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Your Past Does Not Disqualify You

There are many great men and women in the Bible who lived lives that are worthy of emulating. People whose actions teach us faith and strength and help us grow on our own journey. But very few of those people did everything right. In fact, many of them had sordid pasts or made mistakes along the way or had to overcome difficult circumstances again and again.

Moses was a murderer, a deserter, and kind of a whiner before he chose to follow God. David slept with another man’s wife and then had the man killed in order to save face. Paul hunted and killed Christians. After Jesus was arrested, Peter refused to claim Him as a friend and the day after He died, Peter went right back to his old life as a fisherman. And these are just a few of the many examples.

These were people of great faith who loved God and did great exploits for Him. But, clearly, none of them were the perfect candidate to carry out God’s work. At least, not by the standards most of us have for our leaders. Apparently, God has a different set of standards. He didn’t measure any of these people by their pasts or by the mistakes they made after they started following Him. Instead, He used them in mighty, earth-shaking, history-making ways.

Just like God wants to use you. No matter your past or the mistakes you’ve made since you were born again – you are His ideal candidate for the job he has for you. The mistakes you have made don’t disqualify you from the call on your life.

Romans 11:29 says, “God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn.”

When you were formed in your mother’s womb, God had a plan for your life. A plan that would honor and glorify Him. A plan He lovingly crafted for your specific personality and based on the path He knew you would walk (See Jeremiah 29:11). So, maybe you feel like you’re walking down a different path. And maybe you are not on the path that God would have led you down, but God has created exits all over the path you’re on that will get you back to what He has for you. His call can never be withdrawn from your life!

But here’s the thing – you have to leave the path you’re on. You have to let that go. Release it and walk away from that path. I wrote last month about Paul’s amazing conversion and how he walked away from his past life with such boldness. And you have to do that too. All of those great men of God I mentioned earlier, repented and headed straight into whatever God had for them. And God didn’t use their mistakes against them, in fact, He used them to show us today that we qualify to be used by Him no matter what.

If you give to God whatever is holding you back – regret, bitterness, pride, insecurity. Because, if we’re truly honest with ourselves, those are the reasons we linger on that other path. Those are the reasons we’re not following all those exits God has created for us. But if you give it to God, He will heal it. He will give you peace and security over every situation. He will take those past mistakes and turn it into a testimony. A testimony that you can use to bless others. To show others how to take the exit to the path God has for them.

God wants you to be free from the bondage of your past. He wants you to pursue Him. He loves you more than any love you have ever known in this world.

Take that exit today. Let go of those chains holding you back. Run after everything God has for you.

Rachel

+ Be a Paul

It’s time to be a Paul

The story of Saul’s conversion to become Paul is amazing. Paul, who is first introduced in Acts 7, was a devoutly religious Jew.. He followed all the rules. And he hated followers of Christ in accordance with his leadership. And he sought to destroy them. He raided homes looking for Christians to have imprisoned or killed. All of his friends, his people, they all thought just like him. In fact, he was their ringleader.

God encounters Jesus Christ, who has already died and ascended to Heaven, on the road to Damascus and is blinded. This is supernatural, but to me it’s actually not the most impressive part of this story. Saul is still blind and staying in Damascus, when the Holy Spirit speaks to Ananias. Ananias, who loves Jesus and hears clearly the voice of the Holy Spirit, but still candidly questions the instruction he is given. Ananias ultimately obeys and goes to see a man who previously wanted to have him killed. Ananias’ trust in the Holy Spirit and the knowledge that what he heard was from God and his obedience are incredible, but there’s something else about Saul’s conversion that impacted me the most.

After Saul’s vision is returned and he is born again as Paul, a follower of Jesus Christ, he boldly goes out and publicly declares his allegiance to Christ. In Acts 9:20, it says: “At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.” This man who, a week prior, was having believers of Jesus tortured, was already preaching in synagogues.

And here’s the part that makes me want to be just like Paul. His entire world hated Jesus Christ and Christians. All of his friends and family and colleagues, they shared his devotion to the law and wanted to eradicate these Christians. And suddenly, he becomes one of the people he hated and in the blink of an eye, his entire world is now against him. But he doesn’t try to hide his new beliefs. He doesn’t worry whether those people will still accept him or try not to offend them. He starts preaching days later!

I didn’t personally experience a radical conversion in my Christian walk. I was the daughter of a pastor and I just always knew Jesus. To the point where later in life I would question whether I was actually saved because I didn’t remember the first time I even said the prayer of salvation. My life took some interesting paths and I found myself with some interesting belief systems at various points in my young adulthood, but eventually found myself running back into the arms of Jesus.

But my world isn’t just full of other Christians. It’s full of a lot of amazing people whose belief system and thinking continued on the path where mine was heading in my young adulthood. The belief system I would probably have now without the prayers of my parents and my husband. I love Jesus and know that he is the only way to eternal life and I want every single person to know the same love and peace and joy that comes with being a child of God. But I also know how I would have once reacted to someone this intense about Jesus and the Bible. And that knowledge, i.e. fear, has kept me from “preaching in the synagogues.”

I rededicated my life to Jesus Christ this week. It’s not the first time I have done this in my Christian walk. But this time, it wasn’t because I was backslidden or felt guilty about something. This time it was because I knew that I needed a new level of boldness in me. It was because I know how much I love Jesus and I need a new level of strength to express that love to others. And I know that it might make some people uncomfortable. I realize that it could change people’s opinion of me. But I know that God will use this boldness for his glory and those that he is using me to reach will hear what he has for them.

This revelation was for me, but if you find yourself in a similar place, then it’s also for you. Let’s stop cowering behind the pride of what people may think of us and start shouting God’s love from every rooftop we can find!

Rachel

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Standing Strong

This is for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Those who know where their Bible is currently located. Those who strive to have consistent fellowship with the Holy Spirit. Those who make every effort to be in the house of God, to learn, to grow, to serve. This is your time.

The world is in chaos. People have literally locked themselves in their homes to shield against an unseen adversary. Fear has unleashed itself in a new way, blasting its insidious ideology from every screen and speaker in your home. Everyday people are getting into fights in toilet paper aisles across the United States. People are hoarding and stockpiling supplies in preparation for some sort of apocalypse. 

And as a child of God, it’s difficult to be in this world where people are panicking at every turn and not get swept up in the storm of fear raining down on the entire world. But now is the time, sons and daughters of the creator of the universe. Now is the time to dig deep into your faith and walk in confidence and without fear. Now is the time to boldly proclaim your faith in a new way. Now is the time to be the light in the darkness and the shelter in the storm. People are looking for the light and the truth. They are seeking peace and we have it – and it is our duty to share the wealth of Christ’s love and sacrifice.

Church buildings may be closed right now, but those are just buildings and the church – I’m talking about you – is stronger than ever. And we live in this amazing time of life where you can reach millions of people all over the world from your living room. You don’t even have to shower or get dressed. And, church, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s time.

It’s time for you to rise up. Post that scripture on social media. Engage in conversations over e-mail or text or phone calls about their faith walk. Check in with those you love. Make sure that if something were to take them out of this world, that they know where they’re going to wake up. Make sure that they know while they’re on this earth that there is peace and joy and power available to them that will get them through all circumstances. Make sure they know that if you suddenly disappear along with thousands of other people, it’s because the rapture has come and they better open up that Bible you gave them before it’s too late.

This isn’t the time for you to hide. Don’t keep quiet. Don’t worry about stepping on peoples toes or being politically correct. It is time for you to stand up and boldly proclaim the truth which is that Jesus is the ONLY way to spend eternity in Heaven and it is only possible because of his death on the cross. 

Stand up, friends! Shout his love and his peace from the rooftops!

We are a Crooked Generation

Crooked Generation

I am a Millennial. Which means I am lazy, live in my parents’ basement, can’t pay my own bills, have a sense of entitlement, embrace all things immoral, and am addicted to technology. Did I miss anything? I’m sure I did. It depends on who you ask, of course.

The point is, we are a corrupt generation, right? I mean look at all the terrible things that are happening in the world. So, it’s no wonder that a great man of God said, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”  You are probably familiar with this man of God – he is one of the most famous. His given name is Peter and he was quoted saying this in approximately 33 A.D. on the day of Pentecost.

Every generation seems to think the one following them is the worst. Socrates is quoted as saying, “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.” That was in approximately 450 A.D.

Throughout history, you can find countless accounts of someone hating on the younger generation. So, fear not Millennials, the generation after us is destined to be far worse. But, as I read Peter’s words in Acts 2:40, I had to wonder, are we really a more corrupt world today than in the time of Peter? Is there anything happening today that didn’t happen two-thousand years ago? I doubt it. The Bible even says in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.”

And yet, I hear it all the time. People grumbling about the state of society these days. I find myself joining the party. In fact, just the other day I was complaining about an air freshener commercial that lauded how wonderful it would be to have “a man for every room.” I mean, to think that there is a wide audience out there of women that would find that appealing made me a little nauseous. And yet, only in the last few hundred years (and even then only in primarily Western societies) has it become inappropriate or illegal to practice polygamy. Is there really any difference?

But after spending some time studying and meditating, I did find something that I believe to be a significant difference. It’s a difficult difference to pinpoint because it’s not something that is as easily definable in societies throughout history, but I believe society today has a large abundance of spiritual apathy. Perhaps, so that I’m not speaking of things I don’t understand, I should limit that to say American society seems to be spiritually apathetic.

And before anyone gets all high and mighty, this label is just as much for the average Christian as it is for anyone else. Because going to church doesn’t make you spiritual. Just do a search on spiritual apathy and you will find countless results for sermons, articles, blog posts, etc. discussing the apathetic church. But I’m not here to pass judgement or throw guilt, I’m here to ask why.

Why have we pushed our spiritual selves down so deeply that we have forgotten they exist? We have neglected them to the point where they no longer have the strength to rise up in us and make themselves known.

If a person neglected their physical body, others would be concerned. If they stopped eating, exercising, maintaining personal hygiene, society as a whole would notice. We’d label it even: anorexic, depressed. Loved ones would most likely try to intervene. They would talk to them, maybe send them to therapy or rehab. A mother might go out of her way to make her child’s favorite food every day for a week to encourage him to eat. We wouldn’t just let them wither away and die.

Spirit Mind Body

But that’s what we’re doing to our spiritual bodies. We’re letting them die. Or we’re giving them just enough substance to eek out an existence on life support. We can’t see our spiritual selves, but as a Christian we have to realize that our spirit is so much more important than our physical bodies. And yet, don’t we spend hours every week grocery shopping, preparing meals, and working out? Is there ever a single day that goes by that you don’t do something to help restore your physical body?

Try focusing just a fraction of that attention on your spirit. Let your mind connect with your spirit. And if you see a friend, a family member, a co-worker letting their spirit die, try gently encouraging them to nourish their own spirit. After all, it is our spirit that will live on eternally. It is our spirit that connects with our Savior. It is our spirit that deserves our attention.

Rachel

Does Ezra Condemn my Marriage?

Ezra

In the book of Ezra, chapters 9 and 10 are extremely controversial. Ezra is grieved because many of the Jewish people have married the women of the area – “foreign” women. These women are outside of their race, their culture, and their faith. And Ezra makes a bold move in requiring these men to leave their wives or otherwise be exiled from the community.

When I first read this I was a little horrified. I, personally, am in an intercultural, interracial marriage. According to Ezra, is my marriage blasphemous? Should my husband leave me and take up with a Nigerian woman? Does God say that we shouldn’t be married? And then I remembered Moses.

Most people who have heard of the Bible have heard of Moses. He’s famous both in religious and secular circles. And Moses, an undeniably great man of God, had a “foreign” wife. When Moses fled from Egypt to Midian he took Zipporah, daughter of Reuel (later referred to as Jethro), to be his wife (Exodus 3:21). Moses did receive criticism regarding his marriage, but it was from man – his siblings of all people – not from God. In fact, Miriam and Aaron were chastised and punished by God for speaking ill of Moses (Numbers 12). This clearly indicates that God is down with interracial, intercultural marriages. What he’s not as keen on are interfaith marriages.
Marriage
A word on interfaith marriages. I am in no way suggesting that if you married outside of your faith you should be filing for a divorce. In fact, if you’re a believer the Bible says explicitly NOT to do that. It’s not because God doesn’t want you to marry the person you love or that he thinks Christians are better than someone from another faith. He wants to protect you. Interfaith marriages aren’t God’s intention because the covenant and bond of marriage is so great. You want to share all of yourself with the person you love and that includes your faith. I know people who have grown up in interfaith households and despite sometimes attending services regularly, they often feel a bit lost in their spiritual walk.  Everything God asks of us is really for our own good even if it doesn’t always seem that way on the surface. Paul addresses marriage, including interfaith marriage, in detail in 1st and 2nd Corinthians.

But back to Ezra! So, Ezra is basically having a meltdown. It’s not just because of the interfaith marriages, but because these marriages were done with a blatant disregard for the instruction from God. And Ezra knew God would not look kindly on this. I can imagine Ezra felt a bit like my 12 year old self who spent weeks on a school project that our family dog destroyed in about three minutes. The Jewish people had worked so hard to get back into God’s favor and he saw it all slipping away.

The response may seem a bit drastic. Why not just bring these women into the faith? Which brings us back to obedience. Ezra didn’t know how God would respond and he didn’t want everything they had worked for destroyed – again.

The beauty of our Father in Heaven is that he can work with whatever we give him. And regardless of where we are in our marriages, he can deliver them. He can redeem them. And Ezra isn’t there to tell you that your marriage is blasphemous.

Rachel

+ Gold

The pilot said, “Remember folks, no pilot is perfect.”

We’ve all heard it. You’ve probably said it. Nobody’s perfect. And it’s true enough. Even the Bible tells us that all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God. So, naturally, in Christian circles we talk about how no Christian is perfect. We’re still human. We say that when we, or someone we know, messes up. Then we probably talk about grace and God’s forgiveness. And while that’s all well and good, are we maybe setting ourselves up for failure?

I once heard Pastor Chris Oyakhilome ask this in a message:

                  Picture yourself on an airplane. You’re all settled into your seat, luggage stored in the overhead compartment, seat belt buckled and reading over your e-mails before take-off. Then the pilot comes on the speaker and gives the usual flight time, flying conditions, etc. And then the pilot says, “I just want to remind all of you out there that no pilot is perfect. So should anything go wrong during our flight today, I want to thank you for your grace.” How many people do you think would get off the plane?  

That’s not to say anything bad is going to happen during your flight, but if the pilot himself was doubting, wouldn’t that strike some fear or anxiety in you as the passenger? If you stayed on the plane, wouldn’t you likely be on edge for the duration of the flight?  It’s true that no one is perfect and we all screw up occasionally, but as a passenger, don’t you hope that the pilot flying your plane is striving for perfection. To make all the right decisions for you to have a safe, smooth flight?  Of course!

Then why do we, as Christians, not follow the same principle?  Shouldn’t we make every attempt to be in the will of God at all times?  What if your accountant says, “Well,  I thought I’d go ahead and do your taxes without using your W-2s.”  I’m quite sure you would get a phone call from the IRS and find yourself a new accountant.  But don’t we do that every time we make a decision without consulting the Word of God or spending time in prayer?  (And I’m not saying you need to spend an hour in prayer over where you should have lunch – unless the Holy Spirit lays it on your heart.)

I’m not suggesting that I’m perfect or that you need to give yourself an ulcer trying to be perfect. This is really more food for thought. Something for you to chew on. Are you using your flesh as an excuse to ignore your spirit?

If you’re looking for wisdom and encouragement, look at the book of Job. Poor Job. That’s what I used to think when I thought of Job.  But not poor Job. Poor Job’s friends. Poor me. Oh, that all Christians could be as self-assured in our innocence as Job. We are innocent, you know. We have been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ and every time  the enemy comes against you trying to remind you of all your faults and all the things you have done wrong, meditate on this verse:

Job 23-10

It’s true. You are as pure as gold. You are perfect in Christ. And don’t forget that. Remind yourself of that everyday.

Rachel

Dive Into the Word in December

The virgin will conceive a child and will call him Immanuel (which means God with us.)    Isaiah 7: 14

I wanted to share something that scrolled across my Stalker Feed on Facebook recently. I can’t take credit for it and as there is no watermark or insignia I can’t even link you back to the creator’s page, but I think it’s a remarkable way to observe the advent and ready your heart to celebrate the coming of Christ Jesus into this world.

12308700_10153888140314835_394787443009174016_n

As today is December 1st, I read all of Isaiah, chapter 7 and while I copied down the suggested verse, an earlier verse resonated with me, so I’ll close this brief post with Isaiah’s poignant words:

Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm.
                                                                                         Isaiah 7:9b

Happy New Month!

Rachel

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We have Favor with All Authority

Have you ever read the book of Ezra? It’s not exactly a best seller of the books of the Bible. It doesn’t seem to get much air time. And the first time I read it, I was a bit dismayed.

It’s mostly historical and I didn’t find Ezra to be an exceptionally impressive character. (I have since discovered that his story really climaxes in Nehemiah.) I mean, yes, as people go, he was extremely devout both to God and his people. He was highly favored by God, which suggests that he was a pretty impressive person. But up against David, Elijah, Moses, Ruth and Esther, well, he didn’t stand out to me. But I knew it must have been included in the Bible for more than just historical significance, so I read it again. This time I not only chose a different translation, I also sat down prayerfully before I started reading. I asked the Father to lead me to read through the spirit instead of relying on my own mind. (Something I have learned to do every time I read the Word of God.)

I didn’t even make it to Ezra’s appearance. For those who aren’t familiar with the book, Ezra isn’t even mentioned in the first half of the book. It’s all about the children of Israel trusting in God and rebuilding the temple. There are lots of names and numbers and it’s so easy to be put off by the lists and lineage we often find in the Bible. But look past the names you might have trouble pronouncing and get to the guts. The guts that tell us loud and clear that if we put our faith in God, he will move.

When my husband was pursuing his Master’s degree, he applied for in-state tuition in his second year. We had most definitely relocated to North Carolina. It was our home. And in-state tuition would save us thousands of dollars! He had to submit a slew of paperwork and then go up against a board of individuals. They questioned, they doubted, they pretty much told him that he wasn’t going to be granted in-state tuition. Some loophole they were trying to employ. And as he’s telling me about his disappointment, a word I heard from Pastor Coyne at Harvest World Outreach Church in Greensboro, North Carolina came to me. He preached on having favor with authority – all authority.

As children of God, we are favored. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that way. Sometimes it might even seem like you have it harder than your friend or co-worker that isn’t saved. And, honestly, sometimes you will. Being “blessed and highly favored” doesn’t mean your life will be easy. Ask any woman who’s ever given birth and they’ll tell you that it wasn’t easy or comfortable, but it was still a blessing. And you, child of God, are favored.

Favor Over Authority

This teaching was on receiving favor from authority – even ungodly authority. That is, those in positions of authority over you that don’t worship your God. In Ezra we see that realized. Cyrus, king of Persia, decreed that the Jewish people were to rebuild the temple. And then, and I love this, “…everyone whose heart God had moved prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord…” (1:5). But the Jewish people have always had a hard time because they’re favored and nobody likes to see someone being favored over themselves. Their favor has garnered them many enemies throughout history. In this case, the local people sought to end their endeavor. And they succeeded – for a while.

We have to remember to continually persevere in our pursuit of Christ. Through all the terrain, all the seasons, and all the trials that come our way. King Darius favored the Jewish people and allowed them to continue rebuilding the temple. Not only that, but he supplied them with financial support and protection against any adversaries.

When my husband came home from his meeting with the board, we prayed. We declared that we had favor with all authority over us through the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ. And the next week, they overturned their decision and granted him in-state tuition.

Now, I’m not going to promise that if you pray then your boss is going to give you that promotion tomorrow. I am going to remind you to refuse to be afraid of any person that stands against you. If you know you are in the will of God, no man can stand against you. God has given us authority here on earth. Dominion.

Rachel

Photo Credit: David Spinks

+ Our Writers

Choose Your Friends Wisely

During my childhood, my “church friends” were my best friends. They were the ones where I spent the night and knew their parents. The ones whose childhood homes I still have memorized in my mind. It wasn’t always rosy, despite us all attending church, professing Christ, and being raised by Christian parents, but the good always outweighed the bad.

I remember my mother asking once why I was closer with my friends at church that I might only see once or twice a week than my friends from school. At the time I didn’t know the answer. Now I do. Now I understand.

I have been reading and meditating on the book of Job. It’s not a book I necessarily expected to enjoy. I anticipated that it would be long and depressing. And, in some ways, it is both of those things, but it inspired me greatly. And one thought kept coming into my mind, It’s so important to choose the right friends. Continue reading “Choose Your Friends Wisely”

+ Dying to Self

Dying to Self

I like myself. Most people probably like themselves. And I’ve spent many years developing myself to be the me I want to be (in theory). And yet, Christ states very clearly, “If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Deny yourself. Well, I don’t know about you, but I have trouble denying myself another cookie, so what exactly is Jesus asking me to deny? So, naturally, when I started to hear messages on this concept, dying to self, I bucked against it so hard.

I was raised most of my life with teachers, mentors, media pushing the idea of being unique. Individualism is a mantra often heard in America. Be yourself. In America you can be anything you set your mind to be – in theory and, in some cases, in actuality. You be you. You do you. No matter what. So, after twenty-plus years of being told that being original is how to be happy in life, that’s what I believed. Continue reading “Dying to Self”

+ Your Praise Isn’t Just For You

Your Praise Isn’t Just For You

It feels good to praise God. Just thinking about it makes me feel a joy and a fullness inside of me. When I praise God – I mean really praise him – I praise him all out. It’s a sing with my whole voice, lift up my whole hands, shout, jump, weep, laugh kind of praise. And I love it. I love that I get the opportunity to praise him openly and without shame.

If praising God doesn’t light a fire in you to serve him, give to him, spend time to him, read his word, and commit yourself to him, then you’re missing out. And I can’t encourage you enough to dive into why praising God doesn’t leave you overflowing with love – because when it does, you’ll want to praise him all day long. You’ll turn into a modern day David who, although he was the king of an entire nation, danced like a fool in his praise for his heavenly Father.

I recently heard a message about two other awesome praisers in the Bible – Paul and Silas. In Acts 16, Luke writes about Paul and Silas being thrown into prison. For those who may not be familiar with the story, the two men were in Philippi, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. For days, as they traveled through town a demon-possessed woman followed them, shouting. Paul, tired of her antics, shouted, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” And the demonic spirit left her.  Continue reading “Your Praise Isn’t Just For You”

+ Prayer Begets Prayer

Prayer Begets Prayer

When my son was a baby, he was not a good sleeper. When he was very small he would sleep during the night, but his naps were short and irregular. As he got a bit older, his sleep was disjointed at all hours. I was given lots of well-meaning advice and I’m sure all of the advice is useful for some babies, but none of it worked for mine. Most of the advice was along the lines of keeping him active, but that NEVER worked. I now have two children, three and five, and if they’re tired they get wound up like they’re having a sugar rush and then I have to force them to crash and it’s ugly. My older sister, however, gave me one piece of advice that has turned out to be very true – Sleep begets sleep.

Basically, my sister’s ideology was if a child doesn’t get enough sleep, the sleep they get is often short and fitful. And it has turned out to be true of my children. If they don’t get their nap, they don’t sleep as well that night. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s not just children. As an adult, if you are accustomed to eight hours of sleep and only get six, you will feel the loss of those two hours, but if you decide you’re going to make up for it the next night, you will only find yourself awake much earlier than you planned.

We can apply it to other areas of our life as well. The more you eat, the more you want to eat. Your stomach will expand and you will be able to eat more food at one sitting. The reverse is also true, the less you eat, the less you want to eat. The more you run, the more you want to run and also, the less you run, the less you want to run. Continue reading “Prayer Begets Prayer”