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How To Handle Any Problem

But as for me, I will look to the LORD, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. (Micah 7:7)

One of the most difficult tasks we face as disciples of Jesus Christ is to surrender to His will each day. This is especially challenging for those of us who are anxious by nature. For, even though we claim to be Christians and pray for God’s will to be done, we struggle to give up control. If you have a pressing need in your life and are beginning to lose hope, this Bible verse is pure gold!

Speaking through the prophet Micah, the Lord provides us with a plan to handle any problem that we could ever face.

Turn to God

When faced with a problem, the world provides us with many sources of comfort. And, rather than addressing the issue, we often choose to “numb the pain” through entertainment, alcohol, shopping or other diversions. These short term solutions will not make the problem go away and will only make you feel good for a short time. In times of crisis, the Lord wants us to turn to Him. Not only is He capable of fixing any problem that we encounter, but He is the only lasting source of peace in this world. Ask Him to help you!

Be Patient

During the season of Advent, we hear a lot about waiting. Like it or not, God is smarter than any of us. If He makes us wait, there is a reason. Don’t waste your time trying to figure out why He is not fixing your problem. Keep asking, but give Him the benefit of the doubt. Use the opportunity to submit to His will. That’s exactly what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. Whenever we pray the Our Father we ask for God’s will to be done. Waiting gives us the chance to put our words into action.

Know That He Will Hear You

When our prayers are not answered immediately (or within our given time frame), we often assume that God is not listening. This verse puts that argument to rest. The Lord always hears the cries of His children. Furthermore, there is no problem to small (or too big) to give to Him. It gives Him great pleasure when we turn to Him for help.

Although these steps sound simple, they are not necessarily easy to put into practice. It all begins with the realization that God loves you and is interested in your life. He wants to enter into a personal relationship with you and that’s why He sent His Son. During Advent, the Church invites us to prepare to welcome more Jesus more deeply into our hearts. Turning to Him today with your needs would be a great start.

How To Know God Is Working In Your Life (Part 3)

Over the past few weeks I have been offering suggestions on how to observe that God is working in your life. So far, I have encouraged you to look for any changes – either positive or negative. This week, I encourage you to look for NO changes. Yes, you read that right! Quite often God responds to our prayers by changing nothing – at least on the outside.

Feeling Hopeful

One often overlooked way to determine that the Lord is hearing and responding to your prayers is an unexplained feeling of hope. I think we’ve all experienced this at one time or another. You pray about something and, before anything concrete happens, you feel more hopeful. Far from being accidental, the hope you feel is often the first fruit of prayer.

“Are You Listening, Lord?”

Psalm 13 provides a nice Biblical example of this concept in action. David opens this psalm crying out, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?” It goes downhill from there, with several more “how longs” addressed to the Lord. He obviously needs help and needs it now! After bombarding God with all of his problems, David then proceeds to do something bold…and wise. He calls upon the Lord to “answer him”. And, judging by the shift in his tone, that’s exactly what happened.

“But I have trusted in your merciful love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalm 13:5-6)

Expect An Answer

Instead of just worrying and feeling hopeless by the very real danger surrounding him, David cried out to the Lord and expected his prayer to be answered. As a result, he received a much needed infusion of hope. Even though the threat remained, David was able to rejoice because of his renewed confidence in God’s providence.

Seek And You Will Find

As you continue to pray for an “unanswered” intention, look for an inner feeling of peace or hope. This often missed first fruit of prayer can give you the strength to continue moving forward even though your problem remains. God loves you and will always answer your prayers in some way. As we discussed in prior weeks, our prayers are often answered gradually.

Don’t give up. He is listening and responding!

And So We Wait…

For many of us, waiting can be difficult. It doesn’t matter if we’re stuck in traffic, sitting in a doctor’s office or growing frustrated that our prayers are not being answered – it is not easy to wait. But, while it can be difficult, we can learn to appreciate the value of waiting. The secret lies in understanding that sometimes God wants us to slow down so He can teach us something.

Today, we begin the season of Advent. It is, you guessed it, a time of waiting. Although it seems like a foreign concept in today’s fast paced world, it is a time when we are invited to pause and prepare our hearts to enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus. Buying gifts, making cookies and arranging parties can all be good things, but Advent is designed for much more.

So what can we do to prepare? Attending daily Mass (even once each week in addition to Sunday), reading the daily Mass readings, setting aside some extra time for prayer each day or going to confession are all things that we can do to prepare for the coming of Jesus. It may require us to step away from the computer or turn off the TV or radio, but it can be done. Even five minutes each day will be beneficial.

Don’t let this day pass without making a commitment to do something this Advent.

Looking For A Miracle? Try The Saint Andrew Novena!

One of my favorite devotions, The Saint Andrew Novena, begins TODAY! It is piously believed that whoever recites this prayer fifteen times a day from the Feast of Saint Andrew (November 30) until Christmas will obtain what is asked. Does this mean that God will give you anything, even something that may be harmful to you spiritually? Fortunately, no! However, I have received miraculous favors since I started praying this novena a few years ago and I believe in its power.

Here’s EWTN’s Fr. Joseph Mary speaking about his personal experience with the St. Andrew Novena:

Here is the novena prayer:

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

The Saint Andrew novena is also a GREAT way to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. If you pay attention to the words as you say them, it will draw you more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation and fill you with hope. Why not give it a try? I know I will!

How To Know God Is Working In Your Life (Part 2)

Last week, I began a series on recognizing God’s response to your prayers. Because of the fact that He frequently works gradually and in ordinary ways, we often miss the signs that He is responding to our prayers. I recommended that you imitate the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 17 and look for the “little clouds” that signify that your prayers are being heard and the drought is ending.

Is Anything Changing?

A second way to recognize that God is responding to your prayers is to look for change. Last week we focused on the small, positive changes that are taking place in your life, but this week I urge you to look for any changes that have taken place since you began praying. Specifically (and here’s where you’ll probably think that Gary has lost his mind), look for the negative changes! Yes, you heard me correctly. When you pray for something and things get worse, it is a sign that the Lord is working in your life. Crazy, right? Nope. It’s the absolute truth.

What Does The Bible Say?

Let’s turn to the Bible for an example. In Exodus 3:7-8, we are told that God heard the cry of the Israelites who are enslaved in Egypt. The Lord goes on to say that He has “come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey”. Sounds like a done deal, right? The people cry out to the Lord and He fixes the problem. Well, yes and no.

Don’t Be Surprised When Things Get Worse

Even though God did indeed deliver the Israelites from slavery, things got worse before they got better. When Moses and Aaron first obeyed the Lord and went to Pharaoh to request some time off for worship, his initial response was to restrict the straw that was given to the people for brick building. Now, in addition to being forced to build the same number of bricks each day, the Israelites now had to first gather their own straw! Is this an example of the power of prayer? You bet! Although it took 40 years and lots of suffering, the Lord delivered on His promise and the slaves were set free. Moses stumbled and complained, but he never stopped praying and being obedient.

Don’t Stop Praying!

If things have gotten worse since you’ve started praying, don’t give up. God’s ways are not our ways. He really does know what He’s doing. By all means, ask Him what He’s trying to teach you and plead with Him to make things better, but never stop praying. He operates on His own schedule. Give Him a chance!

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How To Know God Is Working In Your Life (Part 1)

Have you ever prayed for something for a long time with no apparent results?

God, Are You Listening?

You pray and pray and hear nothing…not even crickets. During times like this it’s common to question if God is even listening. You may begin to wonder if prayer makes a difference. Ultimately, you may just give up and stop praying. I have to admit that I have done exactly that on more than one occasion. And, while I’m not proud of that admission, I have learned an important lesson over the years. Giving up praying because you don’t think God hears you is a BIG mistake. Rather than just leave it there, however, I’d like to offer some assistance. Over the next few days, I’ll share with you some ways that will help you to see that God not only hears your prayers, but is actually responding to them.

Dig A Little Deeper

The first thing I would urge you to do is look for signs. Although He sometimes intervenes with instantaneous and powerful miracles, the Lord typically responds to our prayers gradually. In fact, His response is often so subtle that it can easily be missed.

Elijah Prays For Rain

When we are first introduced to the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 17) in the Bible, a great drought was taking place. Three years later, the Lord told the prophet that the drought would be coming to an end. Bowing down and putting his face between his knees, Elijah prayed for the Lord’s word to come to fruition. With confident expectation, he then told his servant to “look toward the sea” for the arrival of the rain. After the servant reported back that he didn’t see anything, Elijah sent him back seven more times. Finally, the servant observed “a little cloud like a man’s hand rising out of the sea”. Upon receiving that confirmation, Elijah dispatched his servant to inform King Ahab that the drought was over. In a little while, there was a great rain.

Look For Little “Clouds”

Even though the Lord doesn’t seem to be answering your prayers, I recommend that you look for the “little clouds” in your life. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you discover the tiny ways that prove that your prayers are being heard. The signs are there…

You just have to recognize them.

The End Is Near!

As the liturgical year winds down, the Church wants to be sure that we don’t forget a critical fact – this life is temporary and will come to an end. Furthermore, at the end of our life, we will be judged and our eternal destiny will be determined. If that’s not enough, Jesus emphasizes in this Sunday’s gospel that we don’t know the day or the hour when this will occur. You don’t need to be a Scripture scholar or theologian to know that this is a serious message. How does it make you feel?

Some will hear this and brush it off, assuming that it won’t happen anytime soon and there are more pressing matters to contend with, such as lunch, football or any number of worldly issues. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those who will hear this and begin to worry or plunge into despair. Both of these positions are extreme and should be avoided.

I believe that the best way to view this message is to treat it as a wake up call. We often lose sight of what really matters in life and focus on what doesn’t matter. We spend a great deal of time of things that may feel good now, but don’t really matter in the long run. By choosing these readings, the Church wants to help us focus on the Lord and eternity. What can we do to help us remember? I think the answer can be found in a verse taken from Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm:

I set the LORD ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed. (Psalm 16:8)

Each day, Jesus calls us to follow Him. Doing so will not only ensure that you’ll spend eternity in the right place, but will help you avoid being disturbed by all of the craziness in the world. Spend some time each day in prayer, reading the Bible and being kind to those around you. It will keep you focused and you’ll be in great shape.

Do You Trust God?

A man fell over a cliff and, as he tumbled down, managed to grab on to a bush growing from the side of the rock. Terrified, he hung in space, his life flashing before him. In desperation, he shouted toward heaven, “Is there anyone up there?” To his astonished delight, a voice floated down: “I am the Lord God, and I am here.” “What should I do?” called the man. The voice replied, “Let go of the branch and, with my protection, you will float harmlessly down to the beach below.” The man glanced under his feet to the jagged rocks at the foot of the cliff, hundreds of feet below. He gulped, and looked back toward heaven.

“Is there anyone else up there?”

It’s easy to trust God when there isn’t too much at stake. When putting your faith in Him involves parting with your money or trusting Him with your future, however, it becomes increasingly difficult. Why is that? Essentially, it happens because of a lack of trust. Even though Jesus promised that those who sacrifice for His sake in this life (Mark 10:29-30) will be rewarded in Heaven, we struggle to believe His words. Instant gratification, on the other hand, requires no trust and delivers a lesser (but immediate) reward. It seems like a safer option.

In today’s First Reading, we learn of a widow who used all of her flour and oil to bake bread for the prophet Elijah. Even though it could have caused the woman and her son to starve, she obeyed the command of the prophet. Why? Because she trusted that God would provide, as promised by Elijah. Her trust was rewarded and their supply of oil and flour did not run out. Similarly, in today’s Gospel, a poor widow gave all that she had because of her trust in God’s providence.

According to the dictionary, trust is defined as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; one in which confidence is placed”. Every day we have the opportunity to trust God with our finances, relationships and future. Today we learned of two widows who trusted that the Lord was good for His word. There may have been fear involved, but they trusted anyway. Their faith was rewarded. God is asking you to trust Him in some way today.

Are you willing to imitate the widows or would you rather play it safe?

Finding Jesus In The Storm

Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. (Matthew 14:22)

You are probably familiar with the story of St. Peter getting out of the boat and walking (briefly) on the water. Responding to the call of Jesus, the fisherman turned Apostle did something that should have been impossible. It’s a dramatic and powerful saga that most of us have heard many times.

What often gets missed in this story, however, is the verse at the top of page. Take note that Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and sent them right into a storm. He literally “set them up” without warning them of what they would be facing. I know it sounds nasty, but it ended up being a great blessing. Although Peter’s faith certainly faltered (as evidenced by the panic that set in when he felt the wind and saw the waves), he learned that Jesus was present, even in the midst of the storm. He also discovered that ALL things (even walking on water or calming the sea) are possible for the Lord. Matthew ends this story by stating that everyone in the boat worshiped Jesus and acknowledged that He was the Son of God. Good stuff, right? Now, let me ask you a question. Despite the happy ending, do you think the disciples would have gotten into the boat if they knew that a life threatening storm was waiting for them?

Being a follower of Christ means more than just going to Mass on Sunday and saying some prayers. It involves waking up each day and letting Him lead you. Just like the disciples, He may lead you right into a storm. Sometimes the entire Church is asked to get into the boat and head into stormy seas. The Lord doesn’t necessarily cause the storms, but He does allow them to exist. That’s okay. There is a reason. The fact that we may not understand or approve doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Jesus loves us and is present in the midst of the storm. As long as we keep focused on Him, we’ll be fine. Rather than concentrating on the waves and the wind, keep your eyes on Jesus and borrow the words of St. Peter as he began to sink. It’s one of the most powerful prayers imaginable:

“Lord, save me!”