Traditions, Truth, and Praying with Your Eyes Open

The Western Wall challenges us to ask why we do what we do.

Some people find it hard to identify with the Jews who rock before Jerusalem’s Western Wall. When I first saw them, the prayers seemed odd. Then I thought about my traditions. Are they any less bizarre?

The Western Wall challenges us to ask why we do what we do.

(Photo: Men praying at the Western Wall. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Oddness just comes in different flavors. They’re called “traditions.” For example:

  • Jews pray with their heads covered; we take our hats off.
  • Their prayers are public and often loud; ours are private and quiet.
  • They rock back and forth and pray from a book; we bow our heads, close our eyes, and utter unrehearsed words.

It’s easy in the familiarity of our own traditions to shake our fingers at the oddities of others. Jews pray while rocking, Muslims kneel with their bottoms in the air, and Christians bow our heads and close our eyes.

But blend any tradition—bowing, standing, prostrating, rocking, kneeling, or jumping—with no personal relationship with the true God, and it’s pointless.

How can we make sure we don’t confuse truth with tradition?

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How to Follow God’s Will in the Chaos of Your Life

Jesus’ example in the Garden of Gethsemane shows us how.

Finding and following God’s will for our lives often feels like a game of chance. But if we know God’s methods of revealing His will, we will see it—even when life feels full of chaos.

How to Follow God’s Will in the Chaos of Your Life

(Photo: Garden of Gethsemane olive tree. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Jesus modeled a life that followed God’s will without hiccups. His example at many points reveals how to stay on course.

His night in the Garden of Gethsemane shows us how.

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How to Rely on God’s Strength in Moments of Weakness

Help from Peter’s Upper Room Boast to Gethsemane’s Failure

Peter denied he knew Christ. To some folks, that’s no big deal. Compared to murder, rape, etc., giving in to fear seems like small potatoes. But to Peter, his denial of Jesus ranked right up there with Judas’ betrayal. Personal failure always feels more poignant and painful than seeing it in someone else’s life.

How to Rely on God’s Strength in Moments of Weakness

(Photo: Upper Room. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Proverbs says no one knows the grief of the heart like one’s self (Prov. 14:10). To Peter, his denial of Jesus struck to the core of his heart, because only hours earlier Peter had promised he would never deny Him. NEVER. Peter’s words were emphatic.

The bitter pill? Peter really believed he would never deny Jesus. The emotion gushed out of his mouth in a full-on promise—a vow—that Peter would stay faithful to the Master even when all others would not. His words went beyond a promise to a boast. To bolster Peter’s position and promise, he compared himself to the other apostles, whose reactions never made it into print (probably a good thing).

I doubt the other eleven would have agreed: “Yeah, Peter, you’re right. The rest of us are nowhere near as strong as you. I have to admit, when we all have turned tail and run, you’ll still be standing there with Jesus. Way to go.”

Weakness begins, ironically, by thinking we’re strong.

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What to Do When It’s Not Really the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Lonely holidays are the times to draw close to God.

The songs play it. The movies portray it. Even our church services have their part to play. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Yeah, well what if it isn’t? For many people, holidays bring up painful memories.

(Photo by Photodune)

Sore spots from childhood or the loss of loved ones hit hard during this sentimental season. While many people celebrate the joys of Christmastime, others suffer lonely holidays.

During one of the most desperate times of King David’s life, the anointed future king of Israel found himself running from two separate enemies—hardly a time to celebrate. With the Philistines to the west and King Saul to the east, a distressed David sought refuge in the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1–2).

David felt very alone.

His situation offers encouragement to us during lonely holidays.

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Surrendering Your Will to God in Difficult Times

How Jesus' decision in Gethsemane is the only path to peace.

I have discovered that the most difficult battles in life simply mirror Jesus’ struggle in Gethsemane. His words to the Father remain the most challenging words we could utter:

Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done. —Luke 22:42

Surrendering Your Will to God in Difficult Times

(Photo: Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus surrendered His will. Courtesy of Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.)

Surrendering your will to God in difficult times is often harder than the trial itself.

Our greatest challenges come not from those circumstances that press in upon us, but from the internal struggle to surrender our will to God. We enter Gethsemane daily and have to drag my will to the Father in prayer.

Here’s how.

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How to Give Your Child Back to God

Hannah's decision at Shiloh shows us how to prepare.

Giving your child back to God can be a tough decision for parents. Eighteen or more years of sacrifice, commitment, and training suddenly bring you to a point of no return.

How to Give Your Child Back to God

(Photo: Shiloh, where Hannah brought Samuel. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Whether it is for college, for the military, or in the natural course of growing up, giving your child back to God is a point every parent has to face.

Hannah’s story shows us how to prepare for it, and then, how to do it.

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How to Breathe When God Steps on Your Air Hose

Habakkuk Helps Us Turn Our Panic to Peace

We aren’t surprised when we see people sidestep God. What shocks us, however, is when God seems to ignore people. The God of the Bible isn’t a far-off deity. So why does He seem so uninvolved?

How to Breathe When God Steps on Your Air Hose

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com)

God’s response to people’s non-response to Him seems conspicuous by its absence. For those of us who believe in God, it’s tough to breathe when it seems like God is stepping on our air hose.

A prophet with a funny name helps us turn our panic into peace—and to take a deep breath.

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What’s Your Motive? There’s Only One Way to Tell

How Tisha B'Av & the Burnt House Examine Us

What’s your motive? In Jerusalem, one site always begs the question. I find it fascinating that when the New Testament talks about God judging our motives, it uses the metaphor of a burnt house. 

How Tisha B'Av & the Burnt House Examine Us

(Photo: The Burnt House in Jerusalem. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Some call it coincidence. Some call it Providence. But according to tradition, both the First and Second Temples (in 586 BC and AD 70) were destroyed on the same date in history. Tisha B’Av marks the 9th day of the month of Av—the fifth Jewish month. During the exile, the Jews instituted a fast to commemorate the Temple’s destruction. After they returned to Jerusalem, they asked God a question about Tisha B’Av:

Shall I weep in the fifth month and abstain, as I have done these many years? —Zechariah 7:3

Their question made sense.

They had observed the fast in exile, but should they continue to fast on Tisha B’Av now that they were building the Second Temple? God’s answer to their question reaches beyond them to the heart of why we do what we do.

One question gets to the heart of our heart.

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How to Cope When the Will of God is Hard

The will of God also includes the presence of God, and thus, His comfort.

Sometimes it seems the Lord leads us into a life that can’t possibly be His will. What started with such promise has become such a challenge. It’s tough to know what to do next.

How to Cope When the Will of God is Hard

(Photo by Photodune)

What do you do when the life God has promised you looks nothing like the life God has given you?

God had promised a son to Sarai and her husband, Abram. Yet at the same time, God prevented conception. This is the will of God? 

What God said is a lesson we need to hear.

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Why Facing the Facts Begins with Faith

Hezekiah shows you how your faith has more facts behind it than you think.

Today you will be told to face the facts. Usually, that means bad news. You don’t have the money. The doctor’s report looks grim. Time is running out on your biological clock. Facing the facts is hard.

Why Facing the Facts Begins with Faith

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

But think about it: facing the facts isn’t our problem. It’s that we fail to face all of the facts.

God has facts to factor into our thinking as well.

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