Sunday, February 24, 2013

Unforgiving Prayer

I awake early to pray but something is off, not right.  It occurs to me I am angry.   Upset.  I feel my rights have been violated by someone close to me. Could I talk to that person to try to make ammends?  No, much too early.  The sleepy sun hasn't even begun to peek over the horizon.  I try to pray, but it's like a hitting a brick wall.  Nothing comes so I sit.

I think of the scripture

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him so that your Father in heaven may forgive you.  Mark 11:25

I know that I can't talk to that person, but I can begin making amends.  I can forgive.  I tell God how I feel.  Confess that I've been too wrapped up in myself and too unconcerned with others.  I reflect on the millions of violations I've committed before a Holy God who lavishes his forgiveness on me time and time again.  Unforgiveness towards anyone seems like a selfish, unspeakable crime for someone like me who has been forgiven of so much.   I decide to forget when my flesh tries to remember.  I'll put those cruel, condemning thoughts out of my mind and remember how God has forgiven me time and time again.  I remember His Spirit in me, enabling me to exhibit divine forgiveness.  

 A breath of fresh air fills my soul.  

Finally, I can pray. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Put Yourself In Timeout

"Go to your room and think about the right way to use your words,"  I said to my daughter as I sent her to her room for a timeout.  I managed to keep a  low calm voice, but my heart was pounding and all I felt was anger.

With clenched teeth and tight fists I wondered why I have more trouble with this one child than the half dozen I used to care for in my home daycare.  She pouted down the hall and I had a Holy Spirit moment. 

"Put yourself in a time-out and pray," came a gentle whisper.

I sat down on my couch and poured out my heart to the Lord.  I told Him I was frustrated.  I asked Him for grace.  I prayed for Him to touch my daughter's heart.  Quite frankly, it was the best time-out I ever had.

When the timer beeped and I let her out, I was amazed at how God's spirit had worked in her heart and perhaps more importantly, mine.  A fresh flood of grace and love filled our home. 

My takeaway: Sometimes you just need to put yourself in a timeout and pray.

              Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.  Colossians 4:2

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hard Days

Some days are simply harder than others.  My amazing husband has been working some pretty crazy hours.  There is more work for me and I feel the drain from the lack of his presence at home.  I have a choice:  complain or cry out to the one whose presence never leaves me,

So I find myself crying out.  I learn to pray for my family as I fold their clothes.  Laying their lives at his throne as I lay their clothes in neat piles.  I intercede for husbands coworkers as I prepare a pizza for him to share.  Let them hunger for you and be filled, I pray.   

I seek to really live 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18:

Be joyful always.
Pray continually.
Give thanks in all things.
For this is the will of God concerning you.

Even on hard days.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Praying for my Hands


    I look down at my hands, wrinkled and cracked from the daily routines they endure.  Wash.  Fold. Clean. Wash. Fold. Clean.  I gave up painting my nails years ago and it’s been nearly a decade since I have had a professional manicure.  Soapy suds 3 times a day, day after day, month after month, year after year have take their toll.
    Lately I have noticed the neatly manicured nails of beautiful women I see at the banks and stores.  Their perfect nails colored in vibrant hues of pink and red and violet, beg my question.
    “How do they do it?” I wonder.  
    A few weeks ago, my daughter and I sat down at the dining room table.  Reluctantly, I consented to painting her nails.  Stroke after stroke of coral on her ten tiny fingers.  Feeling ambitious and with her insistence, I painted mine as well.  We sat there at the table gently blowing on our fingers.  
    My polish didn’t survive 24 hours.  Staring at my chipped nails in disgust, I reached for the acetone and removed all hint of color:  naked nails for working hands.
    The human hand is a marvelous creation.  29 bones, 9 major joints, 48 nerves and 123 ligaments are skillfully woven together enabling baseball player Aroldis Chapman to heave a pitch at a staggering 105mph.  The same materials  that produce such power and force can operate with enough precision to actually paint a picture on a grain rice.  If you have not seen these tiny works of art, you have to google them sometime.  I’m certain you’ll be amazed by the sheer wonder of such a minute masterpiece. 
   The hand also provides a unique form of identification.  Tiny swirls twist and turn like windy roads on a map to create a one-of-a-kind stamp we call a fingerprint. The palm of the hand with all of its wrinkles and creases  is tough and durable, yet strangely sensitive.
I stare at my wrinkly, dry hands that bear 30 years of tiny scars from my busywork.  It’s doubtful they’ll ever look like the perfect fingers I see  in magazines.  They are short workers constantly on duty.  They remove splinters and clean scraped knees.  They rest on a forehead to measure temperature and wipe little noses that run.  They chop onions and knead dough. They type and paint and fix and scold and they hold the hand of a loving man whose affection I don’t deserve.  
Index finger has pointed under hundreds of words, slowly moving, letter by letter, as tiny lips decode  the sounds into intelligible language.  Who knows how many pinky promises my little finger made  as a child? Ring finger has worn a golden band for nearly 12 years.  Then holding it all together, often offering an encouraging “thumbs up” is my short, stout thumb on the end.  
             Holy scripture has a lot of say about hands.  Hands clapping.  Hands praising.  Hands working.  Hands laying.  Hands spinning. Hands rinsing.  Hands lifting. Hands striking. Hands delivering.  Hands producing. Hands making.  Hands harvesting.  Hands fulfilling.  
I love what Nehemiah said about hands.  He had a job.  Nehamiah was rebuilding a sacred wall torn down by adversaries.  Words of ridicule and opposition were shot at him like evil darts of an enemy.  

His response is recorded in Nehemiah 6:8-10 (NIV)

They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.”
But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”

Strengthen my hands.  Strengthen my hands.  Strengthen my hands.   I murmur the words to myself imagining the urgency and fervor with which Nehemiah must have prayed them.  Desperate to see the job done right and done well.  Longing for  his hands to finish what they started, he prayed.  I get that.  Something deep inside of me wants to see the job done, but I get tired.  Can I pray like Nehemiah?   Can I trust God to strengthen me for the task at hand?

    The unique fingerprint testifies to the unique task each hand is equipped to do.  God designed your hand to build something that only you can build.  There is work only your hands can do.  
    Maybe your hands are like mine, tired and sore from their daily routines.  Or perhaps you just treated your hands to a manicure and they rest on your lap with colorful, glistening veneers.  Regardless, tiny swirls masterfully designed by the Creator, barely visible and rarely noticed cry out.  They whisper God’s special plan for you, for your hands.  Seek Him to discover what your hands were designed to do.  Then,  cry out like the Psalmist in Psalm 90:17:

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.

God will strengthen our hands.  God will establish the work of our hands.  Here’s the best part.  Our hands bring us rewards.  

Proverbs 12:14 From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the  
work of their hands bring them reward. 

    God strengthens our hands.  God establishes the work of our hands and God brings us rewards from the work of our hands.  Nothing our hands do go unnoticed.  As we live out Colossians 3:23 and do all things as though we were doing it for Jesus himself, we receive rewards: both on earth and in heaven.

    In Proverbs, we read of a woman who was diligent in working with her hands whether for buisness or charity.  The Bible says:
Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.  Proverbs 31:31

I smile at these words.  Honor her for all that her hands have done.   In a world consumed with appearance, in my mind obsessed with pretty hands all that God cares about is what my hands have done.

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived had some thoughts on hands as well.

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. Eccl. 9:10

I only have one chance to do something with my hands.  You only have one chance to do something with your hands.  Let’s use our hands to hands to give  Glory to God.

Today, I pray like Nehemiah,   "Strengthen my hands Lord."

References accessed Feb. 14, 2013:

Friday, February 15, 2013

One Liners

Everyone loves a good one liner, but what about a prayer one liner?  I was thinking about the tax collector in Luke.  He prayed a simple one-liner, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner."  This simple one-liner pleased God.  He was humble and honest. 
Yesterday I adopted an even shorter one-liner.  "Change me, Lord."   

Early that morning  I decided to use this one-liner to connect with God through out the day.   I  was amazed at how many opportunities I had to utter those words.  I could truly sense God answering my prayer and changing me to be little bit more patient, a little bit more loving,  over all a little bit more like Him.  

Realizing how much change need, my one liner for today remains, "Change me, Lord."
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector  Luke 18:9-14
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Thursday, February 14, 2013

An Everlasting Love

Maybe it's all the heart shaped candy and flowers, but I just couldn't get my mind off this verse today as I sat in God's presence.

...I have loved you with an everlasting love;
 therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. 
Jeremiah 31:3

 This was my daughter's memory verse for the week.  I sat in her bed saying the verse and she would repeat the words.   She knows little of love and faithfulness.  She doesn't realize the countless hearts that have been broken or the lives turned upside down by lies and broken promises.   Though I hate to admit it, one day she'll experience heartbreak and disappointment beyond me telling her she can't have more candy.  And maybe, just maybe, this verse will come to mind and become real to her.  Perhaps she'll realize that His love is enough.

Only God can love us perfectly.  Only He can satisfy.   The pain comes in seeking that love and satisfaction from anything or anyone other than Him.  

Chocolate gets eaten and flowers die, but God's love is everlasting.  His faithfulness continues.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mama Stack

Mama Stack prays like no one I know.  One moment she might pray eloquently with the grace of queen.  Another moment she prays with the intensity of a boxer, fighting the good fight of faith.  She cries out to the Lord with the neediness of a child crying for their Father.  She prays sweet, tender blessings of peace like a mother with a child.  Her tongue is like the pen of a ready writer quoting beautiful scriptures as she approaches the throne of grace.

Her relationship with God is a paradox.  She speaks to Him as a close friend, yet knows Him as the Creator and Judge, someone all-to magnificent to fully understand.  

She recently celebrated a birthday and when I think of  Psalm 92:12-15, I can't help but envision her as she ages. 

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
    they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13 planted in the house of the Lord,
    they will flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They will still bear fruit in old age,
    they will stay fresh and green,
15 proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
    he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

Recently our church launched a mentoring program to connect younger women with older women, but  I didn't sign up for it.  It was not because I don't need mentoring.  Trust me, I need all the help I can get.  I didn't sign up because I live next to Mama Stack.  She's a Titus 2 woman in my life.  She is open and honest about her struggles.   She encourages me to keep on keeping on.  And in spite of her wisdom from a lifetime of living for God, raising babies and now welcoming grandchildren into the world, she remains humble.  She is flourishing.  She is fruitful.  She's staying fresh and still bearing fruit for the kingdom of God.  She's not perfect, but she knows that In Christ she is righteous.

Her generosity challenges me.  Her faith inspires me.  Her stories stretch me. Her love enriches me.  

Tonight we met at her house for prayer.  She shared her need for us to pray for her if we think about her.  She explained often when we think about someone, it's a prompting from the Lord to pray for them.
"If God brings someone to your mind, pray for them," she admonished. 

So today I am praying for Mama Stack.  May her legacy of faith and prayer endure throughout the generations of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and beyond.  May the rest of her life be the best of her life.  Holy Spirit, continue to use her in ways that shock, amaze and delight her.  Fill her with renewed energy and vitality.  Pour your goodness and grace upon her.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

Ask and you shall receive...

It's my great pleasure to announce I have had no furry little surprises for a few months.  Though I am delighted I have not seen more mice,  I am a wee bit concerned.  Honestly, how something so small can cause me to feel so upset and lose my focus?  How often do I allow little surprises to shake my faith walk? Shouldn't my faith permeate every aspect of my life?

Sometimes I like to think I am a woman of great mountain-moving faith.  Then I have moments where I see myself as I truly am, very human and desperately in need of more Jesus and more grace.  I feel like the disciples in Luke 17:5 asking Jesus "Lord increase my faith."  I don't just want great faith for the "big" stuff.  I need great faith for the small things because I deal with so much "little"stuff.  

A little mouse reminds me nothing is too big or too small for God.   Thankfully,  a  few traps and much prayer seemed to get rid of the intruders. 

Ask and you shall receive...Matthew 7:7

Monday, February 11, 2013

Prayer in Practice

If you're like most Christians, it's easy for you to answer the question "Why Pray?"  We know that the Bible tells us to pray.  In fact, it goes as far as to say "pray continuously."   Searching scripture, we discover prayer is all about connecting and communicating with God.   But it's a little tougher to answer the "How to Pray." Jesus gives us a great model to follow in the Matthew 6:9-13

 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

Jesus also tells us don't make prayer into a big show to impress others.  But what does this look like? How does this thing called prayer work out in actual practice? Kneel? Sit? Stand?  Eyes closed? Eyes opened?  Do I have to have a literal closet to pray in?  How does this look?

Our physical  posture of prayer doesn't  supersede the heart's posture and the purpose of prayer.  So sit, stand, walk, talk, be silent, open your eyes, close your eyes but whatever you do, just pray. Connect with God because he longs to connect with you.  

In the interest of satisfying the curious and at the risk of inviting you into my very messy, very real world, I wanted to share two really practical things I have found helpful in becoming a praying person. 

First of all, I need a relatively peaceful and quiet place.  Paul could pray and praise in a prison, but I need a little order.  If there is clutter, chaos or dirt I will spend more time thinking about housework than God's work.  This need for a serene space eliminates the use of a "prayer closet" in my home.  Perhaps your closet is neater and larger than the tiny one I share with my husband in which case you should be very thankful.  

 My quiet place, my closet if you will, is my living room.  It's the one room I manage to keep organized on a regular basis.  Kitchen prayer lends itself to munching more than I ought.  Bedroom prayer risks me falling asleep or waking my husband. The dining room, as you can see, is where the action happens and the messes never end so it's a no-go prayer zone for me.
The dining room table-not just a place to eat.

Pencil shavings and dog hair on the floor are not conducive to my prayer life.  

Secondly, I keep a "prayer basket" near the couch in the living room where I like to pray.  I wish I could take credit for this great idea, but a sweet friend suggested this when I was lamenting about my inconsistent prayer life.  

My little basket is full of things that help me focus when  I want to pray.  I like to pray in the quiet moments of the early morning and in any other moments I can capture during the day.  When I plop down on the couch to rest,  I will often grab my little basket and "rest In Him."

The  basket a cute little thing that tucks away nicely under the end table.  It is oh-so-easy to pull out and is a great visual reminder to spend more time with Jesus.   I would encourage you to find a visual reminder that works for you.  Maybe your  reminder is  an app on your  iPhone, a habitual morning walk with the dog or  a note on your nightstand.  Whatever it is, it should encourage you to pray. 

So, back to the basket.   If you're like me, you're probably wondering what's in the basket.  I have a Bible,  a journal,  card holders for prayer requests and answers and inspiring  books about prayer.
Operation World is one of my favorite books that informs me about prayer needs around the world.  I highly recommend it. 

As I take this prayer journey, I pray you are inspired to take your own journey.  
Pray hard.  Pray often. 
Who knows?  1,000 hours of prayer just might change everything.  

Friday, February 8, 2013

Ninety and Counting...

    I am reading Mark Batterson's book the Circle Maker.  He alludes to the fact that practice, the sheer act of repetition, creates mastery.  To be a world class athlete or musician there seems to be one common denominator:  10, 000 hours of practice.  The pure investment of time is what separates the everyday from the elite. 
   Over the last several months, I've spent hours and hours in prayer.   The biggest change I have noticed has been my reaction to life.  When a problem arises, my first instinct is to pray.  Isn't that what it should have been all along?
   For example, this afternoon my husband gave me some alarming news.  Something we had prayed for and agreed on was about to be changed and there was seemingly nothing we could do about it.  His visceral reaction caused the muscles in his jaw to tighten and created a tension in his voice.  I could tell his blood pressure was rising by the flush in his cheeks. 
    After listening, I calmly assured him that no decision man makes is final.  We quietly prayed at the table and he left.  As the car eased away from the drive, I sent the children to their bedrooms and shut the door.  I found my kneeling spot by the couch and burst into tears and moans, crying to the Lord.  I reminded him of the early mornings I spent praying for my husband.  I pleaded with him for favor in an unfavorable circumstance.  Like Elijah, I prayed with fervor and urgency.
  "Mom, is everything ok?"  a tiny voice stammered.  My hair and makeup were surely a mess by this time.  I wiped the tears from my face and explained that I was crying out to God for mercy.  I was very upset and the only one who could help me was God.  Now my children knew what was going on.  They knew my prayer.  Surely God would respond if only for the sake of their young, tender faith.
    Concerned children quietly slipped away and I continued to pray until there were no more words, no more cries and the ache in the pit of my stomach had left.  I sent my husband and message.
  "Any word?"  I typed.   He proceeded to tell me the tides had changed and God had granted him favor.  My prayer had been answered.  I smiled.  I rejoiced.  I told the children how God heard our cry and soaked in the sweetness of the smiles that plastered their faces. 
  God always answers.  God always hears.  Sometimes, like today,  it's exactly how I hoped he would answer.  Then there are times when I am a child and do not understand the ways of my wise Father.  I stammer and question. I feel confused and discouraged.  But even then I know that He is a good Father.  His ways are not my ways.  His thoughts are not my thoughts. His gifts are good and perhaps the best gift of all is the journey we enjoy as we seek Him.  Who knows what 1,000 hours of prayer might bring.  Who can imagine what 10,000 hours of prayer would do.  Perhaps after 10,000 hours of prayer one might really understand what Paul commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 ...pray without ceasing.  Can prayer become a state of mind?  Can prayer become as natural as breathing?  I hope so.