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7 Prayers for Those Battered by Natural Disasters

Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA

Like many of you, my eyes have riveted on stories about hurricanes Irma, Jose, Katia, and Maria, which have dismantled the lives of thousands across the Caribbean. Added to these are the earthquakes in Mexico, the pummelling by Hurricane Harvey, and wildfires which have torched the western portion of the USA.

When a natural disaster hits, it leaves many in sudden, abject poverty. It destroys homes and takes away lives. It leaves many stranded without basic resources such as clean, drinkable water.

Having worked for 5½ years in Africa for an aid organization, I’ve had a glimpse of what poverty means. The hurricanes, however, also opened my eyes to another kind of poverty.

Victims of natural disasters are poor because they have been robbed of something more than their homes and basic facilities. Apart from losing their material possessions and essential resources, they no longer have the sense of security that they can survive the next hit. They live in fear of the next storm, and have nowhere they can shelter safely. They can’t even turn to their friends and neighbours, who are just as badly hit.

I caught a tiny glimpse of how it must feel to lose things that are important to you when I was robbed. During our tenure in Uganda, the thieves ran away with so much more than my purse and electronics. They temporarily extracted my peace of mind; my sense of trust; a slice of my children’s innocence and my husband’s sense of being able to protect his family.

This helps us better understand our role when we step in to assist victims of natural disasters. Even if we were able to wave a magic wand and restore all of their possessions, there would still exist a poverty untouched.

This forms the backbone of my prayers for those hit by natural disasters. I pray that God would restore their sense of peace, materially and otherwise.

Victims of natural disasters: We remember you, and we’re on our knees. Readers: Will you pray with us for the following?

 

1. Peace

Like the disciples in a floundering, water-logged boat, our eyes are so often glued to the turbulent waves rather than their Master.

Let them repeatedly hand all their anxiety and fear to You. As they trust You, guard their hearts in Your peace (Philippians 4:8). Let Your peace be their anchors amid any circumstances, no matter how deep the raging waters are.

 

2. Provision

When the physical stores that we’ve relied on are suddenly gone in an instant, it can be terrifying to have no resources in sight.

Please care for these victims’ physical needs and provide them their daily bread. Let them not worry about what they’ll eat or drink or wear, but trust that You see them and care deeply for them (Matthew 6:26). Let them seek You, and lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10). In times of their deep need, give them the strength to endure anything (Philippians 4:13).

 

3. Wisdom

There are so many decisions to be made after a natural disaster strikes. Where should reconstruction begin? What are the most important needs? What issues must be addressed in the meantime? Where are safe and trustworthy places to go for help?

Help victims and aid workers to move forward, not in impulsive fear, but to operate with Your peace, trusting in Your care and constancy. You led nomadic Israelites with a fire and a cloud. Help these victims seek Your wisdom for their next step in their recovery (James 1:5-6).

 

4. Trust

It can be hardest to trust You when we walk through overwhelming grief and loss. Show each person the tender, specific care You have for them, and that You remember every single one of them.

Let them trust You even when You take away (Job 1:21). Help them see that any disaster, any evil that they run into, is still on Your leash and that You are still in control of their situation. Help us, Good Father, to trust You when we can’t see.

 

5. Care and hospitality

Father, You have not abandoned them for even a second! Let them see You in every open door, every glass of water, every kind smile, and every gentle grasp. Provide love for them through friends, family, and strangers. Go before these victims of tragedy, paving their way in graciousness.

Motivate Your people to love generously, as an act of love to You (Matthew 25:34-40). Open our own hearts towards them in sacrificial generosity and make us our brother’s keeper—even if it’s a brother we’ve never met.

 

6. Restoration

Restore the happiness and necessities taken by these disasters (Joel 2:24-26), be it homes, vehicles, irreplaceable mementos, or clothing, and give them a peace of mind.

 

7. Refuge

Lord, be their hiding place and refuge, a constant presence and help in trouble. Let them know that You are personally and intimately involved in their lives, and reassure them that You are always with them (Psalm 46:1). We beg You to spare them any more calamity—whether it is concurrent diseases or recurring natural disasters—and show us Your undeserved favour. We rely on You, Lord!

Stop Being Perfect, Start Being Holy

Written by Janel Breitenstein, USA

I remember a time back in high school, running hard after God. I thought if I could have one thing in the world, it was holiness. Maybe it sounds to you like it did to me: Intently focused on God. Uber-spiritual, even.

But looking back, I actually think what I wanted was to be perfect.

I am some form of a perfectionist. WordPress says I revised my last blogpost no less than 13 times. I am often obsessive, in fact, in my attempts to please people. (One of my friends laughs because when she arrives at my house, I always run to place a hand towel in the bathroom—all because she asked me for it on one occasion.)

This year, about two decades after my high school quest, I finally realized this: The only reason I wanted to be a perfectionist was that I detested my own failure. But I didn’t hate sin and weakness in me because it grieved God; I hated it because I thought I was better than that. It was a chip in my façade, a chink in my armor. I didn’t hate sin because I loved God; I hated sin because I loved myself. I loved my own achievement, my own goodness, my own . . . righteousness.

Maybe you’re wondering: Is there anything wrong with wanting to be perfect? Doesn’t God say to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”? Shouldn’t we have zero tolerance for our weakness and sin?

But you see, my craving to be unchained from weakness was cleverly cloaked in the right lingo of “holiness.” And the god of my quest was myself. Insecurity oozed around my failures. It leaked out when I didn’t meet my ideal. My husband pointed out that pride and insecurity are actually the same sin. Both place my sense of value—or lack thereof—in my ability to achieve my goals on my own.

When I don’t meet my ideals, I feel inferior and insecure. When I’m meeting my standards? I’m on top of the world . . . and likely feeling a bit superior. Neither pride nor insecurity is based on God’s acceptance of me or His value of me, apart from what I bring to the table.

But now, I have started to see holiness less as being free of wrong and weakness. I no longer believe that it strictly lies in the perfection of my outward behavior. After all, my heart’s kind of a rotting onion: the further I peel into knowledge of myself and God, the more underlying junk of my own is flayed open.

American Pastor and author J.D. Greear writes: “There are only two kinds of religions: those that teach you to obey in order to be accepted; and those that teach that you obey because you are accepted. In every story . . . from the Bible . . . God confronts attempts at self-salvation.”

Jesus earned my verdict. He says I’m accepted. I’m cleared. American pastor and theologian Timothy Keller writes that in Christianity, “the verdict leads to performance. The performance does not lead to the verdict.” When I accept Jesus’ verdict of “innocent” for me, God says to me what He did for Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Rather than motivated by fear—of failure, weakness, not being accepted—holiness is now motivated by faith that I am unconditionally, overwhelmingly loved, accepted, and thankfully not in control. It means I’m no longer trying to save myself. Instead, I’m allowing God to save me. My holiness flows from acceptance rather than insecurity.

Rather than strict control of my outward performance, holiness now feels like an act of worship, a jealousy for my life to be only His. True holiness, I think, has God as its source and object; perfectionism has myself as its source and object. You could say my behavior now emerges (yes, through self-discipline) from a genuine love for God, rather than a feverish clawing for His acceptance.

This means that when I really bite it bad—snapping at my husband, say, like I did the other night—I don’t have to be devastated because I acted like a “bad wife”, or because I behaved in a way inconsistent with my good character. If my mouth speaks out of the overflow of my heart (Matthew 12:34), I need to acknowledge that this is who I am: a sinner. I can confess to my husband without trying to blame-shift or deny or justify my tacky talk. I can ask his forgiveness. And I can lay my head on the pillow knowing that God’s changing me from the inside out. But my worth can remain super-glued to Jesus’ verdict for me in God’s courtroom.

Honestly, His performance is a lot more reliable than mine. My ability to achieve seems to melt away in the presence of that kind of perfection. Ultimately, I’m less and less focused on me and my rather sketchy (hand-towel-deprived) performance.

Holiness is, in fact, an utter reliance on performance—on perfection. Just not mine.

I’m An Extrovert and I’m Embarrassed by It

Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA

Is anyone else out there guilty of subtly rigging your own personality assessment?

You know what I’m talking about. It’s the exercise where you carefully pencil in circles that should illuminate more of how you’re designed as an individual.

I know, I know. It sounds kind of dumb when I say it out loud. In fact, if you had asked me, I would have totally denied it. I would have said, “I’m trying to make this thing express me accurately.”

It probably sounds immature (because it is) to mute certain aspects of my personality. But I didn’t want to succumb to stereotypes. I wanted to be more balanced. I didn’t want to, well, turn out like that person who drove me batty once upon a time, or that person I didn’t respect.

To be more specific, I was embarrassed (and still am) by being described as an extrovert; lacking attention to detail; and feeling rather than thinking. I mean, who wants to be known as an irrational, in-your-face, over-enthusiastic fountain of emotion who can’t match her own socks?

Perhaps my embarrassment was aided by others’ response to my unvarnished expression of personality in earlier years. Whenever I spoke, out flew the product of a mouth in fast-forward and a brain in rewind.

But though my extroversion got me putting on elaborate mild-mannered disguises, God, of course, had His reasons. I distinctly remember an epiphany I had while doing my third or fourth personality test some years ago before we hauled our family to Africa for missions.

Shortly after I had carefully engineered every little gray circle with my pencil, only to discover that I was still “incredibly enthusiastic”, someone pointed out that nearly the whole African continent thrived on talking and talking—and that flexibility was the key to survival. A straightforward, uninhibited show of compassion would also go a long way.

Wait. Did someone say it would be helpful to be friendly, conversational, empathetic, and willing to be flexible on details? Well, have I got a show for you!

Turns out that God’s knowledgeable design of me might not have been so inconvenient or random after all. Perhaps in my longing to be someone different, I was actually articulating a profound lack of faith.

A couple of mornings ago, I was recalling Acts 13:22, which mentions a particular king, musician, poet, dreamer, and creative planner. His feelings got him into trouble, like mine do. But still, God says this man “served the purpose of God in his own generation” and calls him a man after his own heart. (I wonder if David ever had trouble matching his socks.)

The reality is, I’m made in the image of God—whether I choose to embrace His deliberate, carefully-considered crafting or not. Granted, He’s not to blame for those times I overwhelm others with my friendliness, fail to plan well for my family, or emote all over the place without self-control.

My weaknesses aren’t an excuse to mute the way God has made me, but rather to let His Holy Spirit make me fully . . . me (Ephesians 2:10). It’s much like my hope that as God transforms Africa, it won’t become more Westernized, but more African, and take on the highest, unadulterated form of this stunning culture in expressing His face and image. God flourishes in the fullness of our distinction not so that we can make more of ourselves, but more of Him.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
(Psalm 139:14)

 

This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.

When I Don’t Have Clarity on God’s Will

Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA 

We weren’t clearly “called” to Africa. That I know.

Though I’d longed to work overseas from the time my hair was in pigtails, my husband hadn’t felt it would best utilize the way he was made (“I don’t have the gift of evangelism”, he says). I’d wrestled with this before we decided to marry and hadn’t quite forgotten it, even though 10 years later found me half a hemisphere away from my dreams. I was smack in the middle of suburbia, complete with four little kids, the picket fence, and the dog.

I worked diligently to avoid thinking about the dreams I’d willingly put on hiatus, to cultivate contentment in what I realized was a rich and—though decidedly unsexy—still beautiful life. It was a different dream of mine, you might say. I wasn’t spooning rice into the bowls of refugees, but feeding and discipling my own kids. I deeply believe in “faith expressing itself through love” wherever God puts us, even when we don’t understand.

Cut to one April night. My husband arrived home late to me propped up on pillows after a long day of filling sippy cups and refereeing kid conflicts. He tilted his head curiously and said, “What would you think of us pursuing non-profit work overseas?” That’s where I just about fell out of the bed.

A Google search unearthed EMI (Engineering Ministries International), a faith-based non-profit group of design professionals. They create hospitals, schools, clean water projects, and more for the impoverished while developing architects and engineers in poor areas.

So there we were, contemplating whether or not to sell 70 percent of our stuff in Little Rock, Arkansas (in the U.S.), and move to a continent I was sure was buzzing with malaria and typhoid. Honestly, I was thrilled. Africa was a dream I’d put on the shelf believing that “maybe God will explain one day why He said no”, but now it seemed about to come true.

But even when circumstances seemed to be leaning that way, neither of us had any unshakable indications about God’s will. Our emotions, though indicators of our desires, had been proven in the past to be rather fickle and unduly influenced. Honestly, we weren’t sure if this was a calling from God that we couldn’t ignore, or just an opportunity that God was giving us to serve Him. That’s when my husband said something one night that I’ll never forget.

“I don’t know that this is a ‘obey or disobey’ kind of thing.” You know, like I don’t think we’ll get eaten by some form of gigantic fish if we stay here in North America. He continued: “I think God is giving us a choice on this one. I think it’s more like an alabaster jar. It would just be a beautiful act of worship to Him.”

(That was a reference to the container of expensive perfume that a woman used to anoint Jesus just before He went to the cross, in Matthew 26:6-13.)

The thought stuck with me. I must confess I’m not the kind of person who’s ever heard God speak audibly. Do I know His voice? Well, yes, I do. That’s not to say that I, being 100 percent human and flawed, don’t get His voice all jumbled up with the flawed attitudes and personal desires so artfully cloaked by my subtly conniving, work-in-process heart.

Sometimes I get it wrong. Sometimes I’ve gone with what would be the most awe-inspiring in the sight of other Christians. Sometimes I’ve gone with what’s the hardest (because God must surely want me to do what I don’t want to do, right?).

I know we sometimes get frustrated by ambiguity and all the things we don’t know; all the things God doesn’t tell us. We’re more than willing to obey, but we just want to know exactly what He wants us to do.

But what I like about my husband’s “alabaster jar” is the beauty of the choices God gives us. I don’t have any “God told me” answers for friends questioning me on my decision to go to Africa (although I do know that those words can be a bit of a conversation killer . . . who wants to argue with God if He’s said I should go?).

Honestly, sometimes I feel the temptation to add clarity for God. . . out of my own fear or lack of comfort. When I decided to marry my husband, for example, I was worried that I was “selling out” on what might be God’s call overseas. Choosing a marriage over what might have been my “calling” sounded wrong. I wished I could get a clear sign from God so that I could say, “God came to me” or “God called me”.

But honestly, what I had were inclinations following prayer, a multitude of wise counselors, and careful consideration of what Spirit-led wisdom looked like in the whole of Scripture, my heart, and my reality. (For example, part of what I knew I loved was cross-cultural interaction and understanding, and compassion for the poor—which I could experience in my own country and could therefore still carry my dream back home, in a way.)

Yes, I amazingly got to enjoy both dreams. But God’s plans don’t promise to wrap it all up so neatly this side of heaven. They’re not a lucky charm to happiness and prosperity.

I find poignant the cautionary words of Peter Scazzero, an American pastor and author in the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life in Christ, as I steer away from taking God’s plans into my own hands: “I, like Abraham, had birthed many ‘Ishmaels’ in my attempt to help God’s plan move forward more efficiently.”

Recently, I also heard a sermon by Francis Chan, another American pastor and author. Chan acknowledged he was only about 70 percent confident of what God wanted him to do in a major decision he’d described, and about 90 percent in marrying his wife. Instead, he talks about what he dubs “prinking”—praying and thinking about what the mind of God would be on this.

One blog posting quoted Mother Theresa, who when asked to pray for clarity for a person, replied, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”

Some of our decisions, I think, are just the option to love elaborately. Though my husband and I witnessed no writing on the wall, no dreams or visions that we could faithfully attribute to God, we knew that Africa had so much fewer resources than our developed country. In Scripture, God’s heart for the poor—and the orphans and widows—compelled us to join Him. The chance to know Him more vividly, to worship Him through sacrificing the lives we knew and “stepping out of the boat” were simply . . . priceless.

What’s your alabaster box?

 

This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.