post

Okay, Stones – Your Turn!

Dear Blog World,

I’ve missed you! I hope you’ve missed me, too. I also hope you’ll forgive my extended absence and welcome me back. I really do have a lot to say. In fact, I’ve been saying it in my journals all along, processing . . . learning . . . praying . . . absorbing. Now I’m ready to write out loud again.

Where have I been?

In April, we added three new children to our family. I still feel kind of like I’m not quite telling the truth when I say that I have seven children, but I do. God has grafted a total of four beautiful girls – biological sisters – into our family tree in the past year and a half in much the same way He grafts those who receive His Son as their Savior into His. (Someday I’ll have to write more about that.) But in case you didn’t know this, whenever you add a family member, whether by birth, marriage, adoption, or alien invasion, there are adjustments to make for all involved. These adjustments pretty much filled my brain with fuzz.

And then I got sick. One day I was fine. The next I woke up and was not. We’ve only recently gotten a partial diagnosis about what’s going on. The good news is it’s not life-threatening. Now we’re just waiting to see if what it is can be treated or if I’ll have to learn to live with it. I’m already doing the latter, hoping this living-with-it-thing is temporary, but knowing that life must go on. If you think of me, please keep me in your prayers. (Maybe I can even be one of your Parachute Prayers . . . whenever you see a wildflower . . . I’ll let you work that one out.)

One of the limitations of this mystery illness is that I can no longer sing. Okay, so all I really did before was make joyful noises to my King, but now I can’t even do that. When I go to church on Sunday, I stand and listen and pray the words to the songs. If I try to sing, my lungs hurt, my heart flutters, and I have to sit down and assure myself I’m okay. The doctors in the ER don’t want to see me anymore. (That’s okay. I never wanted to see them in the first place. Not that they aren’t perfectly nice people, but . . . well, they’re in the ER.)

A few weeks ago, instead of listening and praying, I was whining to God about the situation. (Technically, that’s praying, but it’s not very worshipful.) The following verse came to mind: “‘I tell you,’ [Jesus] replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out'” -Luke 19:40. I almost laughed out loud, thinking, “Okay, stones. It’s your turn!” I’ve had that thought in my head each worship service since.

Our God is so amazing, He just has to be praised. If the Pharisees try to shush His people, He can make the stones cry out instead. If one of His children has a physical limitation that keeps her from adding her voice to the mix, He can call in a few rocks to fill in for her too. So far He hasn’t chosen to do this.

But He could. Wouldn’t that be something?!

Lord, how I thank You that one way or another, Your Name will be praised. And one way or another, I will find a way to praise You even if I cannot sing! You have worked miracles on my behalf and for the benefit of my family this year. I’ve been amazed to see what You can do when You decide something must be done. Nothing and no one can stand in Your way. I’ve seen the truth of this – and I love You for it! No one else deserves my trust, my life, my heart like You do. I will praise You however I can. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

post

On Choice: a Psalm of Sorts

psalm-9-1-2

“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.” -Psalm 9:1-2

I will thank, tell, rejoice, sing praise.

I choose to do so; this is a choice I make.

God is worthy—worthy of more than I can offer.

When I think, when I write, when I move, I can choose to offer my thoughts and words to Him instead of to past and present concerns. Or maybe in sync with these, letting Him align it all.

I can choose to focus on His never-ending Presence, the most priceless gift, and enjoy it as fully as I can—soaking it all in, though I may feel duty-drawn away. My energy, both physical and mental, it all belongs to Him.

I will choose to surrender it in thanksgiving, in stories, in joy, in praise—I love You, Lord! Amen.

Sometimes I treat spending time with God like an extravagance—a luxury instead of a necessity. I feel responsible to do so many other things first. But my relationship with God matters most. He is my life—my strength—my purpose. God first—essential to my spiritual and emotional health . . . His right as Lord of my life. I enter His Presence every morning—I try to remain there always. This is how I trust Him with the details of each day.

post

Prowling Devil, Crouching Sin

abel“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” -Genesis 4:7

The Bible doesn’t tell us, specifically, why God looked with favor on Abel’s offering but not on Cain’s. It only hints that perhaps Cain gave less than his best, a token offering of obligation, in place of a gift of worship from a fully grateful heart. In contrast, Abel brought fat portions from the firstborn of his flock, showing thanksgiving for all he’d received and trust that God would continue to give more.

Cain became angry, though he probably knew what he’d done. But God responded with kindness and grace, gently letting Cain know that he could have favor, too. He only had to choose to do right. Instead, Cain followed the path he’d set out on when he chose to give God less than his best. He received God’s response to his gift with an angry heart. Then he made his situation worse, murdering his brother in a field. (See Genesis 4:8.)

When we do what is right, following God obediently with love and gratitude, He blesses us with everything we need to live out His plan for our lives. We enjoy His Presence, the knowledge that our lives honor Him, and His Spirit within. This Spirit gives us guidance and strength as we continue to walk with God.

If we choose not to do right, though, making selfish choices and holding back from God what is His, sin crouches at our door. We give the devil an opportunity to tempt us even further from God. Peter warns us just as God warned Cain:

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” -1 Peter 5:8

It works like this:

If we think of life as a journey toward greater knowledge of and a closer relationship with God, every right choice is a step toward that end. Our obedient choices draw us closer to God Who makes us more like Christ, developing strong character and a healthy heart. Every wrong choice, though, is a step away from this that gives the devil an opportunity to lead us further away. Too many steps away, steps we might not even realize we’re taking, can leave us wandering like Cain, a lion’s meal in the making.

This is why we must live alert and keep a sober (as in contemplative or restrained) mind. As we make daily decisions, we must ask what draws us closer to God, what makes us more like Him, what honors His name, what helps His Kingdom grow?

Though Abel’s life was cut short, he earned a place in Hebrews’ Faith Hall of Fame:

“By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” -Hebrews 11:4

He didn’t set out to do anything special, he simply lived to honor God and offered his best to Him. We can choose to live this way, too.

Father, help us to remember that our choices matter. Open our eyes to clearly see which decisions honor You, draw us closer to You. We choose to live by faith, with gratitude. You are our God, and we love You. Amen.

post

Praying for Healing Needs

James 5-16

Yesterday morning, our pastor included a time of prayer for physical healing in the worship service. He invited people with specific concerns to come forward to be anointed and prayed for publicly. Friends and family gathered around to support them in prayer, too. As I was praying for these, I thought of friends and family far away who also need physical healing. I prayed for them, then, because physical needs are often accompanied by emotional needs, I went on to pray for people who need to be healed emotionally. Of course, this reminded me of people in need of social healing—people suffering relational wounds, attachment injuries, separation from loved ones, loneliness. These need healing, too. I was just beginning to pray for people in need of spiritual healing when prayer time ended and the service went in another direction. But I liked praying this way. That’s why I’m sharing the idea with you today.

Is this a Parachute Prayer? Not really, but it’s close. When we pray this way, we are using a prayer prompt, and perhaps, you never know, God’s Spirit will bring it to mind at some random moment, calling us into God’s Presence to pray for loved ones and acquaintances in need of healing. In that case, it would become a Parachute Prayer.

But I see this more as a tool for a time of more concentrated prayer.* We all know many people in need of different kinds of healing. Sometimes we tell them we’ll pray for them and whisper a quick prayer in the moment but forget to bring the need before the Lord in a deeper way.

I always feel sad when I realize this has happened; I try to remember. I know it’s important. But sometimes I forget. I believe this new prayer prompt can help.

Whenever we go to God with a healing need, let’s take the time to let God’s Spirit lead our thoughts to other people with similar needs. As time allows and as we exhaust one list, say our list of people who need to be healed physically, let’s move on to people who need other kinds of healing: emotional, social, spiritual, mental. There’s no need to worry about saying a lot of words about each need. We’ll just talk to God about each person’s situation, how we feel about it, what we’re hoping He’ll do for them. Then we’ll reaffirm our trust in His perfect wisdom regarding the situation and thank Him for working in and through each person’s life. He loves all the people we’re concerned about, and He’s already working faithfully for their good.

Father, we thank You for teaching us to pray and for calling us into Your Presence on behalf of people who need to be healed. Remind us to pray for them often, enjoying time with You as we do. Amen.


*To learn more about this, read Parachute Prayer: The Practice of Praying Continually. Available at Amazon.

post

The Real Value of Bible List Verses

Fruit of the Spirit

“Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.”John 6:24

I used to be a big fan of list verses. That’s my name for the Bible verses that contain lists of character traits we all want more of in our lives. For example, Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 lists ways to identify love: it’s patient, it’s kind, it does not boast, it is not proud, it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, it does not rejoice in evil, it rejoices in the truth, it always protects, always hopes, always trusts, always perseveres, and it never fails. Colossians 3:12 tells us what virtues to clothe ourselves in: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. In fact, verses 1-17 of that chapter are one big good stuff/bad stuff list.

All of these verses are helpful, and I am still a big fan. But over the years, there’s been a shift in my understanding of them. Now I love them for completely different reasons than I used to.

You see, I used to see them as to-do lists. I wanted to accomplish the getting of these traits into my life. My motivation was right: I wanted, and still want, to live a life that glorifies God. I thought developing these things in my life was what God wanted me to do.

The truth is, though, that I am not able to develop these things in my life. I need God to develop them in me. This is what He wants to do. God Is love, therefore His active Presence in my life produces everything on the Corinthians list. The Galatians list is called The Fruit of the Spirit for a reason; those virtues flow from Him. And even the virtues from the Colossians list come from setting our hearts on what’s above: Christ, now seated at the right hand of God. (See Colossians 3:1-4.)

The list verses have great value but not as to-do lists, things for us to generate in our lives in order to glorify God. In fact, in John 5:41, Jesus said, “I do not accept glory from human beings.” His glory comes from His work in our lives not from anything we try to do ourselves.

But when we look to Him, remain in His Presence, keep our lives rooted in His Spirit, we allow Him to work through us, producing all good things. The value of the lists comes from the way they help us recognize God’s Presence and work in our lives—or the lack of such.

The Real Value

In John 6:24, the crowds realized that Jesus wasn’t with them. They wanted what only He could offer, so they went in search of Him. We can do the same thing. When we realize that our lives aren’t as loving as they should be, that the Spirit isn’t producing fruit in us, that our spiritual clothing is becoming tattered, that’s our cue to drop everything we’re doing and seek Jesus with all our hearts. The Christian life is all about learning to be where Jesus is all of the time, so that He can continue to work in and through us for His glory and our good and the good of everyone around us. The lists, lists of things God produces, help us identify problems, so that we can know when we need to draw closer to our God.

When the crowds found Jesus, He gave them the only to-do list we need:

“Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’

“Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’” -John 6:28-29

We stick close. We believe. He makes us into people who bring Him glory.

Father, thank You for inspiring Paul and others to give us lists that help us see how closely we’re living to You. When we recognize actions and attitudes that don’t come from You, from Your Spirit, from above, help us to act on that cue to talk to You, to read Your Word, to enjoy worship and fellowship with Your people who are doing the same. More of You in our lives, Lord. That is all we need. Amen.


Do you want to learn more about drawing closer to God through prayer throughout each day? Read Parachute Prayer: The Practice of Praying Continually. Click here to learn more.

post

Trying to Pray Daniel’s Way

Praying Like Daniel“But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.” –Daniel 6:10

“Then they told the king, ‘That man Daniel, one of the captives from Judah, is ignoring you and your law. He still prays to his God three times a day.’” –Daniel 6:13

The Bible tells us that Daniel prayed three times a day. But it doesn’t tell us how long he prayed each time. I kind of wish it did. Daniel is such a great role model; I’d like more detail, please. But maybe the leaving out of the detail was intentional. I’m guessing Daniel probably talked with God about whatever needed talking about at the time for as long as it needed to be discussed. If we’re going to follow his example, that’s probably a good way to start.

Then why does the Bible tell us, specifically, that he prayed three times a day? I think that little detail is helpful. If we want to talk with God about whatever needs talking about, having set times to sit down and ask Him if there is anything that needs to be talked about is a good thing. I imagine Daniel greeting God each morning, worshipping Him, thanking Him, asking for guidance for the day to come. Around midday, he probably checked in to thank God for how the day was going, to make sure he was still on course, to present any new business or concerns, and to learn if God had any new directions for him. Then maybe just before bed, he’d meet with God once more to go over the details of the day, thanking God for its surprises, asking forgiveness for his own failings, and enjoying God’s presence as he prepared to go to sleep.

Of course, I don’t really know if that’s exactly how Daniel prayed, and I certainly don’t believe we have to pray at three, precisely-specified times each day. But I like the idea of starting and ending the day with God, checking in with Him as needed in between. Daniel is such a great role model. I’m glad God gave us all the detail about his life we need.

Father, thank You for giving us everything we need to live faithfully for You. Thank You for Daniel’s example and for the examples of other people we meet in Your Word. Help us remember to communicate with You often about anything we need to discuss and with listening hearts to hear anything You may choose to impress upon us. We love You, Lord, and long to live Your way. Thank You for teaching, guiding, and correcting. Amen.

post

Letting a Little Child Lead

Woolly Shepherd

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”Isaiah 9:6

One of my favorite sights so far this Christmas season is still bringing a smile to my face when I think of it. At the beginning of this month, my husband and I, with some friends, went to see the Christmas festivities in a small town not far from where we live. Shops were open; some were serving cider and sweets. Christmas lights decked every store front. There was even a horse-drawn carriage for people to ride in up and down the streets. The church near the end of the main boulevard offered a living Nativity complete with donkeys, sheep, and goats. We started our tour there.

We walked slowly to view each scene from the Christmas story: Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem with their little donkey. Shepherds in the fields with their flocks. Angels on pedestals, all serene but for one boy-sterous little one who wanted nothing more than to fly away. (With the head angel’s encouragement, he was making a great effort to stand still, sweet child. I was proud of him—and tickled at the memory he brought to mind of my own boy-sterous angel child of just a few, well, maybe twenty, years ago.)

Finally, we came to find Mary and Joseph with Baby Jesus, all in the stable with shepherds, wise men, and animals galore. As we approached this highlight of the experience, a mother among the witnesses was tending to her child in a stroller. As she did, her slightly older daughter quietly slipped over the ropes separating guests from the living display. She sat down primly on a bale of hay, crossed one hand over the other in her lap, and settled in to watch Baby Jesus. And watch she did. I think she’d settled in for the duration.

Was she supposed to be there? No. Did anyone disturb her? No way. This little child was leading us all. While we were casually enjoying the festivities, she was adoring the baby. And, though I knew that baby wasn’t really The Baby, the memory of that little girl boldly moving closer, so she could see and not be disturbed by the chaos around her, has stuck with me since that evening. That little girl’s actions defined worship and peace.

Father, thank You for using this little girl to remind us what Christmas is all about. Even as we enjoy the celebration of Your Son’s birth with family, friends, church, and community, help us do so with hearts full of worship and adoration for Jesus. After all, He came to reveal You to us. That fact alone deserves our awe-filled contemplation. Thank You, Lord! We love You. Amen.

post

Preparing in Advance to Give and to Worship

1 Chronicles 16-29As I walked into the grocery store yesterday, the bell ringer standing outside caught my eye. I was trying to avoid this because I had no cash on hand; I just wanted to sneak quietly by. But he blocked my path just enough to get me to look up, then he wished me a merry Christmas. This determined bell ringer was on a mission to make eye contact with and speak to every person who entered the store. On my way back out again, about forty minutes later, he was still at it. This time he said, “God bless you!” I appreciated the fact that he wanted to offer Christmas blessings to everyone, even those who had no money that was drop-in-the-bucket-able.

I went on about my day and forgot about the whole encounter, but God brought it back to mind this morning. I wondered if that group gets fewer donations now than they used to because people are less likely to carry cash. Then I realized that it is December after all. This is the only month of the year they are out. We know they are going to be there, so if we want to give, why not go prepared? Would it really be so hard to keep a little bit of money on hand for worthy giving opportunities that arise not only for this group, but others we might encounter? —not only in December, but all through the year? God’s instructions to the Israelites on intentionally leaving some of the harvest in their fields for others to gather as they have need comes to mind. (See Deuteronomy 24:21 for one example.)

As I continued to think about this, read, and pray, I came to this verse in my day’s reading: “Give to the Lord the glory he deserves! Bring your offering and come into his presence. Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor.”1 Chronicles 16:29, NLT

When we give in God’s name, we enter His presence—even if we’re entering the grocery store! As we prepare to give, we’re preparing to worship anywhere! When the Spirit prompts us to follow through, we’re doing so with our Lord.

Father, thank You for giving me something to think about this morning. Please remind me to be prepared. I want to share the gifts You’ve given with others who may need them. I also want to enjoy Your presence everywhere I go. I’ll prepare, You lead, I’ll obey. Together we’ll encourage others and magnify Your name. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

post

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.

post

How Do We Pray?

The Conversation BeginsWelcome to the fifth installment of The Conversation Begins, my 31+ non-consecutive-day series on prayer. (If you missed the first four posts, you can click here and scroll down to read through them. The oldest posts will be at the bottom of the page.)

Today I want to talk about how. How do we pray?

We simply talk to God.

God doesn’t make prayer complicated; He loves us and He wants to hear our voices. He also wants us to learn to listen for His, but that’s a subject for another post—or two—or more. Learning to recognize God’s voice is a skill to develop over the course of a lifetime, perhaps the most worthwhile skill we can develop in the time we have on Earth.

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, He didn’t tell them to bow their heads and close their eyes, to kneel or lie prostrate. He simply gave them words. We call these, The Lord’s Prayer, of course, and they model prayer perfectly! (Of course.) Many books and sermons have been written on this prayer, so I’m not going to analyze it here except to note that this prayer acknowledges God’s Fatherhood, sovereignty, and holiness, surrenders our will to God’s, asks God to meet needs, asks forgiveness and forgives others, seeks protection from temptation and evil, and ends in worship of our always-worthy God. These are elements of prayer we can strive to cover in our conversations with Him every day.

But we don’t have to cover them all every time we pray. There are a lot of helpful formulas out there that we can use as tools for prayer, but please remember, they are tools—not rules. When you learn about a friend’s tragedy, make that the focus of your prayer. If a conflict arises or a financial need, talk to God about it right away. If you’re fighting temptation or catch yourself in a sin, tell God what’s going on, confess your wrongs, ask Him to help you choose right or to make things right. We don’t have to focus on every aspect of prayer every time we pray. Instead we have many conversations with God covering different subjects throughout each day.

How We PrayAnd we don’t have to wait until we can kneel or close our eyes or get to church to pray. If the clock tells you it’s time for your dad’s surgery or your son’s test while you’re sitting in a meeting, think a prayer right where you are. Kneeling, bowing, and closing our eyes can help us to focus or remind us of our position before God. Praying at church allows us to be heard with other believers who are all talking together to God about the same thing. It’s important to pray in these ways sometimes, but they aren’t essential every time we pray.

There is one how that is essential to every prayer, though. This concerns our attitude. Whether we’re approaching God on our knees or while driving in the car, we need to approach Him with respect, humility, and a sincere heart. If we don’t believe He is listening to us, that He loves us, that He is able to keep His promises, and that His plans are perfect whether we understand them or not, our prayers will be hindered.

Suddenly I’m remembering the climactic scene from Gone with the Wind where Scarlett is ill. She has just suffered a miscarriage after falling down the stairs. She’s been crying out for Rhett, but no one has heard her. When someone finally does, when she finally has the opportunity to ask for him—something he’s desperately waiting for—she says, “Oh, what’s the use.” And that’s the end of the relationship. If Scarlett had only believed that Rhett would come if she called, he would have, and the story could have ended happily.

That said, our God will never give up on us like Rhett gave up on Scarlett, but He will wait until we call on Him . . . in faith . . . with the right attitude. Desperate for more of Him in every area of life, eager to see His Kingdom come and His Will done, that is how we pray.

Father, thank You for making it so easy to come to You. Thank you for encouraging us to do so. Thank You for waiting patiently. You are God, and there is no other. We need more of You. Amen.


 

Today I’m sharing this post at the Thought-Provoking Thursday Link-up. Click here to see what other posts are being shared there!