re fresh out of the oven, warm and chewy, with the chocolate melting into strands when you pull them apart.

But I know I wouldn’t like them as much if a few of the ingredients were missing. If there were no butter, they’d just be a clumpy mass of dough. If there were no baking soda, they’d flatten out on the tray. If there were no salt or vanilla or sugar, they’d be almost tasteless. It takes all of the ingredients, mixed together, to make that delicious, mouth-watering moment when they come out of the oven.

Life does have some very “tasty” moments, but to bring them about, it requires mixing all the right ingredients together. And to be honest, some of those ingredients don’t taste so great on their own. I wouldn’t want to eat a stick of butter. I wouldn’t want to eat a cup of  of flour. I wouldn’t want to eat a spoonful of salt or vanilla, or even a cup of sugar, as sweet as it is, without the other ingredients mixed in.

But sometimes that’s what life gives us; the ingredients come to us one by one, then we get frustrated and wonder what in the world is going on. “This isn’t what I asked for! This isn’t what I prayed about! This isn’t the way things were supposed to go!” The beautiful thing about God is this: He mixes it all together for good. Notice the word “together” in Romans 8:28:

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NKJV).

God takes all things and works them together for good. He’s a Master Chef, and that means  God can make something good out of anything that life throws our way, even those things that we might think are initially bitter or totally useless on their own.

In Psalm 34, David experiences one of those mouth-watering moments, when everything is mixed together just right. His cookies have just come out of the oven, and he can’t help himself from bursting into song, at one point singing:

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him” (Psalm 34:8).

But what makes this moment so sweet, so mouth-wateringly delicious, are ALL the ingredients that went into it. David sings God’s praises because he realizes that only God could turn everything he had gone through into something good.

The heading of Psalm 34 tells us what had just happened:

“Psalm 34. Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelek, who drove him away, and he left.”

David had been on the run from King Saul, who was trying to kill him. Then David found himself in the presence of another king–an enemy–who might have also tried to kill him.

Thinking quickly, David pretended to be insane:

“So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.”

King Achish [his proper name, also called Abimelek as in Psalm 34, which is his title] said to his servants:

“Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?” (1 Samuel 21:13-15, NIV).

And it worked! Abimelek sent him away. Then David burst into song. Victory never tasted so sweet–which is why he probably sang, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…”

Individually, some of the ingredients that went into David’s song were pretty bitter. Facing death from one enemy only to find himself facing death from another. But God worked it all together for good, giving him a way of escape (and eventually making David the king over all the other kings in that land). David got a taste of the sweetness of God that day–and he savored every bite.

There are times in our lives when things come together just right, even for that moment, and we could burst into song as well. My encouragement to you today is this: go ahead and burst into song! Pray a prayer of thanksgiving to God for working all things together for good.

Savor every bite. Sing a song of praise. Pour out your heart to Him in thanksgiving. You may not be totally out of the fire yet, as David still had obstacles in his way until he finally became king himself. But take time out along the way to give praise to God for what He’s brought you through so far, for what He’s already worked out for good in your life.

I had one of those mouth-watering moments myself yesterday, where I had a few minutes before I picked up my kids from an activity. I decided to go to a nearby park, sit on the grass, and write in my journal.

As I sat down, I read through this Psalm again. I began to thank God for all the things that He had worked out recently in my life: I had been driving a car that kept breaking down, but I now had another car that I had found at a reasonable price; I had been working on a new book that has been a challenge for various reasons, but I had now finished 3/4ths of it so far; I had been going through a long winter here in Illinois, but I was now enjoying the spring breeze and the scent of blossoms in the trees; and I had been hungry for just a little something right before I came to the park, and I had found a vending machine a few hundred feet from where I sat which had a small packet of M&M candies in it–Dark Chocolate Mint M&M’s at that, a rare treat–and I was savoring them slowly, one or two at a time while I prayed.

That didn’t mean that everything in my life was going the way I wanted it to. It wasn’t. And it didn’t mean that I didn’t still have obstacles ahead that I would have to overcome. But in those moments, I was able to taste and see that the Lord was good–and His goodness just so happened to taste like Dark Chocolate Mint M&M’s.

What are you going through today that God might be mixing together for your good? Maybe you’re still having to eat all of the ingredients one at a time, and they don’t taste so good. But maybe there are some parts of your life that have already been mixed together for good, and which could taste sweet if you took time to stop and think about it for a few minutes. It wasn’t so sweet when my car broke down on the freeway for the final time on a cold winter morning, but it made it seemed to make it feel even better yesterday when I was able to roll down my windows once again on a warm spring day. What had been a big deal–and a big pain–just a few months ago, had turned into something extra sweet on an otherwise “ordinary” day yesterday.

If you need help thinking through the things God may have done for you lately, take a closer look at David’s psalm of thanksgiving, Psalm 34. Take a look at some of the things God had saved him from that made the victory so sweet when it did come. Maybe you’ll find a few things about which you can burst out into song to God today, too.

I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears. (v. 4)
Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. (v. 5)
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; He saved him out of all his troubles. (v. 6)
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and He delivers them. (v. 7)
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their cry… (v. 15)
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (v. 18)
A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all… (v. 19)

Thank You God, for mixing ALL things together for good.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for mixing ALL things together for good. Thank You for the victories You’ve given us, and for the ingredients we needed to make those victories so sweet. I pray that You would help us to have Your perspective on our lives, not only the sweet times, but the bitter, so that we can enjoy them even more when they all come together.   In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. Here’s a link again to today’s psalm:
Psalm 34, read by Lana Elder, with Christoph Graupner’s “Intrada,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s our reading plan for the book of Psalms this year, if you want to read through all of the psalms with us as we go through this series:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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DELIGHTED PRAYERS – PSALM 37
Lesson 8 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 37, read by Lana Elder, with music by Ludwig van Beethoven, played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

Psalm 37 contains some of my favorite verses in the whole Bible, such as this one in verse 4:

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

What I love about this verse, and about this psalm is that it talks about the benefits of delighting yourself in the Lord, of enjoying His presence, of enjoying your time with Him. A friend of mine says that when he spends time with the Lord, he often comes away with a smile on his face, even if he didn’t enter into his time with the Lord with one. It’s like spending time with a dear friend.

Changing a frown into a smile is just one of the benefits, though. God goes further and promises that if you’ll delight yourself in Him, He will give you the desires of your heart.

I was sharing with someone yesterday about the first time I fasted and prayed for a period of several days. On the second day of my fast, I was praying for a woman I had dated in college, but we were no longer dating. She was trying to make a decision about a job, and I told her I would pray for her during my time of fasting and prayer that week.

On the second day of my fast, as I was praying for her, I suddenly had an image of her, not in the job that she was praying about, but married and living a different life than the one she was currently living. It struck me that God didn’t want her to take that job, but He did have a man in mind for her to marry. I changed my prayers and said, “Yes, Lord, give her a husband.”

Before I had even finished saying that prayer, these words came into my mind as clear as any words I had ever heard from Him before: “Why don’t you marry her?”

I was stunned! That’s not what I was praying about at all! I was just praying for direction for her life–not mine!

I closed my journal and decided I must have been getting delirious from having not eaten. It wasn’t that I didn’t love her and didn’t love dating her. I did. But at the time, I just didn’t feel it was right for us to keep dating. It turned out that during our time apart, we both fell in love with Christ and gave our lives to Him, in separate cities, in separate ways. We were now both fully committed to Him first and foremost, and we were beginning to live new lives for the first time.

Maybe God really was speaking to me. Maybe He really did want me to consider that question: “Why don’t you marry her?” We lived over 1,000 miles apart and over four hours away by plane. It didn’t seem practical. But the question wouldn’t leave me for two weeks. I began to pray more intensely, setting aside the next three months to pray about the question, not telling her anything about it.

By the end of those three months, I could hardly think of anything else but marrying this woman! God had put such a love for her in my heart like I had never felt before.

At the end of the three months, I called her to see how she was doing. She said, “I feel like God wants me to quit my job, so I’m going to quit in the next few months. But I have no idea what I’m going to do next.”

I could hardly keep my heart from leaping out of my chest. “I have an idea,” I said. I told her what I felt God had spoken to me when I was praying for her three months earlier, and how much I would love to get back together with her again–for life. Now she was the one who went into shock!

She liked her new life in her new city. She liked the new friends she was making. She liked the church in which she had gotten involved.  And she liked me, but she wasn’t sure she was ready for getting married just yet. Over the course of the next few months, it began to look more and more doubtful that we would ever get together again. But then I read a verse in the Bible, a verse that gave me hope. It was from another Psalm, but with the same theme as the one I quoted above:

“May He give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests” (Psalm 20:4-5).

As I read those words, they became “living and active” within me, as the Bible says about itself in Hebrews 4:12. Those words filled me with faith that it was okay to ask God for something I wanted, and that if He did ever see fit to answer my request, I would shout for joy! I would lift up my banner in the name of my God! Although I was afraid it might sound a little childish, I prayed, “God, I know I don’t deserve it, and I know you won’t force someone to do anything against their own free will. But if there was only one gift I could ask from you in my life time, it would be to marry Lana.”

The prospect of marrying her still looked very bleak before I prayed, and my heart was still very heavy, but in that moment, it lifted. I knew I could trust God with the outcome, whatever that may be. And I knew I would indeed rejoice fully if it ever did come to pass.

As both of us prayed and sought the Lord more and more over the next few months while we were apart, God seemed to just keep bringing our hearts together, closer and closer. A year later we were married, on April 29th, 1989–28 years ago yesterday. (Here’s our engagement picture, in a field of Texas bluebonnets.)

As I read through Psalm 37 again this week, I was reminded of how true God’s Word really is.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

I had set aside time to fast and pray for the first time in my life, “delighting myself in the Lord,” and one of the results of that prayer was that God spoke to me: He put a desire in my heart that I wasn’t even considering. He literally “gave me the desire of my heart.” He put that desire within me, and then He fulfilled that desire on our wedding day.

I’m not saying that we will always get everything we want. I’m not saying that our lives won’t be filled with hard things and hard times. I lost my precious wife to cancer four and a half years ago. But I am so thankful that I delighted myself in the Lord that day when I was praying and fasting. I am so thankful that I asked Him to give me the desire of my heart. I am so thankful that God gave me the 23 years of marriage that we did have.

And that gives me renewed confidence to keep asking Him to give me the desires of my heart again today–whatever He desires and wants to put on my heart.

This is just one of the benefits of delighting yourself in the Lord, of spending time with Him. Others are listed all throughout this psalm:

– “He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (v. 6).
– “For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land” (v. 9).
– “Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous” (vv. 16-17).
– “In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty” (v. 19).
– “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed” (vv. 25-26).
– “Consider the blameless, observe the upright; there is a future for the man of peace” (v. 37).
– “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; He is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him” (vv. 39-40).

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for giving me the desire of my heart, 28 years ago. Thank You for encouraging me again today to keep delighting myself in You, and to keep asking You to give me new desires of my heart, new answers to prayer for the days ahead. Help me to keep delighting in You in prayer, keep delighting in You throughout my days, keep delighting in you even when I’m having to wait patiently for Your answers. I ask all of this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. I’ve been asked to speak at a men’s conference in Trinidad at the end of June. The topic for the weekend will be “Attacks on the Souls of Men.” I’m hoping to record the sessions and post them online for others to see after the conference. Would you consider making a donation to help me offset the cost for this unplanned expense? The group that has invited me can cover my costs while I’m there, but I’ll need to cover the cost of my travel to get there (about $700). If you would like to help with part (or all!) of this special need, please use this link. Thanks!
Click here to make a donation

Also, here’s a link one more time to listen to today’s psalm:
Psalm 37, read by Lana Elder, with Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Sonatina in G,” played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

And here’s our reading plan for the book of Psalms this year, if you want to read through all of the psalms with us as we go through this series:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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DEEP PRAYERS – PSALM 42
Lesson 9 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 42, read by Lana Elder, with music by George Frederic Handel, played by Bo Elder

Psalm 42 begins with the words of one of my favorite worship songs when I first became a Christian:

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1).

The reason this was one of my favorite worship songs was because it spoke to the deep places of my heart. As a new Christian, I just wanted more and more of God. Thirty years later, I still do.

When you read Psalm 42, you can feel David’s deep hunger, his deep thirst for God.

“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?'” (vv. 2-3).

And as you continue reading, you find out that his deep thirst is borne out of the deep pain in his soul:

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon–from Mount Mizar” (vv. 4-6).

The beauty of these verses is that it not only describes the problem David is facing, but also the solution he found to his problem: putting his hope in God; praising Him still; and remembering Him from the place where he had taken refuge.

It’s the same solution to the problems we’re facing. I heard from a friend yesterday morning whose week was filled with more than a few problems: a flooded basement, electrical issues, a tax problem, getting sick–all of which led to feelings of stress and loneliness. But like David, my friend found the solution in the simple act of turning to God, of actively hoping in Him and trusting in Him. He took away the feelings of despair. While the circumstances hadn’t entirely changed, my friend’s heart and mind changed–by trusting in Him.

Last year, I was able to visit the area in Israel where David most likely wrote this psalm, for he says in verse 5: “I will remember You from  the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon.” At one point, we stopped along the trail where we were walking, as we had come to a pool of water where it was easy to picture deer coming and quenching their thirst.

We sang, “As the deer panteth for the waters, so my soul longeth after Thee…” And we called out to God from the depths of our hearts to the depths of His. It was a sweet time of intimacy with our God who has the solutions to all of our problems.

At another point, we saw the raging headwaters of the Jordan River, one of the three tributaries which give birth to that significant river that travels the length of the country. As the water crashed in upon itself, it was easy to see how the waves turned into a metaphor for David’s song, describing both the tumult that was going on in his own heart, as well as the peace he found through prayer:

“Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me–a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:7-8).

I don’t know what problems you might be facing this week. I don’t know what troubles my be besetting your soul. I don’t know what waves and breakers are sweeping over you. But I do know what can help you through them. I do know Who can satisfy that deep thirst in your soul. I do know what can change your heart and your attitude so you can keep pressing forward, as it changed the heart and attitude of David 3,000 years ago, and of my friend yesterday morning. David summarized the problem–and the solution–in the final words of his psalm:

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:11).

David spoke to his soul. He asked why it was so downcast and so disturbed. Then he spoke to it again, offering the solution that God is offering you today: Put your hope in God. Sing your praise to Him, your Savior and your God. Bring your deep prayers to the One who knows best how to answer them.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for letting us pour out our hearts to you, from the depths of our hearts to the depths of Yours. Thank You for providing the solutions to our problems, the answers to our prayers. Thank You for giving us Your peace even when the breakers and waves are sweeping over us. We pray that You would bring us that peace again today, right now, throughout the day, and in the days that follow. Help us to keeping putting our hope and trust and faith in You, for You are worthy of it all. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. I’ve received $275 from several of you this week to go towards my $700 travel expense to speak at a men’s conference in Trinidad at the end of June. Thank you!  I’ll be speaking on the theme of “Attacks on the Souls of Men,” and am hoping to record the sessions and post them online for others to see after the conference. If you’d like to help offset the cost of this trip, or cover the remainder in full ($425), that would greatly help with this unplanned expense. Just use this link. Thanks!
Click here to make a donation

Here’s the link again to listen to today’s Psalm:
Psalm 42, read by Lana Elder, with George Frederic Handel’s “Rigaudon,” played by Bo Elder

And if you’d like to read through the entire book of Psalms this year with us, here’s the reading plan we’re using. It’s not too late to catch up!
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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SELAH PRAYERS – PSALM 46
Lesson 10 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 46, read by Lana Elder, with Christian Petzold’s “Minuet in G,” played by Josiah Elder

If your life is chaotic and you need a little peace, listen to God’s advice from Psalm 46:

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a).

This is perhaps one of the most calming verses in the Bible–and it occurs in the middle of a very tumultuous psalm. So much is going on here that by the time you get near the end, those calming words are a welcome respite.

Here are a few of the verses that lead up to those climactic words:

“…we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (vv. 1-3).

“Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; He lifts His voice, the earth melts…”(v. 7).

“Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations He has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear, He burns the shields with fire” (vv. 8-9).

And then comes the verse everyone is waiting for:

“Be still, and know that I am God” (v. 10).

It’s almost like a scene from the musical Hamilton, as a whirlwind of chaos swirls around Alexander Hamilton at a critical point in his life. The rest of the actors circle around him, picking up chairs and desks and papers, twirling the objects around him and holding them high. Chaos abounds.  Then…everything stops.

Hamilton sings, “In the eye of a hurricane, there is quiet for just a moment…” And there is quiet all around as he sings the rest of the song for the next two and a half minutes.

I love the imagery of that scene. Unfortunately for Hamilton, in that quiet moment he looks inward, decides to put his trust in his own strength–and it destroys him.

The writers of Psalm 46, however, look upward, decide to put their trust in God’s strength–and it delivers them.

How can you “be still” with God in a moment like that? How can you experience His presence when life around you is so chaotic? For me, it comes by literally stopping what I’m doing–whether it’s for just a few seconds or just a few hours–but long enough to “Be still, and know that He is God.”

Ever since taking a typing class in high school almost 40 years ago, I’ve always been a fast typist. And I’ve just gotten faster since then as I’ve worked on computers my entire adult life.

But when I spend quiet time with God, I do it “the old fashioned way.” I take out a pen and a journal. I hand write my notes to God. I try to take notes on what I feel He’s impressing on my heart from His Word and from His Spirit.

I try to write slowly–but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I rush, and my letters and words become illegible. But the very act of taking out a pen and a journal to record my thoughts are one way for me to slow down–to “Be still, and know that He is God.”

There’s also a mysterious word that appears in the psalms which helps me, too. It’s mysterious because Bible scholars haven’t found a well-defined translation of it in the ancient world.  But from the context in which it is often used, as best as they can tell, the word means, “stop and listen.” It’s the word, “Selah.” It’s a beautiful word, even without any meaning attached. (It’s so beautiful that one of my friends named their daughter “Selah.”)

The word “selah” occurs 74 times in the psalms (and only 3 other times in the whole Bible, in the book of Habakuk), and it occurs 3 times in today’s psalm, Psalm 46. This psalm is clearly a song, for the Hebrew text at the top of it says, “For the director of music….A song.” The word “selah” then appears 3 times, at the end of verses 3, 7 and 11.

For me, whether it means, “Stop and listen,” or as the Amplified Bible translates it, “Pause, and think of that,” whenever I see it in the Bible, it causes me to take a few extra moments to reflect on the words that precede it.

I say all of this to encourage you in your own prayer time with God to “stop and listen,” to “pause, and think of that.” Or as verse 10 says in this psalm, without having to guess at the original meaning of the words, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

I’d like to give you a chance to do this right now. I know you’re busy. I know you’re trying to get through the day and get on to whatever you have to do next. But if you’re able, take a few extra moments sometime today and read through Psalm 46.  Each time you see the word “selah,” stop and listen; pause and think of that; be still, and know that He is God.

Psalm 46
For the director of music, Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth (also likely a musical term). A song.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
He lifts His voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come and see the works of the Lord,
the desolations He has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
He burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for letting us be still and know that You are God. Help us to pause throughout our day and throughout our week–especially when things are so chaotic we can’t think straight. Help us to know what it means to “stop and listen,”  to “pause and think of that,” to experience those “selah” moments, even with all of the mystery that this word conveys. We love You, Lord, and we thank You for letting us be still and know that You are God again today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. I’ve received all I need to travel to Trinidad and speak at the men’s conference at the end of June on the topic of “Attacks on the Souls of Men.” Thanks to all who have helped and prayed for this event.  I’m hoping to record the messages and post them online after the event.

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you want to listen to it with music (the introductory text and the word “selah” is not spoken aloud in this reading):
Psalm 46, read by Lana Elder, with Christian Petzold’s “Minuet in G,” played by Josiah Elder

And here’s the link to the reading plan we’re using to go through the whole book of Psalms this year. There’s still plenty of time to read them all!
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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CLEANSING PRAYERS – PSALM 51
Lesson 11 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 51, read by Lana Elder, with J.S. Bach’s “Prelude In C,” played by Lucas Elder

Sometimes we think our sins are too big for God to forgive.  But Jesus didn’t die for only the sins that we feel are “petty.” He died for all our sins, even those which we feel are the most grievous. A sin that leads to death might seem too hard for God to forgive, but if Jesus didn’t die for those, He wouldn’t have had to die at all.

In Psalm 51, David pours out His heart to God in prayer over what are perhaps the most grievous sins he had ever committed–his adultery with Bathsheba, who was another man’s wife, and the subsequent cover-up and murder of her husband.

The consequences David had to face from his actions were real, as the child born to him and Bathsheba died. But the cleansing that God poured out on him was real, too, as David poured out his confession to God. Listen to David’s heart as he begins his prayer:

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are proved right when You speak and justified when You judge” (Psalm 51:1-4).

David pleads for God’s mercy. He acknowledges the evil of what he’s done. And he acknowledges God’s right to judge him accordingly. Yet he pleads for God’s mercy nonetheless.

One of the reasons I find the Bible to be so trustworthy is that it doesn’t gloss over or try to cover up the sins of some of the most heroic figures contained within it. If I think of some of my own sins that are most grievous to me, and if you think of some of your own sins that are most grievous to you, can you imagine having them recorded in a book for everyone to see? Yet I am so thankful that David’s sins were recorded in the pages of the Bible, giving me hope that the same God who forgave David can also forgive me. If I thought that God could only forgive sins that I thought were petty, or if the Bible only recorded sins that seemed trivial, I might think that I could somehow pay the price for my sins myself, doing a few more good deeds, or giving more generously, or in some other way. But David’s words remind me that this is not what God wants. He wants our hearts, broken and contrite:

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (vv. 16-17).

That is exactly what David offers to God. That is exactly what I offered to God on the night that I put my trust in Him for everything in my life. And that is exactly what every one of us can offer to God, whenever we sin, to whatever extent that we sin, even for those sins which we might feel are the most grievous.

As you pray to God, come to Him and ask for forgiveness for even your biggest of sins. Then let Him forgive you, since the price for those sins has already been paid when Jesus died on the cross in your place. To not accept God’s forgiveness–and the joy that is possible from that forgiveness–would be like leaving an Easter basket filled with candy on the counter at the store, a basket for which your father has already paid and which truly belongs to you.

But sometimes we leave our baskets of forgiveness sitting on the counter. We don’t pick them up and truly enjoy the healing that forgiveness can bring because we don’t feel like we deserve it. We don’t! But our Father didn’t buy it for us because we deserved it. He bought it for us because He loves us. He doesn’t want us to die. He knew we would need it one day, so we could once against feel loved and accepted, cleansed and forgiven– otherwise we might melt in a permanent puddle of shame and regret and guilt, never to rise up again.

None of us has a perfect moral scorecard. But God wants us to know that He will gladly forgive us of any and all of our sins if we will simply acknowledge those sins before Him; pour out our broken and contrite hearts to Him; and trust in Him, that He truly has bought our forgiveness at the price of His Son on the cross.

Don’t leave the basket of forgiveness and cleansing and true joy on the counter. That’s not why He bought it for you. He bought it because He loves you. He adores you. And He doesn’t want you to die. By faith, through prayer, God will give to you what He has already purchased for you: forgiveness, cleansing, and true joy.

When David came before God, he acknowledged God’s ability to forgive. David said:

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity” (vv. 7-9).

Then David called out to God to do a mighty work in his heart; a work that he knew he couldn’t do on his own; a work that only God, the creator of his heart, could do:

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will turn back to You” (vv. 10-13).

If you need a clean heart today, whether it’s the first time you’ve asked God to do this mighty work in your life or the hundredth time, I’d like to lead you in a prayer of cleansing–a prayer straight from the words King David prayed after committing some of the most grievous sins of his life.

Will you pray with me?

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are proved right when You speak and justified when You judge… You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise… Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will turn back to You” (Psalm 51:1-4, 16-17, 7-13). In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to listen to today’s psalm:
Psalm 51, read by Lana Elder, with J.S. Bach’s “Prelude In C,” played by Lucas Elder

And here’s the link to follow along with our reading plan to read through all of the psalms this year.
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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STRONG PRAYERS – PSALM 62
Lesson 12 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 62, read by Lana Elder, with J.C.F Bach’s “Anglaise,” played by Kaleo and Karis Elder

Sometimes you just need to lean on God’s shoulder; you just need to feel the strength of His power; you just need to rest in the fact that no matter what comes your way, everything’s going to be okay, because you know that God is holding you close.

When I read Psalm 62, it helps me to do just that: It helps me to lean on God’s shoulder; it helps me to feel the strength of His power; it helps me to rest in the fact that no matter what comes my way, everything’s going to be okay, because I know that God is holding me close.

I love the way David begins this psalm:

“My soul finds rest in God alone;
My salvation comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”
(Psalm 62:1-2, NIV).

God’s so strong that when we lean on Him, we can truly find rest. He’s our rock. He’s our salvation. He’s our fortress. We will never be shaken.

As a man, I love being independent: making a way where there is no way, leading the charge through life and helping others whom God has entrusted to my care. That’s how I’m wired. Yet, I also realize that I have limits, that I can’t do everything on my own, and that there are times when I need–and I want–someone else on whom I can rely, someone else to whom I can turn, someone else in whom I can place my trust. And that “someone else” is often the God who created me–the God who built the rocks on which I stand.

As one man said to another on a TV show called When Calls the Heart: 

“You’re a self-made man, Mr. Coulter, and you should be proud of that. But no one does it alone. We all need help at times.”

We do all need help at times. David was strong. David was a leader. David took hold of life with a passion. Yet, David realized his limits, too. And when he did, he knew where to turn to find someone stronger than himself. He turned to the God who created the rocks on which he was standing.

I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases David’s opening words in Psalm 62 in The Message version of the Bible:

“God, the one and only–
I’ll wait as long as He says.
Everything I need comes from Him,
so why not?
He’s solid rock under my feet,
breathing room for my soul.”
(Psalm 62:1-2, MSG)

I was reading these words three years ago while sitting on a beach in Cancun–a rare treat for me. I was there for just 48 hours, but they were 48 hours in which I knew I was going to need God’s help. It was my 25th wedding anniversary–and I was taking the trip alone.

My wife had passed away just over a year earlier. I didn’t know how I would handle it, being all alone–being afraid I might capsize under yet another wave of grief.

But sitting there on the beach, all alone on my anniversary, I came upon Psalm 62. I read David’s words, written at a time when he could have easily capsized, too. I took heart when I read how, at such a tenuous time in his life, David leaned on God.

“God, the one and only–
I’ll wait as long as He says.
Everything I need comes from Him,
so why not?”

In that moment, I realized that everything really did come from God–even my dear wife whom I had lost and was missing so much. I realized that if  God was able to provide a wife for me all those years ago–not to mention every other blessing I had ever enjoyed in my life–that I could trust Him to provide anything I might need now or ever in the future.

I wrote in the margin of my Bible:

“Father, thank You for reconnecting me with this truth; that You are the one and only; that everything I need comes from You–even Lana came from You. You are my source and my strength.”

Instead of the wave of grief I had feared, I was overwhelmed by a wave of peace; a wave of love; a wave of rest in the fact that I knew that I knew that I could trust God with this, too.

It’s hard to wait on God, I know. It’s hard to wait when there are bills to pay, people depending on you, or a doctor’s report that hasn’t yet come in. It’s hard to wait when a baby’s on the way, a life mate hasn’t appeared, or a job offer hasn’t been forthcoming. It’s hard to wait in a checkout lane, at a traffic light, or for dinner to get done. It’s just plain hard to wait when there’s so much living to do!

But David knew he could trust God still–“in the waiting.”

“I’ll wait as long as He says.
Everything I need comes from Him,
so why not?”

If you’re facing something today that you’re afraid might overwhelm you, I’d like to encourage you to say some “strong prayers” of your own to God, prayers where you truly lean on His strength, rest confidently in His love, and know that He is with you, for you, and is solid as a rock. Take heart from the words of David, which continue in Psalm 62, that what God was able to do for him, He is able to do for you:

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
My hope comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
He is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in Him at all times, O people;
Pour out your hearts to Him,
For God is our refuge.”
(Psalm 62:6-8, NIV).

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for having such strong shoulders upon which we can lean. Thank You for letting us come to You today and rest in Your arms once again. Thank You for being there for us when we come to the end of ourselves. Take over, Lord, and take us beyond where we could have taken ourselves on our own. Help us to trust in You, to wait on You, and to enjoy this time of waiting while we are with You. You are our rock, our fortress, and our salvation. Help us to never be afraid, knowing that You are for us and with us, now and until the end of the age. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 62, read by Lana Elder, with J.C.F Bach’s “Anglaise,” played by Kaleo and Karis Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

 

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EARNEST PRAYERS – PSALM 63
Lesson 13 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 63, read by Lana Elder, with Petzold/Bach’s “Minuet in G Minor,” played by Eric Elder

In the play The Importance of Being Earnest, a man named Jack pretends to be a man named Earnest–a name he has chosen for himself whenever he wants to hide his real identity. Ironically, a woman falls in love with him and, believing his name to be Earnest, tells him that she loves his name so much she can’t imagine marrying a man who wasn’t named Earnest.

And so begins a journey of discovery for the man who is pretending to be Earnest, on his way to learning the importance of being Earnest (in more ways than one).

In our prayer lives, it seems that God is wanting us to do the same: not just pretending to be earnest, but truly being earnest, truly seeking Him from our hearts.

As I look through Psalm 63, I see David doing just that: earnestly seeking God from his heart:

“God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (v. 1).

In the heading for this psalm, it says that David wrote it when he was in the desert of Judah. For many of us, we speak of being in a desert figuratively, when times are tough or circumstances are dry. For David, he was literally thirsty and his body was literally longing for refreshment, for he was truly in a dry and weary land where there was no water.

How amazing then, that David came to God with his thirst and his longing, intentionally remembering from where his help would come. David lifted up his hands to God and sang:

“I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory. Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You. I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands” (vv. 2-4).

Here’s a man who knows the importance of being earnest. He lifts his hands to God, knowing that God is the one who can answer the prayers on his heart.

God wants us to do the same. He wants us to lift up our hands to God, intentionally remembering that He is the one who can answer the prayers on our hearts. He is the one to whom we can express our thoughts and desires, our hopes and our dreams, and our belief that He will answer us when we call to Him.

It takes great faith to come to God in this way, to pour out our hearts to Him. Yet great faith is what pleases God the most, when we come to Him believing that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. As it says in the book of Hebrews:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

What about you? Do you believe that God exists? Do you believe He rewards those who earnestly seek Him? It’s okay if you can’t answer those questions right away. It’s okay if it takes some time to think them through and come to your own conclusions. But in the end, know that it is your earnest prayers that God wants the most, your earnest seeking of Him, and your honest belief in Him.

I was reminded yesterday morning of God’s actual presence once again–not His far-off, distant, presence somewhere “out there,” but His manifest presence, right here with me in the very room where I’m writing this message.

I had been pondering a thought yesterday morning that I wanted to send to a friend. So I wrote it out and included a quote that was given to me by another friend 25 years ago. I sent it off.

When my friend wrote back, I had to get down on my knees and praise God. Why? Because my friend had been reading a book at that very moment which included the quote that I had just sent… a quote I had only heard in passing 25 years ago and have never seen in print before or since! To me, it was a sign of God’s manifest presence, a sign that He was right there, right then, right with me in my room. My only response was to drop down on my knees and say, “Thank You, Lord. Thank You for being right here with me, right now. Thank You for speaking to me, speaking through me, and speaking to yet another believer in the process.”

When David came to God, he came earnestly. He came full of faith. He came knowing that God was there, and that He was the Only one who could truly quench his deep thirst, truly satisfy the longings on his heart. David said:

“My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise You. On my bed I remember You; I think of You through the watches of the night. Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me” (vv. 5-8).

David held on tight to God, and God held on tight to him. What a rich picture of a very rich relationship! I long for that kind of relationship with God, too!

I was thinking of this idea again earlier this week, about the importance of being earnest, as I watched one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies with my kids. There’s a point in the third movie where, in order to make something happen, someone must speak these words to a woman named Calypso: “Calypso, I release you from your human bonds.”

When one of the characters does so, nothing happens. Another character says, “He didn’t say it right. You have to say it right.” So this second character leans over to Calypso and whispers in her ear as if to a lover: “Calypso, I release you from your human bonds.” He used the same words, but with an entirely different tone. And when he did, all kinds of things began to happen!

I’m not saying that you have to say just the right thing in the just the right way to move the heart of God. But I am saying that God wants you to come to Him full of faith, truly believing that He’s there, that He cares, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. Because He is there. He does care. And He does reward those who earnestly seek Him.

How do I know? Not only because the Bible tells me so, but because God Himself has confirmed it’s so–over and over and over again–as I’ve come to Him with my own earnest prayers.

I know He’d love to confirm it to you, too. Come to Him with your earnest prayers, and discover for yourself the importance of being Earnest.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for letting us come to You, anytime day or night, with those things that are our on hearts. I pray that You would hear our prayers today, answering them as You see fit, giving us a strong sense of Your presence as we do. Lord, we come to You today in faith, truly believing that You exist and that You reward those who earnestly seek You. And Lord, we  pray now that You would satisfy those longings on our heart, longings which perhaps only You truly know are deep within us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 63, read by Lana Elder, with Petzold/Bach’s “Minuet in G Minor,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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SAVING PRAYERS – PSALM 69
Lesson 14 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 69, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

I’m writing to you this weekend from the Caribbean island of Trinidad, where earlier this week a tropical storm swept through and threatened to cancel the men’s retreat where I was scheduled to speak. But late Friday night, we finally made it to the retreat center, and even at that late hour, the other men arrived, also, eager to hear about the power of God to rescue and save us when we put our faith in Him.

It is this same power that King David called upon from God in Psalm 69, a time when the flood waters were rising in his own life. Listen to David’s cry for help at the beginning of this psalm:

“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.
My eyes fail, looking for my God.”
(Psalm 69:1-3)

David wasn’t just crying for help. He was screaming… screaming to the point where he had worn out his voice.

What can we learn about prayer from this psalm? For starters, it’s a reminder once again that prayer is not always polite and holy. As my friend who is on this trip with me, Jeff Williams, says, “Drowning men don’t whistle. They scream.”

If you’re going to be honest with God, you can’t pretend that everything’s okay when it’s not. If you’re fine, say so. But if you’re not fine, it’s okay to say that, too.

What also intrigues me about this prayer is that David knows Who to come to for help. He didn’t scream into thin air. He screamed to the God Whom he knew could save him. Listen to his cry as it continues:

“But I pray to You, O Lord, in the time of Your favor;
in Your great love, O God, answer me with Your sure salvation.
Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters.
Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me.
Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of Your love;
in Your great mercy turn to me.
Do not hide Your face from Your servant;
answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.”
(Psalm 69:13-17)

There’s something about David’s relationship with God that caused him to keep coming back to God over and over again–even when he felt that God was distant and not answering him. The beauty of this is summed up in the words of a new friend I’ve made here on the island, Pastor Mitchell John, who says, “When we call to someone and they don’t answer, we usually give up and try calling someone else. But David doesn’t change Who he’s calling, Who he’s crying out to, Who he is supplicating. He keeps calling out to God.”

Why would David call out to the God who he feels isn’t answering his prayers? There’s a clue in this psalm as to why. David talks to God in a way that calls on His favor, His love, His salvation ( v13). David knows what God is like. He knows from his previous interactions with God and from his previous experiences. So when David sees no tangible evidence of God in his present situation, he doesn’t give up and call someone else. He calls on the One Whom he knows is there–the only One Who is able to help.

So he keeps calling. He keeps crying out. Even when he’s losing hope, he knows that his God is a God of hope. So he continues to call, even after his voice gives out. He’s obviously wondering, crying and questioning, but in the end, he knows where to turn for help.

What about you? Who do you call for help? How do you pour out your requests when the waters have come up to your neck, when you’re sinking into the miry depths with no foothold, when you’re worn out from calling and your throat is parched? I’d like to encourage you to keep calling out to God. Keep calling the only One Who can truly save you. Don’t hang up and call someone else. Trust in God’s favor, God’s love, God’s salvation.

Maybe you feel like screaming, but you’re not sure if it’s okay to do so. But if you’re going to explore the width and the depth of prayer, take some queues from David and give it a try. If it was okay for David, I think it would be okay for you. You might even need to truly scream! You might want to close your doors first. Or take a walk. Or sit in your car. Or scream into your pillow. But however you do it, don’t cry out into thin air. Cry out to the One Who can truly help you best!

Sometimes you need to get really honest with God.

You don’t have to pretend with God. You can tell him how you really feel, remembering to thank Him for the good in your life that you do experience, but being honest about the hurts you feel as well.

I’ve been mulling over a statement lately from a book written by a woman who lost her husband, and how hard it was for her to make small talk with others while she was still dying inside. She said it’s like they were asking her:

“Aside from that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”

Thankfully, you don’t have to make small talk with God. If you’re in pain, you can say so. If you need help, you can say so. If you’re dying inside, you can say so.

Why? Because God already knows, and because He is the only One Who can truly save you. He is the One Who can rescue you. He is the One Who can reach down into your situation and pull you out of the pit.

Listen to David’s words, near the end of this psalm:

“I am in pain and distress; may Your salvation, O God, protect me” (v. 29).

Whether you’re drowning or in pain or lonely or heartbroken or suffering or in need of saving, cry out to God. If you’ve never put your faith in Christ for your salvation, do it today. If you’ve already trusted God for your eternal life, know that you can trust Him for your life here on earth, too.

Our God is a saving God. Call on Him to save you today.

Will you pray with me?

God, save us! Help us as the flood waters rise around us! Help us as we feel like we’re drowning and don’t know where else to turn. God, we trust in You, in Your favor, Your love, Your salvation. Help us to be honest with You today. Help us to keep putting our faith and trust in You. And help us to keep looking to You for our salvation.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 69, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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PRIMING PRAYERS – PSALM 100
Lesson 15 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 100, read by Lana Elder, with Haydn’s “Arietta In A,” played by Eric Elder

I live on a farm that has an old hand pump on it. We seldom use it anymore, so to get the water to come out the well, you have to “prime the pump”–meaning you pour a cupful of water down inside the pipe, which moisturizes a leather ring on a cylinder, which creates the suction needed to draw out more water. Just a cupful of water can release a fairly unlimited supply of water!

Sometimes we need to do the same thing in our prayer times with God. Sometimes we’re able to come to Him with a song that’s already in our hearts; a song we’re just bursting to sing to Him. At other times we come to Him with barely a cupful of water, and we need Him to pour out a song into our hearts.

Thankfully, He can do that, too! All we need to do is to pour out a cupful of praise, thereby “priming the pump,” which then can release a fairly unlimited supply of praise in return!

Psalm 100 is one of those psalms that always seems to help me prime my pump, bringing me quickly into an atmosphere of praise. It’s a short psalm, just 5 verses long, and it takes just 30-40 seconds to read. Yet for those who take its words to heart, it can release a strong and steady stream of praise .

Listen to the words of Psalm 100, which is subtitled in the Bible as, “A psalm. For giving thanks.”

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs.

“Know that the Lord is God.
It is He Who made us, and we are His;
we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise;
give thanks to Him and praise His name.

“For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;
His faithfulness continues through all generations.”
(Psalm 100:1-5)

Lana and I put this psalm on the cover of our “Order of Service” for the day we got married, so a copy of this psalm was handed to everyone as they entered the doors of the sanctuary. We felt it was a fitting psalm for a day when we were naturally bursting with praise–and it was! There was no need for priming the pump that day! Our hearts were already overflowing with praise!

But there have been other days that I have pulled up this psalm when my heart wasn’t naturally bursting with praise, and I’ve found there’s at least a cupful of praise in this psalm to get things going again. A few of the reasons why we can praise God, even on rainy days, are contained within the psalm itself. It begins with a shout! In my last message, I talked about shouting to God when you’re angry or upset. But in this message, I’d like to encourage you to shout out a word of praise to God, joining the rest of the earth in its praise of God as well.

Shout out the word “Hallelujah!” for instance, which simply means “Praise God!” in Hebrew (originally “Halal Yah!”). For some reason, I really love saying it in the original Hebrew! And when I do, it becomes more than just a “Woo-Hoo!” to God; it’s a “Halal Yah!” to Him, a praise to the Almighty God Who created me, Who loves me and Who gives me every breath I take. It’s a “breathy” word of praise, with no hard consonants, like p’s or k’s, to interrupt the flow. Just pure praise. Pure breath. Pure worship from my spirit to His. And in return, God has often poured out a good dose of His Spirit back into me–and a fairly unlimited supply at that!

It also helps when I say it with a smile–with gladness, as Psalm 5 says in verse 2. There’s something about saying “Halal Yah!” that just makes me smile naturally, too. It’s a “whoop-de-doo!” kind of a word to me. “Halal Yah!” It’s joyous. It’s victorious. And it brings out the true gladness that I know is down in my heart. All of this is from just the first two verses of this worshipful psalm:

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs.”

The next verse gives me a few reasons for praising God. They speak about how He is ours, and we are His:

“Know that the Lord is God.
It is He Who made us, and we are His;
we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.”

Now there’s a reason to praise God! He’s our God! He’s the One Who made us, and we are His. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture! He cares for us, because we belong to Him.

The next verse continues, telling us how we can come to Him, with thanksgiving and praise, knowing that He is ours and we are His:

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise;
give thanks to Him and praise His name.”

Come to Him with a thankful heart. Come to Him with praise. Then, as you enter His courts, give your thanks to Him; give your praise to His name.

Lastly, this psalm reminds me about some of God’s best attributes, as listed in the last verse: His goodness, His enduring love, and His faithfulness which continues through all generations.

“For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;
His faithfulness continues through all generations.”

I’ve been contemplating rainbows lately, and the powerful imagery they convey. They’re more than something for little kids to have on their stickers, or for big movements to have on their flags. They’re signs of God’s promises to the world He loves.

I saw a rainbow on my way home from Trinidad this week, and it came at a perfect time. Because of a delay at the airport, I missed one of my connecting flights…which meant I would miss my bus later in the day, which meant my plans for the rest of the night would change, too. As everything was getting backed up in my mind, I was tempted to get upset with the airlines and the agents and officials at customs.

I decided to praise God instead, trusting Him in the midst of it. I had done everything I could do, and I had to trust Him to do everything He could do. After running to one of my gates and watching the door close as the agent said, “We’re sorry, Mr. Elder, we’ve just filled the last seat on the plane,” I was tempted to be dejected again. Instead, I took a few moments to relax and praise God as I began the long walk to the customer service desk, where I was told I could standby for another flight on the other side of the airport, and I took another deep breath and began another long walk to get there.

When I finally arrived at that next gate, I sat down and saw, out the window in front of me, one of the most beautiful rainbows I’ve ever seen. It was coming down through the clouds and practically touched the plane that was sitting outside the window in front of me. I walked over to the window, and pointing it out to the others around me, we all looked at it in wonder.

About 45 minutes later, the rainbow was still there! I’ve never seen a rainbow last so long! They called my name, and told me there was one more seat on the plane… THAT plane, the one that we had been looking at for so long! It was that plane that had one more seat on it; a seat with my name on it; a seat with a rainbow of God’s promise practically touching it.

Sometimes you come to God with a song of praise that’s already on your heart. Other times you need to prime the pump with a cupful of praise to get things going, changing the atmosphere in your heart as well as the atmosphere all around you. Either way, always know that there’s an unlimited stream of praise ready and waiting for you to tap into at any moment. Just turn to God. Give Him a shout of praise. Give Him your best “Halal Yah!” Then let Him do the rest.

Will you pray with me?

Father, we praise you! We worship You with thanksgiving in our hearts! Halal Yah! Help us to bring forth the fullness of the praise that we know is deep within us–and even more, that we know is deep within You. Help us to pour out a song of praise from our spirit to Yours, then give us a good dose of Your Holy Ghost in return! Help us to praise You from the depths of our beings, knowing that You are good, that Your loves endures forever, and that Your faithfulness continues through all generations. In Jesus’ mighty name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 100, read by Lana Elder, with Haydn’s “Arietta In A,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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“REMEMBERING” PRAYERS – PSALM 77
Lesson 16 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 77, read by Lana Elder, with Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor,” played by Eric Elder

Some of you might feel like you’re hanging on by a thread today. But I want to remind you that God’s got a hold of you with His strong arms, and that the ground beneath your feet is much more solid than you think.

I remember as a kid watching an interview about the filming of the movie Huckleberry Finn. The actor who played Tom Sawyer said that when they filmed a scene out on a lake, the boat he was in accidentally tipped over, throwing him into the water.

Not knowing how to swim, he struggled for air and began screaming for help. He truly believed he was going to drown. But in the midst of all this, he could hear people screaming back to him from the shore. What were they saying? Why weren’t they coming to help him? Didn’t they realize he was drowning?

But when their screams finally broke through his own, he cold hear them yelling: “Stand up!” He took their advice. He reached his feet for the ground beneath his feet–ground that he thought wasn’t there, but it was! He shifted his body and finally stood straight up. He was surprised to see that he was “drowning” in only three feet of water!

The ground beneath his feet was much more solid than he thought.

I’m not saying that the problems you’re facing are trivial. I’m not saying that the waters may not be truly deep. They may be. But what I am saying is don’t let the water fool you. The ground beneath your feet is much more solid than you think. If you’ve put your faith in Jesus, then you’ve put your faith in the most solid rock available to any of us. He is THE ROCK on which we stand.

Reach out your feet for the ground beneath your feet, the ground that you think might not be there. Shift your body and try to stand upright again. Let God reach down with His strong arms and help you do it. Then know that He’s got a hold of you, and that the ground beneath your feet is much more solid than you think.

In Psalm 77, we find that the writer, a man named Asaph, was in serious distress, too. He was crying out to God for help, stretching out his hands to God, but he still couldn’t find relief:

“I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.”
(Psalm 77:1-3)

But by the end of the psalm, Asaph had found his footing again. He was able to stand again on THE ROCK beneath his feet. How did he do it? How was he finally able to stand again?

As best I can tell, he did it by “remembering.” He prayed to God, remembering what God had done for His people in the past. Four times in this psalm, Asaph uses some form of the word “remember”:

“I remembered You, O God, and I groaned” (v. 3).
“I remembered my songs in the night” (v. 6).
“I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
Yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago” (v. 11).

And what did he remember? In his case, he thought back to the times when the Israelites thought they were going to drown, too, yet God saved them from doing so. The armies of Egypt were hot in pursuit of them, and only the waters of the Red Sea stood before them. They had nowhere else to go but to run straight into the sea.

And by God’s Spirit–by His very breath, the Bible says–the waters convulsed. They parted to the right and to the left. God’s breath dried up the floor of the sea beneath their feet and they were able to walk right through it, on solid ground.

Asaph pictures the scene in his mind as he remembers what God had done:

“The waters saw You, O God,
the waters saw You and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.

“The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
Your arrows flashed back and forth.

“Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
Your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.

“Your path led through the sea,
Your way through the mighty waters,
though Your footprints were not seen.

“You led Your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”
(Psalm 77:11-20).

I hope you can listen to this psalm in the recording I’ve posted to go along with it. The music I’ve recorded is exactly the same in both the first half and the second half of this psalm, but because the words are different in those two halves, the music in those two halves have an entirely different feel. As the psalm begins, it sounds like one of the saddest, most mournful songs of all time. But by the end of the psalm, Asaph’s words of remembrance makes the music sound exultant! Triumphant! Victorious! It’s the exact same music, but it has an entirely different feel!

What’s the difference? The difference is that Asaph remembers what he knows to be true of God: God is strong, God can save, and even God’s breath can make solid ground appear beneath our feet!

What about you? What can you remember today that God has done for you in the past? Was there ever a time when you felt like you were drowning, but God reached down and saved you? When God helped you as you were in distress? When God made a way for you where there was no way?

As you look back over your life, can you remember any times when it seemed like you couldn’t go on, but God helped you through it? When you couldn’t see a solution, but God made one appear, as if out of thin air? When it looked like everything around you was conspiring to be your end, but it turned out to be just a beginning of something even better than you could have ever imagined?

If so, think about such things! Picture them in your mind! Let those images flow of God’s past victories in your life, and let them encourage you now as you face whatever struggle you might be facing now. Let God reach down with His strong arm and lift you up, shift your position, and help you stand again on solid ground.

If you’ve never put your faith in Christ before, do it today. And if you’ve already put your faith in Christ, put your faith in Him again today for what you’re facing right now, too. Let Him be the SOLID ROCK on which you stand.

Will you pray with me?

God, help us to remember You! Help us to look to You! Help us remember what You’ve done in the past so we can put our faith and trust in You again today. Jesus, we know that You’re our SOLID ROCK. We know You have saved us in the past and you can save us from this, too. Help us when we’re drowning. Help us to get our feet back on solid footing once again. Help us to know that You will work in our lives again today as You’ve worked in our lives in the past. And Lord, let this day be one that we can look back on again in the future, remembering how You saved us in this trial, this struggle, this time of distress, too. In Jesus’ mighty name–the SOLID ROCK on which we stand–Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 77, read by Lana Elder, with Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

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YEARNING PRAYERS – PSALM 84
Lesson 17 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 84, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathétique,” played by Bo Elder

Have you ever felt your heart lunging out of your chest towards something or someone–that feeling that you’re being pulled forward by some kind of invisible heartstrings? That’s what it means to yearn: “to have an intense feeling of longing for something, typically something that one has lost or been separated from.”

If you’ve ever prayed for something with an intensity of heart like that, you know what a yearning prayer feels like. One of the best examples of a prayer like this is found in Psalm 84:

“How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! 
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the Living God” (vv. 1-2).

In this case, the psalmist’s heart is lunging towards God–specifically towards God’s dwelling place, that place where the psalmist knew he could meet with God.

I wrote a song one day about my own longing to be with God, to be in His dwelling place, just to know that He was right there with me. The song is called “My Sanctuary,” and the words begin like this:

All I want, All I need,
Is to be with You and to know You’re near.
All I want, All I need, 
Is to talk to You, and to know You’ll hear.
And I know There’s a place
I can go to feel You presence,
Oh, Lord, bring me there; bring me home.

At that moment, as I was writing that song, I felt like God had answered my prayer. Suddenly I was right there with Him; in His presence; in His sanctuary. At that moment, it became my sanctuary, too.

I sang:

This is my sanctuary, Oh Lord!
This is the place that I call my home!
This is my sanctuary, Oh Lord!
And I know when I’m here I’m not alone!

God answered that “yearning” prayer on my heart, that intense desire to be near Him; with Him; close to Him. I can hardly explain the immense satisfaction that I felt in the moments that followed–to be in His presence; to enjoy His peace; to experience His relaxing calm.

Sometimes our hearts long for something or someone, when what we’re really longing for is what God alone can provide: His immense satisfaction.

I think it’s critical, in those moments when we’re yearning for something or someone with a heartache that can’t be fulfilled, to turn those yearnings towards God. Why? Because sometimes our deepest longings can only be fulfilled by being in His presence–by being so close to Him that we can truly hear His heart about all of the other things for which we’re longing.

I spent a few hours of intense prayer one night at a church in Houston. I was praying to know God’s will in regards to a particular woman I was seriously considering marrying. I didn’t know what God might want, and I didn’t want to make a mistake. All I knew was that I deeply wanted to marry this woman–if that’s what God would want and what she would want as well.

I took a friend along with me to pray in a small chapel at my church. We knelt on the steps at the front of the sanctuary, pleading with God for His answer.

A few verses from the Bible came to mind about how the Holy Spirit can search out the deep things of God and reveal them to us. The verses say:

“However, as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him’ but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).

So we leaned into our prayers, asking God’s Holy Spirit to search out the deep things of God to see what He might have in store regarding my relationship with this woman. In my mind’s eye, I could picture the Holy Spirit taking off from the place where we were praying, then zooming towards the throne room of God. I felt as if my prayers were getting so close to the heart of God that at any minute His Spirit would return to reveal to me His answer.

But just as I thought that answer was about to come, something else happened. It felt as if the Holy Spirit had finally arrived and entered into God’s dwelling place, but as soon as He did, an invisible door shut fast behind Him. All of our prayers stopped. Our seeking ended. That yearning feeling that had been so intense on my heart was gone. Somehow I knew that our prayers had touched the very heart of God. Even though I didn’t know the answer, I knew that everything was going to be okay.

A complete stillness–a complete calm–overwhelmed us. Although this wasn’t the answer I was expecting, it brought a peace to my heart that passed all understanding; a peace that was worth more to me than any other answer I could have been given. I simply knew that God had heard my prayers, and that He had it all under control.

A few months later, God did reveal His answer to my prayers, both to me and to this woman I was hoping to marry,  with a clear and resounding “Yes!” A year later, we were walking down the aisle in the same church, in a larger sanctuary just around the corner from that chapel where I had been praying.

I tell you this story not as a formula for how to get whatever you want from God in prayer. It just doesn’t work like that, for all kinds of reasons.  I tell you this story to encourage you to bring your intense longings to God–whatever those intense desires may be that are on your heart. By bringing them to Him and spending time in His presence, you can find a peace and a satisfaction that you won’t be able to find anywhere else on earth.

The bottom line is that  you’ll be blessed! That’s exactly what the writer of Psalm 84 says will happen:

“Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they are ever praising You.
Blessed are those whose strength is in You, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage…
They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion” (vv. 4-5, 7).

Don’t let those unfulfilled longings on your heart frustrate you forever. Instead, turn those longings into prayers to God. Bring them before Him–and keep bringing them before Him. Let your heart yearn for God Himself, for His presence, for His sanctuary.

Then, as you come into His presence, recognize that you’re in the presence of your Almighty Father, the One Who loves you more than anyone in the world.

Let His peace overwhelm you. Let His wisdom pour out upon you. Let Him solve the puzzles that you can’t solve on your own. Let His comfort, His courage, and His confidence overtake you so that you can stand up once again knowing that “God’s got this.”

As you do this, I pray you’ll come to the same conclusion as the writer of Psalm 84:

“Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
O Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in You”
 (vv. 10-12).

Will you pray with me?

Almighty Father, bring us into Your presence today. Bring us into Your dwelling place. Help us turn our yearnings to You, so You can solve the puzzles we can’t solve on our own. Help us to know anything You want us to do or not do. Help us to know what’s right and what’s wrong in every situation. All we want is what You want, God, for we know and believe that whatever You want for us will be best. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 84, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathétique,” played by Bo Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

~~~~~~~~~~~~

TEARFUL PRAYERS – PSALM 88
Lesson 18 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 88, read by Lana Elder, with Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor,” played by Josiah Elder

I was asking a friend one day why the Book of Psalms seemed to be so appealing to so many people worldwide. I asked him, “Of all the Scriptures, what is it about the psalms that make them so especially beloved?”

He described to me the incredible range of emotions which are expressed in the psalms, then he pointed to Psalm 88 as being one of the deepest, most sorrow-filled passages in the whole Bible. When I read it, I was astounded.

I had read the Book of Psalms several times before as part of my regular readings through the entire Bible. But to me, after reading through just a few of them, they all began to blur together. Now, however, after hearing my friend say this, I began to see them in a different light.

My friend said, “Maybe it’s because you hadn’t yet been through some of the things the writers of the psalms were describing.” I knew that he was right. It was only after experiencing some of the deepest pains of life did Psalm 88 really speak to me personally.

While this psalm begins like many of the others, with an appeal to God for help, it doesn’t end there. It ends with some of the most poignant words in all of Scripture. Maybe you’ve prayed a prayer like this before. Here’s how the psalmist begins:

“O Lord, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before You.
May my prayer come before You; turn Your ear to my cry.
For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave” (vv. 1-3).

Whereas other psalms eventually lift us out of the darkness, this one just gets darker:

“I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man without strength.
I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom You remember no more, who are cut off from Your care” (vv 4-6).

Then, the psalmist begins to blame God for his troubles:

“You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily upon me; You have overwhelmed me with all Your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them” (vv-6-8).

As unthinkable as blaming God may seem, it’s also natural. It’s natural to question God’s wisdom when things are going wrong. It’s natural to question His ways when we’re not getting ours. It’s natural to doubt His love when we don’t feel loved by those around us.

But as natural as all of those feelings may be, I’m thankful we serve a supernatural God. The truth is we serve a God Who truly loves us, Who truly helps us, and Who truly works on behalf of us–even when everything around us seems to be saying just the opposite.

I chose to highlight this psalm precisely because of the depths to which it goes. It’s not a rosy, cheery picture of life. It’s not even an appeal to a deeper faith. It’s simply a tearful cry of help. Sometimes we just need to cry in prayer. And sometimes we just need to know that someone else has been where we are.

I had another friend who always loved symbols of crosses which were empty, crosses which showed that Jesus was no longer on the cross, but rather has been raised to life and is still alive today.

But one time when my friend was in a hospital, laying in bed in excruciating pain, she looked up and saw a cross on the wall in front of her which pictured Jesus hanging on it. He was wearing a crown of thorns on his head and nails were driven through His hands and His feet. My friend said that in that moment, she was comforted in her own pain for the first time. Why? Because she knew there was Someone Who had experienced the depths of the pain and sorrow that she was experiencing.

Sometimes we need to focus on the fact that Jesus has been raised from the dead and was victorious over death. But other times we may need to remember that He suffered immensely. Walking through His suffering with Him can help us as we walk through our own. As the Apostle Paul says, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11). Sometimes it’s important to know the power of Christ’s resurrection as well as sharing in His sufferings.

My friend who loves Psalm 88 finds comfort in knowing that there is someone else who understands his pain; someone else who has experienced his sorrow; someone else who doesn’t try to cheer him up or tell him everything’s going to be okay, but who simply walks through deep despair just as he has.

If you find yourself in a dark place today, remember that you’re not alone. Listen to the author of Psalm 88 as he pours out the final words of his prayer to God. Take heart that you’re not alone.

“Why, O Lord, do You reject me and hide Your face from me?
From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death; I have suffered your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me; Your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend” (vv. 14-18).

Remember the suffering of the author of Psalm 88. Remember the suffering of Jesus. And remember the suffering of those who have read and have loved Psalm 88 throughout the centuries because it helps them to know they’re not alone.

Will you pray with me?

Father, we don’t like suffering. We just don’t like it.  But Father, we know that somehow we can experience a fellowship with You and a fellowship with Your Son through suffering in a way that we could never experience through any other means. Father, help us to keep turning to you, even with our tears. Help us to know that You understand our suffering more than anyone else could ever understand. Help us to take comfort in the fact that You’ve been where we are, and that You’ll walk with us through this, too. We love You, Lord, and we come again to You today in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again to today’s psalm if you’d like to listen:
Psalm 88, read by Lana Elder, with Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor,” played by Josiah Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms

~~~~~~~~~~~~

MORE TO COME!!!

2016 Guided Prayer Retreat

Here’s the archive of all 4 sessions from the “2016 Guided Prayer Retreat,” held at The Cove retreat center in Asheville, North Carolina on December 7-9, 2016.

SESSION 1 – PRAYER IS A CONVERSATION WITH GOD (Wednesday, December 7, 7:15 p.m.)

SESSION 2 – MAKING THE CONNECTION BETWEEN YOUR PRAYERS AND GOD’S ANSWERS (Thursday, December 8, 9:15 a.m.)

SESSION 3 – ACTING IN FAITH ON WHAT YOU’VE HEARD IN PRAYER (Thursday, December 8, 7:15 p.m.)

SESSION 4 – ENJOYING THE REWARDS OF YOUR ANSWERS TO PRAYERS (Friday, December 9, 9:15 a.m.)

Join Us For A “Guided Prayer Retreat”!

Hi, this is Eric Elder with a special announcement! In conjunction with a new series on prayer that I’ll be sharing online, I’d also like to invite you to join Greg Potzer and me for a “guided prayer retreat”–a time when we can come together and pray, but not just alone in silence. Greg and I, along with some strong praying friends, will be taking 3 days to share with you some of the ways we’ve found to make our times of prayer as effective as possible. Then we’ll spend some time in together in prayer and worship, sharing meals, and making new friends along the way. I believe it will be a powerful time, a healing time, a learning time, a prayerful time.

You can watch the event live online for free at this link: live.theranch.org

live.theranch.org

We’ll be hosting the event at the Billy Graham Retreat Center called “The Cove” in Asheville, North Carolina. We’ll start with dinner on Wednesday, December 7, then continue all day Thursday, December 8, and finish up by noon on Friday, December 9. The cost to use the center is $325 per person, which includes 2 nights of lodging in a double room ($405 for a single room), 5 meals, and full use of the center and their meeting space. Greg and I are not charging anything extra for the retreat itself…we’re paying our own way to get to The Cove and offer this retreat to you–and we’re so looking forward it as well. Your registration fee goes directly towards the lodging, meals, and use of the center.

Christmastime at The Cove

The Cove at Christmastime.

the-cove-dining-room

The Dining Room.

the-cove-board-room

A Meeting Room.

the-cove-shepherds-inn

A Guest Room.

We have booked this event to take place at the end of the week to make it more economical for those attending and to allow each of you who are involved in ministries at your own churches to attend the retreat and still serve back at your local church on the weekend.

We will be broadcasting this event live online (and saving the videos for viewing later) so anyone, anywhere in the world, can take part in this special event as well. We believe that by having the event both online and in-person, it will enhance the experience for everyone. So whichever way you join us, we believe you’ll be blessed abundantly! Here’s the link again to watch it live online: live.theranch.org

live.theranch.org

To reserve your spot, please use the links below. (Please review The Cove’s “Statement of Faith” and “Our Group’s Agreement with BGEA Guidelines” before registering, especially in regard to age restrictions and honoring The Cove’s Guidelines.)

Click here or click the “Pay Here!” button below to reserve your spot with the full registration amount per person. After you make your payment, we’ll send you a follow-up email to collect the rest of your registration information.

pay-here
OR you can also send your deposit by cash or check to the address below. Please write in the memo line that this is for the “Guided Prayer Retreat at The Cove.” Please make sure we receive your registration and your cash or check by Wednesday, October 26!



The Ranch Fellowship

25615 E 3000 North Road

Chenoa, IL 61726  USA

Complete pricing, location and schedule of events follows…

PRICING

The cost is $325 per person in a shared room (2 queen-size beds), or $405 for a single room. After October 15, please contact us first before registering to check if we have any extra space available. If space is available, your full registration fee will be due when you reserve your spot.

A private shuttle service between the airport in Asheville and The Cove is available for $40 each way. Contact GrandyCo at 828-273-3214 to make a shuttle reservation.

Please note for tax purposes that your registration fee is not tax-deductible as you will be receiving a service in exchange for your gift. Any donations made beyond your registration fee, however, are fully-deductible and will go directly into helping us continue to share the good news of Christ worldwide.

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

— ALL TIMES ARE Eastern Standard Time (-5 GMT) —

Wednesday, December 7
3:00-6:00 p.m. – Check-in and registration at The Cove
6:00-7:00 p.m. – Dinner
7:15-10:00 p.m. – Worship, Prayer and Messages

Thursday, December 8
8:00-9:00 a.m. – Breakfast
9:15-12:00 noon – Worship, Prayer and Messages
12:30-1:30 p.m. – Lunch
1:00-6:00 p.m. – Time for personal prayer, fellowship, exploring The Cove, or visiting the recently opened Ruth Graham Prayer Garden.
6:00-7:00 p.m. – Dinner
7:15-10:00 p.m. – Worship, Prayer and Messages

Friday, December 9
8:00-9:00 a.m. – Breakfast
9:15-12:00 noon – Worship, Prayer and Messages

(Room check-out is from 9:00-10:00 a.m. on Friday (just drop off the key at the lobby), but our program will go from 9:15 until 12:00 noon.)

ABOUT US!

Here’s a little more information about us…

About Eric Elder and The Ranch

About Greg Potzer and This Day’s Thought

About The Cove (video)

About The Cove (website)

For more information, please use our Contact Form!

Take A Tour Of This App!

Here’s a guided tour of the app to help you discover all that you can do with it!

Click here to watch the 12-minute tour, or read the highlights below.

app-splashscreen

On the “Home” page (This Day’s Thought), you’ll see a continually updated list of daily posts.  Tap a post to read it, then scroll right or left to read more posts.  To see a longer list of daily posts, scroll all the way to the bottom and it will load more, and more, and more!  To refresh the screen to make sure you’re seeing the latest posts, scroll all the way to the top to refresh the screen.  A “Search” bar also appears when you scroll to the top so you can search for any quote, author or topic that’s mentioned anywhere on the app.

app-home

To access the rest of the multitude of features of this app, click the menu icon in the top left corner (the menu looks like 3 white lines in a black box).  You’ll see a menu of all the other sections of the app, such as a Daily Podcasts, Sunday Sermons, books to rad, music to listen to, a place to post prayer requests and more!

Have fun exploring!

app-menu

On Daily Podcasts, you can listen to all of our daily posts.  Just choose a day and click the play button (triangle).  The podcast will continue to play as you visit other sections of the app, or even if you go to another app on your device.  To read the text of any podcast, simply scroll down the page and you’ll see the full text of that day’s message.  To listen to more podcasts without going back to the menu, just scroll left or right from any day’s podcast.

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The Week Sermons are often in series, so this page makes it easy to read one right after another.  Just choose a sermon from the list.  To read the next or previous sermon, just scroll left or right.

app-sermon

You can read the full text of all the books we’ve produce at The Ranch.  Just choose a book from the menu, and start reading.  Each book has a table of contents so you can quickly jump from chapter to chapter, or easily return to a specific chapter if you have to leave the app in the middle of a book.  You can also purchase paperback copies of any of these books by visiting The Ranch Bookstore for a donation of any size.

app-readabook

You can listen to all of the music we’ve produced here at The Ranch, plus a  few more albums from other artists who have given us permission to feature their music for your benefit.  Just pick a CD from the list and click the bright orange play button to listen from the beginning.

app-listentomusic

When listening to music, if you don’t see a playlist of all the songs from which to choose, you can click the link that says to see the playlist, and you can see a playlist of all songs on a CD like this:

app-songlist

You can watch any of the videos we’ve produced at The Ranch as well, including inspirational shorts like Eric’s Hope or Lana’s Hope, or our series 1-2 minute clips recorded live in famous locations throughout Israel.

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To buy any of our books or music in paperback or on a physical CD, just visit The Ranch Bookstore.  You’ll be able to browse through our entire collection in a browser outside of this app.  Just return to the app to keep exploring.

app-bookstore

To make a donation to our ministry, just click Make a Donation, and you’ll be taken to a secure page on our website where you can make a  donation of any size.  If you’d like a thank you gift for your donation, just visit our bookstore and make your donation next to the item you’d like.

app-donation

If you ever need prayer, click “Ask For Prayer” and you can post a public prayer where others will be glad to pray for you as soon as they see your request.  You can also scroll through this page yourself if you’d like to pray for others, either privately, or post a public reply and pray for them on the page, too.

app-askforprayer

 

To see our entire collection of over 2,000 quotes and counting, just visit Quotes By Categories.  Choose a category from the top menu (it scrolls left to right to see more categories), and then choose a quote.  Again, scroll all the way to the bottom of each page of quotes to load more, and more, and more.  Scroll left and right to easily go from category to category.

app-categories

 

To Contact Us for any reason, just fill out our contact form.  We read every note as soon as it arrives.  Please allow a little time for a reply though, as we do get many emails.  We’re happy to see your comments and questions, so let us know what’s on your mind!

app-contactus

 

To see our daily Facebook Posts, and watch our daily video recordings, visit Our Facebook Page.

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Click “About Us” to learn more about us and why we do what we do!

app-aboutus2

 

Thanks for taking this guided tour!  Hope you enjoy the app!

 

Announcing The 3rd Annual Ranch Retreat!


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Hi, this is Eric Elder, and on behalf of Greg Potzer and myself, we’d like to invite you to our 3rd Annual Ranch Retreat to be held next month, October 9-11, here in Central Illinois! We’d love for you to come!

3rd Annual Ranch Retreat - Oct 9-11, 2015

Our theme for the retreat this year is “Testimonies,” and we’ve invited several friends to share their testimonies during the weekend about how God has worked powerfully in their lives. Testimonies can give us a boost in many ways whether we share them or hear them. As the Bible says:

“They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony,” (Revelation 12:11).

We’ll start off with a potluck dinner here at Clover Ranch on Friday night, after which I’ll be leading a time of worship from the piano, followed by inspirational testimonies of people whose lives have been touched by the hand of God. Greg Potzer of This Day’s Thought will be joining us from Colorado, and we would both look forward to meeting you personally.

We’ll continue on Saturday morning with a light and refreshing breakfast, followed by another session of inspirational worship and testimonies.  We’ll take a break for lunch on your own and some free time in the afternoon to just relax, pray or chat with us and some new friends.

We’ll gather again on Saturday night for another great meal, more inspirational worship and more faith-boosting messages.  (If the weather’s nice, we’ll have a bonfire outside, too!)

If you stay over till Sunday, we’d love to have you join us for a time of worship at the local church where I attend, followed by lunch at the church café (dutch treat) for some extra time of relaxed fellowship.

If all that sounds good to you (I know it sounds good to me!), I hope you’ll join us here in Central Illinois on Columbus Day Weekend, October 9-11.  The retreat and three meals are FREE! (You’ll just need to find a way to get here and a place to stay for the weekend; see links below.)

LOCATION

The retreat will be held at Clover Ranch, located at 25615 E 3000 North Rd, Chenoa, Illinois.  Chenoa is about 2 hours south of Chicago and 25 minutes north of Bloomington/Normal.  The closest airport is in Bloomington, Illinois (BMI), with flights to and from major cities daily. Here’s a link to the closest hotel (3 miles away) and other nearby hotels (20-30 miles away).

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 9
5:00-6:00 Arrive and enjoy appetizers and fellowship
6:00 Potluck dinner begins (Feel free to bring snacks or a dish to pass)
7:00-9:00 Worship and Testimonies
9:00-10:00 Chat, pray and relax

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 10
9:00-10:00 Gather for a light & refreshing breakfast
10:00-:12:00 Worship and Testimonies
12:00 Break for lunch on your own at local restaurants
12:00-6:00 Free time for fellowship, prayer or board games or yard games
6:00-7:00 Enjoy a homestyle dinner and bonfire
7:00-10:00 Worship and Testimonies

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 11
9:00 Worship together at Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Illinois
11:00-2:00 Lunch (dutch treat) at the church café for some extra time of relaxed fellowship

 ABOUT US

For more information about the retreat, housing or any other details, please reply to this note or us the contact form on our website.  Hope to see you soon!

Eric Elder and Greg Potzer
of The Ranch and This Day’s Thought for The Ranch

 


 

15 Tips For A Stronger Marriage, by Eric Elder

15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be.

Practical tips for newlyweds, nearly-weds or anyone who wants to strengthen their marriage.  Also includes 12 tips on parenting!

Want to make your marriage be the 
best that it can be? Here are 15 tips that have been tried and tested in my own 23-year marriage. Each tip contains practical, real-life examples of how they worked for us and how you can adapt and apply them to your own marriage. Also includes a special bonus chapter: 
12 tips on 
parenting! 85 pages.

(Suggested Donation: $12 or more)

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Also available from Amazon.com.


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This Week’s Sermon- Taking A Full Swing


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

TAKING A FULL SWING
Joshua 1:9

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

 

If you’re like me, you might tend to second guess yourself at times, wondering if you’re doing the right thing or if you’ve heard right from God.  I think each of us go through seasons of doubt about the decisions we’ve made, especially when life around us starts to look like it’s about to fall apart.

What do you do when you reach those critical moments and you have to decide if you’re going to keep moving forward, or if you need to regroup and retreat and perhaps go in a different direction entirely?

When I reach that point, it’s helpful for me to look at the words that God spoke to Joshua as he was about to enter into the Promised Land.  God said:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

There are 3 aspects of these words that I find especially helpful.  The first is to remind myself why I made the decision I did in the first place.

In Joshua’s case, God reminded him that He, God, was the one who had called Joshua to enter into the Promised Land.  “Have I not commanded you?”  God had actually called Joshua and his people to enter the Promised Land 40 years earlier, but they didn’t do it.  When they reached the border the first time, they were afraid to go in, so they turned around and headed back into the desert for another 40 years.

Now, 40 years later, Joshua had reached the same crossroad again, and God reminded him: “Have I not commanded you?”  Joshua, of course, would have remembered what God had said to him in the past, and the price that he and all the others had to pay for not doing what God had called them to do.  They may have still been afraid to move forward, and the price of doing so might still be costly, but the price of turning back again would cost even more.

For me, it’s helpful to refresh my memory of why I decided to do what I did in the first place.  If, after reviewing that initial decision, it still seems sound and reasonable, then I look at the second part of God’s words to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged…”

This part is helpful because we don’t usually know what really lies ahead, and venturing into the unknown often strikes fear in our hearts.  The very fact that God had to tell Joshua to be strong and courageous indicates to me that there were very real fears that could have overtaken his heart, and that there was probably a good reason they needed to be strong and courageous.  What they were about to face would require strength and courage; it would require internal fortitude and resolve.

God wouldn’t have needed to tell Joshua, “Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged” if, in fact, there was nothing to be terrified or discouraged about.  The truth was, what they were about to face was terrifying and it could have discouraged them, just as it did 40 years earlier.  Then why did God tell them this?  If there were really and truly terrifying dangers ahead, why would God tell them not to be afraid or discouraged?  Because of what he tells them next in the third part of this significant verse:  “for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

I try to imagine walking through a mine field ahead of me.  If I had to do it on my own, I know I couldn’t do it.  I wouldn’t be able to see or even to guess where the mines might be.  But if God was with me, walking with me every step of the way, and I held on tight to Him, I have no doubt that He would be able to walk me through that field of mines just fine.  I would just need to make sure I was staying as close to Him as possible, and stepping only where He stepped.

When I look at these three things–why I made the decision I made in the first place, why I might need to be strong and courageous, and how God will be with me every step of the way–it helps me to make my next move.  Many times that means I need to keep moving forward and finish what I started, no matter how difficult the circumstances might become as I do so.

I reached this point a few weeks ago with our “2nd Annual Ranch Retreat.”  I put a stake in the ground 3 months ago by naming it our “2nd Annual” retreat, after having done our first the year before.  But was I really ready to commit to doing this on an annual basis?  And was I really ready to announce to the world that I should call it an annual event?  I felt a little bit like George Lucas must have felt when he put the subtitle on his first Star Wars movie and called it “Episode IV.”  The very name itself implied that there were someday going to be Episodes I, II and III, even though it would be another 20 years before he filmed the first of these “prequels.”

But I felt strongly enough about the retreat that I went ahead and named it the “2nd Annual Ranch Retreat” 3 months before it took place.  But after we were 2 months into advertising and promoting it and we still didn’t have even one person signed up, I started to wonder if I had made the wrong decision.  Even with just 2 weeks to go before the event took place, we had only a handful of people registered.  I had to decide if we were going to cancel the whole event all together, ending our run of “annual” retreats before we even got to the 2nd one!

I don’t mind being wrong, but I don’t like to back out of something just because I’m afraid of how it might turn out–especially if God has called me to do it and He wants to accomplish something through it.  So I called my friends who were putting it together with me and we talked it through again.  We could have easily cancelled at that point, but I had to remind myself why we were doing it in the first place, and if God had really called us to do it.

About that time I was also reading a book with my son by Ted Dekker and he was talking about the process he went through in creating the book and getting it published.  He pitched the idea to several publishers, all of whom turned it down.  Years went by and he pitched it again and again, only to be turned down again and again.  Publishers told him that nobody read this kind of story.

After years of having no success, Ted finally found someone, Allen Arnold, who believed in his idea enough to take a risk and publish his story.  They found out that not only were people interested in reading this kind of story, but soon 50,000 soon joined in on the discussion of the book and its ideas at teddekker.com.  The book, and the series it spawned, had struck a chord in the hearts of thousands who wanted to talk about everything that it had stirred up within them, including my own kids.  Ted wrote this in the afterward of the book we were reading:

“I once told Allen that I was born to write these chronicles.  Admittedly, their writing is only a small part of my life.  But if I was born to write them, then in a small, small way, you may have been born to read them.  We, like the stories themselves, find ourselves interconnected in this wonderful thing called the story of life.  You are part of my history, and I am part of yours.  And this, my friend, is what it means to come full circle” (Ted Dekker, Red, pg 385).

I decided to finish what I had started, and give it the best possible chance of success as I could.  As I stood in front of the group last weekend at our “2nd Annual Ranch Retreat,” I couldn’t help but think of Ted’s words and the challenges he faced in order to do what he felt he should do.  40 people had gathered with me here in Illinois from all across the country, from places like California, Colorado, Michigan, Kansas, Indiana and Georgia.  We sang and praised God, we opened His Word, and we opened our hearts and lives to Him and to each other.

As I looked around the room on the final night, I read Ted Dekker’s quote to those who had gathered, saying that if God had called me to do this, then perhaps, in a some small, small way, they were meant to be there, too.

And as you read these words today, if I was called to write them, then perhaps in some small, small way, you were meant to read them, too.

The decisions you make are important, and it’s important to make the best decisions that we can up front.  Sometimes we need to regroup along the way or retreat and go in a different direction entirely, admitting that we’re fallible and that there are times when it’s best to cut our losses before they take us down completely.  But many times we simply need to remind ourselves of why we decided to do what we’re doing in the first place, then going forward with full strength and courage to see it through to the end.

I was reading through a physics book with another son a few weeks ago as part of his schooling.  We were studying momentum and read that the difference between good and bad baseball players is “follow through.”  According to the laws of physics, there are two things that determine how far a ball will travel when its hit by a bat.  The first is how hard the bat strikes the ball.  But a second factor is also significant, and that’s how long the bat and the ball stay in contact with each other.  The longer the connection, the stronger the momentum.  That’s why batters need to take a “full” swing, following through with the swing that was started and not stopping the moment the bat hits the ball.

Sometimes we stop mid-swing when we hit an obstacle, stunned and wondering if we should have even stepped up to the plate.  But if we’ve stepped up to the plate with God, and if we can remember why we’re doing what we’re doing in the first place, then we can take a full swing and knock the ball out of the park.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Let’s pray…

Father, thank You for giving each of us a purpose here on earth and the gifts and resources to carry out those purposes.  Help us to make wise decision not only at the start of a project, but all the way through it.  Give us Your wisdom as we take each step, showing us where to walk, where not to walk, and how to keep moving forward despite the obstacles in front of us.  Remind us of what You’ve called us to do and give us the strength and courage to do it.  Help us to take a full swing, so we can fulfill our purposes, and perhaps in some small, small way, help others fulfill theirs, too.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. You can still watch all 3 sessions right now from the Ranch Retreat online at www.theranch.org/retreat



Lana's Hope Reminder Bands

You can still help make Lana’s dreams come true.  To learn more, visit www.LanasHope.com.

Tenderly, by Marilyn Byrnes

Tenderly - Album Artwork

Contemporary favorites played softly, beautifully and tenderly.  100% pure piano from Marilyn Byrnes.

Songs include:

  1. The Prayer
  2. Greensleeves
  3. What’s New?
  4. Tenderly
  5. Over The Rainbow
  6. The Wind Beneath My Wings
  7. Get Here, Love Theme From “Superman” (Can You Read My Mind?)
  8. I’ll Only Love You…Ikaw Lang Ang Mamahalin
  9. Canon de Noel
  10. The Way We Were
  11. Somewhere
  12. O Come All Ye Faithful. 

(Suggested Donation: $15 or more)

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Click Play to listen to one of my favorites, “Can You Read My Mind?”

Also available from Amazon.com; or get the MP3’s from Amazon.comiTunes, or CDBaby; or listen to this album on Spotify or Pandora

This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Watch The Ranch Retreat Live Online!


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

WATCH THE RANCH RETREAT LIVE ONLINE…
IT ALL STARTS IN JUST A FEW HOURS!

You can watch our 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat live online for free starting in just a few hours.  We have special guests coming in from around the country and would love to have you drop in and join us online anytime during the weekend.

The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!

We’re talking about transitions in your life and how God can help you through them.  We’ll have awesome worship, special messages and times of prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit.

If you’d like to join us, just visit this link, starting at 7:30 pm tonight Central Daylight Time (-5GMT), then again at  9:30 am tomorrow morning and 7:00 pm tomorrow night.  Drop in and see what God has to say!  Here’s the link:

http://theranch.org/retreat


 

This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Wednesday

Special note from Eric and Greg: The Ranch Retreat is coming THIS WEEKEND! Although our online registration has closed, you can still join us, either in person or online. To join us in person, please reply to this email and we’ll send you the final details to meet us in Illinois. To join us online, either live or later, visit this link starting at 7:30 pm on Friday, Central Daylight Time (-5GMT): www.theranch.org/retreat


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

No one has any more time than you have.  It is the discipline and stewardship of your time that is important.  The management of time is the management of self; therefore if you manage time with God, He will be begin to manage you.

Jill Briscoe


This Day's Verse

Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for thou art my praise.

Jeremiah 17:14
The Revised Standard Version


This Day's Smile

Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God.

Meister Eckhart



Lana's Hope Reminder Bands

You can still help make Lana’s dreams come true.  To learn more, visit www.LanasHope.com.

This Week’s Sermon- Depression and Hope


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

DEPRESSION AND HOPE
Psalm 77

by Eric Elder
theranch.org

Note from Eric:  I was asked to speak this week on the topic of depression for our Care Groups at our church, and I thought you’d like to hear the message too.  We all face troubles and times when hope seems to elude us.  Yet with God there’s always hope, and He can lead us to the help we need.

Click here to listen to my message: “Depression and Hope” (11-1/2 minutes), or read the transcript that follows.  

(For those who are interested, I’ve also uploaded Part 2 of this message to our website, with a personal story of how God helped me through a time of trouble this past week.  Click here to listen to Part 2, which is not included in the transcript below.)

Transcript:

I’m going to talk tonight about depression, so I thought I’d start with a cartoon if that’s OK.  They go together, right?

This is a picture of a man in his car and he says:  “Son, look at the back of the car and tell me if my turn signal is working.”  The son sees the blinking light and says, “Yes, No, Yes, No, Yes.”

car-toon

I sometimes feel that way when people ask me how I’m doing.  “Up, Down, Up, Down, Up.”  It really depends when you ask me and how things are going because of the things that have happened in the last couple years of my life.  I think that’s a common thing for a lot of us, and yet as Christians, sometimes we think we should be “happy clappy” all the time, and if we’re not then something must be desperately wrong with us.

Depression has been called the common cold of emotional disorders.  It really is something that happens.  We have seasons where things get us down, where life is hard, where sometimes we experience incredible highs and then we plummet right after it.  It’s just something that happens as part of life, as part of living, and it happened to Bible characters throughout history.

You can look through the Bible and look at someone like Moses.  Here’s a quote from him:

“I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now–if I have found favor in your eyes–and do not let me face my own ruin” (Numbers 11:14-15, NKJV).

Here Moses has been called by God and he’s doing what God called him to do.  But he gets to the point where he says, in effect:  “The burden’s just too much for me to take.  I can’t do it; just take me now.”

Here’s King David after he had sinned with Bathsheba.  In Psalm 38 he says:

“I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. … I groan because of the turmoil of my heart” (Psalm 38:6, 8b, NKJV).

Here’s Elijah.  He had just performed an incredible wonder for God.  He had challenged 450 prophets of Baal to a duel to see whose God was going to come and burn a sacrifice that they had both put on an altar.  It was just 1 of Elijah against 450 of these other guys who were worshipping Baal.  Elijah won and all the other prophets were killed and slaughtered after that because God descended fire onto Elijah’s altar and did exactly what Elijah called on Him to do.

Yet Elijah ran from that scene.  He ran and ran and ran until he was worn out.  It says in the Bible:

“He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’  Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep” (1 Kings 19:4b-5a, NIV).

I could just keep going through the Bible:  Jeremiah and Jonah and even Jesus.  On the cross, I don’t know if you would call this depression, but it was certainly anguish.  When you’re being nailed to a cross and you’re hanging there dying and you’ve done nothing wrong and you cry out to God, as it says in Matthew that He did:

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).

So if you ever feel in anguish as a Christian, or you ever feel like the burden is too much for you, or you feel like you just want God to take your life, or you just don’t think that you can take it anymore, you’re in really good company.

I’m not saying it’s good to be there.  I don’t think we should be there all the time.  But God provides help to all of us as we need it.  And so there’s a Psalm I want to read to you tonight, Psalm 77.  It’s written by a man named Asaph.  He was the choir director during King David’s time.  He wrote a Psalm that’s sort of a classic Psalm on depression if you’d ever like to read it on your own.  I’m going to read portions of it to you here.

Asaph was in a miserable state.  It says, in Psalm 77, starting in verse 1:

“I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” (Psalm 77:1-9).

That’s a pretty desperate cry to God.  It’s nice that God records these things in the Bible.  He doesn’t gloss over this in people’s lives.  If that’s all I told you about the Bible you might say, “Man, that’s a whole bunch of depressed people. I don’t know if I want to read that Book!”

But God doesn’t leave people there.

For Moses, God sent an answer.  He sent his father-in-law to give him a solution to how to deal with all the people, to divide them up into groups and to put leaders over them.

For King David, God provided an answer and showed him how to confess his sins out loud and to relieve all that guilt.  You should see and read all the rest of of the Psalms that David wrote as he poured out that confession to God and God flooded him with love and forgiveness and peace.

He gave an answer to Elijah.  God sent an angel to him and as he was sleeping there, the angel prepared some food for him.  Elijah got up and ate, then the angel had him go back to sleep, then he got up and ate again.  Just a little nourishment and he was on his way and up and going again.

I think if you read through these different stories, even about Jesus it says He was crying in anguish, but 3 days later He was raised gloriously and sat at the right hand of God, the Father.  In all these situations, there wasn’t a “one size fits all” answer for how to get out of it, because they didn’t get into it in the same way.  Sometimes it was sin, sometimes it was having a great victory in God, sometimes it was doing exactly what God wanted them to do.  So the solutions are sort of different for everyone.  But I want to encourage you that there is hope.

Chip Ingram, in his book that we’ve been studying this fall, Finding God When You Need Him Most, in this chapter called “When You’re Troubled and Depressed,” writes this:

“You see, God is a shepherd who cares for each person individually.  Even though you might not be able to sort out all the contributing factors to your depression, God can still lead you out of it.  He will lead you to the help you need.  It may involve medicine, counseling, spiritual direction, relational aid, or all of the above.  But God wants to meet you in the midst of your troubles and depression and lead you out” (Chip Ingram, Finding God When You Need Him Most, pg. 108).

You can get to the point where you say, “Man, I don’t know if God’s going to show up this time.  I know He’s been faithful, but you know, I’m just getting worn out.”  Yet God does show up and He leads us to a solution that we need.  For a lot of you, this Care Groups tonight (or this message today), is part of that solution and God can provide the Bible verse that you need, or the person that you need, or the counseling that you need, or maybe a direction to the medical help that you need.  God loves to provide what you need and He loves to give you hope.  He loves to give you what you need.

I just want to encourage you in that, and my final encouragement to you today is to do what Asaph did in Psalm 77, if you read further.  In verse 10, he changes his course.  Instead of complaining to God he says:

“Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.  I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:10-12).

And then he goes on and he recounts how God led the Israelites through the desert out of Egypt and into the Promised Land and how he brought them through the sea where there was no way out and God provided a way.  Doing this changed the whole course of Psalm 77.  And by the end, Asaph is praising God again, after starting the Psalm with such despair.

It’s different for all of us, but his turning point was just saying, “God, I’m going to remember what You’ve done in the past.”  I’ll close with this list of just a few of many things that Chip Ingram suggests, things that he does for himself, and maybe there are one or two things that you could do, when you find yourself in a depressed moment or season.  You might think these are too simple, yet you’d be surprised.

  • Get out your photo albums or slide projector and look at wedding pictures, remember good moments with shots of kids, reminisce with favorite vacation pictures, look at birthday pictures.
  • Watch old videos you haven’t watched in years.
  • Read your journal.
  • Write down all your blessings.
  • Relive the day you came to Christ.
  • List the top 10 answers to prayer in your life.
  • List 5 people who love you.

If there’s one of those you want to do, even this week, just list the top 10 answers to prayers in your life, relive the day you came to Christ, list 5 people who love you, read your journal, going back and remembering how God has worked in your life and saying, “God, You’ve been there for me in the past, and You’ve promised You’ll be there for me in the future.  I’m going to trust You.  Even though I don’t see a way out, I trust You that You’ll provide it, in Jesus’ name.”

Let’s pray…

Father, thank You that You can show us that it’s even normal to have days of trouble and days of depression, days when we can’t work things out on our own, days when it seems hopeless.  Lord, thank You also for showing us that there’s a way out when we experience those days or months or years.  Thank You that You love us so much that You do provide a way out, Lord.  I pray You’d lead each of us to whatever solution You would have for us, God, whether it’s inviting people that we need to invite, whether it’s giving a call to someone, whether it’s taking someone out for dinner, whether it’s reading the Bible, a favorite passage, looking back at our journal, listing the things You’ve done in our lives, whether it’s seeking medical help or professional help or someone in church or just a listening ear.  God, whatever answer, whatever solution, I pray You’d lead us to it.  Thank You that You are a God of hope.  I pray that You would give each one of us hope.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. For those who are interested, I’ve also uploaded a 2nd part of the message to our website, with a personal story of how God helped me through a time of trouble this past week.  Click here to listen to Part 2, which is not included in the transcript above.



The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!

The Ranch Retreat is coming THIS WEEKEND!  Even if you can’t join us in person, we hope to broadcast the main sessions live and later on our website.  Technology permitting, you’ll be able to watch for free from any computer or mobile device.  Please visit the link below for more details or to watch the retreat as we stream it live or later, starting Friday, October 10th.  Click here to learn more or to watch The Ranch Retreat!

This Week’s Sermon- No One Would Know

Note from Eric:  If you haven’t signed up for our Ranch Retreat yet, the registration deadline is TOMORROW, SEPTEMBER 29th.  Kent Sanders, today’s guest writer, will be there!  We’d love to have you join us!  Click here to sign up.


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

NO ONE WOULD KNOW
Part 8 of our series on “Transitions”
Here are the links to Parts 123456, and 7.

by Kent Sanders
www.kentsanders.net

 

“No one would know if we skipped church today.”

Those were the first words that crossed my mind when I woke up. It was a Sunday morning in February, 2004. My wife Melanie and I had just concluded a 7-year ministry in Streator, Illinois. I was a full-time worship leader, and she had been the children’s ministry director for several years before taking a position at a local preschool.

For a few months before that, I had been in contact with St. Louis Christian College in Florissant, Missouri. It was my alma mater, and they were interested in me coming as the Professor of Worship. It was the perfect opportunity to move closer to family and have a position of greater influence. I wouldn’t only be leading worship; I would get to train future worship leaders.

After accepting the position and resigning from the church, we moved to St. Louis to start our new lives. On our first Sunday in our new home, I woke up realizing that for the first time in over seven years, coordinating or leading a worship service was not my responsibility.

In many ways, it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I could go to church and be a “regular” person. But I was also scared because I had let go of a position where I was so comfortable. It was the first time since graduating from college that I was not a paid church staff member.

It was a transition that would shape me in many ways. I have had several part-time ministries since I left Streator, but it’s been ten years since I’ve worked full-time at a church. As I reflect on that transition and what I’ve learned about being a church member, I can boil it down to five key lessons that have helped strengthen my faith. I’ll also offer some questions for reflection after each lesson.

1. You must choose to get involved.

In ministry leadership circles, you often hear about the need to get people involved. At St. Louis Christian College, we even have a degree program in Discipleship & Involvement. One of the major concerns of the New Testament writers was that Christians have good relationships with one another. After all, we’re the body of Christ! And having good relationships means you must get involved.

Church leaders need to offer a variety of ways for people to get connected at church. But ultimately, church members must choose to get involved. That means you and I have to make a conscious choice to maintain relationships and be consistent in our church attendance. Is church attendance the only thing that matters? Of course not. But it’s hard to have deep relationships with people you never see.

Statistics tell us that the average church member attends services twice a month. What if I applied that same ratio to my marriage? If I decided I was only going to see my wife twice a week, things would go downhill pretty quickly. No one would maintain that you could maintain a vibrant, healthy marriage if you put time and effort into building that relationship.

Yet many times in the church, we will encounter people who aren’t happy with their church for various reasons. When you begin to dig a little, you will often find that they are not highly involved church members who are there to contribute.

When I stepped out of my role as a pastor, I had to reevaluate why I was involved at church. Up to that point, it was part of my job. But when that was no longer the case, I had the opportunity to get back to the basics of my faith and find a renewed commitment to the local church.

Question: Have you made a conscious choice to be a participating member of your local church? If so, what continues to motivate you? If not, what’s keeping you from being more involved?

2. You must distinguish between Ministry and ministry.

Yes, you read that correctly. There is a difference between “Ministry” (capitalized) and  “ministry” (lowercase). Let me explain.

In the Bible, the word “ministry” literally means “service.” Specifically, it refers to service that’s done for others in the name of Christ. But your view of ministry can be very different depending on your vocation.

As a pastor, I tended to focus on the vocational side of ministry. I viewed my church staff position as a Ministry because I had dedicated my life to Christian service. It’s not that I didn’t believe people in other vocations weren’t doing ministry. It’s just that when you graduate with a ministry degree from a Christian college, it’s easy to view your church role as something sacred and special among vocations.

But what happens when you no longer have that position, that role of being in Ministry? This is the situation I faced when I became a church member instead of a paid pastor. I was no longer in a leadership role and had to rediscover what it meant to be “in ministry.”

When I began to look at vocational ministry as an outsider, I saw things in a new light. I discovered that being “in ministry” didn’t mean you received a paycheck from a church or had a special title. Being “in ministry” meant that you approached all of your work, no matter what type, as a service to Christ and to the world. It doesn’t mean that pastors are any less important; it means that we’re all of equal importance.

To be quite frank, I had serious workaholic tendencies in my twenties, when I worked at a church. My identity was completely wrapped up in my church position. This wasn’t because I was overworked or had unfair expectations; it was because I didn’t really understand who I was. I saw myself first and foremost as a Minister—a church staff member.

When I stepped away from that position, I had an identity crisis for about two years. I was so wrapped up in my church position that I often missed the bigger picture of what ministry is all about.

Pastors are important! They are of course doing ministry through their service to the church. But you have a ministry as well, in your work, in your family, and wherever you find yourself. You may not be leading or preaching, but if you’re a Christian, you are most definitely called to serve others in the name of Christ.

Question: Do you view your work as a ministry? How can you serve Christ and the world through your vocation?

3. You must develop a hunger for God.

As a pastor, it was my job to know and teach the Bible. I wasn’t preaching every Sunday, but I was definitely teaching the Word through worship songs, at rehearsals, through my writing, and other avenues. In a sense, it’s a pastor’s job to be “spiritual” because your life is focused on the church’s program.

But once I was out of that role, there was less external structure to ensure that I was interacting with God’s Word and involved at church. I was surprised to discover that it was much harder than I thought to maintain the discipline of “feeding myself” spiritually.

I have tried all kinds of things over the years to help me be disciplined with my Bible reading. (Bible reading is not the only element to your faith, of course, but it’s a key habit for growing in your faith, so I’ll focus on it here.) I’ve tried Bible reading plans. I’ve tried Bible apps on my phone. I’ve tried devotional books. I’ve tried study Bibles with all the notes, maps, bells and whistles you could want. I’ve tried Bibles that included only the text (no chapter and verse numbers). If they sell it in a Christian bookstore, I’ve probably tried it.

What I’ve learned is that tools can be very helpful, but they can’t make you hungry for God. I came to a place in my life where I didn’t want to continue trying to do life on my own. I was too proud to admit that I wasn’t smart enough or enough to figure things out by myself. I had to first be broken in order to be made whole.

If you are experiencing some kind of pain or loss in life, don’t let it drive you away from God. Let it drive you to him, to a place where you have utter dependency on his healing, wisdom and grace.

Question: On a scale of 1 to 10, how hungry are you for God’s work in your life? If you don’t feel much of a drive towards God these days, what might be the cause?

4. You must learn to follow, not just lead.

As a worship leader, I was used to being on stage nearly every Sunday, leading the congregation. It was exhausting, but also exhilarating. It’s a great feeling to know that the songs you’ve chosen, the volunteers in your ministry, and the organization you’ve put into church services have all come together to create something that changes lives.

But what happens when you’re not in charge anymore?

This is exactly the dilemma I found myself in when we became involved in our new church. I wasn’t a worship leader anymore; I was a volunteer in another person’s ministry. The worship leader and I were great friends, but as a musician in his ministry I sometimes thought, “Gee, that’s not the way I would do that,” or “That’s not the way you should arrange that song.”

It took a long time for me to get comfortable in the role of a follower when I had been a leader for so long. But over time I found a new role: not as a church staff person in charge of a ministry area, but as a volunteer who was a supporter and encourager to the church staff.

I had something few other people in the church had: I was a volunteer who knew what ministry was like. I knew it can be exhausting and emotionally draining. I accepted the fact that I wasn’t always on stage, but could play an important behind-the-scenes role at our church.

We talk a lot about leadership in the Christian community, but you seldom hear about “followership.” You must learn to follow before you can lead.

Question: Do you make it easier for your pastor to lead you, by being a good follower who is supportive and encouraging?

5. You must learn to live a balanced life.

One of the most surprising things I experienced after transitioning out of paid ministry was that I didn’t have to be involved in everything at church. As a staff member, my life basically revolved around the church calendar: hospital calls, staff meetings, planning sessions, worship rehearsals, Sunday services, and many other events. In many ways I assumed that all our church volunteers shared the same sentiment that church events take priority over nearly everything else.

But as a volunteer, I had the freedom to choose how much, and in what ways, to be involved. I quickly discovered that my life no longer revolved around the church schedule. I learned to say “no” to some things because I now had a different job and a growing family. I became more discerning about how I would spend my time.

This was a major shift in my thinking from when I worked at the church. I don’t want to give the impression that my former church asked too much of its staff; that wasn’t the case. In fact, the senior minister set a stellar example of going home at a reasonable hour and spending time with his family. But I was a workaholic who loved his job and thought about it night and day. I just assumed everyone else did the same.

Thankfully, I have changed a lot over the years, and have a much more sane view of ministry these days!

It can be difficult to say “no” sometimes and set boundaries, but you can only be involved in so many things. Find what you are passionate about and give your efforts to that area of ministry. Having a balanced life means that you are healthier and more productive, and your church enjoys the blessing of having a fully committed, energized you!

Question: Have you set healthy boundaries in your life regarding church involvement? If not, what can you do to help ensure that your life doesn’t become out of balance?

A word to pastors: Although this article was written for church members, I hope that you resonate with it as well. Whether you’ve been leading God’s people for a few years or a few decades, it’s important to take these lessons to heart. They apply equally to pastors as they do to church leaders . . . perhaps even more so since it’s so easy to allow church work to consume your life.

Life is full of transitions, but they can be so much better when we walk through them together.  As the Bible says:

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).

If you’re like me and sometimes think, “No one would know if I skipped church today,” I hope you’ll learn from what I’ve learned:

  1. Choose to get involved, because getting involved will build good relationships that are helpful both to you and to those with whom you interact;
  2. Distinguish between Ministry and ministry, serving others in the name of Christ regardless of where God has placed you;
  3. Develop a hunger for God, both by stoking the fire of your faith by reading his word, and by realizing your utter dependence on him;
  4. Learn to follow, not just lead, by encouraging those who lead you so they can lead even more effectively; and
  5. Learn to live a balanced life, setting boundaries and saying “no” to some things so you can say “yes” to others with your full energy and commitment.

Kent Sanders writes on art and creativity at kentsanders.net. He is also Professor of Worship at St. Louis Christian College in Florissant, MO. You can connect with him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

When you join the free email newsletter list at kentsanders.net, you get 6 free gifts, including the series “10 Keys to Creativity” and the eBooks “How to Make Time for Your Art” and “The Ultimate Resource Guide for Artpreneurs.”



The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!

Kent Sanders will be joining us from St. Louis for our 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat on October 10-12.  We’d love to have you join us! Registration ends TOMORROW, SEPTEMBER 29th.
Click here to sign up!

The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat

Watch “The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat,” recorded live on October 10 & 11, 2014.

Session 1: Friday Night, October 10, 2014, 8:00 pm – 10 pm “The price and payoff of stepping out in faith.”

Session 2: Saturday Morning, October 11, 2014, 10:0 am – 12 noon “The pain and practicality of going where you don’t want to go.”

Session 3: Saturday Night, October 11, 2014, 8:00 pm – 10 pm “The peace and power that comes through prayer.”

This Week’s Sermon- Who Do You Think You Are?


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
Psalm 139

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

 

Note from Eric:  I spoke this week at our church’s Care Groups and thought you’d enjoy the message.  You can listen to it at the link below, or read the transcript that follows.  I’d especially encourage you to watch the movie I recommend in the message called “Sing Over Me,” which you can watch online for free this week only at www.singovermemovie.com.  I can’t recommend it highly enough!  Click the link below to listen to today’s message or read the transcript that follows.

Click here to listen to “Who Do You Think You Are?” by Eric Elder (11 minutes)

TRANSCRIPT:

Good evening.  My name’s Eric Elder and tonight we’re going to ask the question, “Who do you think you are?”  I’d also like to highlight two movies for you this week.  One you can watch online, right now, for free for just one more week, and the other is a movie from 1995 about a high school music teacher.  Both of these will help answer the question, “Who do you think you are?” because our perceptions of ourselves don’t always match with reality.

Sometimes people ask, “Who do you think you are?” when talking about someone who thinks they’re better than everyone else.  But for a lot of us–most of us really–the question is important because we really think too little of ourselves.  We have rough days.  We have bad weeks.  We have failures in our life.  We have disappointments.  We aren’t at the place where we thought we’d be.  Things didn’t work out quite the way we had planned, and we can sometimes get frustrated and we can get hurt and get confused and just say, “How did I end up here?”

So I want to remind you today what God thinks of you.  Because what really matters most is what He thinks of you.  He’s the one that created you, so He knows you inside and out, backwards and forwards.  I’d like to speak some words over you tonight from Psalm 139.  I’ll read to you most of the passage from Psalm 139.

For some of you, you may have heard these words a lot.  I want to help you hear them in a fresh way.  For some of you, you may have never heard these words before, about what God thinks about you.  This is a Psalm of David, who became king, and he was writing to God just how amazing it was that God even considered him or thought of him at all.  This is how God thinks of us all.  Psalm 139, starting in verse 1, says:

“O LORD, you have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O LORD” (Psalm 139:1-4). 

I was over in Peoria yesterday with a guy who has sepsis.  He’s recovering, but it’s going to be a really hard road for him.  He’s got a breathing tube down his throat and his organs are all failing and they weren’t sure if he was going to make it just a week ago.  I was reading this Psalm to him, and he’s not able to get words out.  He can only point, and at least this week is starting to be able to write on a board.  I thought of that phrase, “Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O Lord.”  How amazing?  When you can’t even get a word out, God already knows it.  He knows what you’re thinking.  Even if you don’t get a word out, God still knows it, and that’s a great comfort.  Continuing in verse 5:

“You hem me in–behind and before; You have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139: 5-10).

I love that.  Some people might not like that, that God will never leave them alone.  But the great truth is, He loves you so much that He will never leave you alone.  He’s not coming after you with condemnation.  He pursues you with love, and He will never leave you alone, even if you settle on the far side of the sea.  His hand will guide you.  His right hand will hold you fast.

Continuing in verse 11:

“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You. For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with You” (Psalm 139:11-18).

I just love that, too, how God is with you.  He walks with you.  He knows you.  He’s ordained all the days of your life before one of them came to be.

Sometimes you feel like a nobody going nowhere.  But the truth is, in God’s eyes, you are a somebody going somewhere.

The first movie I want to tell you about is called “Sing Over Me.”  It’s about the life of Dennis Jernigan.  Dennis is a singer, songwriter and worship leader, among many other things.  He’s also a personal friend of mine.  He’s written songs that are sung in churches all over the world, songs like “You Are My All In All” and “We Will Worship the Lamb of Glory.”  But he didn’t always have chart-topping songs on his resume.  In fact, when he applied to music school in college, he was rejected when the head of the music department said, “We have only a few positions in this department, and we reserve them for people we see potential in.  We simply do not see any such potential in you.”

Yet Dennis loved to play the piano and to sing and worship and write songs.  He could have given up on life.  In fact, he tried to.  He tried to take his own life, turning on the gas stove in his room and laying down on the floor to die.  But then a drastic thought occurred to him:  was he really ready to face death and whatever may or may not be waiting for him afterward?  Frightened, he quickly got up and turned off the gas before he was overcome by the fumes.

Soon after, he was at a Christian concert, and when the invitation was given to surrender his life fully to God’s plan for his life, and to reject Satan’s plan of death and destruction, he committed his life to Christ.  Overwhelmed that night by God’s love for him, Dennis walked away from years of sexually destructive behavior and self-condemnation, and began a new walk of life, eventually marrying his college sweetheart, having a family of nine kids and writing hundreds of worship songs affecting millions.

Dennis says that the most significant step in his story was realizing his true identity–what God had planned and purposed in his life–and who he was in God’s eyes.  His life verse has become one from Zephaniah 3:17.  It says that “the Lord rejoices over you with singing.”  Dennis was so struck by that, that God loves him so much, that God would even sing over him.  And God sings over each one of you.  That’s just a crazy thought, not just that you sing to God, but that God rejoices over you and sings over you!  That could help you sleep at night, knowing that God is singing over you!

So this movie that they’ve made about Dennis’s life is called, “Sing Over Me,” and you can watch it at www.singovermemovie.com.  It’s free online for just one more week.  I encourage you to watch it!

The second movie that I want to talk about tonight is one called, “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”  Maybe you’ve heard about this. Chip Ingram talks about it in this book that we’re studying this fall in Care Groups called “Finding God When You Need Him Most.”  Mr. Holland, who’s played by Richard Dreyfus, wanted to write a magnificent symphony.  This was his goal in life.  Then he got involved in teaching high school music.  That was all in the meantime, and he did that for years and years and years, and he never got around to writing his symphony.

At one point the school lost their funding and they had to cut his position.  Mr. Holland lost his job.  He felt like his life had been wasted, for he had never fulfilled his dreams.  But to his surprise, as he was feeling his lowest, his former students gathered to honor him with a tribute.  They all came together in a room to surprise him, and one of them had become the governor of the state.  She got up to speak, and here’s what she says:

“Mr. Holland had a profound influence on my life, on a lot of lives I know.  And yet I get the feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent.  Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his.  And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both.  But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our little town.  It might be easy for him to think himself a failure.  And he would be wrong; because I think he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame.”  Then she said to him, “Look around you.  There is not a life in this room that you have not touched.  And each one of us is a better person because of you.  We are your symphony, Mr. Holland.  We are the melodies and the notes of your opus, and we are the music of your life.”

Chip Ingram adds:

Not many of us will have such a tribute.  But we can learn something from Mr. Holland’s experience.  Like him, most of us draw conclusions about ourselves in the dim light of the daily grind.  We assume that we don’t matter, don’t make a significant difference; but God says that is not true.  Whenever you are inclined to underestimate your value, I urge you to resist that urge.  Open the Bible to Psalm 139 and confront your feelings with what God says about you” (Chip Ingram, “Finding God When You Need Him Most,” p. 85).

Who do you think you are?  If you ever wonder, read–and reread–Psalm 139 and remember what God thinks about you.  Believe it or not, as Zephaniah says, God really does “rejoice over you with singing.”

Let’s pray…

Father, thank You for this day.  Thank You for Your healing and redeeming us and chasing after us.  God, I pray that each of us would hear from You in a special way, a unique way; that You would even sing over us, God, in a way that we could hear.  Just like Zephaniah 3:17 says, God, that You rejoice over us with singing.  Lord, let it be so in our lives.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. I do encourage you to watch Dennis Jernigan’s story.  The movie is called “Sing Over Me.” It’s brand new and it’s free for this week, through the end of September.  Here’s the link to watch:
http://www.singovermemovie.com

And here the link to Dennis’ book on Amazon.  It’s also called “Sing Over Me,” and goes into even more detail:
http://amzn.to/1v0Zyzw



The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!

This is the LAST WEEK TO SIGN UP FOR THE RANCH RETREAT!  Please let us know as soon as possible if you plan to come (or by Monday, September 29th at the latest).  We’re so looking forward to it… and hope you’ll join us!
Click here to learn more or to register.

This Week’s Sermon- Getting Away and Getting with God


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

GETTING AWAY AND GETTING WITH GOD
Mark 6:30-31

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

 

Note from Eric:  We’re just 4 weeks away from our 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!  I hope you’ll join us here in person, but if you can’t, I hope you’ll watch our broadcast live that weekend or later on the website.  I’ve recorded a special invitation this week to tell you more about the retreat that I hope you’ll watch below.  I’ve also written a message to encourage you to take some time to get away and get with God to hear what He might have to say to you, whether you’re able to come to our retreat or you take one yourself wherever you live.  God has so much He wants to share with you, and it’s so much easier to hear Him speak when you intentionally take some time to get away and be with Him.  Here’s my video invitation to our retreat, followed by a message on getting away and getting with God.

Eric's Video Invitation to the 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat
Click here to watch Eric’s video invitation:
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Have you ever been so busy you don’t even have time to eat?  If so, you’re not alone.  Even Jesus and His disciples found themselves inundated by the needs around them.

Thankfully, Jesus has a solution.  Listen to what He said to His disciples after a super-busy time of super-charged ministry:

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, ‘Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’” (Mark 6:30-31).

You might think that by simply working harder or working longer you’ll be able to get more done.  But the truth is, we all need times of rest and renewal so we can get charged up again to do all that God has called us to do.  If Jesus needed to get away for times of rest and renewal, as He often did, how much more do we need to get away, too?

One of my favorite memories as a kid was going on our annual church retreat with our family and friends to “Woods Camp,” a nearby retreat center.  Even though it was only 20 minutes away from home, going out into the woods for the weekend was somehow magical.  We explored the woods, ate pancakes together in the lodge, sang songs of worship and listened to encouraging messages.

At night, we’d cook marshmallows over a bonfire, make s’mores and play a game called 4-square with a rubber ball and 4-squares of chalk drawn on the cement on the front porch of the lodge.  I especially remember singing a 3-part round of “Love, love, love, love, Christians this is your call” in the chapel in the woods on Sunday mornings.

As an adult, I found a new love for retreats.  I discovered they were not just for fun and games, but a way I could hear from God more clearly.  When I moved to Texas to take a job after college, I went to a retreat in Grapevine, Texas, with a group of young adults.  It was there that I first opened up to a small group of people and told them that I really wasn’t sure what I believed about Jesus.  Even though I had been in church all my life, I still didn’t know for sure if Jesus was real, and if He was, what difference it would make in my life.  One of the guys in that small group invited me to come study the Bible with him and a few others guys each week so I could learn more and find out for myself.  By the time the retreat came around the next year, I was a brand-new Christian, having heard God speak personally to me.  I put my faith in Jesus that year and have been loving Him and following Him ever since.

What makes getting away and getting with God so special?  I think it has to do with simply “turning aside” to see what God is up to, as Moses did when he turned aside to look at a bush that was burning–but didn’t burn up–in the desert.  God used the bush to get Moses’ attention, and when God saw that Moses turned aside to look, God spoke to him.  The Bible says:

“Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.’ When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am’” (Exodus 3:2a-4).

That simple act of turning aside changed the course of the rest of Moses’ life.

You might think that this message is simply leading up to a shameless plug for the fall retreat we’re hosting here in Illinois next month, and I guess in part you’d be right!  But believe me, I’m not promoting this retreat for my own sake, but for yours.  I simply know the power of getting away and getting with God, and my desire is to help you experience that power in your life, too.

I also know that you may not be able to come to Illinois and join us in person, but thanks to the Internet, you don’t have to!  We’re planning to broadcast the retreat on the Internet so you can watch it wherever you, both live on the weekend of the retreat and stored on our website to watch later.  Whether you join us in person, or join us online, I hope you’ll take some time to “turn aside” and see what God is up to.  Our prayer is that the weekend will increase your faith in Jesus and help you walk out your faith with more strength and confidence than ever before.

If you are coming in person, we need to hear from you as soon as possible, as the deadline for registering is just 2 weeks away, Monday, September 29th.  You can use the link below to learn more and to register.  And even though you’ll see a price listed for the retreat, we don’t want cost to keep anyone from coming who wants to come.  Just send us a note by replying to this message, and we’’ll send you some information for how you can register at low cost or no cost at all.  We simply ask that if you do register, you do come, as we’ll have a place reserved for you and meals for the weekend, (plus a gift bag my 11-year-old daughter is putting together for you, and we don’t want you to miss any of it!)

For those of you who can’t come but want to watch online, we’ll be sending you more instructions for how to do that as we get closer to the retreat.  You can always check for updates at www.theranch.org.

To learn more about the retreat or to register, please visit this link!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-2nd-annual-ranch-retreat-tickets-11784019319

As a final note, I’d like to encourage you that you don’t have to wait for a retreat to get away and get alone with God.  You can get away by taking a walk, or going to church or finding a friend with whom you can talk or pray or read a chapter of the Bible together (if you don’t know what else to read, try reading John chapter 14 as a great place to start).

When John Wesley’s mother, Susanna, needed to get alone and get with God, she would simply sit in a chair, pull her apron over her head, and that was enough to let her numerous children know that she was spending some quiet time with God!  Whatever it takes, I encourage you to get alone and get with God, too.  As Jesus said:

“Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31b).

Have a blessed week, and hope to hear from you soon about the retrea!

Eric Elder



The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!

Why not get away and see what God has to say?  Click here to learn more or to register.

This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Tuesday

Note from Eric:  We received another $680 this week in honor of my wife, Lana, to go directly to Dan and Emily Okall’s work of breast cancer education and care in Kenya.  That brings our total for them up to $3,998.39!  I would love to add another $6,000 that amount by the time they move back to Kenya at the end of the month.  If you would like to help us to help them, please use the link below. We’ll send you a “Lana’s Hope is My Hope” reminder band as our way of saying thanks.
www.LanasHope.com


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Somehow, somewhere, I know that God loves me, even though I do not feel that love as I can feel a human embrace, even though I do not hear a voice as I hear human words…God is greater than my senses, greater than my thoughts, greater than my heart.  I do believe that He touches me in places that are unknown even to myself.

Henri J. M. Nouwen


This Day's Verse

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6:2
The New International Version



Lana's Hope Reminder Bands

You can still help make Lana’s dreams come true.  To learn more, visit www.LanasHope.com.

This Week’s Sermon- Expectancy


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

EXPECTANCY
Psalm 73

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

 

Note from Eric:  I shared a message this week at our church that I thought you might like to hear on the topic of “Expectancy,” being expectant that God will show up, especially when you feel like He might be farthest away.  You can listen to the 20 minute message at the link below, or read the transcript that follows.  Also, if you’re thinking about coming to our Ranch Retreat next month, will you send me a quick note?  I have some special instructions for you, plus a way to attend at no cost or a lower cost if that will help you.  Just reply to this email.  Thanks!

Click here to listen to Eric’s message: “Expectancy”

TRANSCRIPT

ERIC:  Thanks, Will.  Great worship.  A nice transition from busy days or whatever you’ve been doing today, just to come into the presence of God.

My name is Eric Elder, and I’ve been part of Care Groups for a few years, helping leading care groups and being in care groups.  I know what it’s like to come on Thursday nights and sometimes it’s really a hard thing to get here, and other times it’s what you’re looking forward to and can’t wait to get to all week.  Regardless, I’m just glad you’re here.  I’m glad you made it.

I want to talk to you tonight about “Expectancy,” just really expecting that God will show up and speak to you tonight, that He will really give you what you need, that He’ll help answer the questions that are on your heart.  I think a lot of what Care Groups is about is giving you that hope, hope that God will continue to walk with you through whatever you’re going through.

I’m not here to compare my struggles with your struggles and I don’t want to get into that kind of battle, but I can say that I’ve had enough, enough to know that sometimes you lose hope and you just wonder, “Is God going to really be here for me today, and tomorrow and next week?”  And I want to tell you He is, and He will be.

I want to look with you at Psalm 73 tonight and look at this man named Asaph who got really ticked at God; and how God met him.  If you have your Bible you can read along.  Psalm 73, starting in verse 1:

“Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.  But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.  For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.  They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.  Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence.  From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.  They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression.  Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.  Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.  They say, “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?”  This is what the wicked are like– always carefree, they increase in wealth.  Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.  All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.  If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed your children.  When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me…” (Psalm 73:1-16).

I’m going to stop there.  I’ve had a chance to look through this and to get a feeling for what Asaph was feeling and he was pretty ticked.  He was saying, “Look at all the people who aren’t following God and how they seem to be prospering.  They seem to be doing fine.  They’re getting promotions.  They’re getting everything.  They’re increasing in wealth and all kinds of things and here I’ve tried to keep myself pure.  I’ve tried to do what’s right, and all these terrible things are happening to me.”

In verse 2 he sort of gives away how he’s feeling.  He said: “As for me, my feet had almost slipped.  I had nearly lost my foothold, for I envied the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”

He said he almost lost it.  He almost lost his grip on life, his grip on God, because he didn’t think that things were working out fair for him.

As Jason’s introduced to you last week, we’re going to be going through this fall this book on Psalms.  It’s by Chip Ingram, it’s called, “Finding God When You Need Him Most.”  So on Thursday nights we’re going to be talking to you about it before you go to your smaller care groups.  Tonight, the Psalm that Chip Ingram talks about is Psalm 73, and how God met him and spoke to him through this Psalm.  This is part of the expectancy that I’d love to instill in you tonight, too.

Chip was at a point where he was about ready to give up on God.  He had been a new Christian, a fairly new believer, when he was in high school.  He had been dating a girl for two years.  He thought this was the woman he was going to marry.  He had done everything right.  He had met with her parents.  He had stayed physically pure.  He had done everything he could in those two years.

But as he saw the relationship developing, he saw that his “future wife” was wanting to stay at home and live across the street from her parents and never move away.  He on the other hand, knew that he was being called to be a missionary, to move far away, to do all kinds of traveling around the world.  He just kept feeling like God was not matching them up, that it just wasn’t right.  So he did the hardest thing in his life and he finally broke up with her, not because there was any incompatibility in their relationship, but because he saw they were going in different directions.

He said it was so hard for him, so difficult, and the next year of his life was terrible.  He talks about how hard that was, but he thought, maybe it would be like Abraham and Isaac:  he was going to sacrifice her, give her up, and then he’ll get her back.  God would see how pure and honorable he had been and he’ll get her back.  So I’ll just read you this passage from the book, as he was thinking this.  He said:

Surely God will reward my faithfulness, I reasoned.  Instead, God did the unthinkable.

It was late and I was tired.  I played basketball on my college team, and a humiliating home game had just ended.  I was emotionally down, physically fatigued, and spiritually frustrated as I trudged up two flights of stairs from the locker room to the exit.  With my hair still wet and my jacket over my shoulder, I looked up to see a sight I hadn’t seen in months.  Standing at the top of the stairs was my former girlfriend.  She was waiting in our spot, next to the railing where she always used to meet me after home games.  I could hardly believe my eyes!  Instantly I thought, “God has answered my prayers!  She is standing there waiting for me, just like the good old days.”  As the adrenaline and joy surged through me, I started making plans.  We’d go get a bite to eat, and she’d tell me how God had changed her mind about our future.

As the distance between us shortened and my eyes met hers, I sensed something was different.  There was no warm smile, no step toward me, no arm around my waist–only an uncomfortable, “Hi, Chip.”  Before I could fully grasp what was happening, another player on our team bounced up the stairs, brushed past me, and grabbed her hand.  The cold air rushed through the open doors and rolled over my wet hair and numb mind.  I watched in stony silence as she put her arm in his, and they walked across campus into the night.  Then it hit me: She wasn’t waiting for me.  She was waiting for someone else.  As the glass doors slowly closed behind them, I felt frozen in time.

A wave of anger swelled up from within the depths of my soul.  The emotions shot through me, like pinballs bouncing indiscriminately off every object in sight.  But they soon found their target.  How could God let this happen to me after the great sacrifice I’d made for him?  And of all the players on the team, how could God let her get hooked up with him?  I knew what this guy was like.  I knew his intentions with girls because of how he bragged about all his former conquests.   And God had just let him walk out the door with the girl I loved?

I was livid.  Worst of all, I felt betrayed.  As I stood motionless in that doorway, I had a mental conversation with God:  “Let’s go over this one more time, God.  Because of my commitment to you, I broke up with the beautiful girl I love, the girl I want to marry; and that snake is with her right now!  You took her away from me and let her go off with him?  Our relationship was the best thing you ever gave me, but I can’t have it?  Instead, he gets to be with her?  And where is her mind?  What is she doing?  I don’t get it!”

He goes on and on, fuming, livid, feeling like a beast.  He was about ready to give up on God and everything that has to do with God.  But he had been reading his Bible, reading through the book of Psalms, and he said, essentially, God, I’m going to give you three or four chapters to speak to me and if I don’t hear from you, I’m done.  I’m done with You.

So he picked up the Bible where he left off, about Psalm 70, and he read a chapter.  Nothing happened.  He read another chapter.  Nothing.  He read another chapter, and his mind was wandering into all kinds of other things.  And then he got to Psalm 73.  He said it was like a script of what he was going through right at that moment.  The Bible said: “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.  But as for me, my feet almost slipped.  I nearly lost my foothold.  I envied the arrogant… I envied these people with their bodies so strong… with pride as their necklace.”  And he went on.

Even in the middle of the Psalm, Asaph said:

“I was senseless and ignorant, I was a brute beast before You.” (Psalm 73:21-22).

Chip says those were the very words he was using to describe himself as he was walking across campus:  “I’m like a beast.”  He didn’t know what was wrong with him.  Then he continued reading the Psalm.  And here’s what Asaph learned, in the middle of the Psalm.  In verse 16 he said:

“When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.  Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.  How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!  As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.  When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds” (Psalm 73:16-28).

He said that turned him around.  He felt like God was speaking directly to him.  And he said it was going to impact a lot of people.  He had a Bible study of six guys that he was leading; he had led several of them to Christ.  And he had tried to think what would happen to them when I walk away from God?  They might all walk away too.  He tried to think of all the different influences this was going to have.

But God did show up and He did speak to him.

I’ve had this happen to me so many times, and especially in the book of Psalms.  I’ve heard other people say this, that the Psalms run such a range of emotions.  When you’re most excited, that’s what some of the Psalms are.  They’re songs, so there are songs of excitement, there are songs of anger, there are songs of frustration, there are songs of victory.  There’s so much in there.  If you’ll just start flipping through the Psalms, and I encourage you to do that this week, if you’d at a point where you’re not sure what to do, just start reading through the Psalms.  Flip through a few:  4, 5, 6, 7, I don’t know how many, but there will be a point where you’ll say, “Wow, I can really identify with this.”  Whether it’s David going through the struggles of dealing with the sin in his own life, things he’s done to himself.  Or someone else who’s been beat or hurt by others and mistreated in the wrong way.  Or someone else who is just ecstatic because something great has just happened to them.

If you’ll just read through the Psalms, you’ll be amazed that you’ll find something that you can latch onto.

And typically the Psalms end on a high note.  Even as angry as people are when they come and pour forth their stuff to God, by the end of the Psalm, on most occasions, people come back and say, “OK God, I’ve had it out with You, I’ve vented, and now, come and speak to me and help me through the next day.”

This particular passage spoke to me, even a few years ago.  That very first sentence spoke to me about how God speaks to us in our moment of need.

I was asked to preach a sermon at a church where I was living up in Gridley, Illinois.  I was down in St. Louis at the time.  I was driving back that same morning and was going to pick up my wife and my kids and run them over to the church where I was going to speak.

It had been sort of a chaotic time.  I had flown to Israel.  I had been praying for a lady in Houston who was dying of cancer.  I had been doing a lot of things and ended up in St. Louis, then I had to get back to this church to preach by 9 o’clock that morning.

So I was up early and I got in the car and I had no idea what I was going to say at the church.  But God just kept saying, “Don’t worry about it.  I will give you the words to speak.”  But that’s not the way I am!  I usually write it out word for word.  It was like a very scripted thing for me because I just felt more confident that way and I think God honors that as well.

But there was another church in Gridley where they actually don’t prepare the messages.  They’re lay people and they get up and do the messages; they’re not paid staff.  And they get up, they open the Bible, and whatever page it lands on, they read the scripture and they preach from that.  And I just thought, “All right, I will try that this morning.”  There are other godly people in the world who do that, and I’m going to do that.

So I walked into my house about five minutes before it’s time to be at the church.  My wife was not exactly happy with me, but this was what we were doing.  I drove across town and she said, “What are you going to talk about?” and I said, “You know, I really don’t know.  I’m going to open my Bible and see what it says.”

So I stood up there.  I had never done this before.  I opened the Bible and it landed on Psalm 73.  Now I told you I had just been to Israel; I had just been praying for this woman who was dying of cancer.  I actually happened to pray for her on Valentine’s Day and it turned out to be a lot of heart issues, so I was praying for her heart, and prayed that God would heal her heart on Valentine’s Day.

And I opened up to Psalm 73 and the first line said:  “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.”  And I had just been thinking the whole time about my trip to Israel.  I had been thinking about this woman’s heart.  And there were “Israel” and “heart.”  I just said, “All right, I’ll talk about Israel and I’ll talk about this woman’s heart.”  I spoke for about 25 minutes and God said, “That’s it.  Stop.”  I hadn’t even finished all the stories.  But I said, “All right, that’s what You want me to do.”  And I sat down.  It was one of the most powerful messages that I had ever given, with people’s responses and what they had to say about that.

It was incredible, how God can speak to you, in the moment, when you need Him.

I just want to give you that hope and expectancy, that God really can meet you.

One last story before I go, even this week.  Some of you that know me from before, my wife passed away of cancer two years ago this November.  I’ve got six kids and I still homeschool the three younger ones.  My wife homeschooled all of them and so I’ve taken over that duty.  She wanted me to do that as long as I could.

So I’ve gotten out all the books the last couple of weeks.  She had them all nice in boxes for all their grades, so we’ve got books from past years, but you always have to buy workbooks and other things to fill in what’s missing.  And yet they update the books all the time, so the old workbooks don’t go with the new curriculum, and it’s always a little bit of a hassle.

So I had the books and we’ve been going through with the kids this week starting school and my eighth grade curriculum, the whole thing, I was missing workbooks for all of the lessons.  I was starting to add them to my shopping cart on the website where you buy the books.  But they were the wrong edition so they weren’t going to match with all my solution keys and test keys and teacher’s keys.  It’s like $600 to buy the whole thing for a year and I really wasn’t looking forward to spending that.  But I’ve got this child and I’ve got another one that’s in sixth grade that’s going to be in eighth grade soon.

So last night I was adding all these books to the cart and saying, “God, help me.  Lana, help me. I don’t know what to do.”

This morning, I got an email.  I had even searched on the Internet to see if I could find this “Fourth Edition, A Beka, Grammar and Composition II,” and I couldn’t find it.  But this morning and email came through the Bloomington homeschool list and a lady said she was selling all of her A Beka Eighth Grade curriculum.  The kids hardly went through any of it.  She thought it was going to work but it didn’t work out for them.  So I called her up and asked, “Now what edition is it?”  She said, “I’m not sure.  It’s an older one.”  And I said, “As long as they all match, I don’t care!  The teacher keys and the answers and everything, as long as they match!”

So I stopped by her house tonight on the way over here.  Not only did she had the curriculum, but she had twins, and so she had two workbooks of everything, so it will be enough for my kids.  It’s the Fourth Edition, just what I was needing this week.  And she had two workbooks, so I’ll have one for this child and another for in two years for my other child, with the same edition.

It’s just things like that, you could just say, “Oh, wow, that’s amazing that that worked.”

Or you could say, “Oh, God!  You’re more incredible than I could imagine.  I need You so bad.  I don’t know how I’m going to make it through this year.  I don’t know how I can do it without my wife.  But God, You know what I need.  And You know that this woman lived in Bloomington.  And You did it on this day, this morning, Thursday morning, after I had been adding hundreds of dollars worth of stuff to my shopping cart that I didn’t want to spend.  And I just say, God, thank You.”

It’s not about money, it’s not about saying, when things work out, you say, “Praise God!”  It’s about being expectant and saying, “God, I can’t go forward without You.”  It’s like Chip Ingram saying, “God, I’m going to give you three more chapters, then I’m done.”  (I’m not sure that’s the right approach all the time, just keep going, it may take six or seven!  Don’t give up after three!)

But God is there.  He works.  He’s alive.  He’s active.

Let’s pray:

“Lord, thank You.  Thank You for people like Asaph who lived how many thousand years ago and he was frustrated.  He was ticked.  He was hurt.  And yet You met him.  Thank You for people like Chip Ingram, who didn’t give up on God in college and now touches thousand of people all over the world.  Thank You God for speaking to me a few years ago when I was giving a sermon and didn’t know what to preach on.  Thank You God for speaking to me this morning and even tonight, just the double blessing that there are two workbooks of every lesson.  God, I thank You how you care for us.  I pray You’d give hope, give inspiration to the people in this room and the people listening later, that You’re real and that You love us.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”



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This Week’s Sermon- Transitions That Get You Somewhere


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

TRANSITIONS THAT GET YOU SOMEWHERE
Part 7 of our series on “Transitions.”
Here are the links to Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

by Candice Irion
candiceirion.blogspot.com

Note from Eric:  If you happened to watch the link I posted last week to the video “Lana’s Hope,” you’ll already know the heart of our writer this week.  Candice Irion is a writer, director and photographer who helped to capture and tell the story of “Lana’s Hope,” both for us and for the encouragement of others going through tough situations in their lives.  Candice has gone through her own as well, and in this week’s post she shares how God has used the “crucible” of a recent transition to help transform her more into His image.  (By the way, thanks to those who donated last week to our project for “Lana’s Hope is My Hope.”  So far we’ve raised over $3,300.  If you’d still like to donate and help our friends Dan and Emily Okall as they move to Kenya to continue their work of breast cancer education and care, click here.)  Here’s Candice’s story…

Photo of Candice Irion

“We… are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

I’ll come right out with it.  There is nothing easy about transitions.  They all incur choices, considerations and possibly some of the biggest trials you’ll go through.  To me, seasons of transitions have been like walking through storms: lightning, heat, fire, gushes of water, you name it.  It is there.

My most recent transition was a move.  I’m still dealing with it.  When I found out my husband and I were moving, I thought I was going into some sort of exile.  Quite literally and sorry to admit.  But, yes, I did.

With earlier transitions I’d tell you I went on several round trips to hell with no frequent flyer miles to boot.  I suffered losses of the worst kind and believe me, I never want to go back.  Hell is well… hell.  What can I say?

So transitions and me?  I’d say we are tight, but I don’t like them that much.  We aren’t friends, nor do I really care to offer that kind of amiable middle ground to transition.  We won’t be Facebook friends any time soon.

But transitions are in my life and in yours too.  Yours might be the same as mine or different.  Either way, transitions are there for better or worse, good or bad, in sickness and in health… basically, for the long haul.

God has used transitions in my life for many reasons, and if hindsight is really 20/20, I have to say that counter to my disdain of going through transitions, the end results have been quite fruitful.

God has used transitions in my life to transform me into His likeness.

Granted, I haven’t always liked the transition God has used and I have kicked and screamed my way through, but over time, I’ve learned to trust God’s choice in transition and not battled back so hard the more times I’ve gone through them.  (BTW, not battling so hard does make the transition a bit easier.  Ask me how I know).  (:

So, let’s roll up our sleeves and do some dirty work.  Someone’s got to right?  It might as well be you and me considering we are the principal players in our lives.

Let’s gain some understanding about transitions on a general level.  For starters, transition is defined in two ways:  a noun and a verb.  (Starting out difficult already, eh?)

According to our friend Webster, a transition in noun form is:  the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.

As a verb, transition is:  to undergo or cause to undergo a process or period of transition.

Another fun fact is that the term transition seems to have been used more after the year 2010 than in the 1800’s.  Interesting sign of the times, isn’t it?

But boiling it down, being in transition is like being in a metamorphic state.  There are many feelings of movement and one doesn’t come out the same as when they started the process.

Being in transitions is like a form of material being in a crucible.  A crucible is a vessel that can withstand temperatures hotter than we can pronounce (like a gabillion degrees).  Many times crucibles were made out of clay, but many times materials like silver and gold were put into crucibles to be refined.

In the screenwriting world, Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU, instructs writers to put their characters in a “crucible” of some sort, heat up the pressure and allow the characters to react true to their nature.  Some of the most fiery scenes have come from this technique.  It’s a great method of character development.

In a similar fashion, transition has been a crucible in my life.  It has been an agent of refining, of boiling out impurities, of overturning perceptions, of shifting my fleshly ways to spiritual ones.

We’ll use my recent move as an example.  I mentioned I felt like I was going into exile.  And how did I react to the news?  Many times, I was a royal pain!  It’s true.  I was.  I didn’t want to move.  My business, my life, my everything was where I was and I wanted to stay.   Wouldn’t you?

But when I got to my new place, I began to witness what God was up to and subsequently calmed down.  He wrestled out issues that had seeded themselves deep within me.  He changed the focus of my business.  He put me in a place where it is quiet and I could do that.  Then He surged up more deep issues.  He weeded out other relationships that needed to go.  He brought back pottery into my life.  Through the process of throwing bowls, He got me back on the horse with some business perceptions I struggled through.  He deepened my marriage.  Ultimately, God has used this move, this transition, as His crucible to boil out the bad, heal the hurt parts and replace it with the good.  It has been one of the most active catalysts in my life.

Now when I see a transition, I realize what it is:  a crucible with experiences both good and difficult.  What is your perception of transition?

Furthermore, how will you react when God brings transition into your life?  Will you trust or will you fight?  Will you kick, scream and battle your way or will you commit to persevering through?

Before you answer that, let’s read a bit from Jim Reimann, who illustrates a comforting purpose in transition and crucibles.

“For a jeweler sits as he refines precious metals, such as silver.  He puts the silver in the crucible, puts the fire to it, but does not then walk away, leaving it on its own.  No, he sits and watches it, being careful not to set the fire too hot, which may ruin the metal, nor set it too low, which will not allow the heat to do its work to burn away the dross and impurities.  He sits carefully watching the metal, all the while adjusting the fire to exactly the right temperature.  And when does he know it is perfectly pure?  When the jeweler can see his face in the metal, for it reflects his likeness.”  

Jim’s next words are inspiring.  “In the same way, the Lord sends the heat of the suffering into our lives to burn away our impurities and to conform us “to the likeness of His Son,’” (Rom. 8:29).

I can 100% attest that through my transition, God has never left my side.  Not for a second.  Not even in my worst moments.  God has even drawn nearer.

So take comfort.  If you are experiencing transition on any scale, know that He won’t leave your side, not for a second.  He will be with you in the loneliest of times to the most joyful, whatever the temperature is.

Also know that the transition isn’t the end of the world, but instead, is a crucible to get you to where you need to go.  Ironically, I never went into exile like I thought I was, but instead, far from it.  Instead, God brought me into freedom.

Lastly, there is a purpose in this transition and if there is ever a time to trust, this is it.  Hold back on the kicking and screaming and try to be led “beside the quiet waters,” allowing Him to restore your soul (see Ps. 23).

Granted, you may too think you are going into exile and wonder why God has sent you on a tour through hell.  I’ve been there and get that.  But, the second you transfix your eyes away from your situation and onto God and His promises to carry you through, is the moment you transition beyond; no longer just staring helplessly at the crucible but now staring hopefully at the One crucified.  For He, part of the Triune Godhead, (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) understand our hearts more than ourselves.

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words,(Romans 8:26). 

Another comfort is to remember that the intense time of hurt, sorrow and grief will only be for a season.  The rage of difficulty will pass like the violent summer storms.  The heat the silver experienced inside the crucible was just momentary.

“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal,” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

And then the day those clouds part, the hour the silver comes out of the fire, the time the clay bowl finally cools and the moment the crucible is removed, what is left shines so brightly, for it has been transformed into His image.  He will look into His precious one, into you, into me, and see His reflection.

God will use your transition to transform you.

Going through it will be tough and potentially unwanted, but as you transfix your eyes upon Him, you will see what He sees and you can trust Him to carry you through.

Here are some verses of encouragement as you walk through your season of transition:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us,” (Romans. 8:18).  

“…Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God,” (Hebrews 12:2). 

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy,” (Psalm. 126:6).

“And we who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit,” (2 Corinthians. 3:18).

Follow-up from Eric: To read more from Candice, I hope you’ll check out her blog at candiceirion.blogspot.com.  And if you’re going through a transition of your own and need to know that God can use it for good, I hope you’ll join us for our fall retreat in October.  Our theme is “transitions” and you’ll get a chance to hear more stories, in person, of how God can walk you through whatever transition you’re going through.  Follow this link to learn more or to register!  Lastly, you can still donate to “Lana’s Hope” and get a colorful reminder band as our way of saying thanks.  Just visit “Lana’s Hope is My Hope” to donate.

Copy © Candice Irion.  All Rights Reserved.
Scripture passages are from the NASB and NIV Bibles.
Reimann, J., ed. Morning By Morning: The Devotions of Charles Spurgeon. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008. Print.



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About Eric Elder And The Ranch

Eric Elder, August 22, 2013Eric Elder is an author, speaker, and contemporary pianist with a passion for sharing Christ with others.

Eric is also an ordained pastor and a technology expert, having worked as a technology researcher for a Fortune 10 corporation for nine years prior to going into full-time ministry in 1995. This unique combination of skills led USA Today to call him “a new breed of evangelist,” referring to his groundbreaking work of sharing Christ over the Internet with thousands each day in over 160 countries.  (You can read USA Today’s excellent summary here).

Eric has written for numerous publications, including Billy Graham’s Decision Magazine, (you can read the Decision Magazine article here) and has spoken nationally at conferences such as the Exodus International Freedom Conference, as well as producing books and music for his own ministry (you can browse through The Ranch Bookstore here).

Eric was married to Lana (Olivero) Elder for 23 years, and together they had six children.  Lana was an active part of the ministry until she passed on to be with the Lord in November 2012, after a nine-month battle with breast cancer.  You can read more about Lana’s faith and hope through it all at www.lanaelder.com.

Eric Elder and Family, Christmas 2009

Eric Elder and Family, Christmas 2009. Lana is pictured second from the right and Eric is second from the left.

If you’d like to join us in this work, whether helping to support it financially, or volunteering in other ways, please use the links below:

Make a Donation
Become a Ministry Volunteer
Learn More about Eric Elder Ministries

Eric Elder Ministries is an IRS-recognized, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. All gifts are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.

This Week’s Sermon- Lana’s Hope Is My Hope


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

LANA’S HOPE IS MY HOPE
(Follow-up to Part 6 of our series on “Transitions.”
Here are the link to Parts 12345 and 6.)

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

Note from Eric:  Last week my friend Dan Okall shared about his upcoming move from the US to Kenya, and how God is helping him and his family through the transition.  This week I’d like to do something to help him, too, by for your prayers and financial support of their work.  Since my wife, Lana, died of breast cancer 21 months ago, I’ve wanted to do something special in memory of her.  So today I’m announcing the creation of a fund called “Lana’s Hope.” My hope is that “Lana’s Hope” will help to fund projects that are in keeping with Lana’s heart for helping others in practical ways and encouraging them to put their hope in Christ for everything in their lives.  I hope you’ll read this special message, and consider making a donation to “Lana’s Hope.”  We’ll send you a special thank-you gift to help you remember that “Lana’s Hope” can be your hope as well.  Read on to learn more…

A few weeks ago I woke up in a sweat in the middle of the night saying, “I can’t do it!  I can’t do it!”  It wasn’t a dream that caused my middle-of-the-night panic, but reality.

Unfortunately, my sister, Marilyn Byrnes, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.  Thankfully, it’s not the type or stage of breast cancer that my wife, Lana, battled and which eventually took her life.  But after surgery my sister needed a place to stay while she underwent radiation treatments.  They didn’t have a big cancer center where she lives, so she was trying to find a place to do it.  I offered for her to come live with us for the 6-8 weeks it might take, as I wanted to help if I could.

As the time got closer, my sister asked if my family and I were really up for having a guest in their house for possibly 2 months, going through treatments and all that goes along with it.  That’s when I went to bed one night and later woke up in a sweat thinking “I can’t do it!”  As much as I wanted to help, it just started to feel overwhelming, having just gone through all we went through with Lana, plus all that I’m trying to do with my work and my kids and my new life as a single parent.

As I lay there in my bed, I suddenly remembered a project my friends Dan and Emily Okall told me a few months earlier that they were starting in Kenya (Dan wrote last week’s article on transitions and how God is helping him and his family as they prepare to move back to Kenya in a few weeks).  Over lasagna and laughter with our families at our dining room table, they told me they had secured a home near the capital of Kenya where women from remote villages could stay while undergoing radiation treatments at a big hospital nearby.

Dan and Emily also told me they had decided to name the house “Joanna’s House” in honor of two special women they knew named Jodi and Lana (my wife), so they came up with the name “Joanna.”  It was a touching moment to me to know that they would honor Lana in this way.  They said they wanted to include write-up about Lana that they could frame and put on the wall at Joanna’s House about Lana and her faith in Christ, as their hope is not only to minister to the physical needs of these women, but their spiritual needs as well.  I told them I’d be glad to do a write-up, but more than that, I wanted to help with their project in other ways if I could.

I wanted to help because Dan and Emily were not just friends who wanted to honor my wife’s memory, but I wanted to help because it was through their work that we first discovered that Lana had breast cancer at all.  Lana and I had just attended a talk here in the US one afternoon day where  Dan and Emily were sharing about their work doing breast cancer education in rural Kenya; that night Lana and I discovered a lump in her breast.  It was only 11 months later Lana had passed from this life to the next.

Although we all wished our outcome would have been different, those 11 months became some of the most precious months of our entire lives.  Even though the doctors gave us no hope, but God gave us tremendous hope, having shown us what was wrong and giving us time to say an extended goodbye, at least for now.

So having been so personally touched by Dan and Emily’s work in Kenya, even here in the US, I wanted to help them in their work if I could.  But it wasn’t until I woke up in a sweat in the middle of the night saying, “I can’t do it,” feeling overwhelmed about the idea of helping my sister through her treatments, that I realized the impact Dan and Emily’s work would have on the people in their remote village back in Kenya.

For here I was in the US, now facing the question of whether I could house my own sister who needed a place to stay while she underwent radiation treatments for possibly 2 months.  As much as I wanted to help, I found the idea overwhelming.  I thought:  If it’s this overwhelming to work out the details for this kind of treatment here in the US, what must it be like in Kenya?   I lay there stunned in my bed.  God had just given me a wake-up in the middle of the night about His heart for Dan and Emily’s project.

After talking it through with my sister, she worked out an arrangement with her company to do her treatments in a different city.  She starts her daily radiation treatments tomorrow, Monday, August 25th, and we’re all praying for her health and strength and peace.  (If you’d like to send her a note, you can reach her at marilyn@1piano.com.  I know she’d love to hear your encouragement, even though she may not be able to reply right now.  Marilyn’s beautiful piano music has been a regular feature of The Ranch website from the beginning, and you can listen to it here.)

So my heart is with Dan and Emily on multiple levels, from believing in them as people who love the Lord and are directed by Him, to believing in the work they are doing as Lana and I were so personally touched by it already, to believing in what they’re trying to do with “Joanna’s House.”

When Lana died, I wanted to do something to honor her life and memory and the hope that she had.  I know many of you have wanted to do the same.  In that light, I’ve created a new fund within our ministry called “Lana’s Hope.”  My hope is that God will use this fund to help finance projects that would help others in practical ways and help them put their hope in Christ for everything in their lives, just as Lana put her hope in Him.  As Lana said in one of her blog posts, quoting from Psalm 25:

“No one whose hope is in You will ever be put to shame…” (Psalm 25:3).

Lana’s hope was in God, before cancer, after cancer and now in heaven with Him forever. I know if she could say anything to you, she would want you to put your hope in Him for everything in your life, too, knowing that He loves you so very much.  No matter what you’re going through, know that God hasn’t left you. He hasn’t walked away from you. He hasn’t forsaken you. You can’t go wrong putting your hope in Him.

Lana Elder - Mother's Day 2012

Having said all of that, now you know more about why I’ve started this special fund called “Lana’s Hope.”  The first project I’d like to help fund is Dan and Emily’s ministry for breast cancer education and care in Kenya.  If you’d like to join me, I’d be glad to send you a special thank-you gift as a reminder that Lana’s Hope can be your hope, too.

Dan Okall and Family

About 10 years ago, when Lana and I were raising money to travel to Africa to help with another ministry project, we offered supporters some simple rubber reminder bands that they could wear on their wrists to pray for our trip. So in honor of Lana, and in remembering her first trip to Africa, I’ve ordered 200 reminder bands for this project, too. The reminder bands simply say, “Lana’s Hope is My Hope.” It’s a simple way to honor Lana and join your heart with hers in saying that your hope is in Christ, too.

Lana's Hope Reminder Bands

I’ve included links below where you can make a tax-deductible donation to our ministry, and we’ll pass your gifts along directly to Dan and Emily’s ministry, Dala Development.  When we receive your gift, we’ll send you a reminder-band,  anywhere in the world, as our collective way of saying thanks.

I’ve also included some links below where you can learn more about “Lana’s Hope” in her own words, from the beautiful blog post she wrote on the topic just a month before she passed away, to a short video that a film team team made called “Lana’s Hope” just two weeks before passed away.

To make a donation to this special fund, just choose a colorful reminder band from the links below (we even have one that glows in the dark!), then enter the amount of your donation on the following screen. We only have a limited number of each color, so order soon to get the color you want!

Before you click, though, can I encourage you to take a moment to pray and ask God how much He would want you to give to this project?  The Okalls are trying to raise $3,400 a month over the next two years, and are currently at about 50% of that goal in monthly commitments.  Their initial expenses, such as flights, vaccines and the first month’s rent have already been raised, so they are preparing to leave next month; but there is still an urgency to raise that remaining 50%.

$3,400 a month may seem like a lot, but you might be surprised that this amount will cover the salary for their 11 staff members (who are currently reaching over 300 people a month through their outreaches on a part-time basis), their office, the rent and needs of Joanna’s House, and their operational and personal expenses while in Kenya! So whether you donate $10, $100, $1,000 or more, know that your gift will be used practically and effectively for the work of Christ and His kingdom.  (And if you’d like to make your donation a monthly one, just use the same links below, then check the box that says “make this recurring (monthly)” on the following page.  Either one-time or recurring gifts will be a blessing!)

Thanks for hearing my heart for this project, and thanks for your love and support, both now and over the years.  I truly appreciate it!

To make a donation by credit card or PayPal, and get a colorful reminder band as our way of saying thanks, just choose a color from the links below:

Your gifts may also be sent by mail to:
Eric Elder Ministries (write “Lana’s Hope” in the memo line, and let us know which color reminder band you’d like)
25615 E 3000 North Rd
Chenoa, IL  61726

Your donation will be processed through Eric Elder Ministries, a fully-recognized, tax-exempt religious organization here in the US.

To learn more about Dala Development, click here.

To read Lana’s beautiful blog post “Lana’s Hope,” click here.

To watch the inspiring video “Lana’s Hope,” which was filmed just two weeks before Lana passed away, click here.

P.S. Next week, we’ll continue with our series on transitions as my friend Candice Irion (who put together the touching short film “Lana’s Hope”) will share how God is helping her through a transition in her own life.  If you’d like to hear more, in person, about how God can help you through whatever transition you may be going through right now, join us here in Illinois in October for our fall retreat where our topic will be “Transitions.”  Click here to learn more or to register.



The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!

If you need a boost in your faith, we hope you’ll join us for our 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat here in the heart of the Great Midwest on Columbus Day weekend, October 10-12.  We’ll have great food, great worship, great messages and great fellowship.  Why not get away and see what God has to say?  Click here to learn more or to register.

About Greg Potzer And This Day’s Thought

Greg PotzerThis Day’s Thought was started in January of 2000 with its mission being to offer Christian encouragement and inspiration to those in need. The ministry is administered by Greg Potzer & Eric Elder with the significant help from many volunteers.

The seeds for this ministry were planted some 40 years ago, when Greg, as an avid reader, started to save helpful thoughts and quotations on 3×5 cards per his mother’s suggestion.  This collection now serves as the foundation from which that segment of each day’s message prayerfully begins.

This Day’s Thought, This Day’s Verse (from varying Bible versions) and an occasional This Day’s Smile are all contained in one e-mail that we deliver, Monday through Friday.  On Sunday, we send This Week’s Sermon, shared by Eric Elder of The Ranch Fellowship.

In September of 2012, This Day’s Thought merged with The Ranch Fellowship, to become unified in their joint mission of serving the Lord.  Afer working so well together for so many years, Eric Elder and Greg Potzer decided they could function even more effectively joining their ministries and now serve under the umbrella of The Ranch Fellowship (a ministry of Eric Elder Ministries).  Both This Day’s Thought and The Ranch Fellowship are registered  501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, and all gifts are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.

Lana’s Hope

Lana Elder - Mother's Day 2012

About a month before my wife, Lana, died of breast cancer, she wrote a beautiful blog post called “Lana’s Hope.”  In it she talked about the hope she had in God, regardless of the outcome of her situation.  She wrote:

“Being in a situation like this, where death could happen at any time, I have no worries for myself if that happens. I’ve spent so much time with Jesus already that it’ll be like going home to see my friend.”

Lana believed God could do anything, absolutely anything, and she believed God could heal her at any moment.  But she also trusted Him completely with everything in her life, saying:

“I have great hope that God can heal me, but my hope is in Him completely no matter what. I know I can’t go wrong by putting my hope in Him. As Psalm 25:3 says:  ‘No one whose hope is in You
 will ever be put to shame…’”

Lana’s hope was in God before cancer, during cancer and now in heaven with Him forever.  I know if she could say anything to you, she would want you to put your hope in Him for everything in your life, too, knowing that He loves you so very much.

No matter what you’re going through, know that God hasn’t left you.  He hasn’t walked away from you.  He hasn’t forsaken you.  You can’t go wrong putting your hope in Him.  As Lana said in quoting Psalm 25:3, “No one whose hope is in You will ever be put to shame…”

When Lana died, I wanted to do something to honor her life and the hope that she had, and I know many of you have wanted to do the same.  In that light, I’ve created a fund within our ministry called “Lana’s Hope.”  My hope is that God will use this fund to help finance projects that would help others in practical ways as well as to put their hope in God, just as she had put her hope in Him.

Dan Okall and FamilyThe first project we’d like to help fund is a ministry for breast cancer education in rural Kenya run by our friends Dan and Emily Okall.  It was because of a talk Lana and I attended here in the US where Dan and Emily were talking about their breast cancer education program in Kenya that Lana and I discovered the lump in Lana’s breast later that night.  11 months later, Lana was gone.  Had we not heard that talk, we may not have known until the very end that Lana was even sick, as her health was perfect in every other way up to that point.

Although we all wished Lana’s outcome would have been different, those 11 months became some of the most precious in our lives.  Lana’s cancer was already so advanced that the doctors gave us no hope, but God gave us tremendous hope!  Through Dan and Emily’s ministry, we were able to get a heads-up about this disease that was about to take Lana’s life, and have a chance to say a long good-bye, at least for now.  I can’t wait to see her again fully alive and cancer free in heaven!

But until that time, I’d love to help further the work that has touched us so much.  If you’d like to join me, I’d be glad to send you a special thank-you gift as a reminder that Lana’s Hope can be your hope, too.  About 10 years ago, when Lana and I were raising money to travel to Africa to help with another ministry project there, we offered supporters some simple rubber reminder bands that they could wear on their wrists to pray for our trip.  So in honor of Lana and remembering that first trip to Africa, I’ve ordered 200 reminder bands for this project.  The bands simply say, “Lana’s Hope is My Hope.” It’s a simple way to honor Lana and to say along with her that your hope is in God, too.

Lana's Hope Reminder Bands

To make a tax-deductible donation, just click a link below to choose the color of reminder band you’d like, then enter your donation amount on the next screen.  We’ll pass your gifts along directly to Dan and Emily ‘s ministry, Dala Development, and we’ll send you a reminder-band anywhere in the world as our collective way of saying thanks.  We have a limited number of each color, so order soon! (And to make a monthly donation to this project, just click “make recurring” on the following page.)

Your donation will be processed through Eric Elder Ministries, a fully-recognized, tax-exempt religious organization.

To read more from Lana’s beautiful blog post “Lana’s Hope,” click here.

To learn more about Dala Development, click here.

To watch the video “Lana’s Hope,” which was filmed just two weeks before Lana died, click here.

And to watch a celebration of Lana’s life, given by her family and friends, click here.

Thanks for your love and support through the years, and thanks for your love and support for this project, too!

Love,
Eric Elder

“Lana’s Hope” Reminder Bands

Lana's Hope Reminder Bands

Join me in honoring the memory of my late wife, Lana, with a tax-deductible gift to “Lana’s Hope.”  These funds will be used to finance projects that would help others in practical ways as well as help people to put their hope in God, just as Lana had put her hope in Him.

Dan Okall and Family

The first project we’re helping to fund is a ministry for breast cancer education in rural Kenya run by our friends Dan and Emily Okall.  It was because of a talk Lana and I attended here in the US where Dan and Emily were talking about their breast cancer education program in Kenya that Lana and I discovered the lump in Lana’s breast later that night.  11 months later, Lana was gone.  Had we not heard that talk, we may not have known until the very end that Lana was even sick, as her health was perfect in every other way up to that point.

Although we all wished Lana’s outcome would have been different, those 11 months became some of the most precious in our lives.  Lana’s cancer was already so advanced that the doctors gave us no hope, but God gave us tremendous hope!  Through Dan and Emily’s ministry, we were able to get a heads-up about this disease that was about to take Lana’s life, and have a chance to say a long good-bye, at least for now.  I can’t wait to see her again fully alive and cancer free in heaven!

But until that time, I’d love to help further the work that has touched us so much.  If you’d like to join me, I’d be glad to send you a special thank-you gift as a reminder that Lana’s Hope can be your hope, too.  About 10 years ago, when Lana and I were raising money to travel to Africa to help with another ministry project there, we offered supporters some simple rubber reminder bands that they could wear on their wrists to pray for our trip.  So in honor of Lana and remembering that first trip to Africa, I’ve ordered 200 reminder bands for this project.  The bands simply say, “Lana’s Hope is My Hope.” It’s a simple way to honor Lana and to say along with her that your hope is in God, too.

To make a tax-deductible donation, just click a link below to choose the color of reminder band you’d like, then enter your donation amount on the next screen.  We’ll pass your gifts along directly to Dan and Emily ‘s ministry, Dala Development, and we’ll send you a reminder-band anywhere in the world as our collective way of saying thanks.  We have a limited number of each color, so order soon! (And to make a monthly donation to this project, just click “Make Donation Recurring (Monthly)” on the following page.)

Your donation will be processed through Eric Elder Ministries, a fully-recognized, tax-exempt religious organization. To read more from Lana’s beautiful blog post “Lana’s Hope,” click here. To learn more about Dala Development, click here. To watch the video “Lana’s Hope,” which was filmed just two weeks before Lana died, click here. And to watch a celebration of Lana’s life, given by her family and friends, click here. Thanks for your love and support through the years, and thanks for your love and support for this project, too! Love, Eric Elder

LanaElder-MothersDay 2012About “Lana’s Hope”

About a month before my wife, Lana, died of breast cancer, she wrote a beautiful blog post called “Lana’s Hope.”  In it she talked about the hope she had in God, regardless of the outcome of her situation.  She wrote:

“Being in a situation like this, where death could happen at any time, I have no worries for myself if that happens. I’ve spent so much time with Jesus already that it’ll be like going home to see my friend.”

Lana believed God could do anything, absolutely anything, and she believed God could heal her at any moment.  But she also trusted Him completely with everything in her life, saying:

“I have great hope that God can heal me, but my hope is in Him completely no matter what. I know I can’t go wrong by putting my hope in Him. As Psalm 25:3 says:  ‘No one whose hope is in You
 will ever be put to shame…’”

Lana’s hope was in God, before cancer, during cancer, and now in heaven with Him forever.  I know if she could say anything to you, she would want you to put your hope in Him for everything in your life, too, knowing that He loves you so very much.

No matter what you’re going through, know that God hasn’t left you.  He hasn’t walked away from you.  He hasn’t forsaken you.  You can’t go wrong putting your hope in Him.  As Lana said in quoting Psalm 25:3,

“No one whose hope is in You will ever be put to shame…”

How It Works

The Ranch BookstoreHave you ever been a bookstore where you can pick the price for what you want?  Here you can!  Read on…

Welcome to The Ranch Bookstore, featuring dozens of books, CD’s and DVD’s created just for you!  Although you can read, listen to and watch any of these resources for free anytime right here on The Ranch, many people have asked if they can get copies of these resources for themselves or as gifts for their family and friends.

So we’ve made them all available to you simply for a donation of any size to our ministry.  As you consider how much you’d like to donate, can I encourage you to be as generous as you can be?  While we offer everything we do for free so no one will be left out, if you can donate more, know that you’ll be helping to spread God’s life-changing Word to people in 160 countries every day!

Just browse to the item you’d like, click the “Donate” button beside it, and we’ll send it out to you anywhere in the world.  It’s our way of saying thanks for helping to support this ministry.

Please allow 2-3 weeks for delivery (or 3-4 weeks outside the U.S.), as all items are printed and shipping individually when your order is received.  And if ordering from outside the U.S., please consider including an extra $5-10 in your donation to help offset the higher cost of shipping internationally.

Thanks for helping to share the message of Jesus Christ around the world!

Sincerely,

Eric Elder and Greg Potzer
for The Ranch and This Day’s Thought

(The Ranch and This Day’s Thought are ministries of Eric Elder Ministries, a fully recognized, non-profit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt religious organization.  For tax purposes, please note that the amount of your donation that exceeds the “suggested donation” next to each item is fully tax deductible.)


Private Prayers

Note from Eric: This is my my all-time favorite spot at The Ranch, a place where you can talk to God in prayer. You can also use this page to send us your prayer requests privately and we’ll be glad to pray for you.

Here’s a quiet spot where you can spend some time alone with God, just the two of you.

If you’ve never put your faith in Christ and would like to see how you can be forgiven of your sins and live forever with him in heaven, visit A Leap Of Faith!

If you are a Christian, then you know that Jesus has already made a leap of faith for you when he died on the cross. He loved you so much he was willing to give up his life for you so that you could live.

If he was willing to die for you, you can be sure there’s nothing he would withhold from you, unless he had something better in mind. He’s already paid the greatest price for you.

I’d like you to read the following words spoken by Jesus. Then I’ve included a spot below where you can say a quiet prayer to God, and listen for his response.

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit– fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (John 15:13-16)

I know for me it sometimes helps to write out my prayer. It helps me focus my thoughts and also see when God has answered. I’ve included a box below where you can write out your prayer, and another box where you can write what you sense God might be saying in response to your prayer.

When you’re finished, you can either erase these boxes and no one will see them, or you can press “Submit” and one of us here at The Ranch will be glad to pray personally for your request.

Remember, too, that Jesus has already given his life for you, so there’s nothing he would withhold from you unless he had something better in mind for you. I like the way Henry Blackaby puts it in his book Experiencing God:

“Oh, God, if I ever give You a request and You have more to give me than I am asking, cancel my request!”

Enjoy your time with God.

A Leap Of Faith

Note from Eric:  If you’ve never made a leap of faith and put your faith in Christ, here’s some encouragement to help you do it.

The good news, or gospel, of Jesus Christ is really only good news if you understand the bad news first.

You see, Jesus was the man, and you are his beloved.  He saw what the future held for each of us.  He saw that we were all headed down a road that would eventually lead us to death.  He knew this would happen because he knew that each of us had sinned, and that the penalty for sin was death.

It isn’t a surprise to most of us that we’ve sinned.  A sin is anything we do, or anything we say – or even anything we think – that God doesn’t want us to do or say or think.  So it’s no surprise that the Bible says,

“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Unfortunately, the penalty for sin is pretty strong.  The Bible says that the penalty for sin is death.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

This is a terrible dilemma for us and for God. God loves us and doesn’t want to harm us in any way, but he is a just God and must punish sin.

The good news is that God made a way to solve this dilemma.  He made a way for us to escape the penalty of death, and to give us a chance to live an abundant life.  He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to take the penalty of death in our place, so we could be free. The Bible says,

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

While God makes this free gift of eternal life available to everyone, we must reach out, by faith, to receive it.  This is the leap of faith.  The Bible tells us exactly how to do this:

“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

God has promised that everyone who does this will be saved.  The Bible says,

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

If you’ve never known what it feels like to have someone love you so much that they would give up their life for you, you can know that today.  If you’ve been hurt and need someone to bind up your wounds, you can have that today.  If you need forgiveness and you realize that there’s nothing you can do to make up for what you’ve done, you can receive that forgiveness today.

This is the gospel (which means “good news”) of Jesus Christ.  This is what makes Christianity different than any other religion in the world.  Many religions try to point you to God.  But Jesus Christ is the only one who died for you to bring you to God himself.  One day he will come back for each of us who puts our faith in him now.

Jesus said,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.   In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3).

If this is what you want, to be forgiven of your sins, to be healed of your hurts, and to know the love of God, you can ask God for it right now, wherever you are.

“Dear Lord, I’m sorry for the sins I’ve committed against you and against others.   Thank you for sending Jesus to die for me to pay the price for my sins.   Please forgive me.  I want Jesus Christ to be the Lord of my life from now on.  I ask that you would fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I can follow you with my whole heart.   I want to say with my mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and I believe in my heart that You raised him from the dead.  Thank you for your promise that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

If you’ve just made this leap of faith, you’ve begun an adventure that will never end.  You’ve crossed over from death to life, from despair to hope, from condemnation to forgiveness.  And you have a friend in Jesus who will love you forever – he will never leave you.

If you weren’t ready yet to make this decision, I’d like you to bookmark this page so you can visit here again.  Send me a note with your questions, fears, doubts or concerns.   There’s nothing I’d love more than to talk with you about this decision.

Unfortunately for us, we don’t know how much time we have left.  Not only is the time of our death uncertain, but God has already told us ahead of time that this world will one day be destroyed in a great fire.  We don’t know when that day will come.  But just like all of the other promises in the Bible that have come true, this one will come true as well.

Jesus said the end will come when we least expect it, like a thief in the night.   So I urge you to take this decision seriously, and make a leap of faith before it’s too late.  Jesus said,

“Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from'” (Luke 13:25).

I’d encourage you to reread this page again before you leave, and ask God to give you the faith to make the leap.

In the end, the great thing about this love story is that you get to choose your own ending. I hope you’ll choose the one that leads to life abundant, here in this world and in the world to come.

If you’ve prayed today to invite Christ into your life, we’d like to know! Just go to A Quiet Place To Pray and send us a comment at the bottom of the page.

This Week’s Sermon- Moving From Here To There


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

MOVING FROM HERE TO THERE
(Part 6 of our series on “Transitions.”
Here are the link to Parts 1234 and 5.)

by Dan Okall
www.daladevelopment.org

Note from Eric:  Moving can be a hard transition no matter where you’re moving from or to.  But moving half-way around the world to do missions work adds an extra dimensions of both excitement and complexity.  This week, I’ve asked my friend Dan Okall to write about his current move from the US to Kenya and how God is helping him through it.  Dan grew up in Kenya, came to the US to study at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and is now returning to the land of his birth, along with his wife and their two-year old daughter, to help grow and expand a ministry they started there several years ago, currently focusing on breast cancer education.  I hope you’ll enjoy Dan’s article, no matter what kind of transition you may be going through, and please be sure to read my footnote at the end about how their ministry has touched our family personally.

Dan Okall and Family

Transitions aren’t always easy. They’re not always wanted. For the past several years our life has been in a constant state of transition and what I can say I’ve learned from it, is that God is faithful.

Less than a year after we married, our plans to visit Kenya were halted by violence and the lease on our apartment expired so we had to move into a friend’s house. We founded Dala Development Programs shortly after moving in; our goal is to make disciples in my village in western Kenya using the avenue of community development. More than a year after our intended departure, we left for Kenya. Three months later, once we started to feel comfortable with our surroundings, we returned to the US. We both got jobs, but before we could get comfortable, several people told us they were going to Kenya with us the following year. We did not have plans to return to Kenya so soon, but made plans to accommodate them anyway. One year later, we were back in Kenya. Six months and 17 visitors later, we were back in the US. Emily got a job, but I could not find one.  The first three years of our ministry were really hard and when we were just about to give up, God transitioned the focus of our ministry to breast cancer education. Without any medical background we followed.

By now we had longed for anything stable. Job searching, getting a job, quitting a job, moving, moving back, and then starting the whole cycle over was exhausting. Every time our location or circumstances changed, we had to adjust, and sometimes that adjustment process was not quick or easy. I continued looking for work while running the ministry from home. A year later, an opportunity arose for us to return to Kenya for three months. It was a fulfilling three months that we both really enjoyed. Once we returned to the US, Emily resumed working at her previous job and a few months later I got a job in my field. It finally seemed that we were on a path towards stability. FINALLY!

We started making plans. We would find an apartment in St. Louis (all this time we had been staying in a spare room at Emily’s parents’ house). We would paint the walls, and we would buy a car. When Emily got pregnant, we planned to move out and be our own family, it was exciting! At the same time, the work in Kenya was growing in amazing ways. Story after story confirmed we were reaching people in very meaningful ways, physically and spiritually. Today we have 11 staff members who reach an average of 300 people a month and work alongside two medical facilities to offer screening and treatment. This year, we started Joanna House (partly named after Lana Elder), that offers room and board to low income patients undergoing treatment in the capital. Though things were going so well, neither of us really wanted to go back.  We had other plans, but we were open to a short visit sometime in the future to see the work.

In the midst of our planning, frustrations at my job began to really wear on me. Issues with uncooperative clients and disengaged co-workers made me want to quit. I prayed about it and then “told” God that I would stay put for one more year, make money to sustain my family, and then quit. Well, God has a funny way of doing things. One week later, just when we were narrowing down our apartment search, six coworkers and I lost our jobs because of federal spending cuts. None of our plans worked out. We were crushed. But God is faithful, and great is His faithfulness.

This was a wakeup call. Emily and I both knew we needed to go back to Kenya, but this time we needed to stay longer. Neither of us was really ready but that point marked the beginning of our transition to full-time ministry and plans to move to Kenya. That summer we started to pray about moving. There were discussions about employment opportunities, ministry opportunities, a growing need for good leadership, where we might live, and how things might go. None of these things genuinely thrilled me, but I knew, and I know, that God is faithful and that when we obey it usually leads to a pleasant surprise.

God started us on this journey by leading us to read through the book of Joshua. This is a great story of God calling Joshua to take on the enormous task of finally leading His people to the Promised Land. Over and over, God commanded Joshua, “Be courageous, be strong, do not fear.”  Since we know how the story ends, it’s easy to see why God instructed Joshua to be courageous—because there were battles ahead. Likewise, it’s clear why God said not to fear—because the battles belonged to the Lord and His faithfulness would carry them through. For Joshua, however, I’m sure he needed the reminders.

It is important to remember that when God calls you and you have to make a transition, whether big or small, short term or long term, urgent or slow, local or international, what matters most is knowing that you are in great hands. Be strong, be courageous, do not fear, God is in control.

Initially, we thought our transition was really big. Taking our 19-month old baby to a different country and to direct a growing ministry is a pretty big deal. But considering I was born in Kenya and lived there for over 24 years, our transition does not compare to the one Joshua was called to. First, God called him to be the president of a nation (that’s a lot of responsibility!). Second, He gave Joshua a few days notice (not one year) to move the whole nation into a foreign land to fight and settle in the Promised Land.

Here is a man that God called and put through TWO MAJOR transitions in the span of one week! The thing that made Joshua’s transition go well was that God had told him awhile earlier (as recorded in Deuteronomy 31) that he would become the leader. Then God filled him with His Spirit (Deuteronomy 34:9), and gave him the specific mission to accomplish (Joshua 1:1-5).

The part that gets rough for us in the process of transition is managing the details. We know as believers that we have the Spirit dwelling in us (1 Corinthians 3:16), and we know we have been called to go make disciples for the Kingdom (Matthew 28:20), but it can be very hard to know when to make a move and in what sequence. For us this has been the hardest part. Do I quit my job now and move, or should I wait until later on? For us, this aspect was the most stressful one. How are we going to finance our time of service in Kenya? Should I get another part-time job before we move? Should we put our child in day care so I can focus completely on the demands of the transition and ministry needs? Should I go to Kenya and scout out where we will stay or should we save that money?

Joshua did not know exactly when Moses would die. But when the time came God was clear with Joshua about how and when to move the nation into the new country. Sometimes we need to use the wisdom He has given us, like when Joshua sent spies to Jericho.  Yet God was very specific about how to go about conquering Jericho (read that amazing story in Joshua 5). The counsel of trusted believers is always valuable.

To move along our transition, it became common for us to go to bed late and rise up early in order to get a lot done. I would wake up early to get a jump start on the to-do list, but this made it very hard to step back and focus on God alone. We also got so busy that for three weeks we missed our small group Bible studies. When we finally made it back, the group was discussing the topic of solitude. God convicted me of the need to practice solitude during these busy periods. He also revealed to me how being busy was having a devastating effect on our spiritual and personal lives.  I was more stressed out, irritable, making mistakes, and missing out on opportunities.  As I practice solitude, I hear God more clearly, and get His perspective and priority for the days’ activities. Instead of dashing to check my email, or making calls, I am learning to surrender tasks and needs at the feet of Christ. We can learn from Joshua, who continuously sought God’s counsel, and Jesus, who, though busy, set the example for us by waking up early in the morning to pray (Mark 1:35). Set your alarm for early morning solitude; go for a long quite walk to spend time in prayer.

Lies from the devil can bring discouragement and make transitions very rough as well. Our ministry has been growing amazingly yet we have faced intense mental and emotional attacks. For example, we ask: If we are surely doing God’s work, how come funds are not pouring in? It can even manifest itself emotionally, asking why my spouse and I are not equally excited about entering this new phase. The toughest one has been comparing ourselves to our friends who are employed, with their extra income, vacations, and the size of their houses…. yet here we are struggling! In the midst of transitions, be aware that Satan, sin, or a lack of fellowship with God make you vulnerable and lose sight of God’s mission. Recruit a few close friends and an older couple who have faced transitions that are similar to yours and are willing to walk through it with you. Give them the liberty to ask hard questions, offer tangible ideas, and pray with you fervently.

External things have happened during our transition period that caused fear and took our eyes off the mission God has called us to. One morning I woke up worried about our daughter. She is less than two years old and being in a malaria zone is scary. About the same time a few passenger planes crashed, terrorists struck parts of Coastal Kenya, then the dreaded Ebola virus surfaced. Concerns about our health, safety, and future wellbeing started rolling. I remember praying during this time and wow, did God speak clearly into our situation! He led me into Psalms 121, telling me that God is our help, he watches over us (repeated five times), protects us from harm (repeated twice) and is with us as we go and come, always and forever. I would advise that you bring fears and concerns to the feet of Christ and then openly talk to your spouse, and/or accountability partners about them.

We do not know how it will all work out, but we have peace and passion, and are laying our burdens on Him. We hope our message will encourage you, cause you to approach transitions in a better manner, and above all experience God’s grace wherever you are on the journey. Remember that God is faithful even when we are not (2 Timothy 2). Keep running with perseverance the race set before you, fixing your eyes on Jesus and the throne (Hebrews 12:1-2).

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Follow-up from Eric:  On a very personal note, it was because of Dan and Emily that my wife Lana and I discovered that Lana had breast cancer two years ago, on the very night after attending one of their talks here in the US about their breast cancer education in Kenya.  I have loved and respected Dan and Emily for many years, but I will be forever grateful and indebted to them for their ministry and their heart to follow God’s call on their lives.  God has led them very specifically and strategically in the past, just as He is leading them now.  Soon I’ll share more with you about Dan and Emily’s work, and how you can be involved with it, too!



The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!

If you need a boost in your faith, we hope you’ll join us for our 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat here in the heart of the Great Midwest on Columbus Day weekend, October 10-12.  We’ll have great food, great worship, great messages and great fellowship.  Why not get away and see what God has to say?  Click here to learn more or to register.

This Week’s Sermon- Transitioning From The Desert


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

TRANSITIONING FROM THE DESERT
(Part 5 of our series on “Transitions.”  Here are the link to Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.)

by Alan Lowry
Founder of Guitarists Into God (GIG),
a music ministry at Saddleback Church

Note from Eric: I’ve asked my friend and a member of our board of directors, Alan Lowry, to write this week’s message for you as part of our series on “Transitions.”  In today’s message, Al shares how God has helped him through his own “desert” times.  Al will also be leading us in worship at our 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat here in Illinois in October.  We hope you’ll join us, too!  You can learn more about the retreat by clicking here.  Here’s Al’s insightful message…

A little over a month ago, a group of soon to be friends engaged in a conference call to plan a fall retreat at Eric Elder’s midwestern ranch. Most of us had not personally met, but quickly into the call, we began to get excited about the project and an instant bond was made.

Sometimes, we would get off topic and chat about various problems we had faced or were facing. Topics like caregiving, illness, financial hindrances and other struggles were shared freely amongst our team.

By the end of our chat, we had discovered that unexpected change is manifest in all our lives and we elected “Transitions” as our theme for the retreat.  That being established, Eric challenged several of us to write our thoughts on this topic for some upcoming “This Week’s Sermon” presentations.

The last several weeks have produced excellent submissions from the others, and I began wondering why I was having such a hard time getting my own thoughts off the starting block.

At this time, I’d like to confess to you that I’ve been doing some desert walking lately; mostly metaphorically, but some of my wanderings have been in actual deserts.  Many picture California, where I live, as endless beaches with mountains in the backdrop.  We’re blessed with this, but our coast also contains some very diverse terrain, and yes, that would include deserts.

A few days ago, after much thought, reflection and a ride through the desert on my mountain bike, it hit me like a brick why I was currently struggling so hard with this topic.  While trying to identify some past event that has changed my course, I failed to realize that right now, today, my life is in flux, and it has been for a long while.

I resembled that biblical character in Luke 6:42 who was advised to remove the log from his own eye before trying to identify the speck in his friend’s.  Admittedly a loose comparison, but that’s all I got. 🙂  I don’t know what others’ formulas are for discovering and dealing with unplanned transition, but for me it often requires a physical change of environment to help usher in a new, more positive mental perspective.  Getting out of my familiar setting seems to be a first and very important step toward purposeful change.

Many of us have found the number 40 to hold great significance in the Bible. Well ironically, it occurred to me today that 40 years ago this October, I was introduced to my first desert, the Mohave, as I rode my bicycle from the Midwest to California on what turned out to be a one-way, life-changing transition.

I shouldn’t be so surprised, as historically, there are many instances where God has used deserts and other uncomfortable situations to realign men’s objectives; to transition them.

The first that comes to mind is the Israelite’s 40-year excursion in the Sinai wilderness; a bleak desert that had them reeling to return to slavery. This set the bar for future desert endeavors that included the likes of Jeremiah, Elijah, David, John the Baptist and Jesus.

Most of us have our lists of incidents that can cast us into confusion or even depression; a desert place. Sometimes, we become so weary, we can’t even identify what got us there. This was the case with me, but in my recent reflections, brought on by this writing challenge, I have identified some of the markers that have been affecting me.

I won’t elaborate on each one too much, but here are some adjectives that describe some hard hits over the last seven years:

  • My sister and father-in-law’s deaths,
  • financial loss,
  • cancer (virtually all my family have the Bracha 2 breast cancer gene),
  • ministry burnout,
  • home displacement,
  • and elderly caregiving, which ended last year with more death.  (Last November, my mother-in-law, for whom we’d been caregiving for several years, was admitted into the hospital and died. On the same day, my Michigan family notified me that my own mom had a stroke that morning. We made funeral arrangements here, and I flew back to be with mom for a few weeks before she passed away on January 1.)

You may have some like issues on your list, which may have resulted in mental or spiritual paralysis, hurling you to your own desert place.  If you are that rare individual without these personal setbacks, perhaps all that might be required would be to turn on the daily news.

How can anyone make it through situations like these?  I’d like to take a brief look at the lives of two of these biblical models, Elijah and Jesus mentioned prior, and how they handled their own desert experiences. Notice the different ways they dealt with them.

Regarding Elijah, here’s the desert place in which he found himself:

There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1 Kings 19:9-10, NIV).

Regarding Jesus, here’s his desert place, which I’m paraphrasing from Matthew chapters 4 and 5:

After being baptized by John, Jesus spent 40 days of fasting and praying in the desert.  At this time, Satan came up to him and tried to trick him and tempt him 3 times.  Satan fails, and starting with chapter 5, Jesus begins his public ministry.

In these accounts, we see that:

Elijah, himself coming off a 40-day fast, and following several great victories, became fearful of his life from a single death threat from Jezebel.  The result, was him hiding in the desert and becoming virtually incapacitated. His comments reveal that he feels himself to be carrying the world’s burdens on his own shoulders.

This is not to discredit Elijah, a great prophet of God, but in his state of burnout, I notice at least 3 distinguishing factors that I relate to:

  • He feels alone
  • He is burnt out
  • He is afraid

Although I’m not entirely certain what Elijah was up to during his fasting time, the Bible tells us Jesus was in constant prayer. He was preparing himself to serve by surrendering himself as a direct conduit to the Father’s will.

When Satan approached him, Jesus was wearing the full armor that he modeled for us to do battle. He was honed to fight; and win.  This would occur throughout the Gospels as Jesus would retreat to a quiet place to recharge his batteries.  Right up to the night before his crucifixion, Jesus separated from the world to spend one-on-one time with his father.

In these last few weeks, I have been making my own attempts at reflecting, rejuvenating and recharging. After all, I would like to be more like Jesus.

Some years ago, when I was going through a hard time, I asked my pastor, Rick Warren, the anecdote to burn out and depression.

Without batting an eye, he responded, “Worship.”

Rick said he would grab his guitar and worship one-on-one with the The Lord he loved.

The Warrens are no strangers to depression . Less than two years ago, their son, who grew up with my own daughter, Tessa, committed suicide. Throughout Matthew’s life, Matthew suffered from chronic depression.

One night, after spending joyful time with his parents, the burden of life became too much for him and he took his life.

The Warrens grieved long and hard privately, but publicly, they told us what brought them through this terrible desert; it was their strong relationship on an intimate level with Jesus Christ.

A few years back, Kay wrote a book called, “Choosing Joy,” based on what the Bible tells us to do in all circumstances.  Outside Matthew’s apartment, awaiting the bitter words that would come, and in the following months, that is just what they did: they chose joy.

Recently, I have recommitted myself to pursuing joy and these other Godly attributes described in the Bible:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (Philippians 4:8, NIV).

One concrete step I’ve taken during this time has been to grab my guitar and visit a prayer room at my church on a regular basis, just for the quiet purpose of intimate praise with the Father.

I pray for you as well, that together as brothers and sisters in Christ, we can attain what God has created us for:  To have a relationship with him that will last forever.

I think I’ll close with one of my favorite Matt Redman songs, based on Job, who lost everything but chose to go on praising God.

You can read these words, but why not consider singing them?

“Blessed Be Your Name”
by Matt Redman

Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

Follow-up from Eric:  I thought you might be interested to hear how God worked in Al’s life after he first crossed the Mohave desert on his one-way bike ride to California.  Although it had been 18 years since he had attended church, in 1983 Al stepped into the auditorium of Trabuco Hills High School in Southern California (where Saddleback was meeting at the time) and began his walk with Christ.  For a year leading up to this, his 30-year-old friend, David, had been dying of lung cancer and Al’s distress led him into Saddleback Church which had only a couple hundred members at the time.  Like so many others, Al felt God was talking directly to him as the message that day was titled, “Handling Grief.”  David died that night.  But Rick Warren’s message of hope helped Al through this and many future struggles.  God never wastes a hurt.  If you’re going through your own struggle, consider surrendering your life to Jesus Christ, who is waiting for you with open arms. And as I mentioned earlier, Al will be leading worship at our retreat in October.  We hope you’ll join us!  Click the link below for more details or to sign-up.



The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!

If you need a boost in your faith, we hope you’ll join us for our 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat here in the heart of the Great Midwest on Columbus Day weekend, October 10-12.  We’ll have great food, great worship, great messages and great fellowship.  Why not get away and see what God has to say?  Click here to learn more or to register.

This Week’s Sermon- Everything I Need Comes From Him


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

EVERYTHING I NEED COMES FROM HIM
(Part 4 of our series on “Transitions.”  Here are the links to Parts 1, 2, and 3)

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

 

Note from Eric:  Today I’m sharing with you Part 4 of our series on “Transitions” and how God can help you through the transitions you’re going through.  Today’s message is one I’ve never shared before about how God spoke to me on my 25th wedding anniversary this year after losing my wife, Lana, to cancer.  If you’d like to hear more about how God can help you through the transitions you’re facing, I hope you’ll join us for our 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat in October.  I’ll be there, along with several other writers of this series. You can find out more about the retreat at the link at the end of today’s message.

I was sending some texts back and forth with my daughter yesterday afternoon.  At one point I set my phone down on the desk and thought, “I haven’t heard from Lana yet today.  She’ll probably be texting soon, too.”  Then I remembered:  Lana’s not here anymore.  She’s gone and she won’t be coming back.  She won’t be texting today.  Or tomorrow.  Or ever again.  Ambushed by grief once again, I burst into tears.

It’s been over 20 months now since Lana passed away.  Overall, I think I’m doing pretty good.  But to be honest, I could still cry about 4 or 5 times a day.  I usually don’t, though, because there’s too much to do to stop and cry whenever I feel like it.  But sometimes, like yesterday, I just let it all out.  Then I blow my nose, wipe my tears and keep going forward.

How am I going to make it through this transition?  How can anyone make it through the transitions they’re going through, whether they’ve lost a spouse or a parent or a child or a friend, whether it’s through sickness or death or a simple miscommunication that resulted in a broken relationship?

It’s hard to do life alone.  But if you trust in God, it’s helpful to remember that you’re never really alone. He’s with you always.  As Jesus said to His disciples one day:

“You will leave me all alone.  Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (John 16:32b, NIV).

I realized the truth of this again a few months ago when my wedding anniversary was coming up.  I knew it would be my anniversary in a few days and I remembered the grief books I read said it was helpful to plan something to do something on those special days so you don’t get ambushed by grief when they come up.

I tried to think of something I might do, but I didn’t think it was necessary.  Lana had been gone a year and a half and I’d already been through one anniversary without her.  I thought a little more about it and wondered how many years it would have been this year.  Then it hit me:  this would have been our 25th anniversary, a time when people take trips or do something a little more exotic than usual.  Suddenly I couldn’t imagine just staying home and trying to work, do school with the kids, and make breakfast, lunch and dinner as if it were just any other day.

But I didn’t know what else to do.  Everything I could think of seemed so disappointing.  I was afraid I was going to explode.  I had to get away, but to where?

I had just done a wedding for some friends and they went to Cancun on the northern coast of Mexico.  It looked and sounded so romantic and wonderful.  Then I remembered my sister had offered me a “buddy pass” on the airline where she worked a few months earlier.  Back when she asked me, I didn’t have anywhere special I needed to go.  But now I did. I called her and asked if she still had the pass and if I might use it to go to Cancun for my anniversary, just from Tuesday to Thursday of that week.

I had that conversation with my sister on Sunday, we booked the flight on Monday, and I was on a flight to Cancun on Tuesday.  For the first hour on the plane I thought I was crazy.  But then God began to speak to me, showing me that He was going with me the whole way.  He changed my attitude in a matter of minutes.

I had been wearing a suit and tie for the flight because to use the buddy pass you have to dress up.  But I didn’t plan to dress up this much.  It was just what I happened to find in the closet the morning of the trip.  I realized my mistake when I got on the plane to Cancun and saw that I was the only one on the whole plane in a suit and tie!

I was feeling uncomfortable and out of place, but then I realized that this was the exact same suit and tie and shirt that I had worn to attend a wedding with Lana a few years earlier which turned out to be one of my favorite memories, dancing and romancing the whole night with her.  It was also the same suit and tie and shirt that I had worn on the day I preached at her funeral, when I handed her over to her bridegroom forever, Jesus.  And it was the exact same suit and tie and shirt that I was now wearing here on our 25th wedding anniversary, going on a 3-way date with just God and me and my memories of Lana.

I realized it wasn’t a mistake that these were the clothes I happened to put on that morning.  This was the perfect outfit to wear for the occasion!   I smiled as I thought of how God was setting me up for the day, even when I arrived in the sweltering heat at the airport in Cancun, surrounded by people wearing nothing but Bermuda shorts and tank tops.  I was so happy to be dressed up for my anniversary!  God had changed my attitude in those few moments on the plane, and instead of dreading this day, I was already looking forward to it and to whatever else God had in mind for this trip.

I took a shuttle to the hotel, sat by the pool and got a hamburger.  Then I headed out to the beach to sit for awhile and read my Bible.  I opened it up to Psalm 63, a psalm that David wrote when he was out in the wilderness.  David said:

“God – You’re my God! I can’t get enough of You! I’ve worked up such hunger and thirst for God, traveling across dry and weary deserts. So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open, drinking in Your strength and glory.  In Your generous love I am really living at last! My lips brim praises like fountains.  I bless You every time I take a breath; My arms wave like banners of praise to You.  I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy; I smack my lips. It’s time to shout praises!“ (Psalm 63:1, MSG).

Here was David, out in the wilderness alone, yet he couldn’t stop praising God!  David couldn’t get enough of Him!  Just reading that phrase made me smile because it was the same thing another man said about his fiancé when I was doing their pre-marital counseling.  He was telling me about his love for her and said, “I love her so much, I can’t get enough of her!”  I knew what he meant.  I could see it in his eyes.  He loved being intimate with her.  And that was just what David said about being intimate with God.  “God – You’re my God, I can’t get enough of You!”

I flipped back a page and read Psalm 62.  Although I could have been heartbroken that I wasn’t with Lana on this trip, God reminded me that even though I wasn’t with her, I was with Him, the One who created Lana in the first place and gave her all the life and breath and beauty that I adored.  I wasn’t with her, but I was with the One who created her!  I had to say, like David said, “God – You’re my God, I can’t get enough of You!”  Here’s what I read in Psalm 62 that helped me see it in a new light:

“God, the one and only – I’ll wait as long as He says. Everything I need comes from Him, so why not?  He’s solid rock under my feet, breathing room for my soul, An impregnable castle: I’m set for life” (Psalm 62:1-2, MSG).

As I read those words I realized that everything I needed comes from God, just like Lana had come from God.  Now there I was with the One who created all that I’ve ever loved in life.  I could actually see how David could be in a desert yet still he could say, “I bless You every time I take a breath… I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy: I smack my lips.”

Some people might have been uncomfortable eating alone on their 25th anniversary trip.  But I decided to splurge as I knew I would have done if Lana were there.  One night I couldn’t decide between the filet mignon and the lobster, so I got both!  I had already saved some money by coming alone, so I made the most of it!  It turned out to be one of the best vacations I’ve ever had in my life and I’m so glad I went.

We can’t always run away to Cancun, but I wanted to tell you that story because I had a choice to make.  I could either stay home and cry and run away from God, or I could get out and live and run into God’s wide-open arms.  Being alone isn’t alone when you’re alone with God.

I’m discovering things in this time of being alone with God that are so precious to me.  I’m not just trying to make lemonade out of lemons; I’m trying to make lemonade and drink it fully until I’m truly satisfied.  Even though I could cry 4 or 5 times a day, I’ve found there’s a depth to my relationship with God during this time, and by extension my relationships with others, that goes deeper than ever before.

I know I’m not the only one to find such gems as I go deeper.  I’m reading Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts and she quotes F. B. Meyer as saying the same thing:

“I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above the other, and that the taller we grew in Christian character the easier we should reach them.  I find now that God’s gifts are on shelves one beneath the other, and that it is not a question of growing taller but of stooping lower, and that we have to go down, always down, to get His best gifts.” (p. 171).

Maybe you’re in the midst of a transition that was not of your choosing, one in which you’ve lost something or someone that made life so special for you.  Maybe you’re waiting for God to put things back together again, or at least waiting for Him to help you make sense of what you’ve been going through.

For me, God keeps reminding me that everything I need comes from Him, just like Lana came from Him.  I want to say, like David said:  “God, the one and only – I’ll wait as long as He says. Everything I need comes from Him, so why not?”

No, I won’t get a text from Lana today, but that doesn’t mean I won’t get to see her again.  No, I can’t be intimate with her like I was before, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be intimate with the One who created her, the One who spoke to me so clearly as I was sitting on a plane to Cancun in a suit and tie or as I read from His Word on a beach on my wedding anniversary.

I know God is working it all out, so I’ll just keep putting my trust and faith in Him. Everything I need comes from Him, so why not?

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for taking our horrible circumstances and turning them around for good.  Help us to keep waiting on You, trusting You with all things.  You’re our Creator and the One who loves us most in this world.  Help us to know that You’re working things out, that You’ll never leave us alone, and that everything we need really does come from You.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S.  I hope you’ll join us for our Ranch Retreat in October where we’ll be talking more about transitions and how God can help us through them.  I’ll be there, along with several other writers of this series!  Click here to learn more or to register.

The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!



Cover photo of "15 Tips For A Stronger Marriage"

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