Why believe in God?

I had a friend who I decided was God blind. Like color blind but for God. He couldn’t see any reason to believe in God. This blew my mind. I’ve always known of God.

The time when I was a baby in the crib, and I knew. I just knew.
The rescuing by an angel when I was flying too high on the swings.
The answers to questions. The feeling of being held, of being safe.

It is like being a fish and not believing in water.

Some people are color blind.
My dad couldn’t see purple. We were in the car together and he saw another car. He asked what color it was. That made no sense to me. How could you not see this? It is such a simple question. But he had an inability to see reds and greens. I’d forgotten, and to be honest I’d never really understood. How can I understand something so basic as an inability to see color?

Perhaps it is the same with God.

We have Buddhist neighbors. The mom was sick with kidney disease and it was really worrying the son. He cried while he told me how concerned he was for her. I know a little about Buddhism but couldn’t remember if praying was part of it. I asked him if he could pray for his Mom. No, he said. So I did. God took mercy on her and she is better. It has been three years now. She’s on dialysis, but alive and happy and still working in her garden. Her spirits are better.

I don’t pray with the idea that God is my waiter. God doesn’t give me everything I ask for. I ask and I receive whatever comes, or doesn’t come. I pray because I know there is someone on the other end of the line who is listening and who cares. This is the most important part.

Sometimes I think of God as standing at the top of a pit I’ve fallen in. He isn’t in sight, but if I call to him, he can point out a handhold that I can’t see from my angle. Sometimes I pray to remind God of how small we are – that the big storm we are in is bigger to us, and we are so small.

This applies to thunderstorms and tornadoes as well as life in general.

God listens. That is why I believe in God. Not as an abstract thing, but as a real, living entity, a force, a power, that is active and present.

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Healing your enemies

We are told to love our enemies. Truly, they need it the most. But also, we need it. We need to pray for those who have harmed us. We need to pray that they receive the healing of Jesus. We need to pray they will be transformed from being people who hurt into people who help.

There are several precedents for people who were healed without asking for it or without even being near Jesus. When you are praying for someone who has harmed you, remember these stories. They are in the Bible as signs to you that Jesus’ power and healing can be done at any distance and without the knowledge or intent of the person who needs the healing. The people who need to be healed most are often the last to admit it. You are blessing them by asking Jesus for their healing.

Let us look at some stories. Here is the one of the Canaanite woman and her daughter. Her daughter was possessed by a demon (mental illness?) and certainly didn’t ask for help. She wasn’t even there – but Jesus’ power of healing knows no boundaries or limitations. This story is especially important to me because it indicates that we should constantly try – we shouldn’t give up. Even if it seems like our prayers aren’t being answered, we should persist.

Matthew 15:21-28

21 And Jesus went out thence, and withdrew into the parts of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanitish woman came out from those borders, and cried, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a demon. 23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. 24 But he answered and said, I was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 25 But she came and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. 26 And he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs. 27 But she said, Yea, Lord: for even the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. 28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it done unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was healed from that hour.

It was the woman’s faith in Jesus’ ability to heal her daughter that healed her. Your faith in Jesus can do the same to heal the broken people in your life. In fact, those broken people might just be in your life for that very reason. You might be the very one to bring them to the love of Christ.

Here’s another story of Jesus healing a person at a distance. The person might not have even known that healing was being requested of them. Interestingly enough, the supplicant was also not Jewish, but believed in Jesus’ power.

Matthew 8:5-13
5 And when he was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, 6 and saying, Lord, my servant lieth in the house sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. 7 And he saith unto him, I will come and heal him. 8 And the centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed. 9 For I also am a man under authority, having under myself soldiers: and I say to this one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. 10 And when Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. 11 And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven: 12 but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast forth into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. 13 And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And the servant was healed in that hour.

In this story too, the faith of the supplicant is what tipped the scales. In this story too, Jesus is surprised by their faith. You too have that ability. You too have the power to transform someone who isn’t well by your faith. Sometimes, just simply knowing that there is a chance for healing is enough to give us hope. That little spark can build into a flame. Just a little faith can do a lot.

Matthew 17:20
20 And he saith unto them, Because of your little faith: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

Don’t doubt, and don’t give up.

Luke 11:9-13
9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. 10 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. 11 And of which of you that is a father shall his son ask a loaf, and he give him a stone? or a fish, and he for a fish give him a serpent? 12 Or if he shall ask an egg, will he give him a scorpion? 13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

Here’s a story of a healing where nobody asked for healing but it happened anyway. Jesus can fix even the worst situations. Even when all seems lost, there is hope.

Luke 7:11-15
11 And it came to pass soon afterwards, that he went to a city called Nain; and his disciples went with him, and a great multitude. 12 Now when he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, there was carried out one that was dead, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. 14 And he came nigh and touched the bier: and the bearers stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. 15 And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother.

So bring the person to Jesus in your heart and in your prayers. Ask Jesus to heal them of their sickness. Sickness isn’t just physical. Sickness can be anything that deviates from being whole. Anger, jealousy, and fear are sicknesses. Guilt, shame, and addictions are sicknesses. All sickness can be healed by Jesus. We are called to ask for that healing, through faith.

(All Bible translations are American Standard Version – public domain)

Prayer isn’t about changing what IS.

I was just asked to pray for a man’s wife. She is going to have a scan today to see how her cancer is. He wanted me to pray that her cancer is gone. Prayers don’t work like this. Sure, I can pray that they find everything that needs to be found, and that the machine is working correctly. But I can’t pray that her cancer has disappeared. That is a different thing altogether.

Say your friend tells you that she is pregnant and she asks you to pray that it is a girl. This is too late. The gender of the child is already determined at this point. The time to pray for a specific gender was before she got pregnant.

Say you are driving home and you see smoke from a fire. You start praying “God, don’t let that be my house!” Too late. The fire is already happening. It won’t jump from your house to another. If it did, that would mean that your neighbor’s house would be on fire, and that wouldn’t be fair. But in reality, you just have to accept that whatever house that is on fire is on fire. You can’t change it. You can pray that everybody gets out ok, but even then you need to understand that isn’t up to you either.

Sometimes people are meant to die young. Sometimes bad things happen. Our goal with prayer is to learn how to accept the reality of the situation.

The more we try to define things as bad or good, the more resistance we are bringing to the situation, and the more attachment.

Our goal is to be like a surfer. Ride the waves, and go with them. You can’t control them. If you work with them you are safe. If you work against them you will get hurt. Or die.

Prayer isn’t about getting what you want. It is about wanting what you get.

A lot of prayer isn’t about changing God’s mind. It is about us coming to grips with God’s will. It is about us learning to accept what IS.

God is in charge. Our job is to understand that. If we believe that God is good, we have to accept that whatever happens is what God needs to happen. We may not like it at the time. It may be pretty awful in fact. But the more we resist, the harder it gets.

There was one time I was in a river raft. My boyfriend at the time was a guide. He had taken many tours of that river and knew it well. We were with a few other friends on a private trip down the river. He got to a certain area and had us “surf” for a bit. The water started to come into the boat a little. I started to freak out and tried to climb out of the raft. He held me in the raft, pushing down on my shoulders. I freaked out more. We got out of it fine and he explained it to me. He knew what he was doing. It had to happen that way. If I’d gotten out, I would have been pulled away by the current, or worse, pulled under the raft. My resisting was making it worse for me.

Ideally, he would have explained all this before we got to that area, but he didn’t think to. Also, he didn’t know exactly the way the water (or I) was going to behave. But he knew what he was doing, even if I didn’t. He was the expert, and I wasn’t.

God is the expert, and we aren’t. God is in charge, and we aren’t. God knows what is going to happen, and we don’t. God is the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end. God is everything, all at once. We can’t even begin to comprehend that. God’s will is so much more vast than we can ever know.

Prayer puts us in a state of being receptive to the will of God.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t ask God to change His mind. But be aware that whatever happens after that is what is supposed to happen. God is not your waiter. You don’t get to “have it your way.”

Answer – on intercessory prayer.

People often ask me to pray for them. Sometimes I hear an answer back of what they are supposed to do – some blockage to address, some wrong to be righted. They rarely want to hear this.

Perhaps they think their obligation is over just by asking for prayers. While it is important to ask for help, it is also important to be able to receive it. Receiving it in this case means listening to the answer to the prayer.

I think a lot of this resistance comes from the modern church structure. We are taught to be passive in our faith. We are receivers, not doers. Things happen to us. We don’t make things happen.

We are taught this when we are expected to be silent or to recite from a script during our worship service. This is the model we are given in the modern church service for how we are to interact with God, and how God interacts with us. Sit down. Shut up.

But this pattern is not God’s pattern. This pattern ensures docility and compliance. The Bible is filled with the exact opposite pattern. Our role models are active and willing participants in doing God’s will.

We are the hands and feet of God. When someone says “How could God let this happen?” the question really should be “How could we, the people of God, let this happen?”

So it makes sense that people don’t know how to react when I tell them the answer that I’ve heard. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to me even. Rarely is it something simple or obvious. This is in part how I know the answer isn’t from me. I couldn’t have made it up because I don’t even understand it.

Sometimes the answer is to do something. Sometimes it is to stop doing something. And I don’t always get an answer. That is part of it too. Sometimes we just have to live in the middle, in the not knowing, and have faith that God has it all under control.

When I pray for myself or someone else I’m often asking for a change in a situation. Sometimes I’m asking for a boon or a favor. But just like if I was asking for a boon from an earthly king, I have to understand that it might not be just, and it might not be right.

With an earthly king, the request may not be in his power. With our heavenly king, it is always in God’s power. The issue is that we can’t see things the way that God sees them. God knows the history of everything even before it happens. This is what God means by the title “the Alpha and the Omega.” Time means nothing to God.

So sometimes what we are asking for isn’t really what we want, or need. We think it is, but we don’t have the whole picture.

When we pray, sometimes God needs us to do our part to make the result happen. We should welcome this work as an opportunity to serve God. So when you hear an answer, whether you hear it yourself or it comes by way of an intercessor, see it as a blessing.

Praying for.

I have several people I pray for on a regular basis. They have chronic health conditions or very serious life events that are going on. These are people who do not pray. Either they were raised Christian and felt betrayed by their church, or they were never part of any faith tradition.

Either way, I pray. I pray for their healing, for their wholeness. I never pray that they get converted, because there are so many people in the Christian community who that is all they pray for. There’s something about this kind of prayer that creeps me out. There are way too many things that the Christian community does that creep me out, in fact, but I’ve already written about that.

While I don’t feel they should convert to Christianity, I do wish that they would get a hint of the power of praying to God. I wish that they would feel the comfort from knowing that God is real, that God loves them, and that they are important. I wish that they would know that the Creator made them for a reason. I wish that they would know the feeling that comes from knowing that they aren’t alone, that there is a plan, and that they are part of it.

There is something about prayer that transforms a situation from feeing hopeless to something hopeful. It is the ultimate “phone a friend.” You can stop right where you are and always pray.

It might feel like there is a busy signal. It might feel like the connection is scratchy. Be assured, God is on the other end, right there, as close as your heartbeat, as close as your breath. Be assured that God is overjoyed that you called. I’m reminded of the story of the Prodigal Son. The father saw his son returning to him from far away. The moment he saw him return, he went running to meet him. God is the same way. God doesn’t meet us half way. God makes up the difference in distance the moment we turn our hearts and minds back.

In fact, God never leaves. God is always with us. God never gives up on us.

I don’t want people to become Christian, necessarily. But I would like them to seek God, or Allah, or Jehovah, or YHWH, or whatever they call the Creator. I think there is a lot of power in this. I think there is a lot of comfort too. Why try to do it all yourself when there is something so much bigger that is calling you daily, moment by moment, to let you know that you are loved?

Insomnia

I am starting to see insomnia as a good thing. Instead of fighting it, I’m seeing it as a chance to pray and get closer to God.

When I was at the Cursillo retreat last October I was awake at night a lot more than I’d wanted. The entire experience is a little overwhelming for the average person, and it is mind blowing for someone like me who has a mental health diagnosis.

When I’ve been in a manic phase in the past, I have experienced God directly in ways that mystic writers describe perfectly. This is part of why I’m so concerned that I never confuse whether I’m experiencing God or a facet of my diagnosis. I’m starting to realize that it is also important to not dismiss an experience just because of my diagnosis. Just because a person is bipolar doesn’t mean that God isn’t talking to them.

I’ve already written in part about the first night that I was unable to sleep and went to the small chapel. When the second night of wakefulness happened, I was a little miffed. I had come to trust that it was God waking me up by this point, but I also know that if I don’t get enough sleep then I’m not really that intact for the next few days.

So I started arguing with God. “Really? God? Are you kidding? You know how I get when I don’t sleep.” And I heard back the same kind of reply that Moses heard when he complained that he was not fit to go plead to Pharaoh for the release of the Jews from slavery. God said he made me, so he knows what I am capable of and what I can handle. And then he followed it up with “You said you wanted to spend more time with me”. I laughed. He had a point there. So I lay awake, praying. Praying to me isn’t about saying certain words over and over. It is about being comfortable in the presence of God. It is about relaxing with an old friend who knows me better than I know myself. Remember, God knew you as you were being knit together in your mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13)

So these nights when I wake up for no obvious reason, I am starting to use it as a reminder to pray, to get closer to God. I pray for the well being of all people, especially those involved in any recent tragedy. I feel out if there are any topics I need to write about. But mostly I try to relax and rest in the comfort of knowing that God is everything and is in control.

I’ve learned that the more I pay attention to how much sleep I didn’t get, the more wiped out I feel. But if I relax and don’t judge it to be bad, then I always feel fine. I may not get the amount of sleep I think I need, but I always get the amount I actually do need.

Be persistent.

There are two stories in the Gospels that I like that I keep mixing up. I’m going to try to get a grasp on them here and maybe figure out why I like them so much. Most of the translations are from the NRSV translation, but I may have gotten those mixed up too. I have used several different websites to copy and paste these verses from and they have different defaults.

One is about the faith of a Gentile woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon. Let’s look at Matthew 15.

“21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.”

There is another telling in the Gospel according to Mark, in Mark 7:24-30. In Mark’s telling the woman is a Syrophoenician, not a Canaanite, but the point is the same. The details don’t matter, the story does, and the story is the same in both. In both, the woman is a Gentile. In both, her daughter is possessed by a demon. In both, Jesus was a little ticked off that she would presume to ask him to heal her daughter. He dismisses the woman twice, finally referring to her as a dog. He thinks that he is just there to bring healing to the Jews. He can’t be bothered with someone who isn’t Jewish. But then, she is persistent. She doesn’t turn away from his first rebuff. She doesn’t stop when he calls her a dog, which is a pretty low insult.

Then there is this story. It is a woman who suffered from an “issue of blood” as some of the accounts translate it. This had gone on for 12 years. She was unclean in the most basic way in Jewish life. Menstrual blood was seen as a sign of defilement. Not only was the woman unclean, but anything she sat on was unclean. Anyone who sat on something she had sat on was then, themselves, unclean. Women who were on their periods were treated like lepers. For twelve years she was ostracized because of this malady.

Let’s look at Mark 5:25-34. “25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

This story also appears in Matthew 9:20-22 and Luke 8:43-47, with little change. I like this version because it points out that she had spent all her money and “endured much “ from many doctors and they hadn’t helped, and in fact she had gotten worse. This makes her plight even more sad.

In both, he was surprised at the faith of the women. In both, he tells them that their faith has made them well. He doesn’t say that they were healed because of his power – it was their faith in his power, which comes from God.

They have other things in common. They were persistent. They were active in their faith. They didn’t wait for healing to come to them, they went to it.

Somehow when I tell the story, it is a Canaanite woman who suffers from an issue of blood. So I’ve mixed up the stories. Somehow I never cross the story the other way – it never is a story about a sneaky woman who is trying to steal power to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Demon possession? Who is to say that wasn’t the first century explanation for mental illness? But I digress.

I also like the fact that the person who is sick in the first story isn’t the one who is asking for help. It is the woman’s daughter. It is the woman herself who is asking. Her prayer is known as an intercessory prayer. Her faith in Jesus brought healing to her daughter, who was unable or unwilling to ask for help.

How many people do you know who are like that? They think they are beyond help? They think that they are not worthy of healing? They think they deserve their pain?

This now reminds me of the story of Jesus and the Centurion. This is in Luke 7:1-8.
“After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.”

Here’s another story where Jesus was surprised by a Gentile’s faith. The Centurion served the Romans – the enemies of the Jews. This one had done good things for the Jews, so he was allowed by the disciples to get close to Jesus.

Now I’m reminded of Matthew 7:7.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (NIV)

Here’s another translation, and I find it significant that in translating it as “keep on asking…” it refers again to persistence.

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. (NLT)

Here’s another one that tells us to be persistent.

Luke 18:1-8
18 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”[b] 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Don’t give up. Keep asking. Keep praying. Even if you don’t think you are being heard. Even if you aren’t sure. Even if the prayer isn’t for you. Keep on praying. Know that you will be heard. It will all work out in God’s time. Remember, it is “thy will be done” not “my will be done.”