Other times prayer is mundane, uneventful, and boring. Probably the hardest part about growing in deeper intimacy with God is that the feelings and senses visit and fade. Sometimes I’m left feeling vacant, and ordinary life fails to satisfy. I miss God. It’s like visiting the neighborhood park after going to Disneyland. I guess I wouldn’t miss him had I not experienced him.
I’m reminded again of trees and how they do most of their growth in winter, pushing their mass toward deeper water sources. Spring is the opportunity for the tree to proudly display its winter labor. I don’t really want to acknowledge it, but the empty times are when the most growth has occurred for me. They’ve been my chance to show up, to continue on. The valleys are opportunities to live as I do on the mountaintops, offering love and grace even when I feel none. I’m not good at that. Yet I know this is where my soul is formed. Sometimes I get tired of being formed. (145)
One of the best books I have read in a long time is The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines, by Nathan Foster. In it Foster deals with those times of spiritual dryness we face. I found these two paragraphs especially helpful and encouraging.
Sunday in his sermon on prayer Gary shared the acronym A.C.T.S., which stands for “Adoration-Confession-Thanksgiving-Supplication.” While discussing the confession portion of the message Gary addressed the very real issue of our being overly vague in our confession. Often we don’t find freedom through confession because we use some general confession along the lines of “Forgive me of all my many sins.” but we never really name what those sins are.
As Gary shared this I wanted to cheer; I also immediately connected the thought to thanksgiving and joy. I suspect that a large reason that we often fail to live the joyful lives we are called to live is because we fail to be specific in our prayers of thanksgiving. Much like confession, when praying prayers of thanksgiving we can have a tendency to pray things like “Thank You God for all Your many blessings.”
A while back I was challenged by something I read in Hidden in Christ, by James Bryan Smith. He discussed being at a speaking engagement and ending up in a small group with a woman who described having a “Gratitude Journal.” Smith explains that a few weeks later he decided to begin this spiritual practice as well. At the end of the chapter Smith issues this challenge:
“Today, or this week, begin keeping a gratitude journal. Try to write down five things that happened to you each day that were a blessing to you. Do not feel a need to make everything ‘spiritual’; if you enjoyed a delicious slice of pizza or a funny movie, simply write it down. The cumulative effect of these small moments of pleasure will, over time, amount to a large amount of gratitude and thanksgiving.” (Page 165)
I can tell you from my experience this has been helpful, though I have struggled to be consistent in practicing it. You see, I too fall into the habit of thanking God for “His many blessings” even thanking Him for “His grace and love.” While both statements are true they don’t really cultivate an attitude of thankfulness and joy. In my gratitude journal I will write things like, “Thanks for kids who show the love and grace of God in their willingness to forgive me for being short with them.” Or even God’s grace for that specific sin. The specificity does something in the heart and mind to intensify the joy and thankfulness.
As I flip back through my gratitude journal I am reminded that this journal fueled my intercessory prayer, as I thanked God for those answered prayers, it would fuel more prayer.
Here is my encouragement/challenge: begin your own gratitude journal. Strive everyday to think of five things for which you are thankful, whether big and “spiritual” or as “worldly” as a nice cup of coffee. Try this for a month and see if it hasn’t increased your joy.
May we be ever faithful to the command to, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” —Colossians 3:15-17
While listening to Tim Hawkins, one of the funniest guys I have ever heard, he started talking about words or phrases we use around our kids to make them hurry up. For example…hurry up, right now, this instant, and pronto. He explains that pronto is one of the only Spanish words many of us know and or understand. Why? Because we like to hurry. Just about everybody we talk to or are friends with seem to be in a hurry or are trying to rush to get something done. Now I understand that there are times when hurrying is necessary. There are emergencies that require us to get there and get it done.
In John 11 Jesus receives word that his dear friend Lazarus was very sick. Even though he was encouraged to go and heal him, Jesus stayed where he was for 2 more days. Jesus had the perfect opportunity to panic and rush to save his friend, but he didn’t. The point Jesus was making was that God doesn’t respond immediately to what we perceive as an urgent need. The foot note in my Bible says, “His delay had a specific purpose. God’s timing, especially his delays, my make us think he is not answering or is not answering the way we want. But he will meet all our needs according to his perfect schedule and purpose (Philippians 4:19). Patiently await his timing.”
The Lord’s timing is seldom, if ever, our timing. We are such a “microwave” society that we want what we want and we want it right now. God isn’t like Burger King where we can get it our way. God has a plan for us, and our ability to be patient and walk with him depends on how much we are walking with him prior to anything that would cause us or make us hurry. One of the best things we can do is to just take a breath and listen to Psalm 46:10…“Be still, and know that I am God…” Spending as much time with God in His Word is the best medicine for us to understand and know what God may be doing. When in tune with the Spirit, we have a better feel for where God may be working.
So if you are in a time of life right now where things are moving extremely fast. Try spending more time in God’s word and see what that does…Matthew 6:25-34. Jesus gives us the answer in verse 33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Recently I have been reading Who Moved My Pulpit, by Thom Rainer. I have been chewing on the following excerpt for a while now.
It's a true story. A first-time guest came to the church at the request of the pastor. She was to observe carefully, then write a brief report.
Wow! "I would not come back." I can't help but wonder how many people have visited Sterling, a place that reminds us to Love People, and walked away feeling out of place and alone.
How many visitors did you greet Sunday?
May we go out of our way to make people know that we love them before they walk back out our doors. May we be a place that is welcoming.
There is a phrase in the Old Testament that sets a negative tone for what is to follow. 2 Samuel 11 begins, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle…David remained at Jerusalem.” There is something about this statement that tells us all is not well.
Every time I read this I am reminded of the first day of football practice every year in high school. The athletic handbook, we were told, could be summarized “Be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there.”
The reality is David wasn't where he was supposed to be when he was supposed be there, and we know that great sin and heartache were the result.
This is easy to see with David and his big public sin, but it can be harder to see in ourselves and the not so public disobediences? Where do you see the fallout of not being where you were supposed to be when you were supposed to be there? It is very possible that you haven’t missed a formal appointment to be somewhere, but you have had an inner prompting (Holy Spirit) and haven’t followed that prompting.
I have been chewing on this verse about David and these words from high school because of conviction I have felt lately. Like many (as Gary mentioned in his sermon Sunday), I have spent a large amount of time watching T.V. and browsing Facebook. However, I have been convicted for a while that this time needs to be spent in a more productive manner.
I haven’t been where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there, because I haven’t been completely faithful to follow the conviction of the Holy Spirit in me. The less than public nature of these convictions and the consequences of ignoring them make them easier to ignore than David’s. But if I am honest the consequences are very real; a weakened relationship with God from wasting time that could have been spent communing with Him and from resisting the work of His Spirit within me. The consequences are also physical as time that could have and should have been spent sleeping is spent consuming mindless nonsense. Like David, these consequences also affect our relationships with others. We like to segment and isolate the various areas of our lives, but the reality is that we are wholistic. This wholistic nature means that when our spiritual relationship suffers it spills over and our interpersonal relationships suffer.
Much like David our lack of obedience has consequences far greater than we could ever imagine. Because of his sin David’s spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational life suffered.
Where has God been calling you?
Is there something in your life God is calling you away from temporarily? Permanently?
Personally, these thoughts over the past couple weeks have prompted me to step away from T.V. And social media for a period of time. I have sensed God calling me to deeper communion with Him, this cannot be done if I am not where I’m supposed to be, when I’m suppose to be there.
Do you see where your spiritual health might be suffering from not being where you’re supposed to be?
What about your physical life? How has this affected your relationship?
Do you care enough to change?
Are you willing to make the changes necessary to be where God is calling you to be, when He is calling you to be there?
Can you hear me now? That question has been burnt into my mind because of the Verizon commercials from a few years ago. Having someone walking around, what appeared to be all over the country, to see if someone could hear him or not, did get a little annoying, however it didn’t seem to matter where he went, people could hear him. To hear someone clearly is very beneficial to both the speaker and listener. If things aren’t communicated well things can get misinterpreted pretty easily…think drive up speaker at a fast food place.
One winter, my sister and I, were driving the 4-wheeler around in the snow. We would take turns as to who was driving while out in the field messing around. During one of those times I was taking over the driving as she was getting on and I asked, through the helmet and neck scarf, if she was ready and I thought she said “go.” Soon after taking off I quickly realized she was no longer on the 4-wheeler and had fallen off. She wasn’t very happy about it! You said “go”, I explained. She said…”I said NO, not go!”
As parents we know this all to well. Speaking clearly and simply is the best way to get whatever message to our kids. It doesn’t always work but if we don’t speak clearly, kids can hear something totally different. Each parent has a set of rules for their kids and those rules are talked about as well as enforced. We try to make them as clear as possible so the kids know what they are to do. We are quick to talk about the rules around the house and especially when we are in public. We talk, sometimes threaten, when we go places so they remember what to do and what not to do. We talk about these rules because we want our kids to be the best and most polite kids they can be. The rules that we set are usually pretty good. They help keep our children safe and out of trouble. But they aren’t the only commands we are to be reminding them about.
Deuteronomy 6:1-9 is a section of Scripture that has been with me for a long time…thank you mom and dad! I knew the rules of the house but I also knew God’s commands as well. God’s commands were always talked about, and talked about, and still talked about, so that I wouldn’t forget them. As parents we need to be taking advantage of every opportunity to teach them the commands of God so they don’t forget. If they question us why, which they will, we can repeat it over and over and then simply ask…Can you hear me now?
“These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all His decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life…These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframe of your houses and on your gates.”
(Deuteronomy 6:1-2, 6-9)
Yesterday during communion Dave shared a song with us. Here are the lyrics from that song entitled "Peace (a Communion blessing from St. Joseph's Square), written by David Strasser and Rich Mullins.
Though we're strangers, still I love you
We often hear people say there is no wrong way to pray. But, what if there was a wrong way to pray? What if our prayers go unanswered because of something we have control over?
We often dismiss “unanswered” prayer. But I think that many times the prayer is unanswered because of us.
Take a moment and read James 4:2-3
Did you see what James says, you don’t have because you don’t ask. “But I do ask!” you say. James goes on to explain that that prayer is unanswered because it is a prayer of selfishness. Think of the unanswered prayers you can remember, how many of them were selfishly prayed for you to indulge your passions? We must remember that God will not go against His character or law.
Now read Ephesians 5:25 & 1 Peter 3:7.
Did you catch that husband? Love your wife how? The way Christ loved the Church. Often when we think about how Christ loved the Church we think about how He was willing to sacrificially lay down His life for her. While this thought is accurate, there is more. Christ didn’t just love the Church so much that He died for her, He lived for her, every choice He made was for the good of the Church. Yes, He lived in obedience to glorify God the Father, who is most glorified through the fulfilling of His purposes for the Church. Think about it, for Jesus to die for us, He had to live a perfect life. Had He given into temptation He couldn’t have fulfilled His mission. When He resists temptation it is both to glorify God and for us.
Husband this is the way you are called to love your wife. This is relevant to pray because of what Peter writes. Read 1 Peter 3:7.
Do you realize that maybe your prayers are ineffective because you are not treating your wife as you should?
Finally, read James 5:13-16.
I have long been confronted by this passage. Aside from its very helpful teaching on prayer, and the following verses reminding us of the power of our prayer, the last statement of verse 16 convicts me. James says, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” This leads me to ask if the opposite is also true. Could it accurately be stated that “The prayer of an unrighteous person is powerless and ineffective.”?
All of these are passages that have challenged me through the years, and continue to challenge me still. I’ll leave you with this charge from Donald Whitney, "But we must learn to examine our prayers. Are we asking for things that are outside the will of God or would not glorify him? Are we praying with selfish motives? Are we failing to deal with the kind of blatant sin that causes God to put all of our prayers on hold?”1
1 Whitney, Donald. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. pg 79
I have been reading a book, “Distortion” by Chelsen Vicari. It is a convicting book that looks at the changing outlook on life in the United States. Specifically by the church. Chelsen points out that there are those who claim to follow Christ but emphasize the social gospel at the expense of a personal relationship with Jesus. The social gospel tries to help people which is part of applying the Loving your neighbor method. Which is good, but some have shifted the emphasis from helping others to promoting their personal opinion about prolife, homosexuality, social justice, feminism, Christian persecution and the nation of Israel. It was a very insightful read and I would recommend it. It will show you how the world is trying it’s best to under mind the true gospel of the Lord. How we must involve ourselves in the battle. The future of the gospel in America may depend on our willingness to join this struggle. It is a deep read. I found it to be inspiring and motivating.
Success…What would you describe success as? Is it making it to work on time? Is it getting through the day without your kids going crazy? Is it not having to deal with that someone at work? Is it when your team wins? Our definition of success could come in many different forms. We have many things that we go through each and every day and if we make it through them, usually we consider that a success. What happens when we succeed though? We get a good feeling inside and we feel like we have accomplished something. We then work and try to make that happen again and again because it feels good. We like succeeding. No one likes the alternative. Failing isn’t even a word we like to say much because no one likes to fail. We would much rather have victory or success than fail. But to what extent do we measure whether we fail or succeed and at what cost?
If we were to ask God the same question, how would God describe success? Would His definition and ours be the same? And what about the cost? To be honest, our definitions probably wouldn't line up. Why? Because we view success more from a worldly point of view than from a Godly. We work, practice, travel, and prepare for things here and now when we should be doing all of those things for the kingdom of God. Matthew 16:24-27 says, "Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done."
What have you done? Are you living out what Jesus said in those verses? If so you are succeeding. Because success isn't truly rewarded here. For us to succeed here God is calling us to be last, to deny ourselves and to put Him first. To make yourself last probably won’t get you the bonus or promotion you wanted. So what do you do? Are you willing to sacrifice things on earth for things in heaven, or are you sacrificing things in heaven for things on earth? Jesus asks, what good is it to gain everything here, but lose everything there? That is the true definition of success. No matter what it may cost us here, we gain everything in the end by faithfully denying ourselves and following him. And if you think that cost is too high of a price to pay, just remember what price Jesus paid for you.
Have you decided to follow Jesus…if so…no turning back, no turning back.
Blog posts from the Sterling staff, and maybe even the occasional guest blogger.