Laudable Linkage

Here are a few of the good reads that caught my eye lately:

I Was a White Supremacist, HT to Challies. What struck me about this, besides the dramatic change wrought in the heart of the writer, was the fact that a group of women  prayed for that change for two years after hearing about him in the news. Would that we would do that more often.

Do We Play Any Role in Our Sanctification?, HT to Challies.  “The battle image is a very active image. Soldiers in battle are not passive observers. They’re not sitting there watching life go by. They’re as actively engaged as anybody could be in any activity. So, too, we are called to be actively engaged in sanctification. It is our great calling to pursue holiness, to aspire to that for which God has called us, and to strain every effort that we have.”

Reasons to Go to Bible Study. The schedule hasn’t always worked out for me to go, but when it has, it’s been so beneficial.

Younger Pastors and Senior Adults, HT to Challies. Excellent perspectives of older folks and ways to minister to them and involve them in ministry.

I wish . . .When we envy someone’s blessings, do we want the trials that led to the blessings as well? Probably not.

5+ Questions to Ask a Visiting Missionary at Dinner, HT to Challies.

The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. I have no closing pictures or videos today, but there are plenty of good ones here!

Happy Saturday!

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Laudable Linkage

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I found a lot of good reading this week, so I have a little longer list than usual. I hope you find something edifying here.

How to Fall . . . Again. HT to Challies. “You may have some obvious boundaries in place to keep you from the explicit routes back to your old sins. But there are some ways your new life might make you vulnerable to new sins. The devil is cunning and is perfectly willing to cut you in the left side while you protect your right. How might this happen? What are some ways you might fall again?”

What If the Worst Comes to Pass? Developing a What If Theology, HT to Challies.. Dealing with anxiety by facing the “what ifs” full on rather than hiding from them.

From Gay to Gospel: The Fascinating Story of Becket Cook, HT to Challies. Moving testimony.

6 Powerful Keys To Overcoming Anger, HT to Challies. “What is it that I want right now that I’m not getting? This question has changed my life. This question has helped me again and again to overcome the temptation to anger in my life. I try to ask myself this question when I’m tempted to be angry. What is it I want right now that I’m not getting?”

4 Ways to Grow in Self-Control, HT to Challies. “Self-control is one of the biggest indicators of Christian character. Without it, you’ll eventually ruin your life and legacy. With it, you can thrive and be a blessing to others around you. You’re probably convinced of the need for self-control. But how do you get it?”

Aspire to Live Quietly, HT to Challies.. “Be honest, do you love the conflict? Do you love the argument? If so, be insignificant on social media and preserve your soul. For what use is it to you if you gain all the world’s likes but lose your soul?”

Prime Prayer Attitude. Has Amazon prime affected our praying? Do we expect the answer at our front door in two days or free returns if we don’t like what we get?

Friend, What’s Your Name? Learning how to make friends from a child’s example.

No Pang Shall Be Mine? HT to Challies. Being a Christian doesn’t necessarily make for an easy death. Death is still the final enemy.

Was Jesus a Person of Color? An Immigrant? A Palestinian? HT to Challies. “Jesus should not be a political pawn whose identity shifts to match whatever the political cause is of the day. It is better for us to orient our lives around him than him around our politics.”

A Sad Tale of a Wealthy Millennial’s Moral Confusion, HT to Challies. I am coming across this idea more and more that wealth is immoral. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a post about it, but this says almost everything I would want to.

The Deepfake Artists Must be Stopped, HT to Challies. This is disturbing. People have found ways to copy a person’s voice to make fake recordings of them saying and doing whatever the creator wants.

Creating a Bible Study Notebook. The ladies at Do Not Depart have been discussing this topic all month and share some free printables.

Downton Abbey Cast Reverses Roles, HT to Laura. Fun!

Finally, I stumbled across this and really enjoyed it. Some of you may remember Jim Varney’s Ernie or Ernest character. I had no idea that Varney was a trained classical actor. It was also interesting seeing how Ernest got started. I think this must have aired before some of his later movies, since it doesn’t reference them.

Biblical Prayers

I mentioned in my earlier post about prayer that I sometimes like to pray Scripture directly.

Of course, not every prayer in Scripture is something we would pray today. Sometimes people in the Bible prayed for specific situations or people that we don’t deal with. We can still learn from them, but in our day we wouldn’t pray the same thing.

Also, as I said earlier, praying isn’t a matter of finding a magic formula or reciting certain words rotely.

But some examples of prayer in Scripture lift us up out of everyday life into real soul work, for ourselves and others. Some years ago I started making a list of these prayers when I came across them, and I still add to this list occasionally. So I thought I’d share with you what I have so far (all are from the ESV unless otherwise noted):

  • May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6 (Though this is talking about the church, I often put this on wedding cards.)
  • For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. Ephesians 1:15-20
  • For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. Ephesians 3:14-20 (KJV)
  • And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11
  • For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. Colossians 1:9-12 (KJV)
  • May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
  • Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23
  • To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
  • Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (KJV)
  • And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. II Thessalonians 3:5 (KJV)
  • Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. 2 Thessalonians 3:16
  • Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21 (KJV)

And that’s just the epistles!

Many of the psalms are prayers that we could pray in our day, like David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51 or  his prayer of wonder and praise in Psalm 8.

A couple of Old Testament pleas come to mind often, like 2 Chronicles 20:12: “For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” and 2 Chronicles 14:11: “LORD, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O LORD our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O LORD, thou art our God; let not man prevail against thee.”

Jesus gave us what we call the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-15:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
     and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.

Phrases from the gospels come to mind as prayers:

Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). The more we read the Bible, the more the Holy Spirit can bring back to our minds what it says, the more our thoughts and prayers will be infused with God’s truth and will.

Of course, we can’t just rip words out of context and use them in prayer. But as we read the Bible and see how these prayers arise in context, our own hearts can be stirred up to pray according to God’s will.

Even verses that aren’t prayers in themselves can be turned into a prayer request that God will help us understand and incorporate the truth of it into our lives.

Writing this post has given me the idea for a project. Maybe the next time I read through the Bible, I’ll make note of any prayer that we could pray today. That would be an interesting study!

Are there prayers from the Bible you like to use when you pray?

Prayer: Talking with Our Father

Articles abound claiming ways of improving our prayer lives. Some tout titles encouraging us to try new or ancient “forms” of prayer, as if an improved prayer life is a matter of certain words in a certain order. Others proclaim “Five [or however many] Prayers to Unleash God’s Power in Your Life,” as if we have God on a leash.

I’m concerned when improving our prayer lives seems to be a matter of trying different fads or rituals.

We tell unbelievers that Christianity is a relationship with God to help them realize it’s not just a set of certain behaviors. But sometimes we forget the relationship in our own practices. Spiritual disciplines are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Improving prayer, Bible study, or any other facet of Christian life needs to be a matter of enhancing the relationship, not just finding a better form of practice.

Granted, most of us change and grow in how we practice these disciplines over the years. And different personalities gravitate to different “styles.” I attended a prayer meeting that was so regimented, it seemed to me to choke the life out of what we were doing. I felt constricted, burdened, and frustrated. But perhaps that style of prayer was deeply meaningful to the person leading the meeting.

What helps me most is remembering that prayer is just talking to my Father. Like any relationship, hopefully communication improves over time. But He doesn’t wait for me to get just the right form. He hears my heart.

The best place to learn how to pray is the Bible. God’s Word gives specific instructions about prayer. Just a few:

God also gives us wonderful examples of prayer. Some of my favorites:

From the examples in the Bible, we see how people prayed, in what attitudes and circumstances, and what specifically they prayed for.

One of my favorites of Paul’s prayers is Colossians 1:9-14:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

While it’s fine to pray for health and financial needs, how much more do we need to pray for these kinds of things for ourselves and each other.

Following a certain form would seem artificial to me. I don’t talk to anyone else in my life via specific forms. On the other hand, because we’re talking to someone we can’t see and who doesn’t answer us audibly, sometimes our minds can wander. So in some ways it does help our feeble flesh to have something to corral our thoughts and keep on point. Some use acronyms, like

Pray
Repent
Ask
Yield

Or:

Adoration
Confess
Thanksgiving
Supplication

When my thoughts seem too scattered to pray, most often I use what we call “the Lord’s prayer” as a jumping-off point. It might go something like this:

“Our Father in heaven.” Thank you that I can call you Father, that you loved me and saved me and brought me into your family. Thank you for forgiving, leading, and guiding me. Thank you for being a kind and gracious Father.

“Hallowed be your name.” You’re not just my Father, but also my King. Help me not to forget your greatness and holiness.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I pray for Your perfect will to be done in these various situations I bring before You.

Give us this day our daily bread.” I’m grateful You know my needs before I even ask. I praise You that I can trust You to provide for me and those I pray for.

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” I confess these sins to You (naming them individually) and ask Your forgiveness. Help me to forgive others just the way I want to be forgiven.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” You know what’s ahead this day. I pray for your protection from evil that may come my way and from the temptations of my own heart.

“For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen!”

I’ve made a list of different prayers in the Bible that I like to use in praying for myself and for others. Many of them are from the epistles, like the one from Colossians mentioned above or from Philippians. When we pray God’s Word, we know we’re praying according to His will. But, again, it’s not just a matter of praying certain words rotely: it’s talking with our Father.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote once of waking up in the morning, cold, fuzzy-headed, not feeling very spiritual, stumbling into another room to spend time with the Lord. She felt she needed help putting her own heart in the right frame of mind, so she started her prayer and devotional time either reading or singing psalms or hymns (from the chapter “Meeting God Alone” in On Asking God Why). Many hymns are wonderful prayers, like:

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but Thou art mighty,
Hold me with Thy pow’rful hand.
Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.

(William Williams, 1745)

Or:

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;
Thou my best thought, by day or by night;
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

(Dallan Forgaill, 6th century; translated and published 1912)

Modern hymns like Speak, O Lord and O Great God are prayers meaty with Scriptural truth and greatly meaningful to me.

I also used to think I hadn’t “officially” prayed for something unless I mentioned it in my devotional time. But I learned we can talk to God all through the day. When my first clear thoughts form in the morning, I try to remember right then to give Him the day and ask His help for it. When I hear a bit of good news or find something that perfectly meets my needs, I can thank Him on the spot. When I come across a prayer request, I try to pray for it immediately.

Like with other relationships, we can touch base with God off and on all day. But then we also need times of setting aside everything else just to focus on each other.

And when we have no words, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

In the chapter I mentioned by Elisabeth Elliot, she said:

My own devotional life is very far from being Exhibit A of what it should be. I have tried, throughout most of my life, to maintain a quiet time with God, with many lapses and failures. Occasionally, but only occasionally, it is impossible. Our Heavenly Father knows all about those occasions. He understands perfectly why mothers with small children bring them along when they talk to him.

If hers was not Exhibit A, how much less is mine! I started to take all personal references out of this post for that reason (and due to length). But it has helped me to read others’ experiences with prayer, so maybe this might be a small help to someone else.

What I mainly wanted to share with you is this: if we feel our prayers need livening up, perhaps the first place to start is to remember who we’re talking to and why. Then, as we read His Word, we can take note of what it teaches about prayer and learn from examples there.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Kingdom Bloggers, Literary Musing Monday,
Tell His Story, Purposeful Faith, Let’s Have Coffee, Recharge Wednesday, Anchored Truth, Worth Beyond Rubies, Woman to Woman, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire)

Laudable Linkage

I have another short list today. But sometimes I think it might be better to share more frequent short lists than occasional long ones. I think several good links get lost in a longer list.

Groaning Grace. “Although it may seem merciful to strike an intentionally positive note, it actually leaves Christians ill-equipped to deal with the hardships of life, whether those tragedies are personal or national. Whereas God has given us perhaps as much as half a Bible that riffs on suffering, we paint the Christian experience as a life of perpetual joy.

The Mistake I Made With My Grieving Friend, seen multiple places. “From that day forward, I started to notice how often I responded to stories of loss and struggle with stories of my own experiences.”

Is Genesis 1:28 a Cultural Mandate? HT to Proclaim and Defend. I so appreciated the discussion here about imperatives in the Bible. Every imperative sentence or phrase is not a command.

Picking Up The Pieces, HT to Challies, on other women filling in when one woman’s mom passes away.

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

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Here are the latest, greatest reads I’ve found:

For My Angry Friends, Part 7: Foundation II. This is a continuation of a link I posted last time.

A Different Kind of Humble Pie. I like this idea! And it would help us avoid having to eat the other kind.

I’m So Glad Our Vows Kept Us, HT to Challies. “God has not given you your love to protect your vows, but he’s given you your vows to protect your love.”

Don’t Squander the Little Years, HT to Story Warren. “The endless demands of parenting little ones can feel heightened by the fact that this is often the very season of life—late 20s through the 30s—when budding careers are most demanding and precarious. The need to be tirelessly devoted outside the home can tempt young parents to be less devoted inside the home.”

How Parenting Exposes Our Need for Faith. “Like nothing else in my following life, mothering has taken me to the edge of what I know for sure about God and how to follow him well.”

What Is the Aim of Christian Writing? HT to Challies. If you are at all into writing as a Christian, I encourage you to read this. “Writing is an attempt to take the truth of God’s Word and apply it to the crevices of life.”

Elderly Couples’ Photos. A professional photographer asked several older couple to pose for engagement-style photos. So sweet and beautiful.

It Is What It Is”…but God IS Bigger.” I’ve followed Carol at Blessed But Stressed for many years now. A few years ago, her son fought leukemia, and God graciously healed him. Now he’s facing serious surgery on his eye. Would you join in prayer for as much healing as possible in God’s perfect will?

I don’t know the origin of this graphic, but it looks like something Little Birdie Blessings might do. But I like what it says.

Happy Saturday!

Trusting or Grasping?

We know God has promised to meet our needs, so we pray about them. Then, because the needs are legitimate, we’ve prayed about them, and we have every right (or so we think) to expect them to be met, we push, pull, grasp, or demand instead of trusting.

One example in the Bible is Rebekah. God told her that the twins in her womb would become two nations, one would be stronger, and the older would serve the younger. Rebekah favored the younger, Jacob, perhaps because of this prediction, perhaps because her husband favored Esau, perhaps because Jacob’s more domestic personality meshed better with Rebekah’s – perhaps all of the above. But instead of waiting to see how God would work out His will, Rebekah manipulated and deceived in order to edge Jacob ahead of the game. Not only did Jacob follow her poor example, becoming a manipulator himself, but he had to flee Esau’s wrath, and Rebekah never saw her son again.

Or consider Sarah. God had promised that Abraham would have a son who would bless the nations. But years passed, and Abraham and Sarah had no child. So Sarah decided to help God out and persuaded Abraham to sleep with her handmaid, Hagar. The negative results of that action continues on today in the conflicts between the descendants of Abraham’s sons with Sarah and Hagar.

It’s not wrong to “put feet to our prayers” within God’s will. We trust God to meet our financial needs, and sometimes He does that miraculously, like Peter’s tax money in the fish’s mouth and the widow’s cruse of oil that didn’t run out. But most often He provides for our needs by providing work. When we ask God to meet someone else’s needs, He might lay it on our hearts to be part of the answer by helping them.

But manipulation comes in when we think God isn’t answering in the time or the way we feel best. Instead of waiting to be led by Him, we jump ahead with our own great ideas. Or we’re so afraid our needs won’t be met, we grasp them to ourselves like a football and run over or knock down any obstacles in our way.

Here’s an example. I function best with some time alone. I love the people in my life, and I love the happy chaos of time together. But I get easily over-stimulated and tense without some degree of quiet solitude. So I used to stake out my quiet time and then resent anyone who intruded into it or prevented it. Then I’d get all the more tense.Or I would ignore promptings to minister to others because I needed my solitude instead of trusting God to provide it another time.

When I sought time to write amidst a busy and unpredictable schedule, I’d get frustrated when no time seemed open and either whine or lash out inwardly against the circumstances in my life.

When I needed peace in an anxious moment, I grew frustrated that it wasn’t coming.

None of those scenarios demonstrates trust.  God promises to meet my needs, but that doesn’t mean I can be demanding or resentful if the answer doesn’t come in the way I expected. Trusting that He is going to supply my need doesn’t mean I grasp it with both hands and hang on with all my might.

Trusting means just that. I release my stipulations, my demands, and my ideas of the best ways everything should work out. I trust that He will meet my need or enable me to get by without it, as Paul did when he learned to be full or to be hungry, to be content in any situation.

Instead of staking out my quiet time and fending off everything and everyone, I can trust that God knew my needs and will provide for them in ways I can’t yet see.

If someone interrupts my quiet time, I can remind myself that it happened to Jesus, too. I can remember His admonition to seek first His kingdom, and all these other things will be added unto me. I can see interruptions as allowed by His hand. Did you realize that the woman with the issue of blood was an interruption? Jesus was on His way to heal the daughter of Jairus when He felt this woman’s touch of faith and confronted her. The Bible doesn’t say how Jairus felt about it, but I can imagine how I would feel in his place – especially when he received word that his ill daughter died. But Jesus continued on to Jairus’ house and raised his daughter. If Jairus was stewing and fretting, he didn’t need to.

When I realized this, I wish I could say it changed my view of interruptions forever. I still have to battle resentment and remind myself that God is sovereign over those as well as the bigger trials of life.

When my children were young, I’d get to the end of the day and lament that I hadn’t found a quiet moment to read the Bible. I began asking God at the beginning of the day to help me recognize those opportune moments. And He did.

Recently, for whatever reason, I was revved up and on edge, but the rest of the day was full, and I didn’t foresee an opportunity to just chill and relax. I bought it up to the Lord, and somehow He relaxed me and helped me to enjoy the rest of the evening without stress.

I am thankful Paul said he learned contentment whether in need or not. I haven’t aced the class yet, but I am learning. God knows my needs. I don’t have to grasp for His answer or manipulate circumstances or people in order to get it. I can rest in Him, trusting Him to meet them in the way and time He knows is best and will bring Him the most glory.

 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5-7

Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall. Ruth 3:18a, KJV

Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.
Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee,
And Thy beauty fills my soul,
For by Thy transforming power,
Thou hast made me whole.

O, how great Thy loving kindness,
Vaster, broader than the sea!
O, how marvelous Thy goodness,
Lavished all on me!
Yes, I rest in Thee, Belovèd,
Know what wealth of grace is Thine,
Know Thy certainty of promise,
And have made it mine.

Simply trusting Thee, Lord Jesus,
I behold Thee as Thou art,
And Thy love, so pure, so changeless,
Satisfies my heart;
Satisfies its deepest longings,
Meets, supplies its every need,
Compasseth me round with blessings:
Thine is love indeed!

Ever lift Thy face upon me
As I work and wait for Thee;
Resting ’neath Thy smile, Lord Jesus,
Earth’s dark shadows flee.
Brightness of my Father’s glory,
Sunshine of my Father’s face,
Keep me ever trusting, resting,
Fill me with Thy grace.

Refrain

Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.

~ Jean S. Pigott

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Grace and Truth)

The Essence of Prayer

So many posts and articles I see concerning prayer try to offer something new and exciting to the table. Sometimes it’s a particular form, ritual, or activity. One title said something like “5 Prayers to Unleash God’s Power in Your Life.” As if we have God on a leash!

I wonder if we’ve forgotten the essence of prayer. We’re told when we first become Christians that Christianity is not just a list of rules or a system of activities: it’s a relationship with God. But sometimes we can lose that focus and end up just doing things rotely. Remembering that we’re communicating with a Person can transform our viewpoint. The Bible uses different metaphors to picture the various aspects of our relationship with God: father/child, bride/bridegroom, shepherd/sheep, king/subject, master/servant, Savior/sinner, teacher/disciple.  Sometimes we approach God with those different aspects in mind. I most commonly think of prayer as just talking to our heavenly Father due to the prayer Jesus taught, the one we commonly call “The Lord’s Prayer.” We don’t search for different forms with which to talk to our earthly parents: why do we do so with God?

Well, prayer is a little different. For one, we can’t see God, so that feels a little awkward sometimes. And, for another, He is God, after all. That can be a little intimidating. And then, how can we have a conversation when we fall asleep mid-sentence or have to juggle massive prayer lists?

The best place to learn to pray is the Bible. We don’t have to restrict ourselves to just the words of Scripture, but they can form the basis of our approach to God. Jesus gave us a pattern for prayer in what is commonly called “the Lord’s prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13). The psalms give us multiple examples of someone pouring his heart out to God, even his not-so-nice feelings, reminding himself of truths about his God and straightening out his thinking. The epistles include marvelous examples of prayer. When we pray these Scriptures, we know we’re praying according to God’s will. We base our hope in God’s answer on what He has said. David said, “O LORD God, the word that thou hast spoken concerning thy servant, and concerning his house, establish it for ever, and do as thou hast said.” (2 Samuel  7:25, KJV). The psalmist of 119 said, ” Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope” (verse 49).

Other Bible passages provide wonderful examples of prayer that we can learn from. Nehemiah’s quick prayer before answering the king (Nehemiah 2:1-8) is one of my favorites, because I send up those quick requests for help or wisdom frequently. On the other end of the spectrum are all 176 verses of Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible. We have Daniel’s prayer, Habakkuk’s, Jesus’ prayer for His disciples in John 17, His agonized prayer in Gethsemane, Paul’s and Peter’s prayers for their readers in the epistles, and multitudes of others. I’ve copied various prayers from the Bible into the “Notes” section of my phone to have them quickly available. One of my favorites is from Colossians 1:9-12 (KJV):

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.

See how immensely different this prayer is from the kinds of prayer requests we usually share with each other? It’s certainly not wrong to pray for health needs and financial concerns and such, but we need the elements in this prayer so much more than any physical desire.

Sometimes we compartmentalize our quiet time with a certain amount of Bible reading, prayer, and maybe memorization. But we can pray while we’re reading the Scripture. When we come to a passage of praise, we can lift our hearts in praise to God right in that moment: we don’t have to make a note of it to remember later when we pray. It’s the same with a petition or intercession for others. When something we read in the Bible reminds us of a need in our lives or others’ we can stop and pray right then. I used to think something wasn’t “officially” prayed for unless I had mentioned it during my quiet time, but later I learned I could talk to God all day, mentioning requests and concerns as they arose.

The Bible says that the marriage relationship pictures that of Christ and the church. So let’s compare the two in the realm of communication. Husbands understand if a wife has a super-busy day or if she is tired. But if that happens all the time, and she is frantically running around taking care of children, housework, even outside ministries, and never has time to just sit down with him, he’s not going to feel loved and wanted. If she spends the time they do talk in losing focus, daydreaming, pondering what to put on her grocery list, he is not going to feel heard. If the only time she communicates with him is on the run while doing other things or when she needs him to do something, or if their only conversation is in the last few  minutes before sleep when they’re drifting off in mid-sentence, their relationship is going to suffer.

There is nothing wrong with those types of communication in themselves. We are to pray without ceasing, all through the day, even while doing other things, as I mentioned before. He wants us to come to Him with our needs, and ending the day talking with Him is lovely. But there needs to be some times of just pure focus on Him, on worship and learning from Him. Even though God doesn’t “need” us in the same sense a husband does, He wants to fellowship with us, and He knows we need to hear Him.

Because we’re easily distractible, sometimes it does help to have something to help us remember what we’re doing. Some use acronyms, like ACTS: adoration, confession of sin, thanksgiving, and supplication. Another is PRAY: pray, repent, ask, yield. Sometimes if I have a hard time keeping my thoughts together, I pray through the Lord’s prayer, stopping at each phrase to expand the thought in my own words. For instance: “‘Our Father, which art in heaven’…thank you for your omniscience. You know every care in my heart as well as the rest of the world. Thank You for Your power, Your Holiness, Your love,” and so on.

Elisabeth Elliot said of distractions:

Distractions can be useful. They provide constant reminders of our human weakness. We recognize in them how earthbound we are, and then how completely we must depend on the help of the Holy Spirit to pray in and through us. We are shown, by a thousand trivialities, how trivial are our concerns. The very effort to focus, even for a minute, on higher things, is foiled, and we see that prayer–the prerequisite for doing anything for God–cannot be done without Him. We are not, however, left to fend for ourselves.

The Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words, and God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what he means, and that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God” (Romans 8:26-27 JB) (A Lamp For My Feet).

In another place, Elisabeth said:

When I stumble out of bed in the morning, put on a robe, and go into my study, words do not spring spontaneously to my lips–other than words like, “Lord, here I am again to talk to you. It’s cold. I’m not feeling terribly spiritual….” Who can go on and on like that morning after morning, and who can bear to listen to it day after day?

I need help in order to worship God. Nothing helps me more than the Psalms. Here we find human cries–of praise, adoration, anguish, complaint, petition. There is an immediacy, an authenticity, about those cries. They speak for me to God–that is, they say what I often want to say, but for which I cannot find words.

Surely the Holy Spirit preserved those Psalms in order that we might have paradigms of prayer and of our individual dealings with God. It is immensely comforting to find that even David, the great king, wailed about his loneliness, his enemies, his pains, his sorrows, and his fears. But then he turned from them to God in paeans of praise.

He found expression for praise far beyond my poor powers, so I use his and am lifted out of myself, up into heights of adoration, even though I’m still the same ordinary woman alone in the same little room. (From the chapter “Meeting God Alone” in On Asking God Why).

She went on to say that hymns were another source she used. They often combined prayer and praise

So sometimes we can use these boosts to our prayers as long as we remember that relationships are built on and maintained by communication, not just going through motions, not just repeating “vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7, KJV), or “empty phrases” (ESV). God communicates with us through the Bible; we communicate with Him through prayer. May we always keep in mind that our time in prayer and the Word of God is communication with the One who loves us more than anyone else could and desires our fellowship and worship.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire)

 

When sleep won’t come

A few years ago I asked Facebook friends, “Why am I awake when I should be asleep and sleepy when I should be awake?” One responded, “Welcome to middle age.” I can be dragging and nodding off before getting into bed, and then wide awake after.

I usually keep everything conducive to sleeping: lights off, soft music playing. Reading usually keeps me even more awake. One friend responded to my Facebook query that sleeplessness is an excellent time to pray. True. Sometimes I do pray then. But I also get frustrated when I can’t seem to dig in and get much done in the daytime because I need a nap because I am so groggy. It just seems like it would be so much more efficient to sleep at night and work during the day.

Still, I know that stewing about it only makes it worse. I remind myself in the night that even if I am not asleep, I’m resting. I can enjoy the quietness and freedom to just relax without any demands on my time. I breathe deep and slow, sometime pray, sometimes think, until eventually I drift off. And I catch a nap in the day time if I need to, but I try to keep it short so as not to perpetuate nighttime wakefulness.

Several nights ago, though, was one of my worst nights ever. I don’t think I slept more than an hour the whole night. And what’s worse, I had a three-hour drive the next morning and meetings all afternoon and evening. I wasn’t feeling particularly nervous about the trip. Last year I had made the same journey for a writer’s conference, and I was much more on edge then because it was the first time I had traveled alone or attended anything like a conference in years. But God got me through that, and I knew a bit more what to expect this time. So I had a bit of apprehension, but nothing like the year before. Perhaps underlying nerves were the problem, even though I wasn’t consciously feeling nervous at the time. I tried all my usual tactics, to no avail.

Then I had to fight worry. How was I going to drive and stay awake in meetings for a conference my husband had paid good money for without sleep? Some of my health issues get worse without sleep. What if they flared up? I knew these thoughts and concerns would only drive sleep further away, so I tried to give them to the Lord and stay relaxed.

On top of everything else, I was intensely uncomfortable. Hot one minute, cold the next. The sheets irritated my skin. I got up and went to the couch in the living room, thinking a change of venue might help. It didn’t. Maybe I was coming down with something?

I went ahead and got up at 4:30 a.m. and took my shower. But I was sad and frustrated and even a bit hurt because God had not answered my prayer. He knew I needed sleep. He made me to need sleep. He knew everything on the schedule this day. Why had He let me go most of the night without sleep when I earnestly begged Him for it?

I didn’t know. I sent a quick text to a friend letting her know what was going on and asking her prayers. I decided to just keep getting ready for the trip and see what happened. I felt like I was moving through molasses or walking like a zombie (to mix metaphors). I couldn’t eat much and began to feel nauseous.

I couldn’t remember if I had actually prayed about whether to go to the conference. Was this God’s way of telling me no?

After I got everything ready to go, I knew I could not drive safely in the condition I was in. I decided to try to take a nap in my desk chair and see what happened. I asked God to direct me and help me know whether to go or stay. I asked Him, if He wanted me to go, to multiply whatever sleep I could get in my nap like the loaves and fishes and make it enough. And I fell blessedly asleep for maybe an hour.

When I woke up, my stomach still wasn’t feeling 100% well, but all grogginess was gone. I left for the conference. The night before I had made a sandwich for lunch so I didn’t have to look for a restaurant first thing when I got to town: since I was running late, I was able to eat a few bites on the way. I got to the conference just after the first introductory meeting ended. Though I would have liked to have gotten there in time for it, it wasn’t entirely critical. I had enough time to peruse the schedule to choose which of the workshops to attend that afternoon. I attended the rest of the conference and had a wonderful time. I had no trouble sleeping in the hotel room that night.

Still I pondered why God had not answered my prayer for sleep the night before. One of the truths that had sustained me on a recent family trip was “Your heavenly Father knows what things you have need of (Matthew 6:8). One by one He met each of my needs on that trip. Why did He seem to withhold one this time?

Perhaps one reason was to increase my dependence on Him. I thought I already was depending on Him for a number of issues relating to the conference and travel! But maybe He wanted to take me to a different level.

Philippians 4:11-13 came to mind: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” I can’t say I have totally learned that contentment, but I am in the process.

And then 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 came to my attention. “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

God may have any of a number of reasons to allow us to suffer a need of some sort. He’s not being cruel or unkind: all of His Word and years of knowing Him testify to that. God told Israel that He let them suffer hunger in the wilderness to humble them, to test them, and to turn their focus from their physical need to the spiritual. Unanswered prayer can cause us to examine ourselves for any hindrances on our part. Sometimes He cuts off something we need to produce more growth, to bring us to maturity.

I still don’t know why God didn’t answer my prayer for sleep on a night when sleep was critically needed. But He did meet my need, even though not in the usual way. Even in the face of a sleepless night and a full day, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

See also:

When I Don’t Get What I Need
When the Solution I Want Isn’t What I Need
Let Patience Have Her Perfect Work
Reasons Why Prayers Aren’t Answered

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

Laudable Linkage

Welcome to another gathering of great reads discovered this week:

Downstream. Love this analogy: “A river reaches places which its source never knows.”

If Kids Don’t Understand Why Miracles Don’t Discredit the Bible, Their Faith Will Be Easily Crushed, HT to Challies. “Miracle accounts simply don’t automatically discredit the Bible. Anyone who thinks they do hasn’t thought critically about the subject. Please help your kids understand this so they’re prepared the next time someone tries to make them feel like a fool by making simplistic appeals to ‘common sense.’”

Musical Choices–Objective Subjectivity. What music is appropriate for Christians has been the subject of multiple debates for years. But I think we can agree that music (not just words) which appeals to the flesh would fall on the wrong side for us. And we have to be honest about that appeal: as is shown here, if even secular musicians apply words like “raunchy” and “angry” to their music, how can we deny those elements are there?

Praying for Your Missionary’s Emotional and Mental Health. We pray for physical safety, but missionaries need help in other areas, too.

Josh Harris releases a statement on his book I Kissed Dating Good-bye. HT to Challies. I’m glad to see this. We gleaned some good principles from the book but formed our own philosophy which disagreed in parts with his.

The Literary Christmas Reading Challenge runs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31.

If you like Christian Fiction and/or scavenger hunts, the annual Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt starts here, with an opportunity to win “25 books as well as Amazon gift cards, an iPad and more!” Plus most of the individual authors are hosting giveaways on their own sites as well.

And, finally, a couple of thoughts found on Pinterest:

Happy Saturday!