Viewing by month: March 2010
The Last Prayer
At that time, I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over. Daniel 10:2-3
Daniel had been in a period of prayer and fasting for twenty-one days, waiting to receive a message from God concerning an upcoming war. Daniel’s faith never wavered. He knew that God would give him what he needed; he just didn’t know when. You see, many times before Daniel had asked God for insight and guidance, and God had always answered…
This past January I entered a period of prayer and fasting with others members of my church, Church of the Highlands, which is located here in Birmingham. Much like Daniel’s period of fasting, this one would last for twenty-one days. And following Daniel’s lead, my wife Jackie and I made a decision to follow his guidelines for fasting, which is appropriately called “The Daniel Fast.” No meats, sweets, bread, caffeine, soft drinks, or alcohol. For three weeks our diet would consist of vegetables, fruits, juice, and water. The reason behind the fasting was to raise our level of spirituality through the awareness that we were depriving our bodies of the “fuel” that they had grown accustomed to.
I’ll go ahead and tell you that it worked! For the first few days my body reminded my mind of everything that it was missing. And in turn, my mind screamed at me to feed my body!
It had been seven years since I’d quit smoking, a nasty habit that had plagued me for thirty years. The first couple of days of fasting reminded of the struggle that I’d gone through when I was battling nicotine withdrawals. My level of awareness was raised alright, and I didn’t like it one bit!
Frustrated, yet determined, I fought through that “little voice” in the back of my mind that was constantly screaming reminders of what my body was missing. You see, I remained steadfast in my fasting because I was after something….
A few weeks earlier, we had been advised by Pastor Chris Hodges that we should enter a fasting period with a specific intention, or “expectation”. In What I’m Asking God For, a post from January 18th, I told you that I had entered the Twenty-One Days of Prayer seeking God’s Wisdom. My reasoning was that with a bit of His wisdom, which He promises to us for the asking, I could have more insight into solutions for many of the problems that I face each day.
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. James 1:5-6
Well, as I believe that the Bible contains a record of God’s promises to us, and that God is faithful to those who love and serve Him, I entered Twenty-One Days with the absolute belief that God would grant me some of His wisdom.
Looking back now, I realize that God did indeed grace me with wisdom, and He continues to do so each day. But I also realize that there was something else that I was after…
A new level of prayer.
Since Jackie and I joined Church of the Highlands just over a year ago, I had been a part of Twenty-One Days of Prayer last summer, and had attended several organized prayers sessions on Wednesday and Saturday mornings throughout the year.
On each of those occasions I witnessed individuals in a deeper, more intense state of prayer than anything that I had ever experienced. I could look at them and see a connection with God that I longed for. I think that it wasn’t really what I saw on their faces, as much it was the feeling of a spiritual connection that emanated from each one of them. This may not make sense to you, but it was as if I could feel their spirituality as I walked by them.
As much as I hate to say this, I was envious of what they had! Oh, I didn’t want their spirituality. I just wanted to elevate my own through prayer, but I didn’t know how to do it.
So I prayed. And prayed. And prayed.
Every weekday morning, Monday through Friday, I would get out of bed at five o’clock to go to church for the prayer service, which began at six. On Saturdays the service began at nine o’clock, and on Sunday mornings I was in my prayer chair in our home at six before getting ready for church.
And every day I would seek God’s wisdom, and pray for the needs of others before praying for my own. And I would of course, pray to be lifted up to that new level of prayer. Every day.
Like I said, God did indeed grace me with His wisdom, or as much as this feeble mind of mine could absorb. And I witnessed God perform several “coincidences” (I like to call them miracles) in my life, and in the lives of others, during those twenty-one days.
But I never reached that level of prayer, that “connection” with God that I so desperately wanted. Heading into the last day, a Saturday, I believe that I had given up hope that it was gonna happen.
Oh, I was extremely grateful for the many blessings that I had received from God during those twenty-one days. Yet at the same time, I was really disappointed, not with God but with myself, that I hadn’t connected with Him in the way that I’d prayed for. I figured that there was something that I wasn’t doing right.
The twenty-first day’s service began with a message from Pastor Chris, which was followed by a worship song. After thirty minutes of private prayer and petitions, Pastor Chris once again took the stage to lead the hundreds in attendance in one, final fifteen minute session of corporate prayer…
I began following the Pastor’s call for prayer for our families, our church, our city, our state, our country. At times I found myself praying his prayers; at other times I offered my own. The faces of my family, of friends, and of those on my personal prayer list flashed through my mind as I called on God for His grace and mercy.
I remember Pastor Chris calling us into a more fervent state of prayer, urging us to “go after God” with all that was in us. The voices of those standing all around me grew louder and louder in prayer. Again came the call to pray even harder. I’d never prayed so hard in my life…
And then my world was silent.
The only voice that I heard was that of my own, praising God, thanking Him for His blessings, for His presence in my life…for His presence in me. Thanking Jesus for dying for me, for making my salvation possible. Thanking the Holy Spirit for all of His gifts, especially the heart and bravery of a Soldier of Christ. Thanking God for allowing me to feel…this. Time stood still. Time didn’t matter.
And then, it was like waking up from a dream. I realized that my cheeks were streaked with tears. That those around me were praying as loud as ever before. And that my knees were on fire. Slowly opening my eyes, I saw the source of the pain in my knees: I had been kneeling on the concrete floor in prayer for at least ten minutes!
I slowly got back up on my feet, joining the rest of those around me for the last few minutes of prayer, somewhat overwhelmed by what had just happened.
In the last fifteen minutes, of the last hour, of the twenty-first and last day of my prayer and fasting, God had allowed me to reach the level of spirituality that I had been so desperately seeking.
Never give up on God. Never give up on yourself. Always remember that as with Daniel, and as with me, that He may wait until the last minute of the last hour of the last day to “show up.” That He may be waiting for you to offer that one last prayer, the one that you offer just before you give up, the one that He plans on answering.
God is faithful.
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 03/29/2010 at 6:26 AM | Categories:
The weary, peaceful, Warrior.
This is for all of us who walk with God every day, fighting the never-ending fight, and never giving up.
Earlier this week I received an e-mail from my friend Katie thanking me for The Seed of Hope. I was grateful for her words and humbled by her message. Katie has graciously allowed me to share just a bit of it with you…
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for your ever present reminder of how faithful God is. I love reading the blog and the message even more.
It appears as though the past few weeks have been tough. I am sorry for your stress and hurt. But God has a perfect plan for a future that He can only see. I hope you have a great week!”
As I sat there reflecting on what Katie had written I came to realize several things:
· Much of what I’ve written about the past few weeks has dealt with the trials and tribulations in my life. I believe that some have been tests from God, that many have been the work of Satan, and the rest of them have been, well, they’ve been what life throws at me from time to time.
· Apparently my writing as of late has failed to reflect the joy that comes with working through the tough spots. Yep, you read it right; I said joy.
· I am weary of the fight. I am a weary, peaceful, warrior.
Yet again I find myself thinking about that day in August that I got my tattoo. The day that I was born again. The day that I declared myself to be a soldier of Christ. The day that I became a warrior for Jesus, vowing to fight His fights and to take His message wherever I could.
How ironic it was that on the day I vowed to be not just any warrior, but His warrior, I was filled with complete peace. At the very moment that I made my declaration, my mind and mind heart were filled with a calmness that, well, that I had never known. I found peace.
Peaceful people don’t want to fight; it’s not in their nature. Warriors must fight; there’s no choice to be made.
And so it has been since that day in August. Every day I recite Ephesians 6:10-20, and in doing so I put on the Armor of God, asking Him to protect me and my wife Jackie against Satan and his dark forces. And every day I go out with the intention of being a shining light for God, carrying His light to whoever lives in darkness. Every day. And I fight the fight. Because that’s what I choose to do.
Look, you don’t have to write a blog page, or declare yourself to be a soldier of Christ, or be bold in your faith every day to be tested. It’s gonna happen anyway. But you already know that, don’t you?
If you’re a good person, you’re gonna be tested every day. Believe in God? That only makes it worse. Striving to be a good Christian, walking in His way? Then you my friend, are being pounded on all the time!
I believe that what matters most is not what we’re dealt in life, but what we do with what we’re dealt.
One of my favorite verses in the NIV Bible is found in James 1:2-4:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Come on! How are we supposed to accept the crap that we have to deal with as being joy?
A couple of weeks ago, when I was having one of those particularly trying days, my good friend Sharon reminded me of James 1, but with a different perspective. Sharon suggested that I check out The MESSAGE version of the same verse:
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.
A sheer gift?
YES! That’s exactly what they are! All of ‘em! Sheer gifts!
Even the ones from Satan. You think I’m kidding? I’ve learned a lot from him, especially the lengths to which he will go to get between me and God! I don’t think that he’ll ever give up…but then neither will I. On those days when I’ve just had enough of him, I just bind him up, in the Name of Jesus, and “kick him to the curb!” Laugh if you want to, but believe me, it works.
I’ve said this before, and it bears repeating:
It’s never fun when we have to go through hardships…as a spouse, a parent, a leader, a follower. Who of us likes to stumble and fall? Who doesn’t grow weary of getting back up, over and over again? Well, no one, of course.
We need to remember that every test, every lesson, and every trial that we receive from God serves to make us what He wants us to be. They get us ever closer to what He has planned for us. In every one of life’s challenges lies another piece to the puzzle, another key to His Kingdom!
And we should always look to Him for strength...
but those who hope in the Lord wil renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:30-31 NIV
Pastor Chris Hodges of Church of the Highlands here in Birmingham once said that “Greatness is born in difficulty.” I don’t know if he coined the phrase or heard it from someone else, but I certainly believe it to be true.
That being the case, I believe that, based on our actions and reactions to what life deals us, we can all be destined for greatness.
Yeah, I’m a peaceful warrior. And at times I grow weary from the fight. But I’m in it for the long haul, and I’m havin’ a ball living my life. Thanks for the reminder, Katie!
See you next week!
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 03/22/2010 at 7:00 AM | Categories:
What if? Combining those two simple words to form a simple question opens the door to a world of possibilities, doesn’t it?
What if has launched countless dreams that have changed the course of our world. Astronaut Neil Armstrong had a what if. So did visionaries Henry Ford, Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and Bill Gates. I’ve got to believe that each of these amazing people, at some point in their lives, questioned “What if?”
If I look over my shoulder at my past, especially my younger years, I could make a list of What ifs that served to shape the way that my life has unfolded…what if I’d finished college?...what if I had tried a bit harder?…what if I had found God earlier in my life? What if? What if? What if?
Truth be told, I really don’t spend a lot of time looking over my shoulder, wondering what if I had turned left instead of right, or said “no” instead of “yes”. What’s the point in doing so? I can’t get a re-do on decisions that I’ve made in my life. What’s done is done; it’s history. Besides, if I spent all of my time looking at the past, I couldn’t enjoy the present, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to dream of the what ifs that may be in my future…
This past week was a pretty rough one for me in our salon. I had to fire a member of our team on Monday. Two people were out with some type of virus on Tuesday, and another called in sick on Wednesday. One of our stylists took exception to something that was said by someone else, and the resulting tension in the salon was almost palpable. There were shipping delays on two huge supply orders that I had placed on Monday and Wednesday. In the midst of all of this, work continued on the current expansion of our salon. Wow.
I woke up at 4 o’clock on Thursday morning with the feeling that I was suffocating! It was obvious that the events of the week were taking a toll on me mentally. I made my way to my prayer chair in our kitchen, anticipating the comfort of being in prayer and meditation with God.
I don’t know, maybe fifteen or twenty minutes into prayer my mind started to wander a bit, and I found myself posing one of those what if questions…
What if Eve had never taken a bite of the apple in the Garden of Eden?
Have you ever thought about that one? How different would things be for us?
I’ve gotta add something here: I know that Eve took the first bite, but if she hadn’t, it would have been Adam. Or one of their kids. Or one of their kids. I believe that, sooner or later, someone would’ve taken a bite of that apple! You see, it’s part of our nature as humans to succumb to temptation from time to time, and the temptation was just too great.
Before I move on, let me give you another what if to ponder on later…
What if God knew all along that somebody was gonna eat the apple? That it was part of His plan for us?
So there I was, sitting in my prayer chair, wondering what it would be like if no one had ever taken a bite of the apple?
God’s presence. Abundance. No suffering. No pain. No sickness. No prejudice. Peace. Love. Joy. Happiness.
I’m sure that I probably left a lot off of the list, but I think you get what I’m trying to say here. Take away that one bite, and life as we know it, well, wouldn’t be life as we know it! Come to think of it, I think that if I was asked to define “heaven”, I would’ve used the same words to do so. Heaven on earth, in the Garden of Eden. What a ticket!
I spent the next few minutes fast-forwarding through my fifty-seven years on this earth, and especially the years following August of 2006, when I was born again.
IF no one had bitten the apple, I might not have known the miracles that God has worked in my life. I might not have been lifted up out of the hopelessness that plagued me for so many years. I might not have known what it was like to be without, and then to have. I might not have appreciated His awesome Power and Glory. I might have never known His Wisdom and Compassion. I might have never known the ultimate display of sacrifice in Jesus being crucified on the cross. I might not have this fire in me that burns for Him every day; to love Him, to know Him, and to serve Him.
If no one had taken a bite of the apple, my life definitely wouldn’t have been the same. It would certainly have been easier. But would it have been as full?
I was in church yesterday morning, flanked by my wife Jackie and some of our closest friends. We were singing songs of praise, and as we were doing so, I was once again reflecting on What if?
But this time, it was a different question…
What if God said to me, “Okay Sam, your time here is up. Well done, my good and faithful servant. Are you ready to put down your burdens down and come home?”
As I stood there in church, tears streaming down my face, attempting to sing but overcome by emotions, I realized yet again just how blessed I am. I wouldn’t trade my life for anything on earth. In fact, I wouldn’t even trade it for the promise of heaven, at least not yet.
I believe that God puts all of us here for a reason, a purpose. I feel that I just stumbled upon my reason for being here a few years ago, and that there is much that I have yet to accomplish.
I’d ask Him for a little more time.
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 03/15/2010 at 8:31 AM | Categories:
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