The Hardest Prayers to Pray

“But I say to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,…If you love those who love you what reward will you get?” (Matthew 5:44-47)
 
“I couldn’t do it.”  That’s what one person told me after I’d asked the folks at church that night to pray for their enemies.  Thank God for that person’s honesty.  Frankly, the first time I tried to pray for people who’ve hurt me the worst…..well, I couldn’t do it either.

This brief blog is not intended to be about the topic of forgiveness as much as it about praying for our enemies. But it’s difficult to separate the two topics. John Bevere (Buh-VEER) explains why. In his book, “The Bait of Satan,” Bevere, using the story of Joseph, highlights a biblical truth so arresting that, when I first read it, it stopped me in my tracks. But, before we get to what he wrote, we need a little background.

In Genesis 37, Joseph, the second youngest of twelve brothers (and still a teenager), was sold to Midianite gypsys by his own brothers. Why? Because they hated him. They originally wanted to kill Joseph, but the oldest brother, Reuben, talked them out of it. Joseph’s nightmare took him to Egypt where he would spend the next 13 years in slavery & prison. But, as the Scriptures repeatedly state, “The Lord was with Joseph.” By God’s orchestration, following those 13 years, Joseph was released from prison and elevated to 2nd in command over all Egypt, subordinate only to Pharaoh. As a famine ravaged the land, outlying tribes of people came to Egypt to seek grain for food. Every person wanting food had to go through Joseph. And guess who showed up?

Twenty years had passed since Joseph had seen his brothers that horrible day when they sold him. No doubt, he remembers his cries for help as his brothers stood there with hate in their heart. But today, his brothers bow before him pleading for mercy. They don’t recognize Joseph. But he immediately recognizes them. This was the moment he’d been waiting for. He had all authority to, once and for all, have them painfully executed for the twenty years they had stolen from him. This would be the sweetest of revenge. Right? Back to the lesson I learned from Bevere.

Bevere wrote, “Had Joseph had in mind not to forgive his brothers for selling him into slavery as an adolescent boy, and decided to execute them, God would have let Joseph rot in prison.” Why?  Because one of Joseph’s brothers was a man named Judah.  Why is that important?  John, a disciple and eye-witness of Jesus, answers that question:  “Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.” (Rev. 5:5)  See where this is headed?  Jesus Christ would be a descendent of Judah.  And there was no way God was allowing the blood-line of the Messiah to be severed.  So, clearly, making the choice to love and forgive his enemies saved Joseph’s life.

Spent and exhausted from being up all night, suffering from extreme blood loss & shock, the crucified Jesus was able to make only short utterances from the cross.  Matthew, Mark, Luke & John, together, record seven of those brief, labored statements.  The first is found in Luke’s account, 23:33-34:  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”  Here we find Jesus praying for His enemies – while they were crucifying Him.  Think about it – when you pray for your enemies you experience the power of perfectly identifying with Christ while He was on the cross.  And we all know what followed the crucifixion – the resurrection.  I believe that “resurrection power” follows this kind of praying.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

As I Sat on that Jury, This is What God Was Telling Me….

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 John 2:1, NIV)

“We, the jury, find the defendant guilty.”

Those are the words our foreman read representing all 12 of us who had served those two days on a criminal-case jury panel at the Lubbock County Courthouse. We then sentenced the defendant to just under 50 years in the state penitentiary. It was his 3rd felony conviction.

Afterward, I couldn’t help but ponder the parallels – and contrasts – between our human courts of law and how the Bible describes a believer’s position in Christ.

There was no question with any us on the jury – the defendant was guilty. Likewise, in terms of eternal life and our relationship with a holy God, you and I are guilty, as well. There is no question. “If we claim to be without sin,” John wrote, “we deceive ourselves,” because “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” (1 John 1:8; Romans 3:23)

I can assure you the Defense Attorney assigned to defend the defendant had no interest in saying, “Hey Judge, clearly this man is guilty and deserves his punishment. But I love him and want to take his punishment, thereby, allowing him to walk out of this courtroom a free man.”

But once upon a time – in a higher court – that is exactly what Jesus Christ did for us – except the stakes were much higher. The Judge was God the Father and the punishment was the death penalty. The defendant was mankind. The crime was rebellion against the Judge Himself, God. As mind-boggling as this may sound, this is where the story confounds most. God, Himself, would “put on skin”, and not only defend us in court, but offer to take the full penalty for our crime. Jesus’ death had to prove to be the one perfect atoning sacrifice to fully satisfy God’s penalty for sin. Personifying a love beyond our ability to understand, our advocate – our defense attorney, if you will – pleaded our hopeless case. The Father then looked upon us, already declared guilty beyond all possible doubt and, by placing our guilt – and death sentence – on Jesus, declared us innocent of all charges. Jesus died our death. And, three days later, conquered it by rising from the dead – making it possible for our crime to be eradicated, nullified,….forgiven, once for all.

This is the Gospel.

“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath…..He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (Romans 5:8-9; 2 Corinthians 5:21)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Family Matters

“These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, hcsb)

Family devotions…..

Think about that phrase for a moment. What comes to mind? If you’re like most families – nothing comes to mind. I don’t have a single childhood memory of my parents leading any type of family devotional time.

Biblically, family-worship was never an option. “….watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen….Teach them to your children…. Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when He said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear My words so that they may learn to revere Me as long as they live in the land and may teach [My words] to their children.” Deuteronomy 4:9-10, niv

What follows is a devotional I received recently written by pastor/teacher, Jim Hardwicke: (Jim is the man under whom I surrendered to the ministry in 1980.)

What ever happened to family devotions–where parents simply read a portion of the Bible to their family, talk about it with them, and pray together?

In his book, While God is Marching On: The Religious World of Civil War Soldiers, author Steven E. Woodworth writes, ‘Religious worship was by no means limited to the church or confined within the walls of houses of worship. ‘Family prayers,’ held each evening in each Christian home, were as important to nineteenth-century Christians as any of the corporate worship services of the church…Vermont soldier Wilbur Fisk noted that reading a chapter of the Bible and praying together had been his family’s ‘custom from time immemorial.’ Deep in the South, not far from Atlanta, James A. Connolly and other Union officers found themselves quartered with a Southern family, in whose house the Army of the Cumberland’s headquarters was located. That evening, Connolly and other staff officers joined the family in their regular evening prayers, including the singing of hymns’.

Family devotions don’t have to be long. In fact, more than 10 minutes, or so, might be too long. But any of us can read at least a few verses from the Bible and pray together, for the needs of our family members, our church, our nation, and/or our world. Why not start this week? Why not aim for family devotions at least 5 out of 7 days a week?

When our children see real Christianity lived out in a daily way in our homes, it will change them forever.

Not enough time? Schedules too crazy? Don’t feel qualified to lead something like this? Relax – if that’s what is going through your mind right now, you’re normal. It also means that Satan is both furious – and terrified – hoping that the frantic thoughts with which he tries to fill your mind will lead you to do……nothing.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Whiskey Lullaby

DISCLAIMER: This is not a blog about drinking. You will not find anything in Scripture restricting the consumption of alcohol. This is a blog about the ever-present danger of addiction & drunkenness (you will find plenty in Scripture forbidding that) and the inevitable devastation that follows. nw

“Who are the people who are always crying the blues? Who do you know who reeks of self-pity?….Whose eyes are bleary and bloodshot? It’s those who spend the night with a bottle, for whom drinking is serious business. Don’t judge wine by its label,…or its full-bodied flavor. Judge it rather by the hangover it leaves you with – the splitting headache, the queasy stomach… When I’m sober enough to manage it, bring me another drink!” (Proverbs 23:29-35, The Message)

I’m looking at a picture. My dad is holding my daughter, Macy. I’m standing next to him, and Jordan & Kelsie are in front of me. Michelle’s taking the picture. We were attending my granddad’s funeral (my dad’s dad.) But so much more was going on that November, 1998, day than a funeral service. That was the day my dad met my children for the very first time. Macy was 2, Jordan was 5, and Kelsie was 7. Alcohol addiction had cost my dad his marriage, a relationship with his children, a relationship with his grandchildren, and his career. Homeless and nomadic, I had not seen dad in 10 years.

Now, I’m looking at another picture. It sits next to the one described above. This one, two years later, is of me and my two sisters. We’re, again, attending a funeral. This time it’s my dad’s. The alcoholism that controlled him finally killed him. He was 57.

My dad was an amazing man – when he was sober. When he drank he became something else. Something terrifying. In a healthy state of mind, we have God-given “filters” in our brains that prevent us from doing horrible things we would not normally do. Alcohol, however, is a drug. It’s the drug of choice in North America. And, being a drug, it alters our our mind removes those “filters.”

Years ago, I was interviewed on NewsTalk 790 here in Lubbock regarding a vote to allow packaged alcohol sales in nearby Wolfforth. (I was the Youth Pastor at FBC, Wolfforth, at the time.) I told my story. Then the gentlemen giving the interview stated a sound observation. He respectfully said, “Nick, people in favor of this law will say that just because your dad succumbed to alcoholism it doesn’t mean everyone else will.” I replied, “I couldn’t agree more – but some will. And all we’ll be doing is making that possibility easier.”

No one plans on developing an addiction. It happens – without our permission.

When I lived in Dallas, one of my favorite columnists to read in the Dallas Morning News was Steve Blow. I’ll never forget one of his editorials about being contacted “out-of-the-blue” by an old friend of his. Blow wrote: “Mike called and said, ‘I don’t know if you knew this, but I’m an alcoholic.’ He had my attention. Mike’s story is a common one: Started drinking in high school because it was cool. Kept drinking in college. Faced real life and found he couldn’t stop drinking.”

I had not even begun 1st grade when my dad began giving me an occasional sip of his beer. By the time I was in 7th grade I was allowed to drink all I wanted. (I guess no one thought about that being against the law.)

When I heard Brad Paisley’s & Alison Krauss’ 2003 “Whiskey Lullaby” for the very first time I became so overcome with emotion I had to pull my car over. I have no doubt that almost everyone reading this knows someone whose life has been altered by the affects of alcoholism – quite possibly someone related to you.

In 1997, my youngest sister almost died due to a heroin overdose. After over forty days of not knowing whether she was going to live or die, she finally improved. Before she left the hospital I asked her if I could interview her and use her experience to warn teenagers about the lure of alcohol and drugs. She gladly gave me permission. The last question I asked her was, “Did you ever in a million years think this would happen to you?” Without hesitation she said, “No.”

No one ever does.

NOTE: Only moments prior to the first picture being taken, God ordained a divine appointment allowing me to explain to my dad that I’d forgiven him for the years of physical, verbal & emotional abuse my mom, my sisters and I were forced to endure for so many years. Dementia had since stolen away his mind – this former City Councilman and news anchor for KRBC TV in Abilene, TX. But, that November day in 1998, God had graced me with the ability to speak clearly and compassionately, and my dad with the ability to understand. It was an unbelievable display of the supernatural power and grace of Jesus. Next to my profession of faith in Jesus Christ, no single decision has so liberated my life than forgiving my dad. My story of how I made that decision is included for you below.

nick

How I Forgave my Dad

The Relentless Pursuit of Evil

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left [Jesus] until an opportune time.… (Luke 4:13, NIV)

The account of Jesus’ wilderness temptation is recorded both in Matthew & Luke. However, there is a phrase unique to Luke’s account that should make all Christians take notice: “[Satan] left Jesus until an opportune time.” The Amplified translation of the Bible really helps give further insight: “And when the devil had ended every [the complete cycle of] temptation, he [temporarily] left Jesus [that is, stood off from Him] until another more opportune and favorable time.”

Years ago, i was going through a time when, as soon as I finally made it out of one “storm”, I quickly found myself in another. I was sharing my story with a close friend and told him facetiously (sort of), “You’d think God would’ve given me a little more time to enjoy ‘the mountain top’ before allowing the enemy another shot at me.” My friend calmly and wisely replied, “Nick, if the devil wasn’t going to give up on Jesus, what makes you think he’s going to give up on you?” (Selah: pause, and think about that for a moment.)

Satan never takes “a day off” (cf. 1 Peter 5:8) and is continually seeking a “more opportune and favorable time.” That’s why we, as believers, must focus on Truth (John 8:32) and “take up our cross daily” (Luke 9:23) so that we may “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. [And] put on the full armor of God, so that [we] will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:10-18)

In the words of my friend, “If the devil wasn’t going to give up on Jesus, what makes you think he’s going to give up on you?”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Yesterday

No, the above title is not a reference to the Beatles’ classic. Tomorrow, May 13th, is the one-year mark of my son, Jordan’s, entrance into Paradise. But, I had been dreading yesterday (5/11), I think, more than tomorrow (5/13).

Mother’s Day ’13, unbeknownst to the me, Michelle, Kelsie & Macy would be the last day on planet earth we would have the indescribable privilege of talking to Jordan and seeing him alive. The following day (Monday) was the day I found him.

This morning, I walked to the spot in our driveway where I had collapsed. Where I had beat the concrete so hard with my fist that, to this day, I still have pain. And I thanked God for carrying us.

This entire past week, leading up to yesterday, was, without question, the worst week in the Watts home since Jordan’s passing. In all of my life, I’ve never exploded with as much rage, much less since my son died. The emotional eruption was so acute it terrified me.

My anger was at God.

But, like Job demanding an answer from God – in essence, wanting to put God on trial – God “answered [me] out of the whirlwind and said: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you,….” (Job 38:1-2)

What ensued was ME being on trial – not God.

But here’s the plot-twist….

He was not there to accuse me. He was there to LOVE me. To hold me up. To protect me from satan, as well as from myself. To “guide me into all Truth.” And as He held me, I heard Him whisper the same thing He whispered to me a year ago: “I. Am. Here. I’ve got Jordan. I’ve got this. Trust Me. I AM JESUS CHRIST. Your Savior. Your Shepherd. Your Rock. Your Prince of Peace. Your Mighty God.”

Yesterday….was the most celebrative day I’ve personally had since May 13th, 2013. Jesus carried my family. And He still is. He has heard your prayers.

Yesterday….was Mother’s Day. Michelle told me she could feel the prayers of the people of God. My heart leaped for joy!

Yesterday afternoon….I received a text from a former student of mine, Joshua Hnatek (last name pronouced “NAH-tek”). He’s a giant of young man. A big teddy bear. Jordan was one of his best friends. Joshua texted me to ask if he could drop by. A few minutes later Joshua showed up at our front door with a dozen roses. He came in, stood in front of Michelle, and said something I’ll never in my life forget: “I have a good friend (Jordan) who wanted to be here today, but couldn’t, so I am here on his behalf.” The first photo is of Joshua & Michelle.

Then, a few minutes later, I received another text. Kevin Hodges is another dear friend of ours we met about 4 years ago. (Kevin & Joshua do not know each other.) Kevin also asked if he could drop by. He “had something for Michelle.” A few minutes later….you guessed it – Kevin shows up at our door with flowers for Jordan’s mom. By this time I was an emotional mess. We all were. We were on holy ground. With Jacob, I thought to myself, “Surely, the presence of the Lord is in this place.” (Genesis 28:16)

Dear Jesus, I am so sorry for my rage toward you. But I’m so grateful you allow me to unleash on You – you give me permission to do so. You told me, ‘Bring your rage to Me. I can handle it. And I can transform it.’ You said, ‘Cast ALL your cares upon Me, for I care for you.’ (1 Peter 5:7) I love you, Jesus. I love you so much. Thank You for carrying us.

I’m so tired of crying. “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.” (Psalm 6:6) But, O God, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8)

Most of all, Jesus, thank you that, as opposed to a year ago when Jordan was so sick, today he is more ALIVE, FREE, & JOYFUL than I’ve ever been.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Michelle & Joshua Hnatek
Michelle & Kevin Hodges

The Pain of Healing

Satan is evil personified.

However, it wasn’t until after Jordan died that I understood this on a deeper level. Losing a child comprises, in my opinion, the single worst day of a parent’s life. After Jordan died I was in a state of relentless despair. To my surprise (and I shouldn’t have been surprised) satan didn’t stop there. He had more widespread damage in mind. He wanted to “finish the job.” He tormented me psychologically. He heaped shame upon me. He accused me of not trying harder to be a good dad to my son. He would constantly fill my mind with, “If only you had….” Sometimes these attacks left me in a fetal position on the floor crying out.

Then, one day, I learned another biblical truth on a deeper level….

Satan is a sociopathic liar (John 8:44), fighting for his life because “he knows his time is short.” (Rev. 12:12)

Jesus reminded me, “Nick, don’t listen to the devil. He has been devastatingly conquered – and humiliated – by my blood – which was given for you, my child.” (Eph. 2:13-19; Col. 2:13-15; Rom. 8:37) ‘I am…the Truth, Nick’. (John 14:6) I have set your soul free. Let me set your mind free, as well. Regardless of what cheap shots the devil takes, remember that he’s taking those shots en route to eternal torment.” (Rev. 20:10) Endure this pain, Nick – in My strength – not yours. You have complete access to all that I Am (Philippians 4:13). If you’ll let Me, I will take your present hurt and transform it into heavenly power. In your weakness I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10)

In his never-ending attempts to sustain our wounds, the devil, as clever & sly as he is, reveals a fatal flaw. His hubris leaves him exposed to TRUTH. When Paul wrote, “I am crucified with Christ, therefore it’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…” (Gal. 2:20) he was telling us the entire life-changing, life-saving, painful, powerful process of the cross is now ours. Our wounds were imputed to Jesus Christ that day. His healing was imputed to us. My wound left from Jordan’s death is now Christ’s wound. And we know what God said through Isaiah: “By His wounds we are HEALED.” (Is. 53:5)

So, every time your wounds (emotional, psychological, or physical) are under attack, focus on the Truth, Jesus Christ. Because our wounds now belong to Him. And His wounds heal.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick