I wish I could describe what it is like to be in Houston right now. Our feelings have gone from initial shock and thinking, “This isn’t happening; this isn’t really our city,” to, “This is happening; this is our city.” Over the past few days, feelings have transitioned from denial and shock, to sorrow, fear, and dread. Dread that the rains keep falling, the dams keep filling, the rivers keep overflowing, and homes keep flooding. And the thoughts that keep coming are, “What now? What next? How will our city ever recover from the rain?”
Every day in the dark hours of the morning as I listen to the rain fall on my roof, I, along with many others, lay awake, praying for specific friends, specific homes to stay dry, and for the Hand of the Lord to keep the waters at bay.
This morning I woke up with one thing on my mind – Daniel 9:1-19. Daniel 9 is a prayer the prophet Daniel prays for his city of Jerusalem, repenting for his people’s sin, while crying out for God’s great Hand of mercy to move on their behalf, not because of anything they deserve, but all because of who God is.
I’ve spent a long time this morning praying through this prayer, and what keeps arresting my attention is the phrase he uses in verse 3. As Daniel contemplates the destruction of his city Jerusalem and their needed rescue, he begins to give his attention to the Lord his God. He doesn’t give his attention to political leaders, the movers and shakers of his day. He doesn’t give his attention to local news and media. He doesn’t give his attention to well-meaning family and friends around him. He gives his attention to God: “So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.”
That verse and Daniel’s prayer has gripped my heart and helped to focus my attention. It’s so easy to give my attention to the news right now, to texts and websites and emails. And it is important to give our attention to what our city’s leaders are saying. But it is more important is to give our attention to what God is saying through attitudes of humility, repentance, and fasting.
After reading and praying through Daniel 9, what I am not suggesting is that this flood and the damage and devastation to so many people’s homes and lives is directly because of sin. Righteous, good, godly people have lost everything in this flood. And people who have done evil, horrible things are sitting high and dry, myself included. It is not right to say that natural disasters are a direct cause of people’s sin. God uses suffering and disaster in the lives of righteous and unrighteous people alike to draw us to Himself and meet each of us exactly where we are. His heart is for all people to repent and be saved, not just some (see II Peter 3:9).
But when disaster strikes, it is always a good idea to turn our attention to God and put our full focus on what He says in His Word, for we know His Word to always be true and never fail. And Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9 is powerful and effective and gives those of us going through great calamity a great template for how to cry out to God.
Daniel does not pass the buck of sin and shortcomings to just certain people in his city; he claims full ownership for the sin in his city and leans wholly on God’s mercy – not because of what he or anyone else has done but only because of who God’s Word and testimony say He is – faithful, merciful, loving, forgiving, and true.
And that is what I am suggesting we do. Lean on God’s mercy. Cry out to Him to hear us, to stop the rain, to keep the waters in check, and to help us rebuild, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. And commit our hearts to turn back to Him in whatever ways each of us has followed our own way and turned a deaf ear to Him.
So…here is my request: tomorrow, Wednesday, August 30th, would you join me in fasting and praying for the city of Houston, no matter where you are, using Daniel 9 as your guide? And pass along the request for prayer to those you know who will fast and pray alongside of you.
Pick one meal or all three meals tomorrow to fast from, and use one hour of a meal time to pray. I will be praying from the lunch hour from 12-1pm, so join with me then, or please pick another hour that works for you, whatever you have going on tomorrow.
And as you pray, please pray these specific things:
- Pray that our city would give attention to God. Pray that we would open His Word, read what He has to say, and give attention to it in our personal lives, our church’s lives, and in the life of our city.
- If you live in the city of Houston, please repent collectively for our sin in turning away from God and seeking our way instead of His way.
- Acknowledge the truth of who God is in your prayer – He is gracious and compassionate, forgiving, full of mercy, and cannot forget the covenant of love He has made with us (Exodus 34:6-7). He desires all to come to repentance and none to perish but for all to come to a saving knowledge of Him through Jesus Christ our Lord (II Peter 3:9).
- Pray and ask the Lord to see our need and hear our cries to stop the rain, to dry up our land, to hold back the Addicks Dam and Reservoir from breaking, to keep the Buffalo Bayou from overrunning anymore, to keep the Brazos River and other rivers, bayous, and creeks in our area from cresting and overflowing and to stay within their banks. Pray and ask Him for many people to be saved, for homes to stay dry, and for rescue workers to be wise and safe.
- Pray and ask the Lord to begin to help us in the process of recovery and rebuilding. Ask Him to mobilize crews of people to help, supplies and clothes and food to be provided, and for the people of God to radically and effectively show the love of God to a city in need.
- Finally, ask for the Lord to raise up “Daniels” for the city of Houston, men and women who walk closely with God as Daniel did. People who will think and act in wisdom and humility for the rebuilding of our city and who will administer all plans and recovery efforts in justice and peace.
I cannot say enough how thankful we are for your prayers. Thank you for loving us, calling us, and seeking the face of God on our behalf. We need to hear His Voice and come together to do His will now more than ever.
Praying with You,
My phone rang at 7am yesterday morning. A dear friend in Georgia was calling to ask if we were ok. If we had survived the flood.
And yes, thankfully, we have. But many have not. The flood waters have affected many family members and friends all over the city of Houston.
My sister-in-law’s sister spent the night in her car in a grocery store parking lot until her father could make his way through the waters in his truck and pick her up the next morning.
A family we know and love has water flooding the entire downstairs of their house. They sent a picture of a tub of their girls’ shoes floating next to a small sofa in their mud room. Their prayer was to ask that the “waters would not reach to the second floor.”
I received another text from a fellow school mom asking in anyone lived close to the Meyerland area of Houston and had access to a kayak or canoe. Friends of theirs were stranded in their flooding house, the woman is pregnant with their third child, and they were on the wait list for 9-1-1 to come pick them up.
And last time I checked, water was starting to seep through the floorboards of the lowest room in our house. Our furniture is stacked up against the wall and overflows into the bathroom.
Stories like this abound this rainy Sunday morning in Houston. And from what the weather reports are telling us, we still have five more days of rain to expect with five inches of rain per day. The only place is has to go is up and in unless our drainage system starts working in unexpected ways.
But there is a strange, supernatural peace in the midst of the flood when you know the One who sits enthroned above the flood.
“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
The Lord gives strength to his people;
the Lord blesses his people with peace.” Psalm 29:10-11
Perhaps peace seems strange if you are standing outside the flood; but inside the flood is strength and the presence of the Lord, no matter the height of the waters.
Several months ago, I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller on Psalm 91, an often quoted Psalm and prayer during times of distress and danger. The sermon was excellent (find the link to it here), but one truth he shared has run over and over in my mind through the last few days and has become my prayer for my city and the people I love.
The key, Keller says (and I’m paraphrasing here), to understanding Psalm 91 is verses 14-16:
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”
Notice that it says God does not save us from trouble, but God saves us in trouble. In the flood waters, not without. In the flames, not outside. In the battle, not from the battle.
And standing on top of the temple mount with Satan on the outside and a hungry stomach from a forty day fast on the outside, Jesus understood this truth best of all. For Psalm 91:11-12 is the portion of Scripture Satan quoted to Jesus during the time of his temptation:
Then the devil took [Jesus] to the holy city and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said,”‘throw yourself down. For it is written:
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” (Matthew 4:5-7)
The ultimate temptation for Christ Himself was to twist God’s Word and make it mean something it doesn’t. It was to put God to the test, making Him prove to His people that by keeping us out of trouble, He loves us more than if He allowed us to go through it.
But that’s not what God’s Word says or means. God does allow His people to go through times of trouble when the flood waters rise. Waters of emotional distress, spiritual distress, and physical distress. But He is with us, in the flood, in the fire, every step of the way.
And come what may, walking through the flood with the presence of God by your side is better than being on dry ground without Him. That is one thing I am confident of after forty years of living. We may not emerge from the flood without trouble; but we will emerge from flood with the tangible, powerful, shepherding presence of God with us, in the midst of trouble, every step of the way.
And that is where I find peace for myself, my city, and for my family and friends.
Thank you for praying for Houston; please continue to do so. And please pray that many would come to know the One who is King over the flood and in the flood, King of our hearts, come what may.
Summer is a time to take journeys. Some journeys involve heading to the beach, lake, mountains, neighborhood pool, or even your own backyard. My journey involved searching for joy.
It’s a journey I’ve been on ever since I was a little girl, as young as five years old. To help me overcome shyness and a walk down the aisle as a flower girl in a family friend’s wedding with a smile on my face instead of my usual, somber look, my grandmother gave me a framed verse that says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). And while I wanted to do what the words said and walk through life with a big smile on my face (which is what I thought the verse meant), sometimes smiling is easier said than done. Especially when you are a non-smiler like me. I tend to live in my head, tend to think and ponder and pull back rather than press in. And the journey for joy has been rather elusive at times, no matter how hard I’ve tried to find it and wear its evidence on my face.
But a friend challenged me to joy this summer – challenged me to let it be the mark of my life and ministry rather than the worn-out facade I so often wear. So I went on a journey looking for joy, this time looking harder than ever before.
And I didn’t find it in a smile or in the determination to be the talkative one at a dinner party or gathering of friends. I found it, surprisingly, in suffering.
And what I mean is this – joy isn’t found by ignoring suffering or turning a blind eye to suffering. Joy is found by acknowledging suffering – acknowledging the daily burdens we bear or the person who is hard to love, embracing the realities of the difficult circumstances or seasons we are in, and choosing to walk through the suffering with the nearness of God on one hand and the practice of gratitude on the other. (See the excellent book Joyful Journey: Listening to Immanuel for helpful ways to do this.)
And that discovery was a hard one. It took looking honestly at myself and my weaknesses and the well-meaning criticism from my friend while also being true to myself and the person God made me to be.
Because try as I might, I can’t make myself flip a switch and turn into the life of the party. I can’t wave a wand and make myself not feel the seemingly small and insignificant nuances of relationships and circumstances around me. I feel everything. It’s how God made me. But I can choose to feel and allow the nearness and therefore the goodness of God to overpower the feelings of shame, despair, fear, or anger that so often threaten to rise up and overwhelm my soul. I can choose to press in to the faithful, covenantal, unchanging love of the Lord (Exodus 34:6-7) and allow it to help me press in to others rather than withdraw.
And in that journey through the suffering, rather than stuffing or ignoring the suffering, joy unfolds.
It’s like this – I have another friend who, when he was young, saw his dad become angry over something and punch a hole in his bedroom wall. When his mom saw the hole, instead of dealing with her husband’s anger and addressing the issue or fixing the hole, she simply moved a picture on the wall on top of the hole to cover it up and wa-la – the problem was fixed. But not the anger. Or the hole it had left. Either in the wall or in my friend’s heart.
And for a long time, I thought the journey for joy was like that – ignore the hole, ignore the anger and the shame, rage, despair, and fear that caused the hole, move a picture on top of it, put a smile on over it, and poof! You have joy. I thought for years that my inability to have joy came from my inability to ignore the hole. But what God has been showing me is that joy actually comes through acknowledging the hole and paying the price to fix it. The joy comes in the journey.
The last few days of our family journey to the mountains of Idaho this summer (and yes, Idaho has mountains and not just potatoes, much to most Texans’ surprise), Jason and I went on a four day, three night camp out. It was my idea of a dream vacation – no showers, no makeup to put on, no hair to fix, hard uphill ascension on a trail with a pack on my back, and gorgeous views along the way. I was talking to our wonderful guide, Sara, about what it is about me that makes a trip like this enjoyable – because, let’s face it, I’ve come to accept the fact that four days in the Idaho wilderness isn’t most women’s idea of a dream vacation.
Sara said, “These trips aren’t for everyone. They are for people who don’t mind some suffering and hardship along the way in the wilderness to see the views on the top.”
Her statement seemed to sum up my search for joy. Joy isn’t in spite of suffering, nor is it in the absence of suffering. Joy is for those who are willing to suffer and endure hardship along the way, embracing the challenges and treasuring the outcome and views along the way. And you don’t have to like camping trips to experience what Sara said. Your trip in the wilderness and your views of the top could very well be in your own living room with members of your very own family. Or in your very own school. Or workplace.
So don’t get stuck in the hole (which tends to be my problem) or move a picture on top of the hole to simply cover it up. Press into the hole by pressing into the Only One who can fix it and whose nearness is always our good (Psalm 73:28). And while sorrow may endure for the night, joy comes in the morning, and along the way, every single time.
Thank you for your patience with me the last few months while I took a break from blogging and focused instead on writing a new Bible study on prayer. I had hoped to have it out to you at the beginning of the summer, but the editing process took longer than expected. It will be ready (Lord willing) at the start of the new year and is a tool I am really excited to share. But this fall, after a much needed rest this summer, I am back to blogging and very thankful for the joy in the journey through comes each of you. Gratefully, Susannah