October 30, 2008

Slaying the Enemy

At church we’re studying Nehemiah (which, to my surprise, I’ve found is extremely relevant to our lives.) Nehemiah had a bold plan, blessed by God, to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. The Jews had many enemies who wanted them to fail—at anything. Threatened by the possible success of such a grand project, Sanballat, Tobiah and company gathered their resources and took aim. At first they hoped to squash the plan before it got off the ground. When this didn’t work and construction began successfully, they upped the ante and launched a full-scale verbal assault complete with public humiliation. They attacked the Jews’ self-image. Questioned their ability. Mocked their faith. Deflated their hope. Scoffed at their vision.

Any one of the arrows could have discouraged Nehemiah and his people. Surely a full onslaught would cause massive doubt, prompting the Jews to run back to the safety of the status quo.

It might have if Nehemiah wasn’t sure of one thing: He was living firmly in God’s purpose and God’s blessing was upon them. Instead of waging a battle on his own Nehemiah “prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” (Neh. 4:9). And then, in full confidence he faced his enemies. Armed with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other, workers continued to build the wall.

In this country we don’t often receive physical threats for carrying out God’s work. But that doesn’t mean warfare isn’t very real. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Our own Sanballats stand on the sidelines and criticize:
“Shouldn’t you wait until you get more experience?”
“I never let
my children do THAT!”
“Haven’t you tried diets before?”
“You want to start a new business in THIS environment?”
“Ever since you stopped drinking you’re no fun anymore.”
“Do you realize how difficult it is to get published?”
“Maybe you didn’t pray enough.”

Often our worst enemies are the ones inside our own head (my personal favorite):
“Who am I kidding, I’ll never be able to accomplish that…”
“There are so many others more qualified…”
“If I were a better mother/wife/friend…”
“What will others think?”
“I can’t, it’s too risky/scary/dangerous.”

Some of the barbs meet resistance and fall away. But, others find our weakness and penetrate. Ouch! Soon we’re disabled, disheartened and disillusioned, willing to settle for the status quo. Ah, it’s so much safer and more comfortable there!

But is this what God desires of us? To play it safe? Avoid risks? Pursue the sure thing?

God created each of us for a unique purpose. But finding and fulfilling that purpose requires movement. Often it requires we travel off our map into unfamiliar territory where it’s risky and uncomfortable. Like the Jews we feel threatened. The enemy attacks. We begin negative self-talk. Doubt our ability. Waver in our faith. Lose hope. Or question God’s calling. Satan’s happy because he knows if he can just keep us focused on ourselves, we’re rendered useless for the Kingdom.

We learn from Nehemiah there is a way to fight this battle: with a trowel (God’s work) in one hand and a sword (God’s word) in the other. For the question isn’t “if” but “when” the battle will happen. And we need to be prepared. “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground...Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

There is real power in God’s word. Whatever you’re experiencing, there is a verse of victory. Find it. Claim it. Tape it to your bathroom mirror. Memorize it. Say it aloud. Stand firm in its truth. “With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies.” Psalm 108:13

In Him we can be brave.

"Brave" by Nichole Nordeman. This song is so empowering and victorious.

October 26, 2008

Falling for Him — From the Inside Out

I wrote the following for Internet Cafe Devotions' "Falling for Jesus" contest. Click their button on the right to read others' entries and to check out this great site.

I knew all about Him—this guy named Jesus. I sang songs, memorized Scripture and watched stories re-enacted in dramas. I envisioned Him a rescuer of fair maidens and figured sooner or later He’d sweep me off my feet. The emotions from Vacation Bible School, summer camp and youth group retreat fueled my young faith. But when the happy feelings faded it seemed Jesus disappeared too. Leaving behind the same old me.

Entering adulthood poor Prince Charming Jesus didn’t stand a chance against my burgeoning intellect. So I packed Him away alongside Barbie and Ken and the other mementos of my youth. Fondly remembered but no longer useful. Skepticism crept in.

In time skepticism turned to outright cynicism. For years I wandered far from Jesus.

Until about six years ago when I found myself in Alpha, a ten-week program for those questioning Christianity. People like me. We started with the basic principles of the Christian faith and I found my disbelief was fueled more by ignorance than intellect. I began to understand who Jesus really is and why He had to die.

Then one week at Alpha, I heard a verse that changed everything. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20, NIV)

To illustrate we viewed the famous painting, Light of the World. In it Jesus stands knocking on a door overgrown with vines, however the door’s only handle is on the inside.

Finally, I was beginning to get it.

How foolish I’d been. I wasn’t a modern-day Rapunzel. I was a stubborn, willful girl whose Prince had already rescued her at Calvary. No matter how far I'd strayed He’d been standing outside the door of my heart, waiting—patiently.

A few weeks later at the Alpha retreat we held an afternoon of intimate, one-on-one prayer. Sacred music played quietly as the small group leaders prayed with each participant scattered around the dimly-lit room.

Nervous yet excited for this unknown experience, I prayed to Jesus, this new guest in my life. From somewhere deep inside a wave of emotion—pure and spontaneous—enveloped me. Without knowing exactly why I started to cry. But they were tears of joy. Of beauty. Of forgiveness. Of truth. The quiet sobs and sniffles of others told me I wasn’t alone.

Soon my small group leader came alongside and listened to my prayer requests. He laid hands on me and lifted up my requests, asking the Holy Spirit to come. As he prayed it felt like lava flowed from his hands, into my head and through my body. Heat radiated. I was filled. Invigorated. Transformed. The crying turned to sobs. How long I’d wandered—lost. And now I’d finally found my way home.

What I’d always feared would be a leap of faith into an abyss was really a step into the waiting arms of a Savior. By His amazing grace and the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus took me to the mountaintop. There He removed the scales and gave me eyes to see. He instilled a thirst that’s yet to be quenched. And He filled the hole inside that’s shaped just for Him. I felt like Moses—radiant from the encounter.

What seemed like minutes was actually hours and when our prayer time ended, I sat speechless and spent. I wanted to rest in that moment forever. To bask in Jesus’ consuming love.

That afternoon marked the close of one door and the opening of another—one that I’d opened from the inside. It was as Paul said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV). Scripture came alive. Praise music stirred my soul. Sunday worship joined my heart with His. I was truly, madly, deeply in love!

And I still am. Oh, to know Him—this guy named Jesus.

October 21, 2008

"Buck Up Little Camper!"--Part Two

Continued from Friday’s “Buck Up Little Camper!– Part One.” Read that entry before reading today’s.

We sat at our picnic spot in Indians Gardens, 3,000 feet into the Grand Canyon. With the canyon’s rock stratifications clearly marking geological divisions, it was as if we rested inside a gigantic prehistoric urn. The massive canyon walls stretched skyward. Ahead several more miles lay the Colorado River, the genesis of it all. It was tempting to stay in on our lush little oasis and savor the sights, but we had to hike out before sunset.

By now the morning’s shade and chilly temperatures had been replaced by plentiful sunshine and temps in the mid-80s. We began the long journey up and within hiking a few hundred feet I realized this was going to be more difficult that I expected. The sun's powerful rays sapped my strength. Sweat dripped off my brow. The ominous warning of an experienced guide we'd met rang in my ears, “Be careful of the sun.” Tales my husband shared from the book he'd been reading, “Death in the Grand Canyon” filled my thoughts. The Grand Canyon presents unique dangers to visitors and hikers. Every year people die here. I felt weak thinking about it.

My son and I usually pull up the rear of our hiking quartet. He wasn’t feeling great that day and lagged more than normal. I turned to see what was keeping him. He sat on a rock with body language that proclaimed, “I don’t want to do it!”

I set my misgivings aside and focused on the task at hand. “Buddy, we don’t have a choice. You can do it. Let’s keep going,” I gently encouraged—with little effect. So Mr. “Buck Up Little Camper” delivered his own version of a pep talk. Upward progress continued, albeit slowly.

Step by dusty step we moved forward. Little Bear and I in the rear and my daughter and husband ahead. My daughter's turning into an excellent hiker. Clad in her cute hiking outfit (of course!) she traveled steadily with little complaint. She and her dad chatted away, playing games and sharing observations. Snippets of their conversations drifted down to my ears like music. (Any meaningful conversation taking place between a teenage girl and her dad are rare treasures indeed. You just never know when the “moment” is right!)

We reached the first rest stop much sooner than anticipated and were encouraged to press on. Up. Up. Up. We reached the second rest stop. We were making progress. Up. Up. Up. The rim was getting closer. Promises of extra-large ice cream cones were offered as motivation. Soon the goal was in sight. We had less than an hour to go. The path didn’t get any easier, but knowing the end was near made the journey so much more bearable.

Eight hours after we started we climbed out of the Grand Canyon tired, dusty, hungry and so proud of our accomplishment! We did it. (And we only hiked half-way. Imagine what a feat it would be to go all the way to the bottom!)

Half-expecting congratulatory well-wishers to welcome us back, Grand Canyon Village bustled with tourists thoroughly unaware of our absence and nonplussed by our emergence. They scurried about taking in the sights, buying souvenirs and snapping obligatory pictures before their buses departed.

As we sat on the rim wall eating our ice cream rewards, I watched the passersby and pondered, You came here, but did you really see? And experience? Do you realize how much more there is to this place than this?

I think this is what Jesus meant when He said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

Jesus’ dusty sandals brought Him to a gate so small only He could find—and enter. By doing so He revealed a path for the faithful to follow. For those early disciples who did—Paul, Peter, Barnabus, Stephen, Timothy and so on—the journey challenged them in ways they had never imagined. They experienced scorn, ridicule, danger, suffering, discomfort, uncertainty, loneliness and rejection.

Did they ever plop down on a rock and cry out, “I can’t do this, it’s too hard!” Probably. But they encouraged one another and pressed on step by dusty step with the end goal in sight. Why? Were they nuts or gluttons for punishment? No. As hard as their journey was the Spirit sustained and guided them.

And they knew the promised reward at the end made it all worth it.

What does our path look like? If it’s crowed, comfortable, clean and carefree chances are it’s pretty wide too. It may lead to success in the eyes of the world, but it leads to destruction in the eyes of our Father.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

It’s easy to miss the small gate. The narrow road is often overlooked, ignored or rebuffed. It’s dirty and difficult. It challenges us and makes us uncomfortable. It might be risky or dangerous. It’s unpopular and often lonely.

But Jesus promises it’s worth it. Plus He's sent the Holy Spirit to guide and sustain us. And an occasional oasis to delight and refresh us.

I am so eager to take the narrow road when it comes to life’s adventures. But am I so bold when it comes to following Jesus? Are my boots dirty? Or am I riding a tour bus, enjoying the sights, collecting snapshots and souvenirs but missing the real experience? Does Jesus look at me and say, "You came to me, but do you really see—and experience? Do you realize how much more there is to Me than this?"

Lord, I want to be bold in my faith. Show me the way and give me the courage to follow.

October 19, 2008

An Ode to Fall

Part two is coming…I promise. I thought for sure I’d find some time to write this weekend, but no such luck. Instead this weekend we officially packed away summer and unpacked fall. It was too good not to share!

While we were in Arizona last week, fall happened back east. The bright greens and candy colors of summer morphed into a palette of crimson, gold and orange. The trees now boldly display their fiery hues. Pumpkins and scarecrows dot the neighbors’ yards. Leaves crunch underfoot. Smoky aromas waft from nearby chimneys. And just like that, our thoughts have turned to hot chocolate, hayrides and even the holidays.

Autumn is arguably the best season of the year. Warm days give way to cool nights. We slow down and settle in. We look forward to bundling up, snuggling in and getting cozy.

Fall officially floated into my life last Thursday. I sat in my car outside the violin teacher’s house while my daughter took her lesson. It was early evening but still warm enough to keep the windows open. As I read my book, a large leaf dropped through the sunroof onto my lap. Then another. And another. I glanced up to witness a flurry of leaves, like snowflakes, delicately drifting downward from the massive trees all around. Serenading them on their descent, the violin’s melody floated on the gentle breeze. For a moment this simple neighborhood was magically transformed and I paused to soak in the simple beauty. If I were apt to write poetry, I would write of this.

That could have been enough, but the entirety of this weekend was an ode to fall. Penn State beating Michigan. My son’s chilly Saturday night football game (unfortunately his team lost—again!). Putting flannel sheets and a down comforter on the bed. Wearing turtlenecks. Picking apples. Decorating with cornstalks, hay bales and pumpkins. Planting bulbs for the spring. Even making homemade chili and apple pie. (Only 20 more pounds of apples to go!) Best of all, our family enjoyed it together. My son was an apple picking pro and happily helped peel them for the pie. My daughter put all those hours of watching HGTV to work and added her expert flair to the decorating. Even our dog, Tess, joined along for the fun and absolutely loved fetching the endless supply of apples that had fallen from the trees. My husband and I enjoyed watching it all unfold.

Too many weekends have us on the go and gasping for breath by Sunday night. But once in a while we start Monday relaxed and restored, ready for the week ahead. This weekend was such a gift. Thank you Lord for the unplanned and unexpected treats you put in our path.

No matter where you are right now—geographically, emotionally, physically, spiritually—or what you see outside your window, God’s love and wonders are everywhere. In the smallest of moments and tiniest of details. Evidence of His wondrous creation abounds. Take time to breathe in, observe and savor Him in it all.

“What a wildly wonderful world, God!

You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,

made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.”

(Psalm 104:24, The Message)

October 17, 2008

"Buck up Little Camper!" -- Part One

We had so much fun in Arizona I could write and write (and maybe I will). I know this story's going to be long so I broke it into two parts. Stop back on Monday for part two.

After years of dreaming we were finally here. My family and I “oohed” and “aahed” along with the hundreds of other sightseers taking in the view. Spread out before us was one of the most amazing sights in the world—the Grand Canyon. Over a billion years of geological history appeared as a breathtaking sculpture. We followed the masses along the South Rim, soaking in sights from different viewpoints, but the sheer grandeur made it impossible to fully comprehend.

By late afternoon the crowds had dispersed. Most of them returned to their tour buses and were on their way to the next stop on their itineraries. They came, they saw, they photographed, they left. We were lucky enough to stay a few days and experience the Canyon more fully. We witnessed the first light of day awaken the slumbering giant; we viewed the setting sun paint the canyon walls; we gazed at the dreamlike vista gently illuminated by moonlight. We even saw elk grazing on the lawn of El Tovar, a coyote sneak out of view, a condor soar below and other desert fauna scurry and flitter about. It was all incredible—especially the view of the canyon from our hotel room!

Of the 5 million annual visitors to the Grand Canyon most arrive at the South Rim and experience its beauty from the many overlooks along the canyon edge. Only about 250,000 descend below the rim and hike the inner canyon. And less than one percent makes it all the way to the river. If the view looking down from the rim is so spectacular, can you imagine what it’s like to stand at the bottom and look up?

My husband was an experienced hiker when we met. To win his approval (and because I considered myself outdoors-y) we backpacked together. Not car camping and hiking with a knapsack mind you, but carrying a fully-loaded backpack up a mountain, to sleep in the wilderness, with no running water or facilities…for fun.

Part way into one of our first trips my foot started to hurt, the weight of the backpack burdened me and I was just plain tired. It was too hard. I wanted to quit and go home. With tears in my eyes I sat down on a rock waiting for the love of my life to rescue this damsel in distress and whisk her off to somewhere more comfortable. Instead, he returned to where I sat, stood right in front of me, gently tapped my chin with his fist and said, “Aw, buck up little camper!”

It was not the response I wanted—at all. Certainly I could have stormed off in a huff, angry I wasn’t coddled as I hoped. But I didn’t. While I wasn’t particularly happy about it, I gathered my inner resources, picked up my gear and continued up the mountain.

That day I learned a valuable lesson that has served me incredibly well over the years. I can do far more than I ever imagined and character is built on the path less traveled.

So when we visited the Grand Canyon there was no question. We were going in. For the sake of our kids (and my no longer twenty-something body) we planned a day hike and not a multi-day trek to the river and back. Starting at the break of day we hit the trail, loaded with food and water. Compared to the views from the rim we were astounded by the ever-changing and dramatic scenery of the inner canyon. Rock layers stratified before eyes. 20,000 years passed with each step.

Inside the canyon we met a community of hikers invisible from the rim. We chatted with fellow day hikers on their way down and overnight hikers on their way up. How long did it take you? Where did you stay? How much further until the next rest stop? We even met fellow Penn State fans! Despite the adamant warnings against it, we met a young guy who was finishing up a one-day round trip to the bottom and back. But most memorable of all was a group of middle-aged women from Iowa. They were close to finishing a rim-to-rim hike that started two days prior. And they were still smiling! I thought to myself, if they can do it, I can too!

Within several hours we reached our destination 4.5 miles below the rim—Indian Gardens. This small oasis of cottonwood trees, fed by an underground stream, was an unexpected lush surprise and a wonderful place to break for lunch.
But, as they say at the Grand Canyon: Hiking down is optional. Hiking up is mandatory. So, after a brief rest we began the journey back to the rim.

To be continued...

October 14, 2008

A Celebration in the Desert

Today is my grandmother’s (my mom’s mother’s) 90th birthday. This past weekend we gathered in Tucson to celebrate. From coast-to-coast and in-between came sisters, daughters, sons, cousins, nephews, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to mark the momentous occasion.

For our small, scattered family this weekend was the first time ever we all assembled as a group. It was a wonderful reunion for all present: those who hadn’t seen each other for years or decades, and those, like newly-added spouses or grandchildren, who met for the first time.

Since 2,400 miles separated my grandparents’ desert home from my parent’s East Coast one and my mom’s closest relatives lived over 10 hours away, when I was growing up we didn’t do Sunday dinners at Grandma’s or celebrate special occasions with large family gatherings. While I don’t have lots of memories of our time together, there are precious slivers—a Christmas in the desert, Thanksgiving in the Midwest, summer road trips. As I recall, my grandparents always made the trip east for all of our important family milestones like graduations and weddings.

But because of the geographic barriers and infrequent visits, when it comes to family, I never developed a strong sense of “place” or a deep-rooted feeling for my “people.” It's the way it's always been and I've just accepted it.

This weekend I added a piece to the puzzle I didn’t even realize was missing.

From the moment we first gathered, storytelling, reminiscing and laughter—lots of laughter—filled the air. Over wonderful meals, a canyon hike, champagne toasts and birthday cake we connected and re-connected. Everyone truly enjoyed one another’s company.

As I observed the goings on, I realized I’m part of this. These are my "people." We're all connected. I saw the face of my grandfather in my uncle. My great-grandfather in my cousin. My grandmother in my mom and her sisters. I heard variations of the laugh they all share. Even the in-law spouses seemed to fit just right.

And at the center of it all is my grandmother, the family matriarch—a blend of Midwestern sensibility and rugged western independence. Like the stately saguaro cacti that dot the landscape around her, she’s a woman of quiet grace and dignity. Her faith is the root that sustains her. In her outstretched arms we find comfort and rest—and always a ready laugh.

I’m so thankful I’ve gotten to know my grandmother as a person these last many years. It was she who first opened the door for God’s light to shine into my life nine years ago. For that I am eternally grateful. Together we've shared conversations on faith and family, enjoyed one-on-one visits, traded book recommendations and even noodled over crossword puzzles. I have been immeasurably blessed by Grandmother’s love and kindness. I know my husband and children have been as well.

To my family, as you return to your homes far and wide, I pray for traveling mercies. And I hope you take with you the memories of our time together, a greater appreciation for family and an abiding love for the beautiful woman we came to celebrate. Thank you for showing me my roots and that I’m part of something bigger than I thought.

To Grandmother, Happy Birthday! Let's do this again next year! I love you.

October 6, 2008

Notes for the Journey

Today we’re leaving for a trip to Arizona to visit the Grand Canyon and to celebrate my Grandmother’s 90th birthday. Yesterday was a day of packing and preparing.

My husband and I are excited because it’s our first big family trip in over a year and our first trip ever to the Grand Canyon.

Our kids are excited too, although with all the enthusiasm of an ennui-filled teenager, my daughter’s response was, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a big hole in the ground.” (Lord, give me patience!) But where my daughter lacks words, my 10-year-old son more than fills the silence. Since this is his first trip to Arizona as well as the Grand Canyon he asked a lot of questions yesterday. A. lot. of. questions!

With his habitual mantra of Why? What? How? When? he’s often focused on figuring out the unknown. As a result he frequently misses the unfolding discoveries of new experiences.

When we arrive in Phoenix we’ll visit with a dear friend of mine from high school. Then we’re off to the Grand Canyon. There are many unknowns. Yesterday as we packed, my son’s brain was in overdrive trying to identify, categorize and sort them all.

- What are her (my friend’s) kids going to be like?
- Do they have a pool? How big is it?
- When we land? What time will it be at home?
- How long is the drive to the Grand Canyon?
- What will our room look like?
- How far away is the Canyon from our room?
- How wide are the paths that we hike on?
- Why can’t we hike to the bottom? I want to play in the water.
- Will there be water along the way?
- Will we see coyote?
- What kind of SUV did we rent?
- What time do we get home? Is that Arizona time or our time?

Whew, all that in ten minutes! I’m not kidding!

Even if I could answer all his questions, dozens more lay in wait. Because he wants to envision a moment-by-moment picture in his mind’s eye. But what concrete answers can adequately describe the actual experience of traveling to an exciting new place, visiting with family and friends we rarely see and witnessing the majesty of a natural wonder.

His questions got me thinking about our faith journey and the questions we ask along the way. Why? What? How? When?

- Why do bad things happen to good people?
- Why wasn’t my prayer answered?
- How can all the stories in the Old Testament really be true?
- Why are there starving people in Africa?
- What about religious people who die who aren’t Christians?
- What does heaven look like?
- Why does God let evil exist if He’s really all-powerful?
- Why do I have to tell others?
- Why isn’t it enough that I’m a good person?
- When is Jesus coming again?

We ask and ask and ask. Some of our questions can be answered. Others can’t—yet. Even if they are, dozens more lay in wait. But as we focus on figuring out the situation-by-situation specifics we miss the experience.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) Besides, what concrete answers can adequately describe how much God loves us or what it’s like, through Jesus, to have a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe? And that’s the point of the journey, isn’t it?

I’m excited for the experiences and memories our trip will bring. But most of all I can’t wait to stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon and take in a view that I'm sure will be magnificent.

I can only imagine the view at the gates of heaven will be even better!

October 5, 2008

Just Breathe

Thanks for your wonderful comments on prayer. I was inspired by your beautiful words and moving prayer experiences. If you haven’t read the comments to Pondering Prayer, take a moment to do so. I think you’ll be blessed as well. And even if you didn’t respond hopefully the question (and comments) caused you to pause and reflect on your own prayer life, and maybe gain fresh insight.

In an amazing coincidence (or God-incidence) this morning's sermon was on prayer. The inspiration came from Nehemiah’s prayer to God in Nehemiah 1. (Yes, it really is a book in the Bible…I know, I hadn’t given it much thought before either. Further proof that the ENTIRE Bible deserves our attention.) Here's what I learned...
Pastor Doug, please forgive me if I misrepresent your very eloquent sermon!

Why do we pray?
“Prayer is the way our soul breathes.”

I just love the way that sounds, don’t you? So easy. So necessary. So natural.

With each breath of air we don’t think about when, why or how we should breathe, we just do it. Period. So it should be with prayer. No fancy formulas, stringent schedules or evocative elocutions. Just the natural inhalation and exhalation of our soul in response to the Almighty.

If we want to build to a life of prayer we start with three things. (And yes, this is really a rephrasing of the ACTS model of prayer.)

1. Honor God.
Nehemiah recognized what we sometimes have trouble accepting or often overlook. God is God and we’re not. Nehemiah praised God with humility and a reverential heart.

When we acknowledge God the Father; the Creator of the Universe; the One who was and is, and is to come; we adjust our hearts and attitudes into their proper perspective.

2. Be Honest with God.
Nehemiah acknowledged the gravity of his and the Israelites’ sin. Instead of casting blame, hiding behind excuses or sugar coating the problem he bared his soul with honest confession.

God sees all, so there’s nothing we do or think that He’s not already aware of. By emptying the dark, hidden corners of our life through prayer we’re then able to receive God’s grace, power and healing.

3. Ask God.
Nehemiah didn’t ask God to do something he simply wanted, he asked God to do what God had already promised Moses He’d do. God responded in a miraculous way.

Our prayers tend to try to bend God’s will to ours. In addition to our Father's unique purpose for each of our lives, Scripture is filled with His promises to us. When we line up our prayers with God’s will, as Nehemiah did, we will receive powerful responses.

I'm ready to get started. How about you?

Just don't forget...breathe. Your soul will thank you.

For some spiritual CPR, check out this video for an inspiring breath.
Michael W. Smith, “Breathe”

October 1, 2008

Pondering Prayer

I’ve talked enough. Today I want to hear from you. (I may make this a regular feature. We’ll see how it goes.)

Let’s talk about prayer.

Of all the tools in my Christian toolbox, I think prayer is one the hardest to understand…and to do well. It’s not that I don’t pray, I do. I just don’t think I’m very good at it. Despite my best intentions to stay focused, my mind wanders. I start out strong, but soon I’m thinking about the laundry, what’s planned for the day, a conversation I had and so on. Plus, there are so many people and circumstances to pray for, I never know when I’m done. Often I pray in bed at night. Inevitably I fall asleep. Is God OK with this?

I struggle with the concept that if God has preordained everything isn’t the thing I’m praying for going to happen whether I pray or not? Is God really listening? Sometimes God answers prayers. Sometimes He doesn’t. Why?

I've observed a lot of people using prayer as a magic wand like they’re trying to bend the will of God to their liking. Or they use prayer like a rabbit’s foot, rubbing it for good luck and a means of protection.

That said, in the years I’ve been a Christian I’ve grown a lot in regard to prayer. Among other things I’ve learned four important lessons:

1. God DOES answer prayer.

2. The more specific and personal my requests, the more specific and personal God’s answers.

3. Praying aloud with fellow believers in an intimate setting has allowed me to experience the presence of God and the Holy Spirit in incredibly powerful ways.

4. There are no perfect pray-ers. We may rank the “effectiveness” or “eloquence” of our prayers compared to others, but God doesn’t. I think nothing is more precious to our heavenly Father than a heart laid bare before Him, no matter what the words that cover it.

Now it's your turn. What's your experience with prayer? Why and how do you pray? Have you had specific answers to prayer? Do you struggle with hearing God or wonder if He’s even listening?