Tag Archives: prayer

Clever Hans


Kluge Hans (better known as “Clever Hans”) was a most amazing horse!  He had the ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide by tapping out the answers with his hoof.  He could tell time and name people.  He could spell and solve problems involving musical harmony.

His owner, German mathematician Von Osten, began showing him to the public in 1891, and for years, Clever Hans amazed even the stoutest critics.  The horse could perform his tricks for randomly selected people with or without his master present.  It seemed impossible, but no one could deny the horse’s accuracy.

It wasn’t until 1904 when researcher Oskar Pfungst finally figured out how Clever Hans did it.  By testing the horse with a variety of constraints, he learned that Clever Hans was not so clever if he couldn’t see his questioner.  Also, if the questioner did not know the answer to a question, neither did the horse.

Following a hunch, Pfungst started observing the questioners more than the horse.  Soon, he discovered that Clever Hans was responding to subtle non-verbal cues from the people asking the questions.  They tended to tense their muscles until Clever Hans tapped out the correct answer with his hoof.  When he did, the questioner relaxed, signaling to the horse that it had reached the correct answer.  The horse could detect slight movements of a person’s eyebrows or a change in head position or an approving facial expression.  Clever Hans could even pick out a slight dilation of the questioner’s nostrils.

In the end, Clever Hans was most clever when people expected and wanted him to be clever.  Their anticipation of his correct answer provided him all the non-verbal feedback he needed to reassure their trust in his abilities.

Think about the implications for our human relationships.  If a horse is perceptive enough to read our non-verbals with such accuracy – even non-verbals that we are oblivious to sending – isn’t it possible that other people can pick up on them, too (if not consciously, then subconsciously)?  If you have high expectations for someone, it gets communicated in more than your praise.  If you have low expectations of someone, it leaks into every interaction you have with that person.  What you think about a person often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy in your relationship.

When you have negative expectations about someone, you can try to fake your feelings when you are around them, but most people will see through your plastic efforts.  The only real way to make sure that you don’t communicate negative expectations is to change how you feel about that person.  In order to do that, you are going to have to change the story that you tell yourself about them.  You need a positive story to replace the negative one.  This is much easier said than done, but here are some suggestions:

  • Assume positive motive. Maybe the person is the way he is or acts the way he does, because there is a good reason for it.  Maybe he means well and is doing the best he knows how to do.
  • Consider that there may be extenuating circumstances. There may be factors outside of her control – things like the way the person was raised, the limitations on what they know or are able to do, the situation that they are currently in or other people and their behavior toward her.
  • Examine your own accountability. Is there anything that you are doing that is making your interactions with this person worse?
  • Get more information. Don’t make up your mind about someone or about the way someone behaves without first making sure that you have enough information to make an opinion.  Legion are the embarrassing stories where someone reacted to a small amount of information and later learned that they were missing the most important parts of the story.
  • Lower your expectations. If the person can’t or just won’t change, lower your expectations of him.  You will be happier, because he won’t let you down all the time.
  • Tell a bigger story. Maybe your story is too small.  For example, you are distracted by your teenager’s sloppy appearance and can’t help but comment on it each time you see her.  But how important is how neat she looks compared to the health of your relationship with her?  Maybe you could tell a story that says the health of your relationship is bigger and more important than your irritation over her appearance, and you are going to overlook her clothing choices in order to preserve open doors of communication with her.
  • Pray for the person. Nothing is more effective at changing your heart toward another person than prayer.  Even if you struggle to be sincere with your prayers, make a commitment to pray for him or her until God gives you His heart for that person.

Change what you think (your story) about those around you, and you will change the relationship.  You might even find that your negative story has been the whole reason for the problems between you.  Change your story; change your world.

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Filed under acceptance, communication, expectations, Interpersonal, leadership, management, parenting, Pygmalion Effect, Relationships

The Heart of Mongolia


I was in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia, a few months ago for a pastor’s conference.  We had a great time meeting the leaders of the Mongolian churches and appreciated their excitement about and dedication to learning about ministering to children.

On the third day of the conference, the president of my organization opened the day’s sessions with a story about visiting the local trash dump the day before.  He had seen men, women and children there, who were all desperately struggling to survive.  They actually lived in the dump and made their living by collecting and organizing recyclable materials.  Before our president finished speaking, he had the entire room in tears.

Later that day, one of the leaders of the conference announced that they had made a decision.  No one felt that they could enjoy their dinner that evening knowing that so many of Mongolians were starving in that terrible place.  They had all agreed that they would fast that evening and ask the kitchen to box up their dinners so that they could take them to the people at the dump site.

I was privileged to be allowed to witness their act of love, and I’ll share with you some of the photos from that day.  (To preserve the dignity of those living in the dump, I’m excluding pictures that show faces.)

Church leaders taking their dinners to the people living in the dump site

Church Leaders taking their dinners to the people in the dump site

Church Leaders taking their dinners to the people in the dump site

First exposure for some of us

First exposure for some of us


Resident of the dump site

Resident of the dump site

Talking with the people

Talking with the people

Dump trucks bringing garbage and taking recycling materials

Dump trucks bringing garbage and taking recycling materials

Dangerous environment

Dangerous environment

One of the many children we met

One of the many children we met

Animal carcasses

Animal carcasses

Praying for some of the residents

Praying for some of the residents

Taking a break to enjoy the meal

Taking a break to enjoy the meal

A hard life

A hard life

Houses built by the residents of the dump site

Houses built by the residents of the dump site

Getting to know the people

Getting to know the people

Sharing dinner

Sharing dinner

Praying for a woman

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Filed under agape love, Caring for the Poor, christianity, evangelism, grace, Interpersonal, love, Relationships, Religion, Service, Serving Others, Spirituality, unconditional love

Prayer Radar


Though most of the world doesn’t know it, we are in a spiritual war. Good battles Evil every day in the unseen realm to claim the territory of men’s and women’s hearts. Angels take their orders from the Almighty General, who, despite His unlimited strength and wisdom, often waits for our prayers to determine where to attack. Those prayers signal to the General what we think are the prime targets in the fight.

If you are a Christian, you’ve been dropped behind enemy lines. Your mission: to save as many prisoners of war as possible before the war ends. But before you get discouraged by the immensity of the mission you’ve been assigned, know that God doesn’t expect you to save them all yourself. He has a plan, and you have been strategically placed to execute your part.

Your primary weapon is prayer, but you can’t effectively pray for everyone you meet. God has placed certain people in your life – both Christians and non-Christians – and those are the ones God expects you to pray for. These people are on your Prayer Radar.

Take out a pencil and a sheet of paper, and draw four concentric circles like the ones shown below. This will give you three donuts and a donut hole. Label these as shown with the words “Family,” “Friends,” “Associates,” and “Others.”

Now, write names of these people inside each of the appropriate circles.  “Family” and “Friends” are probably self-explanatory.  “Associates” might be people that you work with, your neighbors or just people that you come in contact with on a regular or semi-regular basis.  “Others” are people that you don’t come in contact with regularly but whom God has placed on your heart for some reason.  They could include leaders, politicians, entertainers, missionaries, church leaders or world figures (to name a few).

Continue to ask God to bring names to mind of people He has placed on your Prayer Radar. There are no accidents when it comes to the people around you. God put you in their midst for a reason. You were either sent to cover their six (watch their backs if they are already Christians in the battle), or you were sent to rescue them from the Enemy.

Pray for those on your Prayer Radar every day, or select a particular group to focus on each day of the week.  Then watch to see how God works in their lives.  It will be transformational for them and for you.

 

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Filed under agape love, christianity, Covering, family, God's Will, Interpersonal, love, prayer, Relationships, Religion, spiritual warfare, Spirituality, unconditional love

The Deep Yes


Martin Luther once said, “We must sense the deep yes beneath the no.”

He was talking about God’s responses to our prayers, because he recognized that God often says “no” when He means “yes.”

Before you think I’m accusing God of being fickle, let me explain. Many times throughout Scripture, there are examples of men and women praying to God or making a request of Jesus only to be turned down or ignored. If they had given up their request after the first “no,” we probably wouldn’t know anything about it, but the Scriptures we have illustrate that these people were not satisfied with a “no.”

They didn’t stop with one “ask” or one “seek” or one “knock;” they continued to ask, seek and knock until they were rewarded with the desires of their heart. When Jesus gives us this Word, He’s using a form of the verbs that means to keep doing these things. Literally, He’s saying “Keep asking, keep seeking and keep knocking, for those who ask receive, those who seek will find and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7)

Notice that the door is closed in the metaphor. You wouldn’t knock on an open door. God leaves it closed until someone is persistent enough to keep knocking on it. He wants to test you to find out if you are desperate enough to continue to seek His grace. Consider these “closed doors” in Scripture:

The Syrophoenician Woman – Mark 7:24-30

Jesus stops by a house in Tyre hoping to get some rest and time alone, but word about His presence spread quickly. A Greek woman heard and went immediately to beg Jesus to cast out the demon in her daughter. Paraphrased, Jesus’ answer was, “No, I came to help the Jews first. Wait your turn. It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to their dogs.”

Can you believe it! Jesus called her a dog! What happened to the loving, smiling, golden-haired Jesus we have in the paintings on the church wall? It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t care about this woman or her daughter. He cared immensely, but He was testing her to see how desperate she was.

The woman had her priorities straight. Daughter first, pride last. She replied, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

I love her for that reply! She was willing to be a dog if it meant that her daughter could be delivered from the demon. And Jesus said, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” The deep yes beneath the no.

Jacob Wrestles with God – Genesis 32:22-32

Jacob was headed home with family and with all the wealth that he had acquired during his years of exile, but he was terrified of the unavoidable reunion with his brother, Esau. Having tricked Esau out of both his blessing and his birthright when they were younger, Jacob had to flee to a distant land to avoid his brother’s revenge. Now, he was coming back. The next day, the two would meet.

Separating himself from his family and servants, Jacob spent the entire evening wrestling with God. And not just in his mind. He actually wrestled God all night long. (This is where we get the expression.) Apparently God (in human form) tried to free Himself from Jacob, but Jacob refused to let Him go. Nearing daybreak, God touched Jacob’s hip to cripple him and said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

Jacob was having none of it, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

But God wouldn’t bless Jacob until he passed a test, “What is your name?”

God knew Jacob’s name, but He asked him because the last time Jacob had been asked to give his name (when his earthly father was about to give him his brother’s blessing), he had said, “Esau.” God wanted to see if Jacob was ready to admit who he really was. “Jacob” means “usurper” or “deceiver,” and it aptly described Jacob’s greedy and deceitful behaviors up to this point in his life.

Jacob passed the test, and in return, God gave him a new name that would describe who he would become. His new name was Israel, “Prince with God.” And while Israel didn’t always live up to it, he learned to walk with God rather than by himself. God left him with a limp from his crippled hip as a reminder of his need for the Lord. The deep yes beneath the no.

Four Determined Friends – Mark 2:1-12

The four men heard that Jesus, the healer and miracle worker, was teaching nearby. They couldn’t pass up this opportunity to bless their good friend, who was paralyzed. The friends enthusiastically carried the man to the house where Jesus was teaching, but when they arrived, they saw a huge crowd assembled to hear the Teacher speak. A quick assessment confirmed that there was absolutely no way through the crowd, which filled the house and extended outside.

Fighting discouragement, they tried to think of another way to get their friend before Jesus. And then it hit them, if the door was blocked, they would knock on the ceiling. Carefully, they hoisted him up. Once he was secured, they began to remove the tiles from the roof above Jesus’ head. Unconcerned about the mess they had made below, they lowered their friend through the hole until he was lying on his mat directly in front of Jesus.

Jesus, probably amused and encouraged by the men’s determination, said to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

I wonder if the man or his friends were disappointed. After all, they came for a healing. They wanted to see a miracle. This left something to be desired. What they may not have realized is that a miracle had just occurred, and it was one far better than what they were expecting. A man’s sins had been erased, and he had been given admission into heaven. Nothing more incredible than that has ever happened.

And I wonder how often we are disappointed with God’s response to our prayers, not realizing that we asked for too little a thing and that God was interested in doing something much more wonderful than we can appreciate this side of heaven.

But they didn’t need to worry. Jesus wasn’t done. He forgave the man of his sins out loud and in public to stir the stew that was boiling in the hearts of the teachers of the law who were present. “Did he just…? Everyone knows that only God can forgive sins. Is he saying…?” Jesus knew their thoughts, so with expert showmanship, He let the other shoe drop.

“Why are you so upset? All I did was say that his sins were forgiven, and I can’t even prove that it happened. But what would be really impressive is if I said…(turning toward the paralyzed man)…Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man did. The deep yes beneath the no.

Jesus passes by the “self-sufficient.” In almost all the healings he performed during His time on earth, Jesus waited for those in need to initiate. (The only examples I could find of Jesus initiating a physical healing all came on the Sabbath and were intended, it seems, to provoke the religious leaders). Sometimes we’ve got to be so desperate enough for His touch that we don’t take the initial “no” for an answer. It’s just a test. Beneath it lies a deep yes.

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Filed under God's Will, overcoming obstacles, Religion, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality

The Pump Is Dry


A leader in the organization I work with tells the story of walking down a dusty road in Texas.  As he approached a hill, he could hear a terrible squealing and grinding coming from the other side.  When he reached the top of the hill, he saw where the noise was coming from.

There, in a farmer’s field, was one of dozens of oil pumps that were common to the area.  But this one was different.  Being poorly maintained, it had run dry of the oil needed to lubricate its parts.

Isn’t that ironic?  An oil pump needing oil. 

And isn’t that convicting?  How many of us have been in the position of annointing others with the oil of the Holy Spirit while we ourselves are running dry?  How long can we go on like that?  How long before our spiritual gears and pumps grind to a halt?  We can’t continue to give to others what we ourselves no longer have.

I’m personally struggling with this, because it’s been months since I worshiped in my own home church.  With my travel schedule, I’m frequently gone on the weekend.  The one week I was home, I taught in children’s ministry.  While the people I work with frequently worship together, I’ve found that it’s not exactly the same.  The pump is feeling a little dry.

It’s not just worship that keeps the pump lubricated.  It’s all the spiritual disciplines working together.  Prayer, Bible-reading, fellowship, meditation, service and good works, fasting, devotions, tithing, obedience, singing…(just to name some of the most common ones). 

Don’t feel pressured to do them all.  Each one of us was created differently by God, and He takes joy from our different ways of growing closer to Him.  Focus on the spiritual disciplines that help you center on God, and keep trying new ones from time to time.  You might find you like them.

So, give yourself a little oil this week.  You’ll find a little goes a long way.

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Filed under Religion, Spiritual Growth

You’ve Got What You Need


Back to the story of Nehemiah from the Bible.  It’s interesting that Nehemiah built a wall without a quarry.  Where did he get all that rock?  By some estimates, the wall was over 1.5 miles long, 20 feet tall and 9 feet thick*.   That’s a huge amount of rock!  Walls using this much material would typically require years of work as men cut and carried new rock from a nearby quarry.  But Nehemiah rebuilt the wall in 52 days using the rubble of the old wall.

 

He used only what he had immediately available.  I think there is a spiritual principle here.  Sometimes we want God to give us more.  More blessing, more territory, more ministry, more, more, more…  That’s not bad.  It’s okay to pray for more, particularly if it is motivated by the desires God has placed in your heart.  But often, when we pray for more, God says, “Before I give you more, what have you done with what I already gave you?”

 

Nehemiah built the wall with the materials that God had already supplied.  True, they were a mess – huge piles of rubble and mortar.  It had to be discouraging at first, and I imagine Nehemiah’s initial reaction when he inspected the walls was, “I don’t even know where to start!”  But as he built the wall, it had to be apparent that God had given him enough.  Not enough to build the walls to their former glory, probably, but enough for what God wanted to do at that time.  Maybe later he would have the ability to strengthen the walls, but at this particular time, he had enough for God’s purposes.

 

If God is not answering your prayer for more, maybe it’s because you have enough already.  Maybe He’s waiting for you to put those resources, those skills, those gifts, those relationships to good use.  They may be a mess right now.  You may feel overwhelmed trying to make use of what you’ve already got, but start somewhere.  Place one stone in the wall.  In other words, make a single, God-honoring decision.  That’s where it all starts.  It’s the first godly decision, the first godly action that’s the toughest.  The ones that follow start to pick up momentum as you see the progress on your wall.  Before long, you’ve got a mighty spiritual wall (and you managed to clean up the place at the same time).

 

* (Nolte, David P. “A Mind to Work!” www.id.mind.net/~dnol/amindtowork.html) 

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Filed under Spiritual Growth