Crying in the Restroom -- Comfort for the Disappointed

Like the good writers they teach us to be, writing conference directors love to build anticipation and suspense. This is why they save “what you’ve all been waiting for” for the final moments of the final meeting on the final day of the conference.

What we’ve all been waiting for, at least for many attendees, is the announcement that reveals who won the writing contests. I served on faculty at a conference recently where this was the case. The Miss America pageant had nothing on them as they slowly read the names of the winners.

“And the second runner up is . . . “

“And the first runner up is . . . “

“Now let’s give the history of this particular contest . . .”

“And talk about a few of the past winners . . . “

“And take a few photographs . . . “

“And finally, . . . the winner of the 2018 Best Novel Contest iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis . . . Katie Smithson.”

Clapping along with the rest of the audience, I stood to excuse myself. I needed to go to the bathroom. I'd been waiting for at least 30 minutes because I didn't want to miss the announcement. As the winner, shiny trophy and cash prize in hand, posed for pictures, I made my way to the nearest restroom.

A quick glance told me it was empty except for one stall. And in that stall stood a crying woman.

Her back was pressed against the closed stall door, and all I could see was her feet. But I heard her sniffling.

I knew immediately what was wrong.

She was one of the contest entrants – one of the ones who didn’t win.

I turned, eased the bathroom door open, and slipped out, respecting her desire to cry alone.

On the long walk to find another restroom, I prayed for her.

Lord, remind her that her writing is valuable. Strengthen her resolve to learn the craft and apply the knowledge she’s learned this weekend. Give her courage to open her computer again. Someday her writing may be good enough to win an award, but even if it isn't, remind her that the true prize doesn't belong to the most gifted or accomplished, but to the one who perseveres. Most of all, Lord, help her not to quit.

When was the last time you were disappointed? When you knew your hard work was about to pay off, only to discover it wasn’t good enough? When your coworker got the promotion, raise, or bonus you hoped to secure? When someone else’s child got the full tuition scholarship? When God answered your best friend’s prayer but seemed to ignore yours?

We’ve all had times when our hearts have broken in disappointment. When we’ve smiled through our tears at someone else’s success or good fortune or hidden in the bathroom to cry.

If today is one of those days for you, I want to pray for you. 

Father, wrap your big strong arms around my dear sister. Hold her close and let her sob into your chest. Then, when the tears slow to a trickle and the sobs subside to an occasional hiccup, speak truth into her heart. Remind her that your timing is perfect, and you will withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly. Renew her hope. 

Give her courage to try again, and again, and again, if that’s what’s needed. If she needs another approach, give her James 1:5 wisdom to know what it is. If you have a different plan for her, help her recognize it and obey you. Give her faith to trust your timing, your wisdom, and, most of all, your heart. In the mighty name of Jesus I pray, Amen. 

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning,” (Psalm 30:5). 

Now it’s your turn. When was the last time disappointment made you cry? How did God comfort you in your pain? Leave a comment below and share your story. And if you’re reading by email, CLICK HERE to visit Hungry for God online and leave a comment.

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40 Minutes to Live?

Passengers on Wednesday's United Airlines Flight 1175 thought they might die.

Midway through their trip from San Francisco to Honolulu,  they heard a loud bang. The aircraft began shaking. Passengers on the right side of the plane noticed parts of the engine cover flapping violently, then flying off.

The pilot radioed the Honolulu airport to say he’d be making an emergency landing. "Please have fire and rescue personnel on the ground."

No one knew if they’d make it.

Flight attendants reviewed safety protocol, coaching passengers how to brace for impact, exit the plane using inflatable slides, and detach their seat bottoms to use as flotation devices if the aircraft crashed in the sea.

With those protocols covered, all they had left to do was wait, questions swirling in their heads like confetti at a ticker tape parade. Would the plane make it to Honolulu? Would it crash into the sea? Would it have to make an emergency landing at the airport? 

“It was the scariest flight of my life,” one passenger said later. 

“I thought we were going to die,” another said. 

Forty minutes. Such a short time, yet probably an eternity to those passengers, crew, and family members waiting to hear their fate. 

Once the emergency landing briefing ended, all they could do was wait. Some passengers took pictures of the damaged engine and tweeted about what was going on. Others texted final messages to their loved ones. 

“I told my family what was going on,” one woman said later, “and then I told them I loved them.” 

If you were on that flight, what would you do with what could be the last 40 minutes of your life? 

Were there any Christians on board? I wondered. Did anyone stand up and share the gospel? 

The average Boeing 777 carries 300 to 400 passengers. If you knew you and 400 people around you might die in the next 40 minutes, would you care about where they were going to spend eternity? Would you share your faith? 

Would I? 

I can’t say for sure. I’ve never been in a situation like that, but I hope so. I hope I’d accept the courage the Holy Spirit would give to stand boldly, risk embarrassment, disregard what others might say, and testify of the hope God gives. 

Whether the plane landed safely on the ground and I continued my vacation, or it crashed into the sea and my life ended, my destiny is safe in the arms of Jesus. Would I share this life-changing assurance or keep it to myself? 

Would you? 

I hope we never find ourselves in a plane over the ocean watching pieces of an aircraft fly off and fall into the sea. But we sit beside people every day whose life could end unexpectedly. 

While there may not be 400 of them, there are probably a few who don’t know where they’ll spend eternity. They don’t know Jesus took the punishment for their sin so they don’t have to. And they don’t know that whether they die today or in 50 years, they desperately need the hope that is only found in Jesus. 

It’s up to us to tell them. 

Thankfully, the San Francisco/Honolulu flight landed safely. Passengers disembarked and continued their day as planned. But they might not have. 

Today, I challenge you, as God has challenged me -- look around. Prayerfully consider who might need the hope you have in Jesus. Ask God to open the door to share your faith. Then walk through it.

It could change someone’s life forever. 

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15).

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Sucker Punch on the Second Row

There’s nothing like a sucker punch to the gut to get your attention. 

You’d think a church service would be a safe place, and the second row of the church one of the safest of all. But with increasing levels of church-related violence, apparently even the most hallowed of sanctuaries aren’t totally protected. And who would have known a pastor was capable of delivering such a mean right hook?

Truth be told, the real blame for the sobering blow I received on Sunday morning belongs not to my pastor/husband, but to the Lord – and the living, active power of his Word.

The service started out well. Heartwarming prayer, uplifting music, a time of praise for what God had done in the past week. Then my pastor/husband introduced his sermon topic – Caleb, one of the twelve spies the Israelites sent into Canaan.

You know the story (and can probably sing the song – Twelve men went to spy on Canaan, ten were bad and two were good). The spies confirmed that the land God had promised them was a good land, filled with milk and honey. 

BUT (and this was a big but), there were giants in the land. Big, hairy, scary giants.

“The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there . . . We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them" (Num. 13:33).

“Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.’" 

But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’”

That’s when God got mad. 

And whooooooeeeeee, you do not want to be around when God gets mad. It’s also when I felt the air whoosh out of my lungs from the impact of his Words.

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?’” (Num. 14:11).

All of a sudden, God wasn’t talking to Moses anymore. Or the ten bad spies. Or even the faithless Israelites. 

He was talking to me. 

 And what he was saying took my breath away and made me hang my head in shame. This is what it sounded like in non-King James English: 

“How often will you wring your hands in fear when someone you love is sick, or hurt, or wayward? How many times will you doubt my ability to meet your needs? How long will you fret over circumstances you can’t manipulate or control?” 

“How long will you refuse to believe in my ability to care for you, in spite of all the miraculous works I have performed in your life?” 

I fell off a slide when I was seven years old. The impact broke my right arm and knocked the breath from my lungs. I couldn’t speak for several minutes. After I gathered my wits together, I picked myself up off the ground and ran to the teacher. 

On Sunday, when my breath returned, I gathered my wits together, picked myself up off the proverbial ground, and ran to the Teacher. 

Father, I prayed, I confess my sin before you. I doubt you when you have never, ever given me a reason to question your ability or your commitment. My fear flies in the face of your faithfulness and my faltering trust treats you with contempt. In the 35 years since you saved me, you have met my needs, filled my life with good things, and given me hope and purpose. You’ve walked with me through dark and scary times and brought beauty from ashes. Whenever fear tempts me to doubt, remind me of all you have done in the past. Grow my faith. Help me, like Joshua and Caleb, to walk boldly into the future you have planned for me. 

Now it’s your turn. Do you struggle to trust God in the face of frightening circumstances? What Scripture passages strengthen your faith? Leave a comment below. If you’re reading by email, CLICK HERE to visit Hungry for God online and leave a comment.

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Are You Hungry? How to Stimulate Your Appetite for God's Word

One of my favorite scenes from the Disney movie, 101 Dalmations is when Rolly, the roly poly puppy who loves to eat says to his mother, “I’m hungry, Mother, really I am.” Even though it seemed like he ate every waking moment of his life, his voracious appetite was never satisfied. 

My friends with teenage sons can identify. 

“Mom, I’m hungry. What is there to eat?” 

“I’m starving, Mom. There’s no food in this house.” 

Satisfying a growing child’s need for food is relentless. The fridge needs to be replenished frequently, the grocery bills are astronomical, and the cooking and clean up never stops. But an appetite is a sign of a healthy, growing body—something to be celebrated. 

My friend Jules has always taken her son Charlie’s healthy appetite for granted – until recently. Struck by back-to-back viruses accompanied by high fevers, her son stopped eating. A middle-of-the night trip to the ER confirmed her concerns that he was one sick little boy. 

The Bible often describes God’s Word as food and invites us to eat our fill from its bounty. Young believers, like young children, are often so hungry for God’s Word that they can’t seem to get enough. They read their Bibles every day, memorize Scripture, and dive into Bible studies. Taking notes during Sunday sermons, they look for ways to apply what they’ve learned to their everyday lives. 

Sadly, however, many believers lose their fervency about God’s Word as the newness of their decision for Christ wears off. They ruin their appetite with a junk food diet of secular music, media, and friends. Their lives veer off course, and they lose focus, purpose, and direction.

Or perhaps sin has made them sick. Like Jules’s son Charlie, they reject the very nourishment they need to get well. 

The cure for spiritual starvation is simple. “Open your mouth wide,” says the Lord in Psalm 81:10, “and I will fill it.”  

If your appetite for spiritual food has been waning, here are three appetite-stimulating tips: 

1.  Pick a short, practical book of the Bible and commit to read one chapter every day BEFORE you check your email, computer, or social media accounts. After reading, write down one way you can apply what you’ve read to your life. I recommend the New Testament book of James as a great place to begin. 

2.  Download a Bible app on your phone (my favorite is Bible Gateway) and listen to a portion of Scripture every day as you drive or exercise. My favorite reader is Max McLean. With a voice as rich and smooth as chocolate, he makes the Scripture come alive to me. 

3.  Read a different version of the Bible. While some versions are paraphrases, not translations, and thus not suitable for study purposes, a well-written paraphrase can touch our hearts as well as our minds. One blogger I know often reads the Living Bible. Many of my friends enjoy the Chronological Study Bible, which arranges the books of the Bible in the order in which they were written. And if you’re accustomed to reading the NIV, why not dust off that majestic King James Version sitting on your bookshelf? 

The Huffington Post article “Poll: Americans Love the Bible But Don’t Read It Much” reveals that 88 percent of respondents to an American Bible Society poll own a Bible, and the average household has 4.4 Bibles. 

Sadly, the majority of people surveyed (57 percent) said they only read their Bibles four times a year or less. Only 26 percent said they read their Bibles regularly. 

God has prepared a feast for us on the pages of his Word, and he is eager to share it with us. If junk food, apathy, or sin sickness has robbed you of your appetite, why not try one of the suggestions above? Come to the Lord, who eagerly desires to “fill the hungry with good things.” 

He’ll be delighted to hear you say, “I’m hungry, Father, really I am.”

Now it's your turn. When your interest in reading the Bible wanes, what do you do to get back on track? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts. If you're reading by email, click HERE to visit Hungry for God online and leave a comment.

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Christian Jargon and Super Bowl Bingo

Woohoo! First down and six at the 39 yard line. Running back up the middle. Breaks the double team. Bradley at the 39.

I was trying to be a good sport. Watching the first football game since high school and playing Super Bowl Bingo with a bunch of friends, I was struggling to keep up. The terms on my Bingo card were confusing and unfamiliar.

"Was that a punt?" I asked.

"No, that was a kick off."

"Did he just make a field goal?"

"Nope. That was the extra point."

And apparently, the box marked At the 50 Yard Line meant on the 50 yard line, not the 49th or the 51st. The box I'd eagerly crossed off was disqualified. The longer I played, the more stupid I felt.

Sitting there squirming, I wondered if this was how new believers felt in a room full of Christians. People who know the lingo and effortlessly banter it about.

"You should start by reading the Gospels."

"Uh, I haven't been able to find a book in the Bible by that name."

"Who would be willing to intercede on his behalf?"

"Is that the same thing as intervention? 'Cause we had to do that for one of my cousins once."

Many of us have been Christians for so long we've forgotten what it's like to be new to matters of faith. 

Thankfully, my friend Sandy, a football aficionado, took me under her wing. She patiently explained the confusing verbiage and coached me into the fourth quarter. 

Fourth down.

Field goal.

Penalty flag.

BINGO!  In 51 seconds of playing time, my three boxes lined up for the win. A generous gift certificate prize did much to ease my embarrassment and smooth over my display of ignorance in such a public venue, but new believers wrestling with similar emotions don't often receive such a prize.

My Super Bowl angst has made me more sensitive to visitors and newcomers at our church. Like my friend Sandy, I want to come alongside them, decode the jargon, and help them feel comfortable. That way, they'll want to come back. 

And the more they come back, the sooner they'll learn that not only do we love them, but God loves them, too.

And love is a word we all understand.

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