What’s Your Excuse?

I have an audiocassette of a sermon by David Ring that he preached during a Moody Bible Institute’s Founder’s Week. He wove the testimony of what Christ did in his life throughout the message. What set his message and life apart from any I’ve heard is that Brother Ring has cerebral palsy.

He shared the tremendous struggles he has had in life. He talked of how the children made fun of his stammering speech and his difficulty in walking. Most of us have had others tease us at some point in our life, but it is likely that very few reading this have ever experienced the mockery that David endured. Children can be cruel and can delight in making fun of anyone, no matter how “perfect” they may be. But let children see someone who has a real physical challenge, and they will swarm to attack like killer bees or sharks in a feeding frenzy. Can you imagine what it would be like to be around children and have great difficulty speaking clearly? What about not being able to run and play like the other children, but instead to have a leg that hinders you from walking normally?

If that wasn’t bad enough, both of David’s parents died when he was a child. I believe his father died first, and David was all the more dependent on his mother. When his mother died, he was devastated. One of his sisters loved him deeply and took him in. She showed him incredible kindness and patience as he was struggling greatly with the loss of his mother and the way others treated him.

School was awful for him, and he wanted to give up. His sister kept encouraging him that he could do it, while others said that he would never amount to anything. I’m not sure of the exact sequence, but he was finally saved. God began working in his life, even giving him the desire to be a preacher. He shared, to my amazement, that other men studying to be preachers would tell him he would never make it. He completed college, married (and now has several children), and travels the U.S. as a full-time evangelist.

Religion may provide some degree of outward conformity, but Jesus Christ not only saves a person from hell, He also changes lives. Jesus Christ can take ashes and make something beautiful. Jesus Christ did a wonderful work in David Ring’s life. He took a man who was full of despair and bitterness and made a new creation. Jesus Christ took a man who was predisposed to a life of failure and rejection, and appears to be using him as a powerful instrument to glorify Himself and challenge others in their walk.

There were several things I noticed in particular from his message that encouraged me as a father. First is the influence we can have on those around us when we are encouragers. It is easy to point out every time our children fall short. The Lord used David’s sister in a mighty way. She believed in her brother and conveyed that to him over and over. When I’m not with my children, will their thoughts “hear” me correct them or tell them they can succeed at something? Are they likely to see Dad as the one who most believes in their ability to succeed? When they think of Dad, does it give them a feeling of assurance? Those are my desires for my children.

Along similar lines are the voices of those who told David he would never amount to anything. Have you ever heard yourself say, “You always . . . ?” I sure have, and I wish I could take back every one of those times. The positive affirmations we make to our children can be quickly forgotten by our negative global statements. If we are going to make a universal statement, may it be one of blessing. “Son, I want you to know that every time I see your face my heart rejoices.”

Everyone on the face of the earth has areas of weakness. As I listened to David Ring, I realized the great need to be extra patient and understanding with the mental and physical limitations of my children. It is easy to let their weaknesses become irritants instead of stimulants for us to bless them more. These are the areas in which they need us most. Yet, those are often the areas where we will lose patience first. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up” (1 Corinthians 13:4).

I suppose the greatest challenge I received from David was his desire to be used of God despite any difficulties he faced. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10). David Ring longs to be used by God for His glory. In David’s physical limitations, God gives grace. David is willing to receive God’s strength and be used as an instrument of righteousness.

For those who are saved, we have been bought with a price, the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20). We are no longer our own, but His. We are not on this earth for our pleasure and entertainment, but to serve our Lord. “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men” (1 Corinthians 7:23). We have daily opportunities to serve our families. The needs of our wives and children are to come before ours. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25).

May each of us take a sincere appraisal of our life. One way might be to review how we spend our time each day. Who or what is it spent on? Are we being obedient to the Lord? Are we serving Him in gladness of heart? Are we serving others outside the church? Are we responding with peace and patience to the tribulations that come our way? Are we welcoming them as opportunities for God to show Himself strong? If not, what is our excuse? David certainly had a good excuse, and yet he chose to be used of God. May we be men of God and let Him be glorified through our willing, cheerful obedience. What is our excuse for not being used of God?

Prayer Notebook

Have you ever had a friend ask you to pray for a specific situation? Then the following week she comes to you thanking you profusely for your prayers. How do you feel and what do you say when you completely forgot to pray? Has it happened to you?

Not only have I had “egg on my face” in relation to saying I would pray but then forgetting, I sometimes didn’t remember to pray for what was truly important in my own life. While I would stew about a situation in our family, did I consistently pray about it? Often I found I did not! I said I wanted God’s solution, but there were no “feet” to my desire.

A prayer notebook became a valuable tool in my life to facilitate my prayer time. It is something to help me do what I want to do. “. . . The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16). It facilitates doing what the Lord has told me to do. “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). In addition, it is beneficial to others and to me. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed . . .” (James 5:16).

It is important to understand that my prayer notebook has been a tool. It did not take the place of being quiet before the Lord and letting the Holy Spirit put on my heart what to pray. Rather, it has been a memory device so that I don’t forget to pray about the areas the Holy Spirit has directed.

I have been using prayer notebooks, of one style or another, for about nine years now. I am pleased with the benefits they have afforded to my prayer life. I am happy to encourage each of you to put this prayer tool into use in your life as well. Because I am a practical person who loves great ideas but always asks “how,” I would like to give you some simple prayer notebook guidelines based on my personal experience. From these beginning stages of a prayer notebook, you can, with time, fine tune and expand your own prayer notebook.

I want to start out with simple and practical ideas so that you can realistically make use of your prayer notebook and continue to use it. If it is too complicated, you will enjoy the process of setting up your notebook and using it for a week or two. However, as soon as you hit your first major life interruption, your prayer notebook will become too cumbersome to maintain.

You will first need to decide what kind of notebook to use. Then you will have to choose how to set it up. I am sharing information to help you with both of these decisions. Please don’t let the decisions hold you back. If you can’t decide, simply follow my recommendations and go with them.

This notebook will begin by being a prayer request notebook. In it, list prayer requests, leave blank lines, and then fill in with answers as they come. With time, as the discipline to use the prayer notebook grows, other sections can be added. The starting goal of this notebook is to let it be easy so that consistency in its use is achieved.

Any kind of journal book or notebook should work. I am currently using a pretty, hardback, blank journal. The drawback with it is that the pages are not removable, so I face limitations and frustration as some pages fill up, but others don’t. I have overcome this by putting a checkmark at the top of every page that has all the requests answered and writing “Completed” beside the checkmark. Periodically, I move all the prayer entries from pages that only have one or two left unanswered, plus the ongoing prayers, forward in the book. The advantage of these kinds of prayer notebooks is that you can find ones with beautiful covers on them, and they are relatively small. Plus, when it is full, it is all contained together in a bound book for storage.

You could also use a three-ring binder—small or large. This would probably involve little or no cost. Often, in our homes, we have unused binders stashed here and there, or they can be purchased rather inexpensively at a store like Wal-Mart.

Having a three-ring binder for a prayer notebook allows you to redo pages if you aren’t pleased with them the first time or even after you start using them. You can also move a filled page to the back of the notebook so you don’t have to flip through completed pages when you are praying.

The small three-ring binder size has the benefit of fitting nicely on top of a Bible and in a drawer or basket. Its disadvantage is that paper is less easily available. The 8½-by-11-inch size is bigger and more awkward to store, but paper and tabs can be purchased at places like Wal-Mart. It also provides more room for writing.

If even a notebook is beyond the scope of your finances, you can use sheets of paper stapled together for your prayer notebook. The advantage of this is that you can keep your prayer journal right inside your Bible—very convenient.

Start small and simple. Grow your prayer notebook with time.

Using Your Prayer Notebook

1. Scripture decoration—In the top margin of each page of your prayer notebook, plan to copy in a Scripture verse on prayer that is particularly meaningful to you. You can write them on pages you haven’t begun using yet as well.

2. Prayer requests—In your notebook, you will list things you want to pray about every day plus requests that are temporary. This has to be a reasonable list so that you can work through it during your prayer time. When you enter something in your prayer notebook, I would suggest leaving at least two blank lines between entries and perhaps three. This allows you room to write answers or updates.

3. Always date entries in your prayer notebook. This makes it a prayer journal, in many ways, because you know when you started praying about a particular thing, when it was answered, and how. In preparing to write up this information, I looked back at my prayer notebooks. I discovered the year Steve was laid off from his job and the year we made a major curriculum change. Those were dates we had tried to remember, but weren’t able to with certainty.

4. Obviously you can put as many requests in your notebook as you want. The caution is that you keep it simple and not too long so that you can actually pray through your prayer notebook each day, plus have time for anything else the Holy Spirit puts on your heart.

5. You will probably want a mixture of prayer requests in your notebook. There will be important, ongoing entries for you, your family, and ministry. Then there will be short-term prayer requests that will be prayed for a few days or weeks with an outcome.

6. If you choose a loose-leaf prayer notebook, I would suggest having one page for important, ongoing prayer, such as one page for yourself, your husband, and your children. Then put other prayer needs on the page immediately after those pages.

7. You can consider using two different pen colors, one for the request, and one for the answer. The advantage with this is that it makes seeing requests versus answers easy. The disadvantage is switching between pens when you are filling in your notebook. Also, if you lose one of the pens, and it is a color pen you don’t have many of around the house, you will likely stop filling in that part of the notebook—until you get a new pen—and who knows when that will happen.

8. Develop a system to note prayer requests when you think of them but do not have your prayer journal handy. This is probably best done by having notepads near the computer and the phones. If you have a prayer need come in via e-mail, you can jot it down on a sticky note, carry it with you to where you have your time with the Lord, and then enter it at a later time.

9. Faithfully fill in answers to the prayer requests as they come. Again, remember that simplicity is our goal. Give the date and as brief a description as needed to understand it.

Just get started. There are drawbacks with almost any prayer notebook/journal. Some are so complicated the user never has time to do it. The easy ones, like we are doing, don’t have as much flexibility as far as categorizing and dividing up prayer time. That’s okay—just do it. Develop the habit of entering the prayer requests, praying, and recording answers. Then move to more complicated prayer notebooks once those disciplines are in place.

I have been blessed through using my prayer notebook. It has fueled my dependence on the Lord as I have learned to write the concerns of my heart in the notebook and then pray about them rather than worry. That notebook has enabled me to consistently pray for people and issues that are near and dear to me. I am grateful for my special friend, Janice, who first encouraged me to start a prayer notebook. The prayer of my heart is that you, too, might be challenged to begin a prayer notebook, finding it a useful tool in your spiritual walk.