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The Conversation Begins: Worship

Psalm 34-3Worship. Praise. Adoration. Acknowledging the greatness of God and declaring our love for Him. This is what He created us to do! What’s more, doing so reminds us of our place and helps us to keep everything else in its place. Only God is worthy to be over all—always! Everyone else, everything else, must be of less importance than Him. Worship helps us to remember this.

But as a form of prayer, worship hasn’t always come easy for me. Sitting down with God to tell Him how amazing He is often feels like a contrived activity. I can make a list of words that describe God, believe with all my heart that these words belong to Him, and present the list as a prayer, but somehow, for me, this always seems to lack something. God deserves so much more!

Of course, no word in the human language will ever be enough for God, so perhaps I’m experiencing the limitations of language and becoming frustrated with them. But David didn’t seem to have this problem. His worship psalms have inspired countless numbers of lovers of God.

So have many modern hymns and praise songs. I was standing next to a new acquaintance at an event that included a time of worship recently. She leaned over and whispered, “I just love singing! These songs are prayers to God.” She was so right.

This is probably why when my words feel inadequate, I turn to the Psalms or turn on my favorite worship music. I hear those words, take them in, voice them myself, and add prayers of my own to them as I sing. I have a few books of written prayers that help me in the same way. The original words may not be my own, but when I consider the words carefully, then express the thoughts to God in my own way, sincerely from my heart, I can’t help but worship God. Music and written prayers are helpful tools when we allow them to prompt prayers of our own.

I’m coming to realize, however, that worship can go even deeper than that. This morning, I read Isaiah 64:8, “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” This analogy is perfect for what I’ve been coming to understand. The clay exists for the potter’s use. It has no say in what the potter does with it. The potter takes it as it is and molds it into something beautiful. Then its beauty reveals the potter’s skill.

When we strive to live every moment of our lives in submission to God, making ourselves totally available for His purposes, then all of life becomes a form of worship. Our lives begin to reveal the majesty and worthiness of God. His work in us shows through our lives, effectively demonstrating His ability, His nature, and His character for the world we encounter to see. Under His authority, everything we do becomes a genuine act of worship.

Living this way isn’t easy; we want to live our way. But our God deserves no less than our belief that His purpose for us is better than anything we can imagine for ourselves. When we truly want to worship, we place our lives in His capable hands.

Father, You deserve all worship, all glory, all adoration and praise. Please help us to surrender our lives to You daily, knowing that the result will be better than anything we ever could think up on our own. You are worthy of our trust. Your decisions are the best. You love us more than we love ourselves. Make us over in Your image for the glory of Your name. Please use us as You will. Amen.

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We Need Him; O We Need Him

I woke up with a song in my head today. It’s one I haven’t heard in years, so I have no idea where it came from just out of the blue like this. Well, I do have some idea, and I’m thankful. It’s been playing over and over again all day, like a comforting lullaby in the midst of a tumultuous week. God knew I needed this—something I didn’t even know I needed myself. He is so good to provide.

The song? I Need Thee Every Hour. Raise your hand if you know it! If you don’t, click here to listen on YouTube. Here are the words (written by Annie S. Hawks in 1872):

Anytime Anything AnywhereI need Thee ev’ry hour,
Most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine
Can peace afford.

I need Thee ev’ry hour;
Stay Thou Nearby.
Temptations lose their pow’r
When Thou art nigh.

I need Thee ev’ry hour,
In joy or pain;
Come quickly and abide,
Or life is vain.

I need Thee ev’ry hour,
Most Holy One.
O make me Thine indeed,
Thou blessed Son!

I need Thee;
O I need Thee!
Ev’ry hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, my Savior;
I come to Thee!

It occurs to me that this song answers the next two prayer questions: When can we pray? and Why do we pray?

When? Anytime. Any hour. Every hour. I hope you’re beginning to detect a theme as this series continues. Who can pray? Anyone. Where can we pray? Anywhere. What can we pray about? (I haven’t answered that one yet, but I know you can predict my answer—anything!) Our amazing God is available 24/7 to hear any of our voices talking to Him about anything, anywhere. He loves us that much!

And, not only is He willing, but He’s able to accomplish His Will. That tumultuous week I mentioned earlier? Yesterday I realized that though I’m willing to do a lot, I am not able. I have limits. So frustrating! I wish I could do all I want to do, but I must pick and choose and learn to prioritize carefully. My resources of strength and time, among others, are finite. God’s resources, however, are not. He wants to be available to talk with us anytime we want to talk with Him, and so He is available to talk with us anytime we want to talk with Him. We pray to an infinitely capable God.

The Conversation BeginsWhy do we pray? Because we need Him. We are utterly dependent on Him for every little thing. This reminds me of hearing my children stop what they were doing when they were little to look around or yell to get a response—even if I was sitting right there, just to reassure themselves that I was still hanging around. They needed me; they wanted to know that I was close. And I made sure I was—or that someone else was in my place when necessary—because I love them so much.

Isn’t it good to know God loves us and He’s good?! Being dependent, we’d be miserable if He weren’t. He is, though, and so we can talk to Him to find reassurance that He is there, when we need to enjoy His peace, when we’re fighting temptation, when we’re enjoying something and want to share the experience with Him, when we’re hurting and need wisdom, comfort, or strength, when we need to remember who we are or Whose we are—or Who He Is, and when we want His blessing on our life.

Huh? It’s beginning to look like the why is the when. Like I told you last week, the answers to these questions tend to get all tangled up. That’s okay, so long as we’re grasping the truth about prayer. Because God loves us, any of us can talk with Him about anything, anytime, anywhere. We can do so with confidence that He will respond in the perfect way at just the right time to bring glory to His name and good to us.

Better yet, as we grow to understand this in ever-deepening ways, our reasons for praying will grow, too. We’ll pray not only because we need Him but also because we love Him, we truly enjoy knowing He’s around, and we want to touch Him the only way we can—through prayer.

Father, thank You for touching me with a song today. Please touch my friends who are reading this as well. Your love and Your provision amaze me on days like today. Help me to pay more attention more often; I believe You do something to amaze me every day! Thank You for being my Father, my friend, my confidant, my counselor, my savior, my Lord, my teacher, my king. Thank You for hearing when I pray. Amen.

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Unbalanced, Resting, and Free

Words Aptly Spoken“One of the favorite words in the Rule is ‘run.’ St. Benedict tells me to run to Christ. If I stop for a moment and consider what is being asked of me here, and what is involved in the act of running, I think of how when I run I place first one foot and then the other on the ground, that I let go of my balance for a second and then immediately recover it again. It is risky, this matter of running. By daring to lose my balance I keep it.” –Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction

I came across this quote this morning in the daily devotional I’ve been reading this year, A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People, and it really made me think—especially when I put on my running shoes and took off for five and a half miles shortly after. I put the quote to the test, confirmed it was true, and made a few discoveries of my own to share with you.

When we run, we launch ourselves into the air with one foot then catch ourselves with the other. We don’t really think about this; we just do it. (No Nike reference intended.) But the launching is risky. It’s like singing a Capella for a moment, hoping that when the accompaniment starts again, we won’t have slipped off key for our audience to hear. If we don’t hold our feet just so while in the air, we’ll fall when gravity pulls us back to earth.

This means walking is safer. When we walk, one foot or the other is always in contact with the ground. (This is part of the definition of walk.) The motion is the same; we’re still pushing up with one foot while supporting ourselves with the other. But we never actually leave the ground.

So we have a choice to make. Walking is safer, but when we run, we enjoy a moment of freedom from the earth—we soar! And it’s in this moment of soaring that we rest!

That’s right. We rest. We rest while we run but never when we walk.

Most fascinating of all: those who’ve learned to run the fastest, rest the most. Have you ever watched an Olympic runner sprint? Their strides are longer than their heights. Those runners get air!

10-29-14 PostMe. My stride needs work—lots of little jumps. I’ve read that if I boldly allow myself to enjoy a longer stride, I’ll find myself running faster with less effort. That change will take courage because it will involve greater risk. My stride won’t lengthen until I trust myself more, until I stop believing that if I stay in the air too long I will fall.

This trust is what running through life with God is all about. God offers us freedom and rest, but we have to be willing to jump, to work on our stride. This will leave us feeling unbalanced at times, but it sets us free. It lets us rest. No worries about the future; it’s in God’s hands. No struggles to be met in our own strength, with only our own resources. Just confidence in the One Who’s leading us where He wants us to go, where, ultimately, He knows, we most want to be. This running is risky, but God won’t let us fall. He’s teaching us to trust Him, so we can run with Him for all eternity.

Father, please help us to run with confidence and strength. Set us free to enjoy life Your way. Enable us to rest in You. Amen.

Related Bible words: Hebrews 12:1, Isaiah 40:31, Proverbs 3:5-6Proverbs 3:26

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Praying for Those Held in Addiction’s Chains

The song Set Me Free by Casting Crowns played on my MP3 player the other day and prompted a Parachute Prayer. If you aren’t familiar with this song, the melody is haunting, making the message even more powerful. It’s the story of a demon-possessed man healed by Jesus (Luke 8:26-39). As you read the first verse and chorus, consider how this man would have felt:

It hasn’t always been this way
I remember brighter days
Before the dark ones came
Stole my mind
Wrapped my soul in chains

Parachute PrayerNow I live among the dead
Fighting voices in my head
Hoping someone hears me crying in the night
And carries me away

Set me free of the chains holding me
Is anybody out there hearing me?
Set me free

We don’t hear a lot about demon possession in our society today, but there is a group of people living in chains, sometimes living on the streets instead of home with their families. When they are in their right mind, they long for the former, brighter days. But then they give in to what has stolen their minds, wrapped their souls in chains, and left them fighting voices in their heads. These are the people who’ve become enslaved to their addictions, who will give up everything of value in their lives for more, just a little more, the more which is never enough.

This week, when we see chains of any kind (holding fences closed, keeping bicycles safe, blocking off driveways, worn as an fashion-statement accessory), let’s ask God to set people free from their addictions. Jesus set the demon-possessed man free and sent him home (verse 39). He can do the same for those held tightly in chains today.

Father, the chains of addiction are powerful, but You are stronger. This we know! Please set people free today. Amen.

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Lord, Please Steal Our Show

Lyrical Composition“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”Proverbs 19:21

TobyMac’s song, Steal My Show, wasn’t one of my favorites until I listened closely to the lyrics while driving in my car one day. It’s a beautiful prayer of surrender, essentially saying, “Lord, I plan to do this show, but if You have other plans, please feel free to take over. I will step out of Your way.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the song, you can listen to it and read the lyrics here:

What I really love about the song is that the singer eventually comes to the conclusion that he’s not only willing to let God take over but that he and his audience need God to do just that. The prayer of surrender becomes an invitation and a plea.

This is life! Though few perform on stage in front of large crowds for a living, we all make plans every day. God doesn’t give us a daily agenda to follow, so we do our best to do what we believe He wants us to do.

Even as we do this, however, we live in submission to Him. We make our plans using pencils, so that we can quickly erase. We live in anticipation, ready for God to intervene, redirect, take over, or even make an appearance—wouldn’t that be something! Someday it will be.

We make our plans, but the Lord’s purpose prevails. I find that incredibly comforting!

Lord, I’m making plans, but I realize my life is Your show. Do whatever You will to assure Your purpose prevails. I love You—and I want others to come to love You, too! Please do whatever You please to build Your kingdom and glorify Your name. Amen.

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Lamentations 3:22-23 on My Mind

NewOMM“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Lamentations 3:22-23

I got to go on my first flower hunt of the season yesterday afternoon. My husband and I went walking on our community’s workout trail. This trail stretches ten miles across the city, allowing people to walk, run, ride bikes, skateboard, and roller blade. Every city needs a trail like this! It’s one of our favorite places here so far.

Mike and I did not walk ten miles yesterday, but we enjoyed making use of part of the trail not far from our house. We hadn’t gone far when I saw the first group of flowers I wanted to photograph. Crossing the trail carefully to be certain I wouldn’t get hit by a bike, I slipped under the guard rail, knelt down, and started taking pictures. I thought Mike was simply waiting nearby. When I got up, however, he was laughing. In fact, it took him a few moments to compose himself enough to tell me why.

DSC01173eIt seems while I totally engrossed in taking the perfect picture, a lady on roller blades being pulled by a rather large dog on a leash started to pass by. But the dog found me interesting and turned to investigate, pulling the lady behind him straight toward the fence. Mike had to get between me and the dog and wave the animal back onto the trail in order to save the very grateful lady from a collision with the fence and me from being pushed down the hill.

Of course, I just have to take my husband’s word for it that all this craziness actually took place. All I saw were my flowers, then a dog in the distance, pulling a lady on roller blades on up the trail. But Mike was laughing, so I’m sure the story is true. My husband was faithful. He compassionately kept the helpless lady from injury and me from being consumed.

I am so thankful!

I’m also thankful that our faithful God loves each of us even more than Mike loves me. He may, for reasons we may not yet be able to understand, allow life to gnaw on us a bit or maybe even bite straight into our hearts. This may really confuse us, but, even so, we can know that God will never let us be consumed. He always sees what’s happening and handles it with compassion and mercy–even, in fact, especially when we do not understand. He’s waiting each morning to greet us with the wisdom and strength we’ll need for the upcoming day. He loves us and He’s faithful. No matter what comes, we can count on Him each day.

As always, I invite you to meditate on these verses with me today. Try to memorize them this week. As I’ve been considering them today, I find the hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, playing in my head, and I realize it uses phrases from this passage. If you’re familiar with the song, use it for further reflection on Lamentations 3:22-23. If it’s new to you, click here to read the verses and hear the melody.

Father, thank You for Your love, Your protection, Your compassion, and Your faithful presence always. We need You every morning and all through each day. As we cling to Your faithfulness, please make us more like You. In Jesus’ name, we pray.

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Counting Blessings

“I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’” –Psalm 16:2

“When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings–name them one by one–
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

These words from the sweet, singsong hymn, “Count Your Blessings,” are still true today. When we’re feeling jumbled, tumbled, and tossed about, mixed-up and turned upside-down, remembering our blessings can help to calm our souls and turn us right side-up. This is true because our blessings are gifts from God. Remembering them reminds us that He cares, that He’s still active in our lives, that we can trust Him to provide all we need–and often so much more!

Just as a little child in a crowded mall will take his mother’s hand for security in the midst of many knees, we can count our blessings for assurance that God is still there. If things are so dark that we can’t see any good, we can call on God for help in that area, too. He is our Lord. Apart from Him, we have no good thing. With Him, though, we have everything.

Thank You, Father, for comfort in the midst of strife. I’ll look for the blessings and know they come from You. Amen.

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When You Struggle to Find the Right Words

I don’t know how it is for you, but of all the elements of prayer, I struggle most with worship and praise. It’s not that I don’t feel worship and praise or believe that God deserves all worship and praise. All glory and honor and praise are His! I just sometimes struggle to find the words.

DSC01019eThat seems like kind of a strange comment for a writer to make.

Yet our almighty, all-knowing, ever-present God Who created the whole universe, Who exists in a realm we can only imagine for now, seems so far beyond any words I might be able to arrange as a loving offering to Him.

Thankfully, He doesn’t expect me to live up to my personal perception of what such an awesome God should expect. He gracefully accepts whatever I have to offer when I choose to offer Him my best.

Yet sometimes I still feel stumped. Prayer requests—I’ve got those. Confession—God’s Spirit lets me know what we need to discuss. Intercession—I’m aware of the needs of my friends and family, world, church, and community. Thanksgiving—This one is often mistaken for praise because it’s just so easy to slide from telling God how amazing He is into thanking Him for all He’s done. Thanksgiving is simply counting blessings and giving God due credit for each.

These elements of prayer (requests, confession, intercession, and thanksgiving) are essentially a matter of presenting the facts of each to God, anticipating His response when we have asked for one. Praise and worship, however, requires contemplation, creativity, even a touch of poetry. Praise and worship is a gift! God deserves to hear us express our deep love.

I wonder if David or Solomon or Asaph or any of the other psalmists ever struggled with this. Wouldn’t it be interesting to read some of their first psalm attempts? I wonder if they tried and tossed out some lines from first drafts, playing with the words until they sounded just right. I suspect they probably did!

We may not be able to read those first drafts, but God has given us a collection of their completed projects in the book of Psalms. When we struggle for words of our own, we can read these, pray along with them, and let them prompt words from us. Here’s an example, using the first four verses of Psalm 8 (The words in brackets are mine.):

“Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
[People all over the world can see your glory, Lord, just by looking up into the sky!]

Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
[Your name alone is so powerful that even the most vulnerable find strength and courage when they praise You.]

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
[I can’t even begin to imagine how big You are, Lord! You’ve held planets in Your hands.]

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?”
[And yet You do care! You see each person You’ve created. You even know us intimately.]

DSC01029eWhen we pray this way, we’re agreeing with the psalmist’s words about God, offering extra praises as we think of them. We clarify the psalmist’s thoughts with our own words, cementing the understanding of our amazing God in our minds.

Since psalms are actually hymns or songs, we can also turn to the words in our hymnals for praise and worship words to agree with and expound upon, using the same technique:

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh what a foretaste of glory divine.” 
Blessed Assurance
[Jesus, Your Presence in my life gives me a taste of Heaven. I’m looking forward to living there with You someday!]

If you don’t own a hymnal of your own, you can Google the words to your favorite hymns and pray from your computer. Better yet, ask your pastor if there happen to be any retired hymnals hanging around in forgotten places at your church. As a pastor’s wife I know first-hand that most churches have some hiding somewhere where they aren’t doing anybody any good. Now that many churches have switched from traditional hymnals to overhead projectors there are even more! Your pastor may let you borrow one or have one to keep. (If your pastor lets you keep it, put a little extra in Sunday’s offering plate.)

[Dear churches that have no-longer-in-use hymnals lying around collecting dust in storage closets, please consider clearing out the clutter by giving them away to members of your congregation for personal worship and praise.]

I have one last praise and worship idea to share with you. This also comes from the Psalms. David wrote many of his psalms while sitting outside watching sheep. We may not have any sheep to watch, but perhaps we have children or pets we take outside from time to time. Or maybe we just like walking or running or sitting in the park and watching or flower hunting. If so, noticing the created world around us will fill our minds with words of worship and praise. If bowing your head and closing your eyes leaves you sitting in the dark with nothing to say, open your eyes and make note of all the wondrous sights around you that reveal the greatness of our amazing God.

Next thing you know, you’ll be writing psalms of your own. And God will be delighted to receive your worship and praise.

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John 21:25 on My Mind

NewOMM“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” –John 21:25

We sang a hymn in church yesterday morning called The Love of God. The imagery in this hymn is incredible! I especially appreciate the third verse:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,

And were the skies of parchment made,

Were ev’ry stalk on earth a quill,

And ev’ry man a scribe by trade,

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry;

Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

Tho’ stretched from sky to sky.

Can you picture it?

We can see the idea in action today—not with parchment or ink, but right here on-line. Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve found so many other Christian blogs written by people who just love to proclaim the works of God. Add Google+, Twitter, and Facebook to the mix, and you’ll find a steady stream of praises 24/7. This is true!

I’m not recommending that you spend all your time on-line. Quite the contrary, in fact. I just think it’s amazing that so many people are taking the time during the day to drop everything for just a moment, post a good word about our great God, then go back to their routine, so that, all together, the praises just keep flowing.

John wrote what he could, his messages contained in five of the Bible’s books. In today’s verse, he implies that he couldn’t write everything he wanted to—wouldn’t have been able to if he tried. Yet he wrote what he felt was most essential in order to introduce us to the Jesus he knew—his Savior, his friend—so Jesus could be ours, too.

Since then, evidently, God continues to compel His people to tell others all about all the things He has done, things He continues to do—because He loves us so and longs to draw all who will come into His eternal kingdom.

This week, I invite you to memorize John 21:25 with me. As you do, watch for opportunities to proclaim the good things God is doing in your life. Let’s not only attempt to drain the ocean and cover the sky, fill books and take over cyberspace, but also to fill the hearts and minds of the people God brings into our lives—Then they can joyfully help us continue the work on this on-going task for the glory of God’s name.

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Praying for Families Apart for the Holidays

Once upon a time, when my husband was deployed over Christmas, I remember being reduced to a puddle of tears right in the middle of the baking goods aisle at the grocery story by Karen Carpenter’s beloved song, Merry Christmas, Darling, playing throughout the store.

You remember the one. Merry Christmas, Darling. We’re apart, that’s true . . .

Bah. Humbug.

I didn’t fare much better with Elvis’s, Blue Christmas, or the ever-popular, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, playing at the mall.

I remember thinking at the time that it was a bit cruel. I’d like to formally request that all merchants nationwide stick to playing cheerful Christmas music in public places this year. No offense meant to Karen, Elvis, or any other Christmas crooners.

Alas, I don’t have much faith in the power of one blog to change the playlists of shopping centers across the country. So I’d like to suggest a more positive twist:

When we hear these songs while Christmas shopping, let’s pray for military families who can’t be together for the holidays this year. Who knows? The lady one aisle over may be frantically trying to bury her tears in a bag of brown sugar. Ask God to cheer her heart, keep her husband safe, and happily reunite them soon.

Lord, it’s nice to be together at Christmas, but sometimes it just isn’t possible. Please encourage families who have to be apart. Remind them of their purpose. Assure them their sacrifice is not in vain. And help them to find creative and meaningful ways to celebrate together by heart, if not by locale. Comfort them, Lord, as only You can. Thank You, Jesus! Amen.