Pop Culture Prayer Room: How do we pray for murderers?

Photo cred: cnn.com

Photo cred: cnn.com

When I think about the man we’re praying for this week, I can hear the voices of sports fans (and everyone else, actually) echoing something like, “here we go with just another one of those thug athletes.”

A few months back, sports news was plagued with the story of Aaron Hernandez, tight end of the New England Patriots, shooting a friend (Odin Lloyd) several times to his death. He’s been in jail ever since, awaiting a trial with six charges against him. His arraignment is this Friday, and from there a jury trial date will be set. This whole situation kind of has potential to be the O.J. Simpson trial all over again. If convicted, it’s likely that Hernandez faces life in prison.

My heart breaks over every aspect of this story. It breaks for the family and friends of Odin Lloyd, who was obviously mixed up with a bad crowd that ended up costing him his life. My heart breaks over the example guys like this are setting for young men aspiring to be NFL superstars. My heart breaks for Aaron Hernandez, who must be a disturbed individual to do what he did that night.

Rolling Stone did a really extensive story on the whole thing, walking readers through what happened that night, and also through Hernandez’s life that led him up to that point. There was this one line that stopped me, and I read it two or three times before I continued with the story. It said, “There was such hunger in that kid for a father’s hand, and such greatness itching to get out…”

Hernandez lost his dad when he was 16, and according to anyone who knows him, that’s when rebellion began and thing spiraled out of control.

Is this an excuse for murder?

Absolutely not. But this gives me a great grid for how to pray for him. “God, let prison be the place that he learns he may have lost his dad, but he has a Father in you. No multimillion dollar contract can hold a candle to the inheritance you intend for your children to have in eternity, and not even a man behind bars for life is too far gone to take hold of the inheritance you have for him.”

What if redemption wasn’t out of the question for him? What if we prayed in such a way that we believed that?

And what about all the other broken hearts connected to this story?

I’m praying for the family and friends of Odin Lloyd who lost a friend, son and brother in the blink of an eye. Lord give them peace, let justice be served for the loss of his innocent life, and after that let grace rule in their hearts and not bitterness.

I’m praying for the broken, lost family of Aaron Hernandez to find the Healer so that they can find healing that will last.

I’m praying for the next generation of young athletes to become the Godly men and women that I want my children to look up to. Which means I am also praying for the local church to begin to influence the influencers.

As soon as this trial begins, there will be people saying all kinds of awful things about it. We have an opportunity to fight that in the spirit. Should we pray for justice? Yes. Should we believe that Aaron Hernandez can get what he deserves and still receive grace? You better believe it.

the way everlasting

Yikes! It has been a while since I’ve written. The last two months have certainly not been short on revelation, God-encounters, blessings, challenges, and just sweetness. At the conclusion of what has without a doubt been the best birthday week in all my 23 years, I’m writing from a place of overflowing joy.

God has been so faithful to bring me everything He promised I would find here in Waco: His presence daily, growing my faith and understanding of who He is and who He says I am. Rich relationships — the kind of friendships that I already can not imagine my life without. The best possible place to grow my marriage, in intimate community and in the presence of the Father.

I think if I had to put this experience into one short phrase so far, it would be this:

Surrendering my whole self to see the deeper things of God.

My whole self. That’s been the challenging part. One thing I’ve always known about myself, as the poster child for “Middle Child Syndrome,” is that I am very independent. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing — I think my adventurous spirit that’s willing to take risks comes from that place of independence.

What is dangerous, however, is my tendency to withhold myself from intimacy because of that independence. I’ve noticed patterns of that in the last few months in my marriage. It’s just little things, like my default response when Noland asks if he can help with something being, “No, I’ve got it under control.”

Yikes. Did you catch that last word? Control. Independence can easily and sneakily turn into control. That’s when things go from bad to worse. So I was noticing these things in me, and noticing that I would get so easily irritated when my idea of how things should go didn’t come to pass. I wanted to control situations and have the independence to do them the way I wanted. I knew this needed to be dealt with somehow, and I had begun to ask God to search my heart for those places.

During her teaching about two weeks ago, a woman named Stef Herber spoke directly to all of these things in my heart. I began to wrestle with them even more. The next day, she walked up to me at the end of class and said she just felt like God was wanting to take me to deeper places with Him, but there was maybe a place in my heart that I hadn’t fully let him into. (We hadn’t met at this point, by the way) So she asked if she could just pray for me, for deeper places with God.

Of course I said yes, and then I told her that I so closely related to the things she had talked about the day before with independence in her marriage early on.

I was moving closer to a place of breakthrough in that area after hearing her speak that week.

All weekend after that, I kept asking God to show me those places in my heart and help me to let Him in there.

That Saturday night, I had a dream. In this dream I had all these sores all over my arms, they were like bubbly blistering sores. One of them was opened up and just really gross looking. So I went to see a doctor, and this is what he said to me, “This isn’t a life threatening issue, it’s just a bad health issue. This is unhealthy decisions surfacing in your skin, and it will go away if you just learn to say no to some things.”

Then I woke up. I knew that God was trying to speak through that dream. I woke myself up enough to process a little bit of what I’d just seen and heard in my dream, and then I went back to sleep. (It was like 3 a.m.)

When I woke up, I had this dream in the back of my mind, wondering what God had to say to me about it in my time with him that morning. I also woke up, for some reason, wanting to know what I had done with my Jesus Calling devotional when we moved. I felt like I needed to read it that morning, so I went and dug it out of the bottom of a box. Ten minutes later I learned that was totally the moving of the holy spirit, because it said this:

“To live in my presence consistently, you must expose and expel your rebellious tendencies. When something interferes with your plans or desires, you tend to resent the interference. Try to become aware of each resentment, however petty it may seem. Don’t push those unpleasant feelings down; instead, let them come to the surface where you can deal with them. Ask my spirit to increase your awareness of resentful feelings. Bring them boldly into the light of my presence, so that I can free you from them.

The ultimate solution to rebellious tendencies is submission to my authority over you. Intellectually you rejoice in my sovereignty, without which the world would be a terrifying place. But when my sovereign will encroaches on your little domain of control, you often react with telltale resentment.

The best response to losses or thwarted hopes is praise: The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Remember that all good things — your possessions, your family and friends, your health and abilities, your time — are gifts from me. Instead of feeling entitled to all these blessings, respond to them with gratitude. Be prepared to let go of anything I take from you, but never let go of my hand.”

So obviously at this point I just laugh and say, “OK God, I hear you!”

I asked him exactly what this devotional was saying I should ask him. “God, would you make me more aware of my resentment when my independence and my domain of control is encroached by YOUR sovereign will?”

Of course, since I asked, He answered. The next day I just had one of those Mondays. I was tired, I had been in class all morning and taking care of three needy kids all afternoon, and I was hoping (without communicating said hopes) that Noland had just thought about/taken care of dinner and whatever else needed to be done around the house before I got there. So when I got home and he hadn’t, I was instantly frustrated.

This came at just the right time, as friends were coming over to pray together about church planting. My mind is obviously set on eternal things at this point. (Not) So I left the house, drove around, cried, prayed, and reentered the situation with a heart that was in a better place to pray with this group of people.

As soon as they left, though, all that resentment came right back once it was just Noland and me in the house. Noland of course has no idea that I’m frustrated at this point, so he’s just walking around the house doing his own thing while I’m fuming on the couch. I called him into the living room and told him I felt like we needed to talk through some things.

I explained what I’d been dealing with in my heart, that I just felt chaos and we need to do a better job of trying to organize our lives together so we can avoid those chaotic times of conflict. I cried through most of this conversation. And I just still felt frustrated. I was still holding on to resentment.

Noland reached down to pull me up from laying on the couch so he could hold me, which is of course sweet. What do I do, though? I snap! My response was, “Why don’t you just ask me to sit up, I’m perfectly capable of sitting up on my own.”

Yikes!

So he says so sweet and tenderly, “I just want to hold you because you’re upset.”

And as soon as those words came out of his mouth, I heard that still, small voice of God in my mind say, “You do that to me, too, when you do that to him.”

At that point I just broke. I cried for like 15 minutes. I apologized. More so to God than I did Noland.

But in that same moment, as much as it hurt, something was breaking off of me. I felt a freedom from that independent spirit. I felt the love of God through the arms of my husband as he held me and prayed over me. I knew in that moment that God had been faithful in what I’d asked him for: to bring my resentment to the surface and reveal to me the places where my control and independence are keeping me from his will.

The lesson learned here, really, wasn’t that I need to be less independent and controlling so I can be a better wife — although that’s certainly a positive outcome. It was that I was keeping myself from intimacy with God in this one small compartment of my heart, and when I searched my heart and found it, he blew the doors right off of that compartment and he came in and filled that place.

In return I received so much joy, so much peace, and so much new understanding and revelation of who God says I am.

He taught me that when I press in to him in the hard places, he takes me even deeper into the things of him. And he reminded me that when I ask him to give me something, he always comes through.

Why wouldn’t Dad respond joyfully with a “yes” when we ask him to help us know more of him?

That’s what this season has been about. Ask for more. Go to the places that hurt at first and watch him redeem them. And then get even more than you even knew how to ask for. There is always more of him!

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.”

(Psalm 139:23-24)

The measuring mechanism we should all learn to use: grace.

Yesterday I was catching up with a friend who’s been sort of a mentor in my life since I was seventeen. She was telling me about how she keeps running into the same issue with girls my age who are single, who are looking for a “spiritual leader” in a man, but are almost searching for this ideal that doesn’t exist.

She asked me what I would say to them as someone who is their age, but married… and I’ve been thinking about what my answer would be ever since.

Ironically, today I had a conversation with a friend who is 25 and single, and she told me the same story about what she’s looking for in a significant other, and how she can’t find a boy who’s walking with Jesus to the degree that she would like for him to.

By the end of our conversation, I realized that marriage is teaching me a lot about grace — in ways I’d never experienced before. I found myself asking my friend questions like, “how do you measure someone else’s spirituality? Is that even fair?”

One thing Noland and I have always said we need from each other is that each of us is seeking Jesus, and that we’re growing with Him as individuals as well as a couple. But we’re also human, and sometimes we fail.

Noland is a great leader, and one of his best leadership qualities is admitting when he’s in a season of not earnestly seeking the Lord in all areas of his life. I wish I was as good at that as he is.

Going back to the question of how we measure someone’s spirituality, I’m so thankful that Noland (to my knowledge) has never tried to measure mine. I’m so glad I don’t ever measure his. He is my one relationship, aside from God himself, in which absolutely nothing is withheld. He knows all of me… and holy smokes, if that isn’t a recipe for a crapload of grace, I don’t know what is!

All that to say, I guess the way that I would answer the question I was asked yesterday would simply be to tell girls that while they should certainly be searching for a man of God, they will never find a man who is God.

We hear all the time that marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ and The Church — and it absolutely is! I have known love this month in ways I never knew before marriage. But let’s stop and think about this analogy for a minute…

Biblically speaking, the church is the bride. She adorns her groom (Christ) with praise. She honors him. She gives herself entirely to him. And in turn, He leads her. He loves her. He delights in her. He’s crazy about her.

On the 30th of June, I walked down the aisle to my groom. I fixed my gaze upon him and walked straight forward to be where he was…

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…and as my gaze was on him, he stood there waiting — delighting in me, crazy about me.

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…but here’s the deal: Biblically, one of the two parts of this analogy is perfect. His name is Jesus. Neither one of us is him. We are each sinners, who married a sinner… and our marriage will always exist with the implication that neither of us is perfect.

Thank you Jesus for grace!

And here’s the other great thing about that analogy: with Jesus, every day is a wedding! I loved my wedding, so the idea that every day could be that much fun really excites me. Every day he looks at us and is crazy about us, and all we have to do is fix our gaze upon him. And then we celebrate!

Donald Miller says in his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years that heaven will be a wedding. And there will be drinks and dancing. I absolutely agree.

So cheers to the wedding in your life today. May you find yourself on the dance floor often…

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…and if you’re still waiting for your own wedding day, may the Lord be continually putting grace in your heart. You’ll be needing a lot of it later.

Cheers!