VBS Lessons: No Matter What People Do

All week long I’m thinking about the Bible points for our Vacation Bible School and what they mean for adults.  This week will be a mix of some old and some new as I share these lessons.

Tonight at Sky VBS! (Group Publishing), we’re learning: No Matter What People Do…Trust God!

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In high school, Carl didn’t score touchdowns like the sports star Norman.  Instead, Carl served as the sports manager for the team—close to the action, but never quite getting the glory.

One day in the locker room, Norman played a teenage prank on Carl and then they went their separate ways.  Norman played football and studied education in college, earning his master’s degree and returning to the high school to teach and coach for over 30 years.

Carl took a different path.  More than 50 years after that initial locker room prank, Carl showed up at Norman’s house and shot him with a pistol.  At 73 years old, Carl is now starting a life term in prison.

Not exactly the best way to spend your retirement years.

I read this new story last week and it troubled me in a deep-down unshakeable way.  It’s partly because the story dismisses that teenage prank.  Of course, it couldn’t possibly be worth killing someone over 50 years after the fact.  Of course it makes no sense to murder a 70-year old man for something he did in high school.

Yet, bullying, teasing, and publicly embarrassing others seem to be the signature traits of our society and they aren’t easily shrugged off, even by the strongest and most confident among us.  It’s a reminder to us all how how lives can be destroyed by what we say and do.

The story, though, also illustrates something else.  It shows how what people do to us usually determines our character far more than it impacts theirs.

Carl—the 73-year-old killer over a high school grudge—lived an embittered life, entangled in jealousy and unforgiveness.  Norman lived a full life that sounded successful and happy.

We have a similar choice when people intend evil for us.  Like Joseph staring across an Egyptian banqueting table at the brothers who sold him into slavery decades before, we must choose what to do with our offenders.

The Lord’s Prayer instructs us clearly: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

If you look at most modern translations of this passage, they read something like: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 HCSB).

That’s because we perceive wrongs against us as a debt that someone needs to pay.  Someone owe us because they took something from us–our innocence, our purity, our dignity, our job, our financial security, our husband, our self-esteem . ..

Pretty soon we’re wrapped up in unforgiveness and anger so tight that our whole life is hindered.  We’re tripping all over ourselves when we try to get anywhere.

In his book, Enemies of the Heart, Andy Stanley reminds us that the only way to break free from the snare of anger and unforgiveness is to cancel the debt.

We need to forgive.  Why?  Because we’ve been forgiven.

Stanley writes:

In the shadow of my hurt, forgiveness feels like a decision to reward my enemy.  But in the shadow of the cross, forgiveness is merely a gift from one undeserving soul to another (129).

Jesus Himself, tortured and crucified by a jeering mob when he had done nothing at all to deserve it, still looked down from the cross and prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

In “You Want Me To Pray What?” I wrote:

“In the same way, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” just as the final stones pelted his body and killed him (Acts 7:59).

Have you considered who Stephen was praying for in that moment?  One of the men standing by the coat rack cheering on the crowd was Saul—later the apostle Paul.

Stephen asked for God to forgive his persecutors and shortly afterward this same Saul sat on a roadside blinded by Jesus Christ himself, experiencing repentance and conversion.

Satan fully intends to tangle us up in bitterness and jealousy.  He wants to defeat our ministry and make us thoroughly unusable because we’re so riled up and distracted by dissension and arguments.

He just doesn’t know what to do when we pray shockingly humble prayers on behalf of others, particularly our enemies.  There’s power there.”

No matter what people do to us, we can trust God to use it for His glory and to help us through.  More than that, we can ask him to help us forgive so we can move forward in freedom and blessing, no longer hindered by the bitter entanglements of our past.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader. Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness. To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

You Want Me To Pray What?

It was my baby’s first articulate prayer request for someone else.

During our nightly family prayer time, she usually doesn’t wait her turn. Whenever the Spirit moves, she just jumps in and starts talking to God, even if someone else is still pouring her heart out.

But that night, she waited for others to finish.  My daughters and I were snuggled up on the couch with our eyes closed while my husband was out for the night at rehearsal.  When my older daughters and I finished praying, we hopped up and headed to their bedroom.

She stopped us.

Holding up her little hands with two Band-Aids on her fingers, my baby girl prayed, “My fingers hurt.  Daddy come home.  Amen.”

Amen.

That night, my two-year-old took the first powerful step in an effective prayer life.  Yes, she prayed for her own little need, her two little scraped fingers that had been on her mind all afternoon.

Maybe she also wanted to show off her Mickey Mouse Band-Aids so God could see them.

But then she prayed on behalf of another—could her Daddy please come home safely and soon?

I’ve written in this space so many times that there is power in the time we spend on our knees for each other.

Yet, I’m still not sure if we truly realize the impact, the great spiritual weaponry that is ours when we intercede for those around us.

It is humblingWe say, “God, I’m overwhelmed here, but I’m not the only one.  She’s hurting also, so I choose to petition You on her behalf.”

It is faithWe say, “God, I’m going to trust my problems into Your care.  I’ve made my request.  I believe You’re going to take care of me, so I don’t need to focus only on myself.  Instead, I’m going to turn my gaze outward and lift others up.”

It is forgiving.

Wait, forgiving?  What does that have to do with anything?

Prayer for others is forgiving when we actually do what Jesus said—pray for our enemies, “pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

I urge you to pause and consider this for more than the half second it took you to read that verse.  I never in my life realized the power of Jesus’ revolutionary call to intercession for our enemies until this year.

And it’s life-changing, I tell you.

In the past, when I was struggling with conflict, I would “pray for my enemy” with something that sounded like this:

Lord, why is he so blind?  Can’t he see that he’s in sin?  Please open his eyes and let Him know that You are God and You don’t tolerate disobedience.  Change his heart, God, and let Your Holy Spirit be heavy on him until he repents.

That seemed to qualify as praying for those who persecuted me.  Let me just check that super-spiritual box.

But Jesus’ prayer on behalf of his enemies didn’t sound anything like mine.  He asked, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

I prayed for condemnation and Holy Spirit judgement on people who annoyed me.

Christ prayed for the blessing of forgiveness for those standing at the foot of his cross, jeering at him and waiting for him to die.

In the same way, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” just as the final stones pelted his body and killed him (Acts 7:59).

Have you considered who Stephen was praying for in that moment?  One of the men standing by the coat rack cheering on the crowd was Saul—later the apostle Paul.

Stephen asked for God to forgive his persecutors and shortly afterward this same Saul sat on a roadside blinded by Jesus Christ himself, experiencing repentance and conversion.

Satan fully intends to tangle us up in bitterness and jealousy.  He wants to defeat our ministry and make us thoroughly unusable because we’re so riled up and distracted by dissension and arguments.

He just doesn’t know what to do when we pray shockingly humble prayers on behalf of others, particularly our enemies.  There’s power there.

There’s also blessing.

After Job’s long ordeal ended . . .his children dead  . . . his servants killed . . . his animals gone and his property destroyed . . . his own body covered in painful disease . . . .after all that, God spoke to Job and hushed the mouths of the “friends” who had spewed religious rhetoric and condemnation while Job sat next to them in pain.

In Sunday School class, you probably learned that God blessed Job even more than before.  Yet, the blessing wasn’t immediate.  Something had to happen first.

Scripture tells us, “After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10).

Job prayed for his so-called friends and then God blessed Job.

I’ve taken this to heart and I won’t lie to you: it is difficult, downright hard, and sometimes truly agonizing.

There are times when my blessings don’t sound like blessings.  The words I’m saying are right, but I’m forcing them out between clenched teeth.

Sometimes I need to start simple.

When I am jealous and full of envy . . .
When someone steps on my toes and hurts my feelings . . .
When someone does something I think is sinful and hurtful . . .
When a driver in the Wal-Mart parking lot drives me totally insane . . .

Then I pray for them—for blessing, for forgiveness, for their future.

I may never see the impact on their lives, but I see it in mine instantly.  God changes my heart as I humble myself, trust Him, and forgive.

You can read more devotionals on this topic here:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King