What Michael Phelps Can Teach Us About Prayer: Pushing Through

After Michael Phelps received his eighth gold metal in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games someone asked him what made the difference. What separated him from all the other swimmers? He said that after all the other swimmers were done with practice and got out of the pool, he remained.

Michael Phelps just stayed in the pool.

When the last splash of water hit the pavement from the drip of a lesson done, this Olympian pushed harder. He took one more lap, one more backstroke and dreamed once more of a greater story. Many times, I’m sure he was alone.

Dreams for something bigger and better will include some isolation. To push along when you feel alone is not easy. Doing the hard thing over and over again separates great from good. And what we do in our places when no one is watching prepares us for when millions are.

Perseverance and longevity are not just physical strength lessons. They are the price we pay for spiritual maturity. George Muller was the Michael Phelps of prayer. He just kept praying when everyone else gave up.

I began reading Muller’s journals in the midst of a deep born hunger for prayer about three years ago. His was the only lesson I could not grasp. The term “pushing through” felt rough and hard. I wondered why we ever needed to pray more than once for something. If God really heard and we had as much faith as we could muster at the time and dotted all the right i’s, why did we have to play it on repeat? If we really believed we would receive, didn’t asking for it again negate that faith?

In the midst of these questions, I was finding myself praying for things which did not seem to bring fruit fast enough for me. As my prayer life was strengthened through long times of listening, adoration and targeted Scriptural prayers, my mind still wondered about the practice of “praying through.” I knew that, too often, I would give up too soon.

When my daughter was facing a possible serious medical procedure at a very young age, the Lord directed me to the first chapter of James. My faith was faltering because I wasn’t seeing results from my prayer the way I wanted to. A friend of my husband even felt moved to drive three hours to our home and prayer over her. That day I had very little faith to agree. I missed a great opportunity to believe in agreement with a man I barely knew because my worry trumped my faith. When our deepest concerns for those we love the most come head to head with our prayer life, we find our default faith. Sometimes the fear of losing what we love masks the love He wants to fill us with. (This is why hard days need friends. When you can’t see past your feelings, ask someone to believe for you). I’m so thankful that friend believed.

In that season something directed me to the book of James because verse four was for me.

“Let perseverance finish it’s work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Just that portion and that portion alone in the midst of this known section on trial made my heart burn within. God was not finished yet. I was pulling out early. I needed to get back in the pool.

But it was more than wrestling in prayer for one thing. It always is.

Praying through is about answering the same question we wake up to every day:

“Do you believe?”

And I’ve found out that there is a faith only found in the process of praying through. Coming to Him over and over again about the same thing provides a depth to our prayer life that we need and don’t even recognize. It’s not a begging. It’s not a fight against God. There is a wrestling within ourselves, our death to self. To busyness about the wrong things – always. But there is also an opening up over time. A listening. A sensitivity to the request….”teach me, Lord, how to pray.”

It means I haven’t figured it all out and that’s okay. It means He wants to draw us to Himself instead of a formula.

George Muller prayed for twenty years for a lost friend to be saved. What did he say in year ten that he hadn’t said by year eight? I don’t know. But that man gave his heart to the Lord as Muller was dying. To pray for that long means he found a contentment in the asking. He found contentment in the One he was asking. His persevering prayer became a conversation.

This is where our talking meets up with listening and we adjust the need. We grow up in Him as we allow the Teacher to walk us through the asking.

Some days we just say, “I trust you.”

Other days we say, “Help me believe.”

And, finally, other days He does the speaking. “Just rest. I’ve got this.”

No matter the need, the circumstance or the prayer, perseverance seems to be the ticket. How many people have quit just short of a breakthrough?

I’m still praying for people I’ve been praying over for years. My prayers have changed. And so have I. And I just bet there are about a million people out there today in the same place. Waiting, hoping, still waiting. Possibly tempted to get out of the pool and wonder if any of the work, the time, the faith is worth it all? Perhaps other people would say it’s foolish. To believe for such big things only God could do. To get up early and get on my knees again. To go above for others when it doesn’t seem to matter. To serve behind the scenes or give generously when the world says to hold tight.

Faith won’t always make sense.

But I’m writing this today for myself and everyone else out there who just knows in your gut that God always comes through.

Whether it’s been two days or twenty years, it’s worth it to believe. For that dream. That healing. That restoration.

God is still in the business of redemption. He is the God who answers prayer. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Get back in the pool.

Get back in the pool

One more lap. One more prayer. Today. Because I’m walking my spirit into hope.

“..suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Rom. 5:3-4

The Church, Politics, & a Call to Christians for the Coming Days

For many years the church has remained silent or shy at best regarding certain issues or specific sins clearly described in the gospels and the Old Testament. This is for various reasons, and it certainly does not include everyone. Some believers or churches/denominations at large have been very vocal, and in some of those cases it was not for the good of the gospel. There are times when silence itself can restrain the spreading of the gospel and it will be of utmost importance that believers know what they believe, why they believe it and how to express that belief in educated and loving ways.

This post, the first in many months because of an earnest time of seeking the Lord, is to encourage the saints to prepare for the days ahead. The church can no longer respond in defensiveness, anger or ignorance if we are to maintain that we are the light of the world. Should we meet our Maker and carry sheaves of fruit with us, having lived honest and holy lives as we answer to how we represented Christ, we better be prepared.

We cannot depend on our pastors to hold the only staff of faith. We cannot depend on social media to make our comments known. We can no longer, as a body of Christ, depend solely on bible teachers to tell us what the Word of God says.

Church – we will answer for what we did with the knowledge God has given us in His Word. Individually.

A faith grounded in the statements of another believer, no matter how faithful that person may be – is no faith at all. Opinions formed through the opinions of other leaders are not your own. We have one compass always pointing North and that compass is the Holy Spirit. We cannot continue to spout the convictions we overhear because those convictions will be shallow armor to the schemes that will be set up against you. Our convictions must be deeply grounded in Scripture if they are going to hold us up in times of trial. And this is key: The Holy Spirit will never lead a believer in any direction that is contrary to the living Word of God.

We have got to STOP REACTING and start proactively preparing the way of the Lord.

There are times of silence, and for the believer, this time is most fruitful when we learn to listen to the Holy Spirit. Believers with any discernment can read quite easily people who have spent time in the presence of the Lord. Their countenance is different. There is a quiet peace – a waiting for the appointed time to speak for the Lord, not for themselves. Their words may be few, but when they occur they are wise, piercing of truth.

When we speak, we are called to season our speech with salt. Just as we don’t pour a whole container of salt over our food, there are wise ways to obey this calling….and unwise.

Unfortunately, I’m sure we have all seen comments on social media or via the latest article in which the anger and defensiveness of Christians is so loud we can hardly read what they are saying. Anger will not save this world, church. And just like the boy who cried wolf, we better know that when we cry out – it might be the only time we are heard.

Politics will always cause a stir quite simply because the separation of church and state sounds good on paper but its foundation is flawed. Born again believers in Jesus Christ carry Him every single place they go. We cannot ever separate from our faith. Ever. We don’t cut out that piece of pie when we enter government buildings or schools. It’s who we are. Secondly, we cannot expect unbelievers to live by the law of God that we ourselves are only able to obey with the help of the Holy Spirit. Why do we keep expecting certain politicians to honor God when they do not know Him? Why are believers so shocked by sin, ignorance or apathy of those who have yet to be saved?

Why are we turning to rage instead of prayer? I fear it is because we do not have a clear understanding of our weapons of warfare or the discipline to use them. But worse – that we are not truly a praying church.

Just like anger, politics cannot save our world. We should pray for believers to be appointed to leadership and there will be times to stand for our faith in the public square, but we WILL NOT WIN THIS FIGHT on the political playground.

Jesus is our King and he does not wear a political party button. The other party – if you have chosen one – is not your enemy. Satan would just love for us to keep running tired circles around the same arguments with believers in another political party who may just happen to mansion right next to us in heaven.

We can and should honor every authority that God has placed over us. That is obedience and God calls for it. But when the time comes that those authorities ask us to deny Christ or the laws that surpass any man-made law, we cannot rightfully do so and call ourselves Christian.

Many sins have become what the world and many in the church see as cultural issues. What the church is calling culture wars are spiritual wars. This war started when Eve took that bite. The word sin will become more and more offensive to people, just as offensive as the name of Jesus Christ. If we are going to stand by sin being sin – we better know where to confirm that in the Word of God so we can “give a reason for the hope we profess.”

Every single thing – every single issue – that once was black and white WILL BECOME GRAY in this world and in the church. Satan is pouncing on pastors and Christian leaders to work confusion in the ranks. He will always try to start with leaders so the flock will follow. This is why we must test everything we hear against the Word of God. Just because someone has multiple books published and a large following does not mean they have not been deceived.

Sin cannot be excused by love or grace. We absolutely do NOT have to choose between truth and grace and love. That is a lie. To call something sin does not mean we do not love. In fact, if we love someone, we will speak that truth just as Christ spoke unpopular truth to ears unwilling to listen. Yelling does not count. Defensiveness does not work. We must be prepared.

Can we learn to speak only after we have read up on the subject we intend to discuss and  spent humble time on our knees?

While we remain silent, the world will get louder and louder. The Lord is calling His people to prepare for the way of the Lord. To be careful about when we speak and when we remain silent, so He can give us the right words at the right time. That time is coming, church. Our witness and our words matter, even in a sea of words. We need to know what we believe and decide to stand for Christ today, before we are placed on the front lines.

You don’t wait for the battle trumpet to put on the armor and study the opponent’s strategy. Preparation is now. It will mean everything in the days ahead.