Madison Church

Navigating Life's Trials with the Compass of Prayer

March 11, 2024 Jason Webb
Madison Church
Navigating Life's Trials with the Compass of Prayer
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

When Jason's grandfather, the actor-turned-pastor, would speak, his voice would resonate with a conviction that could only come from a lifetime of faith and prayer. In this heartfelt episode, we honor his legacy and explore the enigmatic force that underpins our spiritual journey: prayer. Together, we dissect what it means to align our pleas with God's will, taking cues from Jesus and Paul's teachings, and inviting you to reflect on how prayer molds your life story.

There's nothing quite like the echo of an 'emptiness statue' in our quiet moments of struggle; it's something Jason has come to know intimately. Sharing candid tales of his personal battles, Jason pulls back the curtain on the solace he found in Scripture, particularly in the notion of the Lord as a fortress in times of trepidation. We discuss the role of prayer in seeking divine support, especially when our emotional reserves are depleted, offering an honest depiction of the raw supplications that have been Jason's lifelines in the face of life's tempests.

Life's trying seasons often teach us the most valuable lessons, and this episode is a testament to that hard-earned wisdom. A pivotal conversation with a friend leads us through a labyrinth of growth opportunities that life's challenges present, urging us to decipher the lessons God imparts. We close with an encouraging note on the virtues of patience and hope, inspired by David's example, and share a prayer that seeks the courage to wait for the manifestation of the Lord's goodness in our lives. Join us as we seek understanding, courage, and the perseverance to believe in the promises of tomorrow.

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Speaker 1:

One of my heroes in life is my grandfather was my grandfather, whom I called Papa. I mean, he was just cool and awesome. He was like one of those guys who just had it. You know, first of all he lived in England, he was British, and growing up he became interested in theater and he actually became a Shakespearean actor and performed for royalty. But on top of that he was an athlete. He was just an all-around amazing guy. And a little bit later in his life he became a follower of Jesus and instead of being a Shakespearean actor he decided to be a pastor.

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He was a pastor for many years, first in England and then the United States, and when he spoke thousands came. He soon traveled all around Europe and then the US decided they needed him and so they asked him to move over here with my Nana and my mom, who was just young at the time and they moved here and while my mom and Nana lived in Virginia he traveled around the country speaking in place after place, and just thousands would come to hear him speak. In fact, they were such a good speaker that he would do funerals, and there was a group of ladies who would always come and watch him and listen to him at funerals. I mean that's a little weird, but they loved him so much. I always told him he had his funeral groupies. It was kind of weird, but there he was. One of the things he loved, especially towards the end of his life, is to mentor young pastors Near the end of life.

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I thought it was a little unfair that my grandfather, my papa, was mentoring all these other men and women in ministry but had never mentored me in it. So I said, papa, can I just come for a week? We're going to spend eight hours a day and you just tell me everything about what I need to know about life and ministry. So I went and the first day I was all excited about meeting with my papa and asking him about church strategy and what it takes to grow a church and what it takes to be an effective speaker and all these things I thought he would tell me about. And I asked him the first question. On the first day I said Papa, tell me the secret. He looked me dead in the eye and he said prayer. Yeah, yeah, yeah, papa, but tell me the secret. That's it, jason Prayer. You want to know how we saw all those people come to faith in Jesus in Europe and United States it's because your Nana and I prayed for hours a day, every day. We prayed that God's spirit would do something we couldn't, and he moved. Even today, jason, while you were sleeping, from 5 am to 8 am, I was doing what I always do. I was kneeling on my prayer bench over there, praying for this moment with you. But you have a long ways to go before you get that. You want to know the secret to life and having the power of God in your life. It's prayer.

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Today we're continuing our series on prayer, and prayer, if we're honest, is a confusing, baffling thing. Sometimes we say all we want and may attempt to do it, but we don't understand it. I love the story of Albert Einstein. A doctoral student actually came up to Einstein at Princeton and said Mr Einstein, what is the one thing that the world needsa dissertation on the most? An Einstein, without hesitation, replied find out about prayer. Somebody must find out about prayer. This is what we're studying out to do over these few weeks to find out about prayer, because the reality is that prayer is mysterious.

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Many of you have met my wife, joy, and she is actually Catholic. She was a nun in Italy for 10 years and she would spend hours and early in the morning, getting up at 4 am in prayer. Even now, as she goes to bed, I hear from her iPhone prayers just washing over her as she listens to them, letting her fall to sleep in the state of prayer One day. We're just on a date. And she said you want to know what the problem with you Protestants is. I thought that's a very dangerous question to answer, so I just remained silent, as I should, and I said please tell me. She said you don't embrace mystery, and prayer is all about embracing the mystery of God, and as Protestants we don't do that. Well, we want formulas, we want four steps, quick answers.

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But the spiritual life? I'm more and more convinced as I travel on this journey with God. The spiritual life is about embracing mystery, about sitting in it, in the tension of it, and saying God, I don't know how this all works, but I'm going to believe that something, even as I pray, something is happening in the heavenly realm, happening in the heavenly realm. So I don't understand, it's a mystery. But even as we acknowledge the mystery of prayer, it is still essential that we grapple with it, even in our finite understanding. So today, as we continue this series, the one question I want to wrestle with is what should we pray for? What should we pray for? This question often haunts us because a lot of times we feel, you know, maybe I'm praying for the wrong things and maybe that's why God's been so silent, or maybe that's the reason why this thing didn't happen. What should we pray for? As we seek the answer to that question, as we look to Scripture for the answer, the fascinating thing is the answer is what should we pray for?

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Jesus says pray for anything, pray for anything. John, chapter 14, you may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it Now. He may not do it right away and he certainly won't do it if it contradicts his name or his way or if it's not something that's good for you, but he says pray for anything. Paul says the same things Ephesians 6, and pray in the spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests. So Jesus and Paul are saying what should you pray for? You should pray for anything. If it's not what God wants or what's in line with what God is all about, it won't happen. But pray for anything. And even talking on this question of what should you pray for is a bit presumptuous, because all of us are coming in the room in a different season of our lives. So what I pray for today is different what I'll pray for in a month from now. And what you're praying for today is different than what I pray for, because there's all sorts of prayers throughout Scripture. There's prayers of provision.

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Maybe for you, money is tight right now, the bills don't add up with the income, and so your prayers, the prayer of Jesus, give me this day my daily bread. Maybe for you, it is a physical issue going on in your life and so you pray the prayer of James and you pray for healing. The prayer James has offered in faith will heal the sick. Or maybe for you, you're on the precipice of doing something that's risky and scary and you need to pray the prayer of boldness, the prayer of Joshua. When he was in battle, they were losing because the Son was setting and he just prayed a bold prayer God, make the Son stand still. And it happened and they won.

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Or maybe, as you listen, you know there's a sin struggle in your life. It's really what's blocking you with God. Maybe for you. What you pray for is a prayer of confession, a prayer of John. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. Or maybe and we're allowed to pray this you pray a prayer of blessing God, not in a selfish way, but expand my influence, expand my resources, expand the things I have so that I can better serve you, so that I can bless others. It's a prayer of J-Bez, oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my border. Or maybe God has blessed you, and today, as you listen to this, you're in a good spot. You've never been in a better spot in life. And so you pray the prayer of gratitude, the prayer of the psalmist. I'm going to enter his courts with thanksgiving in my mouth and would praise on my lips.

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Or maybe you don't know what to pray, and so your prayer is just a prayer of silence. You know, prayer isn't just about talking, it's even more so about listening. And so you just sit in silence, be still this psalmist said and know that I am God. Or maybe you're asking God to send you somewhere to do something for him, and so your prayer is the prayer of Isaiah here am I, send me. It's a prayer of action. See, there's different points and different lights, and we just mentioned a few of them.

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In scripture there's hundreds of prayers, but whatever you are pray for, ask God, and he will listen. And so it is a bit presumptuous for me to say this is what you should pray for, because I don't know what's going on in your life. And so today, what I want to do with the rest of our time is to give you a little window into what I've been praying for and hopefully and it's a bit selfish, but hopefully as you see my journey through the eyes of King David, you will understand maybe some points in your life, because the prayer I've been praying recently is the prayer of desperation, and some of you may be at that desperate place, some of you may know somebody who's at that desperate place, and all of us will be there at some point. The prayer of desperation is the prayer you pray when life flips upside down. It is the prayer you play when you've been attacked or you're confused or you feel defeated. It's the prayer you pray when you don't even know what you feel, sometimes when you just want to give up.

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In Psalm 27, king David gives us this model of what to pray when we are desperate. And most scholars believe that he's writing this Psalm. And Psalms, by the way, are just prayers. They're songs, they're prayers. It's like opening somebody's prayer journal and reading kind of an insight into their lives. And most people believe that David wrote this Psalm when his son, absalom the son that he had poured his life into turned his back on his father. And if you're a parent, you know, and I'm convinced that there is no greater pain in life than the pain of a child turning their back on their parent. And so in this he prays a prayer of desperation. And as we look into this Psalm, we begin to see a model of how we should pray when things in life aren't going the way we want them to.

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And the first thing you pray when you're in that desperate space is this fight for me. Fight for me, god, because I'm losing this battle, god. I've been fighting and I'm losing, so fight for me. David writes this Psalm 27.1,. The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid when the wicked advance against me to devour me? It is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear the war break out against me. Even then, will I be confident? David's begging God in this state of prayer. God, I need you to fight for me, because I've been trying this battle and it's not working. God, I feel cornered. I'm afraid they're coming at me from every side. This army is advancing against me. Be my stronghold, be my safe place, be my shelter in this moment, but don't just be my shelter attack for me, because this is too much. Maybe that's what you feel like, that there's armies coming against you and you're surrounded. That's what I felt like this week.

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It seemed like in every side there was an army. On one side there was some unexpected financial situations that were beyond my wife and I's control. That didn't match up In fact, really didn't match up with our money. I didn't know what to do. Another army from another side came at me. When somebody that I love more than probably very few people in this world, who I had hurt in a certain way and had tried to heal that and tried to make amends, looked at me dead in the eye and said I don't want a relationship with you. Behind me. Another army came as my wife learned of a major surgery that she was going to have, a surgery that has risks with it. And then there were small attacks that came as you know, you just deal with the stuff of life, with kids and with responsibilities. And then there was a new puppy that was going to the bathroom.

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All over the place, and still another army of anxiety came, things internal that sought to destroy me. There was surprise attacks of other things and we'll get into here and, attack after attack, bullet after bullet, it felt like there was an army coming at me, surrounding me from all sides, and I was afraid because I didn't know the answer to these problems. I didn't know how to solve them, I didn't know how to fight. I was losing that battle and in that moment I just read these words over and over the Lord is a stronghold of my life. Whom shall I be afraid of? Though an army or armies beseech me, my heart will not fear, though war break out against me. Even then will I be confident? I read it aloud and aloud, day after day this week God, fight for me. Fight for me, because I'm losing this battle. I'm too weak.

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My guess is you have armies coming at you, maybe big armies, maybe small armies, maybe multiple armies. Maybe that army is your job, or maybe that army has a face at your job. It's your boss. He demeans you, she demeans you and, quite honestly, they abuse your work. They come at you day after day, email after email, seeking to destroy you. Maybe that army is a relationship that that you want so desperately to be good, but it is hanging by a thread and they have done something to you that you don't know if you can forgive. They're seeking to destroy you. Maybe the army coming at you is circumstances you never saw coming, something beyond your control a job loss, a financial issue, a health scare, bullet after bullet. And maybe the army coming at you is you An addiction you haven't fully admitted, a struggle, a habit that you know is shooting bullets right into your soul, or maybe it's just an overwhelming, almost undefinable sense of dread or anxiety. Whatever it is, you feel like you're surrounded and you keep taking bullet after bullet.

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And maybe you feel like this it's a statue I saw not too long ago. It's called the emptiness statue. It's that feeling that that core part of you has just been blown away and you feel like the person you were is no longer there. You feel like a shell of yourself. Incidentally not and I don't think uncoincidentally related to our story here of David, this statue it's called the emptiness statue was built by somebody to depict the loss of a child in a parent's life. Maybe that's what you feel like it's.

Speaker 1:

In those moments you pray like David God, fight for me, protect me, yes, but fight for me because I got nothing left. I feel empty. I feel hollow, and he will. Moses once said the Lord is a warrior, the Lord is his name. So the first prayer in the prayer of desperation is fight for me, because I can't win this. The second prayer is this Show me, you are here because I feel so alone. Show me you are here because I feel so alone.

Speaker 1:

David continues, verse four One thing I asked from the Lord. This only do I seek that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. And now, in Old Testament times, when this is written, the temple was a symbol of God's presence. It's a place where people went to because they knew. They knew beyond a shadow of doubt. If they went to the temple, they would see God and David saying if only I pray for one thing, forget all my other prayers. One prayer that I must pray is that, god, I would see you. I know you're here, but I can't see you. So, god, show me your presence when I feel like I'm just sitting there alone with my head down and all of me blasted away. God, let me know that I am not sitting alone in this. Show yourself to me. I need to see you, I need to feel you See.

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Here's what David knows that if he takes time to look around and see that God is with him, two things will happen. One, he will be safe, and some of you need that safety. And two, he'll be lifted up. He continues verse five, for in the day of trouble, he will keep me safe in his dwelling, he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then, a few verses later, he says this my heart says of you seek his face, your face, lord, I will seek the.

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Our problem is that we forget that and we feel so alone, so stinking alone in our battles. Nobody gets it, nobody knows what it's like to be me. Yeah, I know other people have gone through a divorce, but not like mine. Yeah, I know other people have lost their job or face financial difficulties, but not like this. And we sit there all alone, assuming nobody sees. It's our battle to face, and ours alone, but David's prayer must be our prayer. God, as I sit here, let me see you sitting next to me. That's been my prayer as well this week, as I felt like I was being attacked on every side and had a huge hole blasted through me.

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I did what I often do in the morning I sit in this chair with my journal, but sometimes I pull up a second chair and that second chair is just a physical reminder of me to know that God's sitting next to me. I put it next to me to remind me that I'm not alone. In many days and I did this this morning I don't even write anything in my journal, I don't read anything in the Bible. I just sit there in the presence of God and look at that chair. Sometimes I even speak out loud as if God's sitting right there next to me, because he actually is. Sometimes I just rest my head in a gesture to know that God is keeping me safe, that he's there holding me like a father holds his child saying it's going to be all right. I've got you, it's going to be all right.

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And for some of you, the only thing you need to know today is that you are not alone. You don't sit on that bench with your head down alone. Your Heavenly Father is wrapping his arms around you, even though you may not see it, even though you may not feel it. I know other people who you thought were going to be there for you bailed. But God doesn't bail. He wants you to know you are safe and he'll lift you out of this. But if you're ever going to see that, you have to lift your head up from that just defeated position and look into his face, because, as you do, you will see the face in the eyes of love looking back at you.

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Paul knew this. He begged for us to pray this way Ephesians, chapter three and I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled in the measure of all the fullness of God, and I know that the bullets that have hit you over and over again have piled up over the years and they are so, so high. God's love is higher and I know that confusion you are facing now where you don't know which way to go right or left or backward. You don't know which way to go. It seems so wide. God's love is wider and I know that it may seem like the list of issues you're dealing with in life is so long. God's love is longer and I know that pit you may feel like you're in right now feels so so deep. Well, paul says God's love is deeper. You are not alone. Look into the eyes of love.

Speaker 1:

My other grandfather and I'm so grateful and it's such a gift in my life that I had such amazing grandparents and parents who love Jesus. I remember going to his house and he and my grandmother lived in a small duplex in Oshkos, wisconsin, and we would go there and as I would play Uncle Wiggly, a fantastic board game against my grandma that she always let me win in At some point during our time there, as we were playing that game, I would hear the pipe or the electric organ in the other room that my grandpa played, and oftentimes I would just go in and sit and listen to him, and one of the songs that he would always play is the song we actually sang earlier in here today, the song that goes like this Turn your Eyes Upon Jesus, look Fall in His Wonderful Face, and the Things of Earth Will Grow Strangely Dim In the Light of His Glory and Grace. Some of you are sitting there with your heads down. You're just so alone. David and Paul are just asking you do you just look up or not alone? The God, who loves you, is surrounding you. He's holding you up. So you pray, show me that you're here. The third thing you pray and this is probably the hardest part of the prayer of desperation is just teach me what you need me to learn, because I haven't gotten it yet. Teach me what you need to learn because I haven't gotten it yet.

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Not too long ago I was talking to a friend who was a close confinant. This isn't Stephen, by the way, although he is. I was talking to him about the bullets I was taking and all the stuff I was feeling. I was kind of feeling overwhelmed. I kind of was giving that victim vibe to him. You ever do that. I might be the only one who does that, but I was so sick of it, I was so done with it, I was so exhausted and I just needed somebody to tell me how awesome I was. Just needed somebody to say Jason, you're a great guy, you'll get through this. You're just. I believe in you.

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Instead, he said well, jason, I think God realizes that you're a hard nut to crack because you obviously have not learned what you're supposed to learn in this season of life. And I replied I don't like you. And he continued. He said God still wants to teach you something. It's not your fault that you're here, but there's still more to learn, still more for God to teach you before he lets you out of this season. And as I've thought about that more and more once I got over being annoyed, I think he's right. And sometimes we're in the season we are in this season of desperation because God's still teaching us something. David knew this. As David was attacked on every side, desperately wanting to get out of the season he was in, he realized that God never wastes a season on us. So, right after saying you can read this on later for yourself.

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Right after saying that his mom and his dad had forsaken him, and right before saying that his foes are attacking him with lies, he says this, squeezed in between those verses verse 11, teach me your way, lord, lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. In other words, god, I don't want you to waste this season, however hard it is. What do you want to teach me? You have me here for a reason. You've chosen not to let me out of it yet. So what do you want me to learn that I have not understood?

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Now, a couple of things to note. This is true of any season in life, not just the hard ones. God wants to teach you something in every season. And the second thing to note is this what you want God to teach you may be different, and probably will be different, than what he needs to teach you. I'm certainly learning this in my prayer of annoyance to God. God, okay, teach me what I haven't learned. He said Jason, you're so focused on the things you don't have. Embrace the good, see the blessings around you, embrace what's in front of you. And, jason, you have this problem You're trying to control things that are beyond your control. You say you surrender, but you don't surrender, but you just surrender it to me.

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Let me ask you, what does God want to teach you in the season you're in? And if you haven't prayed for that revelation yet, pray for it. Maybe he'll teach you, like me, that you kind of are a control freak. Instead of living like this, you live like this. Maybe he just needs to remind you and teach you of your love and worth as a child of God, because you are so down on yourself. Maybe he needs to change how you relate to others. Maybe he needs to teach you that certain toxic relationships are ones you have to put a boundary up on and maybe even walk away from all together. Maybe he wants to teach you perseverance. Or maybe there is a sin issue that you can't see right now, that he wants to just root out of your life. Maybe he wants to show you that you're codependent on what other people think, whatever it is. There's a thousand different things he may want to teach you.

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Would you pray, god, teach me what I haven't seen yet, what I haven't learned yet, because when you do and don't miss this, that the hard stuff God teaches you now will be the good stuff you use later. The hard stuff God teaches you now will be the good stuff you use later In your life, when you bump up against challenging seasons again. You'll have some tools in your belt to give to others who face things like do you do? You can say to them I know what that's like. Here's what God taught me. Let me spare you the trouble, let me spare you the years that took me to learn this, and fast track you so you can learn it as well. Whatever it is, don't waste the season, because the hard stuff God teaches you now will be the good stuff you use later. And so you pray. God fight for me, god show me, god teach me. And finally, you pray, help me. Help me to wait with hope, because I want to give up.

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Waiting stinks. And David knew this. He knew the waiting game was so hard. He knew there will be times when it feels like the thing you have been praying for for months, for years, sometimes even decades, isn't coming true. He knew that sometimes those wounds that are so deep don't feel like they're healing. He knew there will be times when you just want to throw up your hands in the air and say really, god, don't you hear my prayers? God, come on, enough already. Give me a stinking break.

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And in those moments it will be tempting to stop hoping for the good. In those moments you will want to stop believing. In those moments you won't want to come here to church or to listen online. Or if you do come or you do listen, you'll just do it because you have to. You'll just sit here going through the motions and in those moments when you are so sick of waiting, it's so easy to become cynical and jaded and resentful of others who God seems to be answering their prayer, and resentful of God himself. David reminds us, in those moments when we want to drift into cynicism and just give up on God, to pray this final prayer as much as a declaration as anything.

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He concludes this psalm this way. I remain confident of this I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. God, help me to wait with hope. God help me to believe what I can't see. God, help me to know that this is just a chapter in a story you're writing. God, take me to the land of the living, because right now I feel I'm surrounded by death.

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Last week, I was talking again to that same friend on the phone who had annoyed me. I still loved him anyway. I still am learning a lot in my story. This chapter is not over. I told him about how things this week had actually gotten harder and easier, and I felt like I was losing the battles I was in and I didn't know how to wait any longer. I thought he was going to say something more annoying again.

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This time he said this Jason, do you ever wonder how God is going to use all these things? You've been fighting down the road, jason. I believe this beyond a shadow of doubt, and I know you can't see it right now. I know you can't feel it right now. I know that you just have to get through each day with some of these things. But, jason, keep waiting, because your story is not over. Take the next step, jason. Don't give up now. He will use this chapter for good. He is doing something I promise. I don't know what it is, but I know it is going to be so good and I can't wait to see it. And so let me ask you that same question Are you tired of waiting on God. Hear me well. He is doing something so good for you. You can't see it, I know, but we are confident of this.

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Paul says that God works for the good of those who know him and those who are called according to his purpose. And so we pray, like Paul, like David oh God, give me the strength to wait, give me the strength and courage to wait, because God I believe. Even in my unbelief, even when I want to give up, even when I don't think I can wait another day, I believe that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. He will bring you there, maybe not today, maybe not next month, maybe not next year, maybe not 10 years from now, but he will bring you there. He will bring you there. He promises that, because he hears our prayers and he does answer them.

The Power and Mystery of Prayer
Facing Life's Battes
Seasons of Learning and Growth
Holding Onto Hope in Waiting