BOOK REVIEW: BEFORE AMEN (Max Lucado)

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I am a huge fan of Max Lucado.  In fact, one of the very first books I read when I became a Christian was “He Chose the Nails”.  As a parent, I would introduce my kids to Max Lucado through “Hermie & Friends”.  I was also very excited to see Max Lucado speak at my local Women of Faith event, several years back.

When Family Christian gave me the opportunity to read “Before Amen”, I jumped at the opportunity.  I admit it, I am biased.  I new I’d love it, because I have always found Max Lucado’s writing credible, honest, easy to read & understand, and poignant to season in my life I am reading it.  Now that I have finished the book, I totally understand why it was chosen Book of the Year.

I’m going to let you in on a secret, that I have hidden from my kids, I write in books.  Yes, the very thing I tell them not to do… I do it.  Endlessly.  Without shame.

My bible…

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My books….

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As I was reading through “Before Amen”, my pen was being put to serious use.  In fact, I am pretty sure if the book had been about 10 pages longer, I’d have run out of ink.

A new Christian may find themselves in that awkward moment, where they want to talk to God… they know they should pray.  However, they don’t know how.   How do I begin?  What do I say?  How do I end?  How long should it be?  And, truthfully, if you google prayer formats, you can find quite a few suggestions.  Start with this, follow with this, etc.  Yet they are still confusing to a new believer.   For example, the A.C.T.S.  format (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) … a new believer will have no clue what “supplication” means.  They find themselves needing a dictionary just to understand how to pray.

When the Council at Jerusalem met, one thing they concluded is that we shouldn’t make faith difficult for new believers.  (ACTS 15:19)

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New believers, they need a simple prayer.

Perhaps though, you are a seasoned believer.  You have been praying all your life, but you find yourself in a moment of crisis, disaster, and you can’t find the words.  Your heart, your soul, LONGS to pray… but the words escape you.  Pain & confusion fill your mind, and your sorrow falls with your tears onto your pillow.  Others have the words to encourage you, the scriptures you should cling to.  Yet, you are unable to speak them or read them.  The tears fall, a silent prayer, when words escape us.

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Seasoned believers, need a simple prayer.

That is what “Before Amen” helps us all, new and seasoned believers, to find.  That simple prayer, when we don’t know what to say, or how to say it.  A prayer that acknowledges our God as our father, who loves us.  A prayer that says “Daddy, I need you”.  A prayer that say, “They need you”.  A prayer that says “Thank you” even when we are in our moments of doubt, lack of understanding, and pain.  A prayer that calls on the authority of the Heavens, on our behalf.

It is here, in my car, I have my conversations with God.

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They don’t always start out with “Dear God” and don’t always end with “In Jesus Name”, but they are moments where I pour out my heart to God about things I can’t grapple with.  This isn’t my formal prayer time, but it is sacred time to me.  It’s an uninterrupted time to wrap my head around the things going on around me.  I know God is there with me, but surely He’d prefer me to be quiet more, and listen more.  This conversation, that may last 15 minutes or 1 hour, isn’t enough.  It isn’t a simple prayer.

It is here, in this corner, where I was broken… beyond words…. crying out to God.   Tears staining my cheek, fingers wrenched around my cardigan, words escaped me.  But, I needed God

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I needed a simple prayer.

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In moments like these, even words like those above elude us.  The good news is that in “Before Amen”, Max Lucado points us not only toward a simple prayer, that has an enormous amount of power, but teaches us the importance of each sentence.  It’s a prayer we can write down on a card to display in our bathrooms, tuck into our purse to access throughout the day, or to share with our friends and loved ones.  A simple prayer that acknowledges our Father, and calls on the authority of Jesus.

In the scriptures, Max Lucado points out, the only thing that the disciples actually asked for a tutorial on… is how to pray.  That is how important prayer is; not only did they want to know how, but that Jesus took the time to teach them.   He set the best example on prayer life.  How, when and where.

“Before Amen” introduces us to this simple prayer, and the chapters that follow expand on each sentence of the prayer.  Why is this portion important?  How do we do it?  How does it help us?  Others?  Everything pivoting on our personal relationship with our Father God, it is a pure and sincere prayer that isn’t congested with fancy words, platitudes, illustrations and ideas.

We get an opportunity to explore how God answers prayers, and how to work through those prayers that are seemingly unanswered.  All of our prayers are important and answered by Him, but in His timing; our prayers for healing, forgiveness, safety, understanding, peace… the joyous and the tear stained.

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Within the final chapters of “Before Amen”, we are left with a very special gift….  A STUDY GUIDE!   Whether for your own purposes, for use in a small group, with friends or even with your spouse; these pages contain practical application questions, scripture reading promptings and guidance to help you span the gap between prayer in theory & prayer in practice.

The study guide in “Before Amen”, is well written and can be explored in a few sittings or spread out over time; to allow you to really reflect on the questions & suggestions.  It also helps us to identify our strengths in prayer, directs us to Bible Prayer Heroes that we can relate to, and gives us suggestions on how to strengthen in other areas of prayer.

Some great quotes, from the book “Before Amen”:

“When we invite God into our world, he walks in.  He brings a host of gifts:  joy, patience, resilience.  Anxieties come, but they don’t stick.  Fears surface and then depart.  Regrets land on the windshield, but then comes the wiper of prayer.  The devil hands me stones of guilt, but I turn and give them to Christ.”   (Max Lucado, Before Amen)

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“Travel to the Wailing Wall if you want.  But prayers at your backyard fence is just as effective.  The One who hears your prayers is your Daddy.  You needn’t woo him with location.”   (Max Lucado, Before Amen)

“Prayer changes things because prayer appeals to the top power in the universe… It is the yes to God’s invitation to invoke his name.”  (Max Lucado, Before Amen)

We are all running the good race, together.  We may find ourselves in those last few yard praying… Daddy, you are good to me.  I know you can.  So please, help me.  Help them.  Thank you. In Jesus name, AMEN.  

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And then we fall into his arms, because He was running with us the whole time. 

If you are looking for a good book to pick up, to start 2015 out right, I highly recommend “Before Amen”Too many books give us a complicated how to, that seem bigger than we can handle.  “Before Amen”  keeps it simple, to the point; it offers tangible and realistic steps that will transform your prayer life, and in doing so will transform you & the world around you.

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Oh Captain, My Captain. Robin Williams.

This has been a rough evening, for me, upon learning the news of Robin William’s death.  In my youthful desires to be an actress, Robin Williams would hold a very strong position in pushing that dream forward.  He was a performer that I admired.  I thought he was incredibly talented, funny, quick witted.  His range of characters gave me hope that as an actress I didn’t have to be pigeon holed in as a comedic or dramatic performer.  I could be both, equally good … as the role would require me.  I loved how his genuine connection to his characters would come through the screen.  I was envious of the fact that he had little inhibitions, he didn’t care about being embarrassed by making a fool of himself.  I have watched some of his best comedy acts over his life, and I never laughed harder than when Robin Williams was laughing at his own jokes.

In college, one of the first things I was taught was that acting was “the art of lying”.  The idea behind that statement is that a good, a truly GOOD, actor would be able to cause you to suspend your beliefs.  Meaning, you would believe that people singing a song in the middle of a fight it totally normal… that you could be transported to ancient egypt…. or that Peter Pan could really fly.  You would watch the screen and not think of the actor who was playing the role, but truly see the character first. It was true and honest connection, authentic emotions and pure delivery.

Robin Williams was capable of just that.  You would not see Robin Williams on the screen…. you were watching Mork, Jack, Peter, Mrs. Doubtfire.. even Genie.  He, for a brief moment, was that new person.  And you believed it, totally.

Some of the most talented artists have been the most tormented.  We mourn their death because they had an ability to touch us in a different way than even a “good” artist.  These truly gifted people pay a price for all that they give to entertain others.    We can hold these people to high esteem, follow their careers and lives, and still never fully understand the storm that brews inside of them.

Great actors, usually embrace their roles with such heart and vigor because they allow them  to put on a mask.  I know how this feels, to put on that mask & escape into a role.  We can be anyone other than who we were born.  We can escape our unhappy, unfulfilled, damaged lives for a fraction of time.  That character can be anyone and anything, without limitation, that we could never be.  And, we can rest in the safety of knowing when we are done, no matter how hard the role was… we can put that script away, put that character to bed.

Then, there are those who can’t.  The actors that allow themselves to connect with a character to the point that it becomes part of you.  You can’t shake it.  This happened with Heath Ledger, in his role of The Joker in the Batman franchise.   In conversations and interviews, Heath admitted that the role was so disturbing that he had to seek professional counseling over it.  It was on the medications prescribed by his doctor, that Heath would overdose.  Another great talent, lost.

Not that long ago, we lost Phillip Seymour Hoffman to overdose.  Another great talent, lost.  Suffering from a life time of addiction, struggling to be sober.  Overcome and overwhelmed by the expectations put upon him.  He wouldn’t be the only actor to succumb to the pressure and struggle that the truly gifted artists are burdened with.  Leave us too long in our own reality and the world gets to us… deeply.

And now, we mourn the loss of Robin Williams…  and there is shock and sadness.  Heartbroken.  Surprise.   No one knew the man who had the greatest smile, purest laugh and immeasurable talent battled against depression.  Even those who knew his struggle with sobriety, would have been surprised that while he was making us cry with laughter… he was crying himself to sleep.

Despite my greatest desires to one day make it to Hollywood or Broadway, God didn’t take me down that road.  I can’t help but thank God for saving me from myself, from a life that seems like it has everything to offer but leaves the truly greats empty and hollow.   Robin Williams leaves behind a family, who will not be able to understand how it came to this.  He leaves scores of fans and his own peers grieving and wounded.  But, there are also going to be those who get it.   Those greats who have already passed, too soon… too young; and those who are struggling right now in silence, alone.

What does that have to do with you and me?  Everything.    Because we encounter these great actors every day in our lives, on Sunday’s at church and in the grocery store.  The woman who seems to have it all together.  The lady who tells you that everything is “just fine” with a beautiful smile on her face.  The man who says that “recovery is going great”.  The husband and wife putting on a happily ever after display for the kids.  Or, even that person who looks you in the eyes and with out a tell tale sign otherwise says “the test results look good, the doctor is very optimistic”.

Every day we encounter people who are suffering in silence, putting on a good show for the benefit of others, and falling apart when no one is looking.

Some of the greatest actors in the world, have never graced a screen or stepped foot on a stage.  You walk among them, every day.

Pray for them.  Even though you don’t know them by name or what their exact problems are, God does.

Make yourself approachable.  In time, they may start to open up to you.  You can’t force it, but you can be open to it.

And, if the truth is that YOU are the one putting on the act….

You don’t have to play that role anymore.  Be honest with yourself, those who love you, and those who are in a position to help you.  Fight against allowing the despair to push you to a point of no return.

To a family I have never met, I give nothing but my love and prayers.  Robin Williams was and is one of my greatest inspirations, favorite performers to watch and talented beyond measure.  May he rest in peace, and may God be your comforter at this time.