Tag Archives: prayer

Tempted to despair…

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Tempted to despair…

I suppose it is pretty natural to have times when each of us is tempted to despair.  Life’s trial hurt – badly.  Sometimes the pain is so bad that we begin to lose sight of any way out of it.  We begin to wish that we might die rather than go on living – enduring – what we are facing.  

 

I have certainly felt that way, and I’ve talked with enough other people who have experienced real pain to know that I’m not alone.  In fact, I think it’s a fairly normal human experience to have at least a few of these dark valleys during our lifetimes, if not many more.

 

But what do we do when the circumstances of life seem to press in so hard that our chests ache with the heaviness of it all and there is not even a pin-point of light that gives us hope that it will soon be over?

 

We need the LIGHT of truth as desperately as we’ve ever needed it in those times, and yet, if you’re like the countless others I’ve talked with about these tunnels of darkness reading your Bible, praying, or even listening to sermons is more than your numbed mind can manage.

 

How do we cling to the things we know to be true when nothing about our experience helps us believe them?

 

I’ve been in such a time.  Recently.  As in, right now.  But I’ve been in times like this before, too.  I’ve learned a few things along the way and I’d thought I’d share them.  When my eyes are shrouded by darkness I need help to know that the light is there even though it is hidden from me.   Sometimes a friend is able to remind me of what I already know is true, and that is really and truly wonderful when it happens.  But friends are busy with their own lives and the fight against this darkness is a minute-by-minute struggle.  What then?  How do we get through in a way that glorifies God and doesn’t give in to the lies of the evil one?

 

Below is a document I have begun for myself.  It’s still a work in progress – I keep adding to it.  It is a call from the truths of scripture to endure – knowing that even this trial is a gift from a loving heavenly Father who wants me to know him to the depths as well as to the heights.

 

I hope it helps you – or someone you know who is struggling.  I’d love to hear what you might add.

 

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When I am tempted to despair, in an effort to take every thought captive to the mind of Christ, be anxious for nothing, be thankful in all circumstances, and rejoice always I will:

 

    1. Remember whose I am:
      1. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought with a price.  Therefore, glorify God with your body.”  I Cor 6:19-20
      2. “Looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider him that endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you will not grow weary or fainthearted.”  Hebrews 12:2-3
    2. Remember who I am:
      1. “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?  ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the ones he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’”  Heb 12:5-6
    3. Remember how I am loved:
      1. “God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Rom 5:8
      2. “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”  1 John 1:3
      3. “In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  John 14:2-3
    4. Remember that I am valued:
      1. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; for you are of more value than many sparrows.”  Matthew 10:29-31
    5. Remember that I am not alone:
      1. “It is the LORD who goes before you.  He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed.”  Deut 31:8
    6. Remember the faithfulness of God:
      1. “I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.”  Ps 40:1-2
    7. Expect Him to be faithful again:
      1. “Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.  Wait patiently for the Lord.  Be brave and courageous.  Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.”  Ps 27:13-14
    8. Ask for wisdom and clarity:
      1. “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God and He will give it generously to all without reproach.”  James 1:5
      2. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path”  Ps 119:105
    9. Remember my blessings and how I enjoy them:
      1. “…what do you have that you have not received?…” 1 Cor 4:7
      2. “O, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.  His love endures forever.” Ps 118:1
      3. “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to all mankind.  For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things…. Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.”  Psalm 107:8-9, 43
    10. Remember that this is normal for the believer:
      1. “We are experiencing trouble on every side but are not crushed; we are perplexed but not driven to despair; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down but not destroyed, always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might also be visible in our body.”  2 Cor 4:8-9
    11. Remember the lessons I have learned:

 

  • “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  Rom 8:28

 

    1. “That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that suprasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within, us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.”  Eph 3:16-21
  1. Praise God for His goodness and mercy:
    1. “For you are my hope, Lord God, my security since I was young.  I depended on you since birth, when you brought me from my mother’s womb. I praise you continuously.”  Ps 71:5-6
  2. Ask God to help me:
    1. “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Matt 7:7
    2. “Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Hebrews 4:16
  3. And after I have done all of this, I will fasten on the belt of truth, put on the breastplate of righteousness, and as shoes for my feet put on the readiness of the gospel of peace.  I will take up the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation, I will hold tightly the sword of the Spirit and pray in the Spirit.  And after all of this, I will stand firm.  And when the time is right, I will do the next thing that God has set before me to do in the race that he has set me on, knowing that his good and perfect will is neither to be trifled with nor railed against.  God help me.

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May the Lord bless you and keep you

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If you have gone to church for any services during your life (weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc.) there is a good chance you have heard words like these before:

 

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.

May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

 

It’s a blessing.  It is given from one person to another.  But it is also a prayer prayed by someone for the benefit of another.

 

It’s taken from the book of Numbers in the Bible, which reads like this:

 

The Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (ESV)

 

You can see that the wording is similar – but not exactly the same.  And that is what I want to explore in this post… praying scripture personally for one another for their good and for God’s glory.

“I’ll pray for you,” is something we might say often enough – or think we should say – but my experience is that, in general, we are very weak in this area.  And brothers and sisters –  we need to be better at it.  That’s just the simple truth.

 

I first read about blessing others in a little booklet called A Father’s Guide to Blessing His Children, by David Michael (you can find it here).  In it the author not only tells why father’s should seek to bless their children, but how.  I highly, HIGHLY recommend the book – and the practice.  (I know others have written on this as well, but this little resource was powerful, easy to read and understand, as well as inexpensive.)

 

Michael shows how we can take scripture that is full of instruction and warning and encouragement and all manner of teaching – and pray it for our kids.  His emphasis is on blessing them personally, in Christ’s name and for His name’s sake.

 

It’s not hard at all to motivate people to want to ask God to bless their children (who doesn’t want the blessings of God to be showered upon their offspring?).  But I have found that using this same concept of taking passages and praying to God on someone else’s behalf is a powerful tool in the believer’s hands.

 

Saying things like, “Lord, I want to lift up my friend Tim as he goes for his new job interview, I know he really needs a better job,” is OK, and the Holy Spirit knows your heart so if that’s all you’ve got, by all means pray it!  But it’s weak, and it’s not OK to just stay there.

 

How about praying like this instead, “Lord, please bless my friend Tim as he goes for his new job interview.  You know that his heart is anxious – calm him and grant him peace.  Help him Lord to remember that whatever circumstances he finds himself in to be content – for he can do all things through You who gives him strength.  Lord, fill him as only the God of hope can.  Fill him with all joy and peace as he trusts in You, so that he may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Help him to remember Lord, to cast all of his cares upon You, for You care for him.  Help him to remember that you have promised to supply all his needs according to all Your riches and glory in Christ Jesus, and that we serve You, Lord, our God who is able to do infinitely more than we can ask for or imagine.  Grant Tim peace today in You.”

 

If you were praying these words with Tim which one do you think would fill him with courage and confidence in the Lord?  Which one would remind him who has his future and his good in His hands?  And probably most importantly, which of these two prayers would bless Tim – and also, at the very same time – honor God the most?

 

These aren’t my words – I’m no better at praying than you or anyone else – these words are all from scripture: Philippians 4:11-13, 19; Romans 15:13; 1 Peter 5:7; and Ephesians 3:20.

 

I learned a long time ago that the Bible expresses my deepest needs and longings far better than I can.  If it’s true for me as I’m trying to figure my own life out, it’s got to be true for all the people I care about, too!  

 

If we believe that God himself breathed his very words into Scripture, and that they are life-giving truth sufficient to save, I’m guessing it’s a pretty good source to get our prayer-language from, eh?

 

Here are a few more so you can start to get the hang of this:

 

A prayer of blessing from Psalm 23 could be like this:

 

“Lord, show ______________ that you are her Shepherd.  Help her to see that because of that, she will never be in want.  Show her Lord, that in the greenest of pastures she can be content and lie down in rest.  Show her that you will provide still waters for her thirsty soul.  Lead her Lord, in the paths of righteousness, for Your name’s sake.  Remind her Lord, that even when she walks through the darkness and in the shadow of death, she has nothing to fear, for You are with her.  Teach her Lord the goodness and comfort of your rod and staff.  Give her abundance in the face of her enemies.  Anoint her and cause the cup of your goodness to overflow in her hands.  Help her to know that Your goodness and mercy will follow her all the days of her life.  And remind her, Lord, that in the end, she will live with you, in your house, under your protection and provision forever and ever. Amen.”

 

Do you think that if your daughter or friend or sister heard you praying for her like this it would speak to her inner-most being?

 

A prayer from Matthew 5:3-11 could go like this:

 

“Lord, grant __________________ the kind of poverty of spirit that leads him to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Comfort him as he grapples with are mourns over his own sin, and also over the injustices he sees around him.  Help him to be meek – seeking your will and not his own.  Cause his soul to hunger and thirst for righteousness as he hungers and thirst for food and water today.  Satisfy him with only Yourself.  Give him wisdom and power to be merciful, and do as You’ve promised Lord and show him mercy.  Help him to see the state of his own heart as You see it Lord, and purify it so that he can see you clearly.  Remind him of his calling to bring peace – your peace – to those around him and give him courage to speak boldly to those he interacts with today.  Cause his speech to be so clear that everyone around him identifies him quickly as your son.  And Lord, if he is persecuted because of it, remind him that nothing can take away his citizenship which is with You in heaven.  If others speak ill of him, or lie about him, or scorn him because he is Your faithful servant speaking the truth in love, remind him of the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before him, who were faithful in the face of persecution and death because loving You and being faithful to You was worth far more than even their own lives.  Grant him strength to follow hard after You today and every day Lord, for his good and for Your glory.  Amen.”

 

Do you think your husband or your son or brother would go into their day differently being prayed for like this?

 

I think I would.

 

Listen – I need this, too.  I pray this way often by myself, but I don’t do it often enough in the hearing of others.  What a precious gift I withhold from those I love and care about when I don’t.

 

Will you join me today in looking for ways to bless others AND honor God in this way today?
Share your stories with me.  Help us, Lord, to encourage one another and spur one another on to love and good deeds…. That’s my prayer for YOU.

Fasting gives me a headache…

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In case you haven’t heard there’s a lot of talk about fasting this month.  It’s Ramadan, but Muslims aren’t the only ones who fast.

 

Recently a friend of mine asked me if I would fast with her and pray for some friends, pray for her work, and pray about the “stuff” of life.

 

“Sure!” I said on the outside.  “ugh… “ I said on this inside.  And so, like the angels and demons I’d seen on peoples’ shoulders in the cartoons of my youth – my internal war began – again.

 

Fasting gives me a headache.  A serious, throbbing, cannot-ignore-it sort of headache.  I feel grumpy and distracted and completely out of sorts.  I can’t believe how much I think about eating when I’m fasting!  It’s astounding to me that I can spend so much time thinking about what I could be eating – when my goal is to forget about eating!

 

Have you tried it?  Have you struggled?  Have you quit in the middle and said, “This is STUPID!!”?  I have.  I hate to have to admit it, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has had to come face to face with how weak and distractable and cowardly I really am.

 

But that is precisely the point.  It is because each and every one of us is weak and selfish and filled up to the brim with lies that we believe about our own abilities that we need to fast.  Contrary to what many believe:

 

We do not fast to make ourselves clean before God.

We do not fast because it somehow convinces God to accept us.

We do not fast to pay for the wrong things we’ve done.

We do not fast to atone for the wrong thoughts we’ve had.

We do not fast to in any way clean up our act, straighten ourselves out, or try in some way to “get things right with the Man Upstairs” (as some of my childhood friends explained their fasting during Lent).

 

Fasting will show you how woefully short you fall of being in any way clean before the Lord.

Fasting will show you how prone you are to pleasing yourself rather than God.

Fasting will reveal to you how many more wrong things you do than you ever wanted to admit.

Fasting will kick up the settled dust of wrong thinking, and show you just how prone you are to thinking about ridiculous things that don’t matter – at the very least – if it doesn’t also reveal to you how prejudiced, sneaky, snarky, and just downright mean you can be.

 

By now you might be saying, “Um, and why is this a good thing?”  It’s good because we need to know these things about ourselves.  We need to know our sinfulness more and more completely, because doing so reveals to us the beauty of the cross and the glory of our Savior in ways that we can’t comprehend without it.

 

How else can the sacrifice of a perfect lamb become truly precious to us if we don’t understand that Christ died for us while we were swimming around in a sewage-filled ocean of our own making?  How else will we treasure the gifts of redemption and adoption if we never realize how far we have alienated ourselves from God and chosen instead to dirty ourselves by continuing to wallow around in and fill up our ocean with more and more insanity?  We lie to ourselves about ourselves far too easily.  We need disciplines like fasting to shake us awake to reality and remind us why we needed a Savior in the first place.  As it turns out, quietly sitting next to Jesus for any length of time will make you want to slither away from Him rather than present your “cleaned up” life to him, because we all know what it’s like to try to clean ourselves up from that kind of mess with a hanky that we’ve had in our pockets the whole time – it’s impossible.  

 

And that is why we fast.

 

When we get to the place where we realize the very best we might possibly hope for is to sneak away unnoticed by the brilliant Son of God, it is then that we can see clearly that He is coming after us – pursuing us with gentleness and love and forgiveness that we know we don’t deserve.  And yet, he brings us to stand there in His presence and accept His thorough cleansing from top to bottom, inside and out.  

 

Do you know that He loves you this way?  Do you want to know?  Come and fast with me.

 

There’s no formula – you will likely need to experience some failures and successes on your own in this because that is part of the discipline.  But we all need someone to disciple us.  It will become painfully clear to you – within about the first 20 minutes or so – that this is going to be harder than you thought.  But here are some practical things that have helped me keep my focus through the struggle to fast.

 

Hunger Pangs:  Saying “no” to food shows us how much we need to say yes to hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matthew 5).  Hunger is a powerful drive that God has given us.  He has intended it for our survival, but He has also intended it to teach us to hunger and thirst for Him.  When I’m fasting and I want to eat something, I pray, “Lord, help me to hunger and thirst after you even more than food.  Help me to know you in such a way that you fill me up and I am satisfied, no matter my circumstance, no matter if my belly is full or empty.  Lord show me what you want me to learn about you through this fast and help me to see you clearly.”  In practical terms though, I have to steer clear of the kitchen and keep my fast elsewhere.

 

Distractions:  It’s usually about half-way through that prayer that I find myself thinking about other things!  It’s as if my heart says, “Fine, if you’re not going to give in on the food front how about we talk about the laundry that needs to get done, or the dishes, or …that stinkin’ kid didn’t take the trash out… again!”  Maybe for you it will be your boss, or the incompetent drivers on the road, or your classmate’s weird outfit, or your coworker’s bad breath, or… you get the idea.  I can be distracted by anything when it comes time to pray.  I have to have a plan.  I have found that writing out my prayers is enormously helpful, and writing out what I want to pray about first, so that my “prayers” don’t become a rambling stream of consciousness instead, is almost critical.  (go ahead, laugh, but you know it’s true…)

 

Sometimes sitting and praying close to electronics is too distracting.  I use prayers written on index cards that I can take into another room or into the car or on a walk or anywhere that I won’t be tempted to “just check real quick.”

 

Boredom:  Yeah, I know – we shouldn’t get bored when we’re trying to talk to God.  But since I’ve already been brutally honest, I figure I might as well go all the way.  Sometimes I feel as if I’ve run out of things to talk with God about.  I get bored with the whole idea of focusing on Him and I just want to do something mindless and easy.  This, too, can lead me to pray, “Lord – teach me to want you!”  And if that doesn’t spark some other requests, then simply spending some time doing ordinary tasks and then thanking and praising Him for them is unbelievably helpful.  “Lord, thank you for this laundry to do for it means you have blessed me with clothing to keep me warm and covered.  Thank you for the family members who wear these things and forgive me for grumbling about serving them.  Thank you for ordering the world in such a way that families are your design that we can learn to trust and grow and know you.  I praise you Lord for you have formed me and each of these whom I love so dearly in wonderful ways.  I praise you Lord for you have created beauty and goodness and truth that surrounds us everywhere.  Help me, Lord, to point others to you so that they, too, can worship you in Spirit and in Truth.”  Sometimes it’s helpful to simply keep your hands busy while your mind is refocusing on why you’re fasting.

 

Sleepiness: Yes, it’s tempting to just go and take a nap rather than try to keep alert and focused – especially when everything is warring against that.  Sometimes I have to absolutely command myself not to give in, but because I am doing most of my work at home, my bed or that comfy chair can be really tempting. If you’re working somewhere else, you might not have this trouble during your work hours, but when you get home you will.  When it happens, you’ll need a plan:  take a walk, put on some worship music, clean the bathroom if you have to, and commit to talking with your Heavenly Father while you’re doing them.  

 

Headache:  Yes, I really do get whopper headaches when I fast.  Sometimes I push through them, and ask God to use them to draw me closer to Him.  If they’re helping me do that, I deal with the headache.  But sometimes, I take some pain reliever.  It’s not about the headache – it’s about my heart’s cry.  Sometimes the headaches helps me to cry out to God, sometimes it really is a distraction.  Talk to God about that, too, and ask him for wisdom to discern which it is.

 

The key to all of this is that we see how much we need Jesus.  Fasting confronts us with our utter incapability of doing all that God requires of us – and realizing that we are hopelessly trapped in that condition is the first step on the journey of sweet, satisfying communion with God for eternity.

 

Come and fast with me as I hunger and thirst after the righteousness that only Jesus can supply.  Come fast with me as I seek to put to death all the loves in my life that keep me from loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Come fast with me as I ask for wisdom to know what those things are and look for ways to be thankful and joyful right where God has me now.  Come fast with me as I ache to be reminded of the One who loves me enough to rescue me from my own willful wickedness.  And come fast with me to rejoice in a salvation that is complete and glorious and free – for we have been loved with an everlasting love and fasting helps us know it.

Let me know how you have learned how to fast – or what you’re struggling with.  Let’s encourage one another as we walk this journey of faith together.

 

(image credit: https://www.magnoliabox.com/search?q=sad&type=product)

Fighting for joy…

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Acrylic on paper by James Winn

Acrylic on paper by James Winn

I’ve referenced the above painting before by my friend James Winn  – it’s one of my favorite possessions.   While the bleak mid-western Winter imperceptibly creeps slowly, oh so slowly toward Spring, it takes a lot of faith to believe that things will ever look differently than they do in this painting.  Winter is long and hard – brutal at times – on the plains.

Intellectually we know that Spring will come – it always does.  But there are days, cold, dark days, when it is difficult to believe it.

I don’t live on the Plains anymore.  In comparatively balmy Delaware, Winter just isn’t that bad.  But the painting continues to lift my thoughts to higher things.

Some days – weather aside – that long-endured battle to be warm grips my soul.  The grass is green, the humidity and temperatures are high, and flip-flops are still the norm, but lurking in the corners of my mind are the dark days of endless, frigid, face-numbing cold and the struggle against it when feeding animals out in our barn or shoveling 4-ft snow drifts just to go to work.

As I struggle to replace that feeling of dread with truth I am reminded how easy it is to believe a lie.

It’s all too easy to believe my emotions, or gut, or whatever you want to call it, and dread the coming months, believing they will be filled with hardship and struggle – simply because that’s how they have been for so long.

My experience wants to rule, which is understandable, but false.

Faith is the same way.

Sometimes what I have lived wants to dictate what I believe.

Experience tells us to look at a certain set of circumstances and presume the outcome:

“This will always be this way…”

“She’ll always do these things…”

“He’ll never change…”

“This is what I can look forward to…”

But faith says,

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has enough care for itself.”

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for a future and a hope…’”

“For I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that day that which has been entrusted to me.”

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…”

I’ve been kicking around the phrase “The Joy of the Lord is my strength” for the past few months and have been wondering, “What does that mean – really?”   What does the Joy of the Lord look like?  Is it the happy “season’s greetings” kind of “joy” that tv, or hallmark, or Hollywood puts forth?  Is it supposed to be that 30- or 60-minute contrived, happy-ending kind of gladness, that is somehow meant to mysteriously last longer… if you just get a few things right?  I don’t know anyone who really lives like that – do you?

As is often the case for me, turning the phrase around a little bit has helped me to think about joy from a different angle.  Rather than a church-y cliché that people sometimes use to mask the struggles they are really having, the Lord’s Joy is something altogether deeper and more meaningful than silly jingles or whatever dumb choruses might conjure up for us.

The Lord’s Joy is my strength.

Think about that.  The Lord’s joy – not mine, or yours – is given to us.  Far from the “find it inside yourself” “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of joy that we try to manufacture, the joy of the Lord isn’t something we come up with at all!

The perfect, full, rich, abundant, and over-flowing joy that the Lord possesses has been given to us.  How much joy does God possess?  Infinite amounts.  What kind of joy does God have?  The very best of perfectly complete joy – and nothing less.  What is he joyful about?  In a word, Christ.  And, inconceivably, that includes you and me.  We are his and he delights in us.  All of creation has been racing toward one fantastic fulfillment – redemption!  That is you and me living for eternity in sweet, joy-filled fellowship with the Father because of the Son.  Wake up!  That is the great news!  We get to be there.  FOREVER.  If that doesn’t fill you will the Lord’s Joy, what can?

What is meant by joy strengthening us?  If all this joy is ours, why do we need to be strengthened at all?

Because sometimes, often times, My experience wants to rule, which is understandable, but false.

Life can be unimaginably hard.  We have trials.  We have pain.  We have searing disappointments and heartaches.  These things can threaten to undo us.  They can cause us to want to give up.  They can cause us to question the goodness of God and the purpose of his will.  They can gnaw at our confidence in Christ’s work on our behalf and they can attempt to grind our faith into dust.

The Lord’s Joy is our strength.  It’s there.  It’s already been freely given.  But sometimes it is so buried under our circumstances that we have to fight to hold onto it the way Jacob clung to God in the wilderness and would not let him go until God blessed him.

Sometimes we have to fight for the joy that already belongs to us.  We have to tell ourselves the truth – that we don’t know what the future will look like, but that we can trust the One who loves us and gave Himself over for us.  That we can depend on him for everything we need in the face of whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.  And that, in the end, everything, he puts before us is both for our good and His glory – even the trials.

The world may be looking a bit like that painting above – bleak and cold and dark.  But that is not the whole story.  Strength is growing under those furrows.  Perseverance and character and hope are being produced there.  Hope for the things that we know but remain as yet, unseen.

And just as winter always yields to spring and reveals what has been covered under cold and dark layers, the seen will yield to the unseen and we will see what we already know to be true: that every hardship, every tear, every lament has a purpose for good.  Nothing is aimless, nothing is a waste.  It is all making us fit in ways we can’t imagine, so that through them we will be made like the One we love.  Perfected.  Righteous.  Pure.  And most of all ready.   Jesus is gathering his people to himself and preparing us to live forever with him in beautiful, wonderful, perfect joy.

In the meantime, fight for joy.  It is already yours.

Praying Luke 10:2

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At the beginning of 2015 I answered a request to pray Luke 10:2 every day, at 10:02 – that the Lord of the Harvest would send more workers to the harvest with, “sure, I can do that.”

“And he (Jesus) said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”  Luke 10:2

At first, the challenge seemed doable – set my alarm and pray for workers each day… no big deal.

Boy was I wrong.

Let me be perfectly honest here:

First of all, having an alarm go off every day, like…er… clockwork, can be irritating.  I mean really irritating.  It must be connected with my pride somehow, and not wanting anyone to tell me what to do – even when I am the one telling me what to do.  Which is so ridiculous I hate to even admit it, but it’s true.  I guess that is why new habits – even ones we know to be good for us – are hard to establish.  But irritating hardly seems like a strong enough word.

Secondly, praying “God, please send more workers to the harvest,” day after day gets old… fast.  And that was after only about the 2nd or 3rd day!

But we’re told to pray.  And we’re told to pray about this specifically.

So, hoping to build a good discipline into my life and actually desiring (though my sinful, selfish, lazy self would war against this) to pray with diligence and fervor about the things that are important to God, I pressed on.  I started with, “Lord, show me how to pray for more workers.  I’m dull and weary right now – I got nothin’!”

Wow.  I mean, WOW!!!

I was amazed at all the ways God showed me I could begin to pray.  Once I got past “Lord send more workers,” the floodgates began to open and ideas and insights are new and fresh all the time.  Here are just a few of the ways he has taught me to pray more specifically to the Lord of the Harvest:

– Lord, help us to train workers.

– Lord, help us to encourage them.

– Lord, help us to support them.

– Help us to care for, and know them well.

– Lord, help us to identify who your workers are!

– Lord, show us the fields.  Keep our minds keen and our eyes sharp to see them.

– Lord, keep our hearts soft toward the opportunities to go to different fields.

– Give us courage to go to fields that seem wild and untamed.

– Give us grace to send workers to even the most plowed and subdued, knowing that in every generation, there is a harvest.

– Lord, help us to overcome the dullness that keeps us from working, seeing, reaping.

– Lord, help us to be the workers you send!

– Help us to obey when you call us to go.

– Lord, keep us from ever hindering other workers.

– Lord, show us how to work in your fields.

– Lord, teach us what we need to know to be your workers.

– Lord, make us into workers who produce good workers.

– Help us to do the hard work of weeding out things that would choke your harvest.

– Lord, help us to be fruitful in our efforts.  Help us to be faithful in them.

– Lord, help us to work hard and not be lazy, as we see the day approaching.

– Lord, teach us to number our days, so that we may get hearts of wisdom.

– Give us the wisdom we need to know how to pray, go, and work.

I have only begun to scratch the surface of how we can pray Luke 10:2, but I have already been amazed by the depths of what God has revealed to me through the simple act of choosing to pray one verse every day… and it’s only April.

Will you join me in this obedient, yet beautiful task?

Share with us what you learn, and how you learn to pray.  We will all be better able to pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest!

What do you want?

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I asked my two-week old baby that question once.  I know – it’s a dumb question to ask of a two-week old.  But even as I knew the absurdity of asking her, I also knew I had run out of ideas.  I was desperate.  I was exhausted.  I was grasping at straws.  I held all 9 pounds of her up and looked at her eye-to-eye,  and with all the restraint I could muster pleaded, “what do you WANT?!?!”

She kept crying.

I’m not really sure how, but we got through it.  She’s 30 now – and no worse for the question.  At least she doesn’t remember it.

It’s not an entirely bad question, though – really.   (OK, I don’t recommend asking someone who’s only means of communication is crying…)

But we ask it all the time.  What do you want for dinner?  What do you want to do?  What do you want to be?  What do you want to accomplish?  and on it goes…

“What do you want?” can elicit a myriad of responses.  Deep things.  Shallow things.  Immediate things.  Long-range things.  Proper things…

We think about what we want all the time.  From the moment our consciousness transitions from being asleep to being awake what we want drives us.  I want to sleep more so I hit snooze.  I want to get out of the door on time so I get up.  I want to eat something because I’m hungry – or don’t want to be at an inconvenient time.  I want to not eat because it’s “nasty” first thing in the morning (at least that’s what my teens say).  I want to wear this.  I want to go here.  I want to remember that.  I want to finish what’s on my list.  (I want to start what’s on my list!)

All of these wants can race through our minds before our eyelids open, but it continues all through each of our days.

“I want” is almost as much a part of being human as “I think.”  We neither consider nor act without some ‘want’ prompting us.

And yet, when we seriously ask each other the question, “What do you want?” we are often met with the same crazed look my two-week old infant gave me so many years ago.

Aside from wants of the immediacy of the next 10 minutes – or day – what do you really want?  Inherent in the question is, “what is it that you want in your life more than anything?”

What are your goals?  What are your longings?  What are you passionate enough to base your decisions on?  What is so important to you that you would sacrifice other good things for?

What do you really want???

This is a question I’ve been pondering recently as a result of our women’s Bible study.  When I’m thinking through the wants that motivate me, the range of answers is vast:

I want my house clean – and I’d really like it to stay that way for a stretch of time.

I want someone else to make dinner.

I want time to read all the books on my list.

I want to learn French fluently.

I want to lose weight and be in better shape.

I want to have deep friendships.

I want to be appreciated.

I want to love well – and I want to know that I am well-loved.

I want to love God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength – and I want to know what that really looks like.

I want my kids to love God the same way.

I want to hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your Master.”

What ends up bubbling up to the top of our lists reveals where our hearts are.   The beautiful thing is that God knows we are frail and made of dust – as he was with Abraham, he is patient as we learn to want for our own lives what God wants for them.

I’ve already made some decisions based on the priorities of these things in my life.  I wouldn’t die on the hill of desire to keep my house clean (which, I suppose is why it’s still on the list…), but I would on the one that demands an answer for how to learn how to love God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength.   I’m pretty hopeful about learning French better – but I’m dogged about teaching my children to love God.  These things motivate me to be sure.

But when I’m really honest about my wants during the course of an ordinary day, lesser wants tend to have a bigger voice amidst all those wants clamoring for first priority.  I want to be lazy sometimes more than I want to be industrious.  I want to be crabby sometimes more than I want to have a joyful heart.  I want to criticize sometimes more than I want to encourage.  I fall short… a lot… of what I really want.

Thankfully, we serve a Great High Priest who intercedes to God the Father on our behalf – who can change our prayers of “I want what I want” into “teach me to want what You have planned for me” by changing our hearts.

Lord, teach me to want what you want.  Teach me to want You.

Sticky notes with prayer

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I haven’t posted in a while – life is hard sometimes…

But this morning I was cleaning some files and piles out – trying to clear out the winter collection of neglected things on my “to-do” lists… filing always ends up being something that gets pushed down (or off) the list.

But I found this note – a prayer, really – that I remember writing on a couple of sticky notes while I was hurrying to get a bunch of other things done.  I don’t even know why I kept these – except that maybe they just got stuck to some other, seemingly more important papers.  I don’t tend to keep prayers – I don’t even tend to write them.  I say them and then, truthfully, I usually forget them.  I tend to pray “in the moment”.

But I’m wondering out loud if perhaps I should do more of this – writing down what I’m praying.  Prayer is encouraging.  Praying is encouraging.  Remembering prayers is encouraging, too, because we see so many more answers than when we’re simply in the thick of things.

Hopefully, sharing a prayer will be encouraging as well.  Here it is…

August 18, 2011

Whatever good I see is You.  Whatever kindness, whatever charitable act, whatever generosity – it is all You.  You have made us to reflect Yourself and even when we do not honor you with our lips and hearts, we do so with these reflections of who you are.  But how much sweeter must they be to you when we praise You at the same time?  How much more are you honored when we not only realize this truth for ourselves and thank You for these kindnesses, but when we also open our mouths to those around us with Your praises that simply cannot be held in?  Remind me to praise You out loud.  Embolden me to suffer the scoffing and mocking it might bring, and to count them as rubbish when compared to all that I have in You.

Lord, teach me to see your mercies for mankind as the gifts of love that they are. Teach me to ponder the depth of One who is so good that he is kind not only to his children but also to his enemies.

Teach me I pray, to see your immense pleasure in giving good gifts to your children, and teach me Father to seek the same pleasure in giving good gifts to those around me.  Teach me what the best gifts are, so that in each proper time, I might see not only the need around me but also the remedy for want.  Remind me that even the knowledge of my need to repent is a good gift from you. Keep me humble enough to see repentance as an opportunity to rid my life of everything that keeps me from loving you well.

Teach me Your word O God so that it would guide me even in this.  Help me in my memorization, for I fear that even in these stowed gems that I have stored away – I am losing what I already had.  Help me see age the way you see it, and not as the world sees it.

Help me to love doing good.  Help me to love those you love. And Lord, please help me to love those whom I perceive to be my enemies. Amen.

 

Hopefully this very ordinary prayer from an ordinary woman living a very small and ordinary life will be one such gift to encourage you, my reader.  If not, I know it was to me, for it reminded me of the only One who loves me fully, and tenderly – enough to lead me to some sticky notes with prayer.