Monday, December 30, 2013

Portraits of Prayer - Week Three

This past summer, I wrote a 7-week prayer guide entitled Portraits of Prayer. As I began investigating prayer ministry more deeply this past summer, I realized that over the years, God has already given me an abundance of insight on the subject of prayer. As I reread these insights from past blogs, I was struck at how the progression of insight fell right into place--as if it were a study guide of sorts. Taking those blogs with some additions and rewriting, I wrote Portraits of Prayer and I am happy to share it with you here over the next eight weeks. Wait, I said 7-week prayer guide didn't I? Why eight weeks then? Well, I thought it appropriate to take a short break during the week of Christmas so that we may focus on the coming of the Savior. Enjoy!

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Prayer – It Takes Two to Converse

Young Man praying
krivenko/Shutterstock.com

digitally altered in Photoshop
1 Thessalonians 5:17-18(NIV) tells us to “pray continually...for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus” and Ephesians 6:16 (NIV) instructs us to "pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests." God wants us to talk to him about everything. He wants us to share our desires, our frustrations and questions, our weaknesses and repentance directly with him—all of it, all the time. This is his will. It can be kind of intimidating to approach the Creator of the Universe, the Lord and King of all. But like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz, we do not approach him alone. He has given us the Holy Spirit to hold our hand, to encourage us and even to speak for us when we can't utter a word and it is with this Companion by our side that we converse with a Holy God with confidence and joy, sharing all that is on our hearts.

Prayer is how God reveals his desires and directives to us. It's how he communicates with us. Too often, over the last few years, I've found myself at a ministry meeting where the meeting was opened and closed in prayer and I wondered why. Were we in fact inviting God into our midst, seeking his will for his Church? Or were we praying (speaking a short monologue in God's direction) because prayer was the first item on the agenda, because it's a church meeting and it just seems like something we should do? Did we expect a response from God?

I'm asking myself if I, as I pray, expect God to answer. Am I listening for his voice in the conversation? Am I talking with God or speaking at him? And I admit that I am disappointed with my answers. But, here's the good news—God is still happy to speak with me and spend time with me. He isn't holding my inconsistency against me, but encouraging me to grow and build on the foundation of faith that is there. He has not taken his Spirit from me and, in fact, has been guiding me all along, even when I didn't stop to seek his guidance.

God is tenacious in his love for us always and is faithful to his promise to never leave us. He is our God and we are his people. That doesn’t change in God’s eyes during those moments when we neglect to include him—THE omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, Eternal God—in the conversation. If it's been a while since you've had a real conversation with God, I encourage you to do it right now. Do not fear, for you are not approaching God as the cowardly lion trembling as he makes his way to the throne room of the great and powerful Wizard of Oz, but as a child running home yelling, "Guess what Daddy, guess what!" God is waiting for you to start the conversation so that he can tell you how much he loves you.

To have God speak to the heart is a majestic experience, an experience that people may miss if they monopolize the conversation and never pause to hear God's responses.
 —Charles Stanley

Prayer is not monologue, but dialogue. Gods voice in response to mine is its most essential part.
—Andrew Murray

Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one's heart. It means rather to find the way to God and to speak with him, whether the heart is full or empty.
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Do you approach God in prayer as the cowardly lion or as a child running into his father’s arms? Are you talking with God or at God? What do you need to do to make your prayer time more of a two-way conversation? Take some time in prayer concentrating on listening to God’s part of the conversation.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Day Before the Night Before Christmas

We will be taking a break from our journey through "Portraits of Prayer" for a very special message...It's almost Christmas!!!!! Knowing how busy everyone is at this time of year, I was going to repost a Christmas poem I wrote many years ago but this morning, God woke me up with a musing that turned into today's blog. I hope you will take 5 minutes to enjoy the following.

It's the day before the night before Christmas!!! Are you ready? For many people, this is the day they set to have everything done...presents bought and wrapped, Christmas decorations up, Christmas dinner planned and food purchased, house cleaned up, Christmas outfits picked out and cleaned.... As I reflect on that first Christmas, I want to offer a few thoughts:

Breathe! As a woman who has gone through childbirth, I can tell you with almost certainty that in those long hours of labor, someone told Mary to breathe. Christmas is coming. We can't stop it or slow it's approach. And during the worst of the stress that often accompanies Christmas, like Mary, we need to breathe. Let go of the worries, the plans, the whatever it is that steals the joy and anticipation of Christmas. I know, you want Christmas to be perfect...all the gifts lined up and coordinated, every surface in your home sparkling from the warm glow of the Christmas lights, and family and friends sitting with their hot chocolate loving on each other. You want the "Hallmark commercial" Christmas and you feel like if you don't control every second, you'll end up with "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"! For your own sake...breathe! 

Seek Christ! The world was waiting for Christ to come. The Israelites had been promised a Savior and generations of God's people eagerly awaited his arrival and they missed it because they were looking for the wrong thing. They were looking for their King to be born in a palace. But it was the shepherds and later the wise men who sought him in unlikely places. No place was out of the realm of possibility, even a stable or poor man's home. This Christmas, don't look for Christ in all the glitter and glam of the holiday. While it is proper to celebrate the birth of Christ in grand fashion, look for Christ in your heart and in the hearts of those around you. Yes, Christ can be found even in the sinful heart of those who welcome him in! Seek and share Christ and the joy of the season cannot help but be evident and tangible and it won't matter if there are a few dirty dishes in the sink, or if there are fewer or no presents under the tree this year. The perfect Christmas scene, the one you won't find in a Hallmark commercial, is the one that depicts you and me seeking Christ this Christmas!

May God bless you with a very merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Portraits of Prayer - Week Two

This past summer, I wrote a 7-week prayer guide entitled Portraits of Prayer. As I began investigating prayer ministry more deeply this past summer, I realized that over the years, God has already given me an abundance of insight on the subject of prayer. As I reread these insights from past blogs, I was struck at how the progression of insight fell right into place--as if it were a study guide of sorts. Taking those blogs with some additions and rewriting, I wrote Portraits of Prayer and I am happy to share it with you here over the next eight weeks. Wait, I said 7-week prayer guide didn't I? Why eight weeks then? Well, I thought it appropriate to take a short break during the week of Christmas so that we may focus on the coming of the Savior. Enjoy!

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Young Man praying
krivenko/Shutterstock.com

digitally altered in Photoshop
Prayer Warrior or Prayer Wimp

-Excerpt from I Stand at the Door and Knock by Corrie ten Boom-
           I had been in the concentration camp a couple of weeks when I said to Betsie, my sister, "What should I do? I have a cold, I don't have a handkerchief."
      "Pray," she said, and I laughed. But she folded her hands and prayed, "Father, in Jesus' name, I pray to You, please will You give Corrie a handkerchief? She has a cold. Amen."
      Yes, I laughed again, but do you know what happened? I heard someone call my name. I went to the window where I saw a friend of mine, a fellow prisoner, who worked in the hospital.
      "Here," she said, "take this, a little gift for you."
      I opened the parcel and it was a handkerchief. "Why on earth are you giving me a handkerchief? I asked. "Did you know I had a cold?"
      "No, but I had found an old sheet, and I made a couple of handkerchiefs out if it, and then there was a voice in my heart which said: 'Take a handkerchief to Corrie ten Boom.'"
      Can you imagine what a handkerchief means to you at that moment? That handkerchief told me that there is a God in heaven who hears when one of His children is praying on a small planet, the earth, for something incredibly small. And that God in heaven tells one of His other children to give Corrie ten Boom a handkerchief.

-Excerpt from I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes by Glen Clark-
A story told by the Captain of a ship on which George Müller of Bristol was a passenger:  They had encountered a very dense fog. Because of it the captain had remained on the bridge continuously for twenty-four hours, when Mr. Müller came to him and said, “Captain, I have come to tell you that I must be in Quebec on Saturday afternoon.” When informed that it was impossible, he replied: “Very well. If this ship cannot take me, God will find some other way. I have never broken an engagement for fifty-seven years. Let us go down into the chartroom and pray.”
The captain continues the story thus: I looked at that man of God and thought to myself – What lunatic asylum could that man have come from. I never heard such a thing as this. “Mr. Müller,” I said, “do you know how dense this fog is?” “No,” he replied, “my eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God, who controls every circumstance of my life.” He knelt down and prayed one of those simple prayers, and when he had finished I was going to pray; but he put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to pray. “Firstly,” he said, “because you do not believe God will, and secondly, I believe God has, and there is no need whatever for you to pray about it.” I looked at him, and George Müller said, “Captain, I have known my Lord for fifty-seven years, and there has never been a single day that I have failed to get and audience with the King. Get up and open the door and you will find that the fog is gone.” I got up and the fog was indeed gone. George Müller was in Quebec Saturday afternoon for his engagement.”


 -My Confession-
I share these stories of prayer because I’ve been thinking a lot about my own prayer life. I read these stories and have no problem believing it happened just the way the stories tell. God hears our prayers, large and small, and as our loving Father, does what he does to comfort, protect, provide for and support us. I believe that whole-heartedly. I admire people like Betsie ten Boom and George Müller and desire and strive to have the intimacy with God that was so evident in their lives.

Unfortunately, I must admit that I am more like Corrie and the Captain when I look at prayer in my own life. I have experienced great miracles of healing of my pain and my past through God’s grace in faithful prayer. Of this I have no doubt. And yet for some reason, my prayers often lack the conviction shown by my heroes in these stories. Too often I pray in earnest but down deep I’m not really expecting or looking for God’s answer—when I say amen, I’m still expecting the fog to be there even when I’m hoping against the odds that it has dissipated. Or I don’t pray at all because I feel it is too insignificant or absurd to pray about—like a handkerchief in the middle of a Nazi concentration camp. I wonder why God would answer me. I wonder if I’m asking for the right thing – am I praying in His will? Often, I don’t know what to pray for, and worse yet, too often it doesn’t even occur to me to pray before I rush into life’s moments completely unprepared and vulnerable to worldly influences.
I know there is some kind of barrier of doubt or disbelief that hinders me from having the kind of confidence that Betsie and George had on their knees and I know that I’m not strong enough to remove that barrier, to destroy the wall that has built itself up between my Lord and me. However, just as I know that God took the brokenness of my life and created something beautiful out of it, I know that if I ask him to break that wall down for me, he will. So that is what I am asking right now and where my hope lies.

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.—1 John 5:14-15

Are you more like Bestie and George or Corrie and the Captian when you prayer? What kind of barriers stand between you and a more intimate relationship with God? How will you overcome those barriers?  Spend some time in prayer confessing your Corrie/Captain-like hesitations and ask the Lord to instill in you a Betsie/George-like expectation for answered prayer in your own personal prayer life.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Portraits of Prayer - Week One

This past summer, I wrote a 7-week prayer guide entitled Portraits of Prayer. As I began investigating prayer ministry more deeply this past summer, I realized that over the years, God has already given me an abundance of insight on the subject of prayer. As I reread these insights from past blogs, I was struck at how the progression of insight fell right into place--as if it were a study guide of sorts. Taking those blogs with some additions and rewriting, I wrote Portraits of Prayer and I am happy to share it with you here over the next eight weeks. Wait, I said 7-week prayer guide didn't I. Why eight weeks then? Well, I thought it appropriate to take a short break during the week of Christmas so that we may focus on the coming of the Savior. Enjoy!

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Faith Is Knowing God Will

There’d been a severe drought, and the members of a rural congregation were deeply concerned that their crops would be ruined. With the pastor’s encouragement, they decided to meet back at the church that afternoon to hold a special prayer service asking God to bring rain for their dying crops. Later that day after they had all gathered together, the minister stood up and announced in disappointment that they were cancelling the prayer service. When asked why, he told them because they didn’t believe it would bring the rain. “Why do you say that,” they asked. “Because not one of you brought an umbrella,” he replied.
 
This story paints a perfect picture of how many of us enter prayer. How often do we beg and plead with God, knowing he can, but unconvinced that he will provide, sustain, or whatever else we’ve asked for in prayer? Not long ago, I prayed about a desire of mine which is, for me, humanly impossible. I would have completely abandoned the idea altogether except I know that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1, NIV) We know that God can do the impossible—With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26, NIV) Granted, Jesus was speaking specifically about entering the kingdom of God and how it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then for a person who appears to be perfect and seems to have all the right stuff to earn a halo by his own merit. What I’m hoping for is so much smaller than that. If God can bridge the gap between our sinfulness and his holiness, then he wouldn’t have any problem at all making my heart’s desire a reality. I know he can. What I can't answer is — why would he? I have to turn back to Jesus' words for my answer: "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11, NIV)
Young Man praying
krivenko/Shutterstock.com

digitally altered in Photoshop

Many people would say to me at this point, “Well if it’s God’s will, it will happen. And if it isn’t, it’s better it doesn’t happen anyway.” Why do we say silly things like that? Usually, it’s to make others feel better if things don’t turn out the way they want. Let me tell you right now—It’s not going to make me feel better! That never makes anyone feel less disappointed or devastated depending on the circumstance.
 
Sometimes we pray for something and then sit there like a couch potato, sending up a reminder to God from time to time…“I’m still waiting!” And when we don’t see any movement toward what we want the outcome to be, we say our prayer wasn’t answered or that the answer was no. Seriously! Do we really think that? God is our Heavenly Father. He’s not going to sit by and not say or do anything when we come to him with our needs and desires. He’s going to scoop us up into his arms and talk with us, not like the department store Santa at Christmas time going over a wish list, but like a loving, doting father who is drawn to the care and nurture of his precious little ones. We just need to stop listening for what we want to hear and looking for what we want to see and actually pay attention to what he says and does to know how much he loves and cares for us.
 
One more thought about God’s answers—When I was a teenager, my mother took me shopping for school clothes. She’d tell me the total amount she was planning to spend and if I wanted something that cost more, then I had to pay for it myself. I could have what I wanted as long as I worked for it. I learned so many good lessons from that and it made our time together more fun because it took most of the usual teen/parent arguments out of the process. Maybe that’s what God does with us for some of things we pray about. Yes, we can have it, but we have to work for it and in the process, we learn some important lessons and get to spend valuable time with him.
 
So what about this secret desire I was praying about? I don’t know yet and won’t for a while. This is one of those long-term situations. What I do know is that God will answer and when I know and take hold of his answer, I will be happy. How do I know that? Because God told me so:  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV)
 
Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will. —Ben Stein

Prayer is asking for rain. Faith is carrying the umbrella. —Robert C. Savage

Four things let us ever keep in mind: God hears prayer, God heeds prayer, God answers prayer, and God delivers by prayer. —E. M. Bounds
 
When you pray, do you believe that God will answer your prayers? Jesus lived, died and rose for each one of us, even those who will ultimately reject him—What more does God have to do or say to convince you he loves you and wants good things for you? In Mark 9:24, we are given the perfect response to overcome our doubts—"Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!" (NRSV) Spend some time in prayer talking to God about your doubts and ask him to help you overcome them.

Monday, December 2, 2013

For Anyone Whose Missing Someone This Christmas

I’m going to be honest. It’s the beginning of December and there is a small sadness in my heart that I will soon be celebrating another Christmas without my son. There are lots of reasons why parents and children find themselves apart for the holidays. Sometimes it’s geographically or financially impossible to come together. I know a couple whose children are scattered all over the world. There are those who are in the military stationed too far away or those whose employment obligations make it impossible to travel. Sometimes it is an estrangement. I know two women whose children refuse to talk to them—celebrating the holiday together isn’t going to happen. And there are those like me whose children are celebrating the coming of the Savior in heaven. So I realize that what I say here has a much wider scope than my own personal situation. If we were able to examine each and every family unit, we could probably find someone’s empty chair at every feast table.

So how do we deal with this? The answer: Share love, seek joy, and put down, leave behind and forget worry and concern. (Check out my post What Makes a Moment Happy?)

  1. As I go into this day and through the season, I need to share the love of Christ with those around me. Giving away God’s love produces an abundance of joy and peace in and through us.
  2. Yes, it’s true that we find what we're looking for and if we're looking for that empty seat to be filled by someone who can’t or won’t, we are going to find emptiness. But if we look instead for the joy of the season, we will find that instead. That doesn’t mean the empty chair isn’t there. It means we are looking past it to find the joy of God and of the family and friends whom we are blessed to be with this holiday season.
  3. Lastly we need to put down, leave behind and forget worry and concern. That’s a very hard thing to do. I can’t keep holding onto something I’m putting down and walking away from. And my mother’s instinct wants to hold onto my son. If I put down my burden, my pain, my sadness, I’m going to want to take something up in my hands to hold. That’s just human nature. So am I going to pick it back up again or am I going to pick up the blessings of God found in Christ instead.

It would be so much easier to exist in my sadness. Who would blame me? But then, what wonders and joy I would miss out on. God has given me this precious new life in Christ and the way in which I can be thankful for and celebrate his great love and sacrifice is by living it, really living it! That doesn’t mean I won’t (and you won’t) have some sad moments. But if we keep in mind that this moment is about to pass and a new one is coming, than we can look forward with anticipation for the new blessing God is preparing for us in the moments to come in life.

If you are missing someone this Christmas—whatever the reason—my heart feels for you. You are not alone, even though you may feel like it. And there is joy to be seen and blessings to be shared if you look past your pain to God's grace waiting for you in family, friends, neighbors, the community church, and even in a stranger's smile or a blog. May God bless and keep you this Christmas Season. Amen.