Christianity

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How to Fall From Grace

Published July 9, 2018 by Dawn

It turns out a sense of humor is something of the Divine. God’s got jokes. Don’t believe me? Listen to this …

Keep in mind that what I am about to tell you happened in a matter of nanoseconds. All of it. It was rather instantaneous, which makes it even more comical. It’d use the word “impactful” but that’s a pun that hurts a little. You’ll see why …

I was less than two minutes into my run this morning when it happened. I looked up to read the sermon sign at this church along my route: “How to Fall from Grace.” My sense of comical irony kicked in as I thought to myself, “Who would want to know how to fall from grace?”

BAM! The sidewalk took me for a kiss out of nowhere. I fell hard … right in front of the church sign. Stupid comical irony … wasn’t dead yet. I looked up after feeling the hurt and laughed out loud. God had put the smack-down on my sense of humor to remind me that falling from grace is no laughing matter. Lesson learned?

No one in their right mind plans a fall. Falling hurts. It also tears you up a little (or a lot, depending on how far you fall). The aftermath of falling is open wounds, constant pain and a desperate need to heal a bit. Thankfully, I am just a little scuffed up. My hands, wrists and right knee took the fall and I’ll be better in no time.

Sometimes, we just get tripped up in life. Little did I know there was an uneven bit of sidewalk that I’ve never had a problem with until today. I didn’t even know it was there! Likewise, there are pitfalls in life we don’t see coming because we aren’t paying attention, or we aren’t expecting them. We get tripped up because Satan sets a snare and we step into it just the right way to cause a fall. I have stepped over that part of the sidewalk and avoided that fall for several years but today was the day it took me down. It’s like that when Satan sets us up. That’s why we have to be vigilant while running this race. Because he’s set snares everywhere.

The fall might hurt, but Satan isn’t victorious because we fall. He’s only victorious if we turn away or stop pursuing God after the fall. In spite of the pain, we have to get up and keep going. I did that this morning, which is so abnormal for me. I like my couch and a hot tea, and since I was two-tenths of a mile into a two-and-a-half mile run, turning around would have made perfect sense. I could have nursed my wounds, taken it easy, and excused myself from working out. But it was just a fall! I poured a little water over my palms to clean the dirt and blood off, put my earbud back in and kept going. I had to keep pressing on toward the mark, and so do you, friend. Take time to rest and heal, but get back up and keep moving forward in your walk with God. Satan is only victorious if you quit!

 

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Father of Promise

Published June 27, 2018 by Dawn

There must have been many nights, Sarah cried herself to sleep, feeling the frailty of her once-strong body as youth slowly died away. Her God had made a promise, but life had gone on just as barren as it always had been. She lived in a silent, seething bitterness watching Ishmael grow up under the arms of his father. She endured the daily sneers of her rival, whose womb had not betrayed her husband. Sarah knew she was Abraham’s beloved. She felt like his curse. The one thing she felt gave worth to her as a wife was motherhood, and she had been denied that by the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

How many nights had they laid down, his arms wrapped delicately around her, his face pressed into her ear, whispering the hope and faith of a man who was confident about his God. Sarah’s eyes traced the lines of the canopy drapery, tears rolling down her cheek and her throat catching sobs before they reached his ears. He smiled, sure of his future. She cried, sure of her failure. Bitterness nestled in her bosom, growing like thorns and sickening the garden of her heart. There had never been a tale of resurrection before, so when dreams died then, they simply were no more. And Sarah’s dreams had died.

Long after Sarah had abandoned all hope, “ … the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.”

I read this the other morning after entertaining thoughts all the way to work that probably resembled Sarah’s during her barrenness. Thoughts about broken promises and a silent God. Thoughts about endless warfare and abandonment. Thoughts about faith weakened by time and circumstances, and a need ripened past the harvest.

The Holy Spirit tried to reach me through the radio with “Who You Say I Am” by Hillsong and “Overcomer” by Mandisa. I arrived with just enough peace to not cry in front of my students or coworkers. Then I read this in Genesis and I was stirred a little more, considering God’s timing and how sometimes, He pushes us past the breaking point and then holds all the broken pieces while we struggle to accept things that cause us pain without abandoning our faith.

This thing between Sarah and God kept turning over and over in my mind, accumulating other truths like a snowball. A girl in my class reading her bible in her freetime reminded me that there’s a next generation after me. A memory of a broken child just wanting her Father, and not just his money, reminding me that God is my Father and our relationship is about more than blessings and goodness. Finally, it all came together into this one magnificent, chain-breaking truth: Sarah’s story was the first resurrection story. A dead dream coming to life again after years of turmoil. That story has spoken to generations after, like all these things in our lives might one day reach someone else who hasn’t even gotten here yet. And in the midst of it all is a Father who wants us to know that He is here for more than blessings. He’s here for the highs and lows. To hold his child and comfort him or her. To bless, but with a purpose and a timing set by wisdom and not emotion or desire. A Father who’s promises are yes and amen, and who is not a man so that He should lie.

Riding in the Car with Teens

Published June 12, 2018 by Dawn

Do you know what I love about riding the in the car with teenagers? No, this isn’t a rhetorical question … I really do love the fact that they are stuck just a few feet from me. If the ride is long enough, the radio sputters out and dies to all the radio stations we know and love, and frustration kicks it off in a huff. If it’s not long enough, I resort to the buttons on the back of my steering wheel to thoroughly frustrate that kiddo until the radio no longer contends with me. Then, I have their full attention! I mean, of course there’s the cell phone that seems forever stuck to their face, but I can handle that with a smile and a quip about grounding until, viola! I have his or her full attention. With luck, it doesn’t take long for a kiddo to remember how fond he or she used to be of having endless conversations with me and if the grudge doesn’t have a firm grip, we’re usually talking shortly thereafter.

My son was stuck in the car with me for a half an hour yesterday, and the radio knew it’s place so we were engulfed in a very meaningful discussion about teenage things that weigh heavy on his heart. Why can’t he do whatever he wants? Why am I always telling him what to do? Why can’t I just leave him alone? I try to make my kids feel heard, so I didn’t just throw out all the parental clichés, I really dug deep and tried to explain things from my heart, from scripture, and from all the psychology and parenting books I have consumed over the years. He sat next to me and thoughtfully picked through my answers looking for holes and justifying his disagreements with a mixture of childish reasoning and adolescent maturity.

Our conversation ran the gamut of experiences, arguments and emotions. Finally, we arrived at the counselor’s place and he got out of the car steaming. Together, we went inside and for the next hour, I sat in awe while the counselor taught him through very practical means, to reason through those same questions himself until he had arrived at the same conclusion I had offered with my motherly wisdom just a while before. He got in the car after his appointment and said, “Mom, she called you. I know she did. How else would she have known to talk about all that?”

It was easy to exculpate myself. He had started all the conversations on the way down and I hadn’t talked to anyone one the phone in the car! I shook my head and said, “No, son. When God wants to talk to you and you won’t get on your knees before Him, He just uses the people around you.” The best part is that this woman professes to be agnostic, and she was used by the Lord just the same. God is no respecter of person, and when He wants to teach us or guide us in something, He doesn’t have to ask someone to be His vessel. He will move heaven and earth for His children. It was such a powerful reminder to my son that God is aware of his searching heart and is willing to meet him where he is and lead him out of the darkness and confusion. What a wonderful moment to watch his Heavenly Father step in!

I shared this to encourage you. You might be a parent desperately praying that God will get ahold of your kiddo. I am with you! Don’t give in to fear because God is faithful to His promises. I kept reminding the Lord of scriptures He has given me over my children. “God, you told me, ‘I will contend with those who contend with you and your children I will save.’ You said that when we raise them up in the way they should go, when they are old they won’t depart from it. I see him being led away with anger and the enemy’s lies and I’m terrified right now!  I’ve told my son that you said you would never leave us or forsake us but he feels abandoned and ignored by you.” I’ve cried countless hours watching my child pull away from me and from his faith. It’s a horrible experience. Don’t give up! Keep praying and pressing in, reminding God of His promises and praising Him for His faithfulness. Remember watching your child’s first steps? Rushing in when he or she seemed a little unstable, your heart in your chest and your hands out ready to catch your precious treasure? This is your child learning to stand on his or her own spiritually. It’s seems like endless waves of anxiety and uncertainty. Your heart finds permanent lodging in your throat. But your Father – your child’s Father – He’s got this.

You might also be that child. That wandering child of God. That scared kiddo wishing the world made sense and that someone would step into the mess and pull you out of it. I wish I could tell you in good faith that God will rescue you, but sometimes He doesn’t. Sometimes, you’re Jonah in the belly of the whale and that fish will spit you out when God’s work is accomplished in it. Sometimes you’re Shadrack, Michek and Abednego (how to spell those names, though …) in the fiery furnace and instead of keeping you from the fire, God is walking with you in it. Sometimes you are Paul, beaten, captive, shipwrecked, snake-bitten and still God keeps you steadfastly on the way to fulfilling all that He has purposed. Don’t turn away from your faith just because it’s small or brittle. Let the Holy Spirit strengthen it as you endure. Lean into God. Learn to hear His heart. Learn to let go of control and depend on Him. Learn to be led. Be comforted. Get real with God and let Him be real with you. It’s the most precious relationship a person can have and it is worth all that hell uses to deter you with. Trust your Father, child. He loves you more than you could ever know.

Published June 10, 2018 by Dawn

I hurt. I should be walking through the doors of church right now but instead, I’m still lying in bed with my feet hooked on the end of the mattress, gently stretching out my calve muscles while I write. I’m going to miss church this morning, which means there will be no one to lead youth. I’m also going to miss our fundraiser – the men’s group is selling the best barbecue this side of heaven – which is going to directly benefit the youth group. I should be there but I couldn’t push myself to get out of bed this morning. I’ve been enduring one pain after another for a while now, but yesterday took the cake in the duration and intensity. Although I can’t be sure of a proper diagnosis, I’m fairly confident in my educated guess that all of this can be attributed to a lack of stretching before and after my runs.

Did you know that your hamstrings can tighten so much that they can pull your pelvis out of place? I didn’t either. When I abruptly stopped my half-marathon training in January to pacify my daughter and went from running 25-35 miles a week to running nothing for two months, I gave no thought to the creeping tightness in the back of my left leg. Nor did I connect it to the first twinge in my upper back. I wondered about the lack of running being connected to the stiffness that set in to my lower spine, and when my gait became uneven, I knew a trip to the chiropractor was in order. But I didn’t know it was all because I hadn’t stretched.

The chiropractor straightened me out and educated me on the hamstring. He warned me to stretch it out properly every day before I left his office. I should have listened, but who has time for stretching, right?

My mom and I go to the gym M-F. I only live two and a half miles from the gym so I get up in the morning, lace up my running shoes and meet her there. I walk about a minute up the hill from my house and then take off toward the gym. I used to do a five-minute walk to warm my muscles up before running, but now that I’m meeting mom at the gym, I don’t have time for that. She gets to the gym ahead of me and does ten minutes of cardio so that when I get there, we can head straight into lifting. I might stretch my arms a little after signing in, but here lately, I’ve had to be back home within half an hour of getting there, in order to take my son to football practice, so we move right in to lifting without stretching. My mom drops me off at home afterward and my son meets me at the door ready to go. I drive him to school while my muscles cool off and then go home to take a shower and get ready for the day.

I think my body is in revolt. The chiropractor warned me about what can happen if I don’t stretch my muscles, but he didn’t tell me about the creeping pain that starts out subtle and turns into a fire. He didn’t tell me about all of my muscles coming together in defiance to torment me while I sit helplessly behind the wheel of my car on a long drive, unable to stretch them out. He didn’t tell me that not stretching my muscles could cause a mutiny in my body.

It seems silly to be telling you all this, but although I’m not at church, the Holy Spirit has been ministering to me all morning and the lesson started with this musing. See, my current physical situation mirrors my spiritual one: I’ve been in pain for quite some time, and most likely, it’s because I haven’t taken time for the things that matter.

I’m into the final stretch of raising two kids on my own. Thus far, I’ve made it through a combination of prayer, fasting and constant surrender to the Lord. I have pleaded for His wisdom and strength, as well as His provision and comfort. God has not failed me. But this final stretch … well, it’s a lot like any final stretch for me while running. I’m not the kind of person to look at the finish line and press harder toward it. I see a finish line and quit trying early because I can see it … I’ll get there eventually. That last little bit of the race is so hard! That’s why I stop running. It’s so painful. My muscles have already endured so much and I’m ready for it to be over. If I push through, I put my muscles through the worst pain of the race! Why not just walk it in? I’ll get there eventually.

Raising teenagers is hard work. It’s the last leg of the race, I’m exhausted and this is the most intense moment of parenting. It seems endless, although people will tell you, “It goes by so fast!” I silently lament, “Not fast enough!” I feel like I used to have allies in my home, and now my crew is in revolt. They seem to hate me in unison and attack me without provocation. It’s full on mutiny.

I’m not naïve enough to believe this battle is avoidable. This is just how raising teenagers goes. They literally fight you to become their own person. No one who’s done it tells you it’s going to be easy … but nothing they say can prepare you for the mental breakdowns, the constant confrontation, or the letting go. I might have avoided some of the pain, though, if I’d taken time for what really helps. Prayer. Fasting. Constant surrender.

How is it that the things that matter most are the things we put off first? It seems rather lunatic to know that stretching after a work out is so vital, and yet one does not spend time doing it. The suffering for it is inevitable. Likewise, how lunatic to know how important prayer and surrender are and yet not taking time to do so. Especially on the last leg of the race! If I were a well-disciplined runner, I’d be pressing in toward the mark. I’m not, though. And because of that, I’m suffering at home instead of leading my teens in Bible study. Although right now, it’s a physical pain that has kept me in bed this morning, sometimes, it’s a spiritual battle that I’m losing because I’ve ceased trying.

I don’t know if any other runner out there will be straight up with you about running but let me be honest: running sucks. It’s never easy, and just when you think it might be getting easy, something inevitably slams you back into reality of how much it sucks. Why do we do it, then? To eat cake. To fit into our clothes. To see results just a little faster. So we don’t have to fad diet. For the carb loading. For the mental health benefits. Cheap therapy. To be introverted without being judged. The same is true of prayer and fasting. It’s not easy, by any means. To still yourself before God can be the hardest thing. To calm your flesh in the presence of the Holy Spirit is so difficult. To still your mind and quiet yourself so you can hear Him speak is like herding cats. Who has time for that? But listen to me: the benefits outweigh the pain, aggravation, whatever.

Clearly, taking a break from running and not stretching out my muscles regularly has been the worst physical fitness decision I have ever made. Similarly, not taking time for prayer and communion with God has had dire consequences in my daily race. The good news is that I woke up this morning determined to make a change. I might not have went to church, but I have been in the presence of the Holy Spirit, praying and stretching while I write. It’s never too late to get back into the race, friend. It’s never too late to bow before your King in surrender. It’s never too late to make time for the things that will really make a difference in your daily life. I urge you to decide today that things will be different and allow the Holy Spirit to teach you how to discipline yourself. You’ll be so grateful you did.

Published April 26, 2018 by Dawn

“God met me there tonight, Mom. Can I tell you about it?”

 

My daughter got in the car excited after church tonight. It was a nice change, because we’ve all been weary lately. The battle has been so intense … and so daily.

 

As her youth leader, I would love to say I had something to do with this. I guess in a way, I might have had a small part. You see, last week, I took a hard look at myself in relation to my kids’ relationships with God and each other and realized something very painful: in the past, I had warned other parents that their direct involvement in youth meetings sometimes hinders their kiddos from partaking in what God puts before them. Only I’m the youth leader … and I have two teens … and this applies to my family too. I humbly asked a few other youth leaders what their take on the matter was, and the Holy Spirit confirmed through a meeting of the minds that I was onto something. Therefore, I was responsible to act.

 

I went home that night and told my kiddos that I would like for them to consider attending another youth group on Wednesday nights. Our group currently meets Sunday mornings, and so Wednesdays, they join the Bible study with the adults. They both find themselves in over their heads in that group, and so I thought it would be a good idea if they were ministered to by another youth leader, on their level. She picked one and he picked another. First night of this experiment was tonight, and I have to say I am ecstatic about the results thus far.

 

My beautiful daughter climbed into the back seat with a beaming smile and wet eyes. She was exuberant. I hadn’t seen that in such a long time. My daughter has been loosely holding onto sanity and trying in her own strength to be the glue that holds everyone together. She’s the strongest of the three of us, for sure, and I have depended on her strength a lot lately. But she’s been quietly wearing down and I could see it, but I didn’t know how to fix this for her. Thank God, He had a plan.

 

She continued, telling me about how God pursued during the ministry. Each speaker said something deep, that called out to deep in her, and finally, they were given the opportunity to stand up to show their desire to be all for God. But she thought, “I’m new. It’s my first day. I’m not standing up.” She said she prayed at her seat, all the – and I quote – “Crap you usually say that’s rehearsed and meaningless.” I couldn’t have described it better. Then someone stood up and admitted that he felt not everyone who was committed had professed it with their actions. He asked them again to stand. More did, but not her. She still did not want to be the newbie falling apart in front of everyone. She just kept her head down and continued her superficial prayer, but tears were flowing now, her shoulders shaking and sobs taking over her body.” Then, someone came.”

 

She said it just like that, and started crying again. They asked her some deep questions. More of that deep calling out to deep that crumbled the ever-hardening façade, and just like that, she fell into the arms of her savior and admitted her struggle and need. She said, “I didn’t even know it but more were coming and praying, and I can’t … Mom, it’s just indescribable. This all sounds so cheesy when I try to tell you about it. God met me there tonight, and when I wasn’t going to come to Him, He came to me.”

 

I came undone. Thank you, Lord, for being her great Father. Thank you for showing my lovely daughter your loving arms and healing her. Thank you for the wisdom of friends that brought her to your feet. Thank you for divorcing me from pride and making this moment possible. You are truly magnificent and so worthy of my adoration.

 

My daughter longed for the day she could be a part of my youth group, but now, she and I both realize her need to be ministered to by others outside our daily situation. Trust me, I preach it at home. They hear it and I think my kiddos tune me out a lot. It’s important for kids to grow in Christ, and sometimes, we need to let someone else come in and plant the seeds. I believe this is both natural and necessary. If we could lay down our pride and admit we need each other, the church would be a much healthier, much more effective body.

 

The Strongman Competition

Published April 18, 2018 by Dawn

Just got back from the gym. Haven’t even had a shower yet, but I had to sit down with this one because … well, because it’s been on my heart a bit and I don’t want to walk around with this message inside of me any longer. I think it’s really important for the church.

I’ve been going to this gym for four or five weeks now. Carved a place for it into my morning by getting up an hour earlier, which I absolutely love. It’s the second-best way to start a day – the first is tea and Jesus.

Anyway, the first week or two going, it was really busy in the morning. There’s this loner girl who goes and lifts by herself. A few guys in there rocking out to their Bluetooth earbuds, oblivious to the world. They stand in front of a very long mirror and watch themselves lift weights. It looks like maybe it takes a lot of concentration. I saw this one group of three guys and one girl challenging each other to lift heavy one day, but I haven’t seen them since. Then there’s the water-cooler-guys. They come in and talk to each other and hardly lift anything. I don’t really blame them, though, because although I do get my sweat on each time I go, I’m really paying just to hang out with my mom and sister. It’s good fellowship time that we didn’t have before.

The second Saturday, we were going to go to Zumba in the morning but it was canceled because the gym was hosting a Strongman competition. I didn’t go, but apparently it’s a competition for really muscular people. They get together and try to outdo each other with different weights and lifts. Sounds agonizing.

The Monday after this competition, it was dead in the gym. We had to turn the lights on that morning. No one showed up while we were there. Or the Tuesday after. Or even Wednesday. Now, I know that when completing a marathon, you are encouraged to rest for several days after, because you have pushed your muscles to the limit and you don’t want to risk hurting yourself. But it’s been three weeks since the competition and most of these people have not returned to a regular program of morning work-outs. Loner girl comes in faithfully Monday through Friday still. I’ve seen water-cooler-guys twice in three weeks, and one muscular guy with Bluetooth earbuds comes sporadically throughout the week. For the most part, it’s been crickets at the gym.

I feel it’s kinda like ministry. You know, everyone prepares when something is going down. We get all hyped up to show what we’re made of. Super ready to show that we’ve got what it takes, measure ourselves against others in the ministry, and let others see the effects of our time in the Word. We are confident this is what we were made for, and we’ve been preparing these muscles for the Big Day. But when the spotlight fades, we sleep in again. We don’t dig into our words to know God so much as we dig to get fit for the competition. When the competition is over, we slack off in our discipline because we have reached our goal in it. We see that temporary finish line. The conference is over, the crowds have gone home and the necessity to stay sharpened is seemingly removed.

Here’s the thing: it’s okay to take a break. In fact, it’s necessary. None but Jesus can stay at 100% all the time. Put it all down and watch a ball game with your family. Sleep in on Saturday and have your tea with Jesus in the evening. Take a hiatus from the daily grind of ministry and relax for a day. A month. A year. Whatever you need. But don’t get lazy, because life is not a Strongman competition. We aren’t training for those moments, we should be living in them daily. There are opportunities all around us to pour out what God is putting into us, and if we do it in our own strength, we’re going to poop out fast and we’re going to get disheartened and quit. We have to start getting into our Word and praying daily as a matter of discipline to prepare for whatever comes, not for a Strongman competition. God often allows others to be in need around us when we feel the least adequate. Then we have to rely on Him. But if we’re in the Word and in constant contact with His Holy Spirit, it flows.

Listen, friend, you are a strongman. All that God has called you to do, He will put inside of you. You don’t have to work it up or study hard like the test is tomorrow. Just be with Him. He recalls scripture to mind when you need to speak it, and He gives the Word that heals, restores and leads to salvation. You are filled with the Holy Spirit to do the work God predestined you for and you are capable because the Holy Spirit is capable. It’s not all on you and you don’t have to prove anything. You just have to stay in intimate contact with the Lord through His Word and through prayer. Then you will be ready, whether the work looks like a worldwide revolution or rubbing the tingling feet of a loved one in a nursing home. Our first mistake may be thinking one is ministry and the other is not. There are opportunities all around us to do the work of God. Let’s not treat ministry like a once-in-a-lifetime and start seeing it for what it is: Life.

 

For God’s Sake, Be That Someone

Published March 7, 2018 by Dawn

I probably have lice. I might have gotten it today … or yesterday. Or any number of days ago, because I did exactly what she told me not to do: I hugged the kid.

Being an elementary school teacher is TOUGH. I bring papers home to grade, grade during my plan, plan during my lunch and do recess duty in a skirt in the middle of winter. On top of that, I take tickets from kids who talk in the hall (which hurts me more than it hurts them), and hug kids who often have lice. That last one is where it gets me, though.

I was a day late into the news and found out today that a teenage boy committed suicide yesterday not too far from here. I cried all the way home from work. I wonder if he was the kid no one really wanted to hug in elementary school? I’m not judging anyone, because trust me, I cringe at the thought of getting lice. It’s a BIG deal. Cleaning everything in the house, not sitting on the couch for days, spending fanatical amounts of money to get rid of them … I get it. But are all those reasons combined good enough to reject a kid who needs a hug? Because this little girl is one of the hardest to deal with on the regular, and needs a hug every day, and I’m responsible for that!

I feel it internally. I can’t not hug a kid. I open my arms to that little girl daily and pray that all the love of Christ in me reaches her. I high five kids who’ve just picked their noses. It’s gross. I’m well aware of it, as my insides recoil sometimes, but I still high five, genuine smile and all, and do the thing because what if someone needs it?

I wonder what that teenage boy needed that he didn’t get from anyone? What kind of rejection did he have to endure to finally decide to take his own life? What kind of insignificant thing did people put up as a barrier to human interaction, and rob that boy? Not just rob him of interaction, but of joy. Purpose. Love. Life.

Seriously, we need to stop. Lice is VERY inconvenient, but it isn’t permanent. Stink is unwelcome, but it isn’t irreversible. Whatever other excuse we come up with, none of them are worth the risk of losing another student to suicide. Smile. A lot. Hug, every time they reach out with open arms. Forget about all the reasons you don’t really want to touch a kid and DO IT (appropriately). Kids need to know someone cares, and sometimes, they do not get that kind of encouragement at home. Be that someone. BE THAT SOMEONE! For God’s sake, people, be that someone.

Jesus was that someone. He said, “Suffer not the little children to come unto me” (Matt. 19:14). He let them interrupt him, touch him, hug him. Whatever they came to him needing, he gave, and he rebuked his disciples for not letting them come. I can’t imagine he didn’t lift them to God in prayer. He was exactly what they needed. He still is. Exactly what they need. And they will come to Jesus by coming to us. Let’s not turn them away.