Not So Good at it Myself

My spiritual gift is exhortation.  Over the years that has exhibited itself in several way.

  • I am considered by many to be a prayer warrior.  I love praying.  I love lifting praise and burdens to the Lord.  I believe in prayer and its ability to change me.  And when someone has a crisis, it will definitely be on my list. 
  • I am an encourager.  I send cards and post notes on Facebook.  Unfortunately, I’m much better at this with others than with my own family.  I try to help sympathize while helping them see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I encourage them to pray while praying for them myself.
  • I am a teacher – Bible and music.  While teaching is also a spiritual gift, my love for teaching comes out of my gift of exhortation – desiring to help people be all they can be.

I am really good at lifting others up when things aren’t going well.  And when there is a big crisis in my life – like when our oldest son suffered a traumatic brain injury, I am pretty good at applying all this godly wisdom and encouragement to myself.

But when it comes to things that are really small in comparison, I can be completely ineffective at allowing the Lord to encourage me.  You know, the day-to-day frustrations from work that I won’t remember in 10 days.  Or the times when there is a lot of activity at once and I get overwhelmed.

What I need to get better at is taking the little things to the throne, as they happen.  Instead of walking in my power, I need to plug into HIS power – just like I encourage others to do.  I need to practice what I “preach.”

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.   2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV

Father, I thank you that you have all the strength.  I pray that I will utilize it and walk in the Spirit at all times – even in the everyday drudgery types of things.  Help me to learn from then and to lean on you.  Thank you that you are my burden-bearer.  I give each of them to you never to pick them up again.

What Are You Giving God to Fill?

I love listening to some of the great Bible teaching available on Bott Radio. While I don’t believe listening to this teaching is a replacement for my personal Bible study or meeting with my church family for solid Bible teaching and fellowship, it is a great supplement during my commute or even while I put on my makeup in the morning.

One of James McDonald’s lessons that I remember vividly from May, 2010 was based on the story of Elija and the widow in 2 Kings 4:1-7. You probably remember this miraculous event where the widow poured what little oil she had into borrowed vessels and ended up with enough oil to sell and pay off her debts.

This woman was distraught because of her indebtedness. What has you distraught today and seeking a solution? Pastor James’ statement (as well as I can remember it, if not word for word) really spoke to me:

“God will fill anything we bring him.  If we’re not being filled it’s because we haven’t brought him any more empty vessels.”

Despite the fact that I have a regular time with the Lord, I am often so focused on intercession for others that I fail to bring myself before Him for filling. I fail to come humbly say, “I need thee, O I need thee.” Or I fail to clean my vessel so that it is truly empty for His filling.

Father, I thank you that you can fill anything I willingly put before you. Keep reminding me of my great need for you and then remind me to clean my vessels and put them before you.

“I need the, O, I need thee.

Every hour I need thee.

O bless me now my Savior,

I come to thee.”

Annie S. Hawks

Devotion to Prayer

I have appreciated Stormie Omartian’s “The Power of Praying” books for many years.  She has at least one for everyone.  And I’ve given several copies of The Power of a Praying Wife away over the years to women who were frustrated in their marriage.

I think these are important books because Omartian has focused in on a behavior, habit, discipline – call it what you will – that is absolutely critical to an effective and meaningful Christian life.  If everyone who calls himself a Christian were committed to prayer it is hard to imagine what a difference it would make in our world.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that prayer is a passion of mine.  So in a trip to Lifeway Bookstore in December 2008, one of the things I purchased was  The Power of Praying Through the Bible.  While I don’t remember what else I bought, I am sure it was a lot because a Christian bookstore is worse for me than going to Wal-Mart.  If I go in for one gift, I always come out with several things.

I have used it off and on during my quiet time since then.  This morning I opened to “Staying Devoted to Prayer” and found that I wish she’d said a little more.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Acts 2:42 NIV

While I agree that being devoted to prayer INCLUDES praying throughout the day and if you wake up during the night as she writes in this lesson. But the word devoted implies something much stronger to me.

To move beyond my opinion, I go to the Word and to my Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance in e-Sword (since I am not a Greek scholar).  I find this description of the word proskartereō (pros-kar-ter-eh’-o)  –

“From G4314 and G2594 – ; to be earnest towards, that is, (to a thing) to persevere, be constantly diligent, or (in a place) to attend assiduously all the exercises, or (to a person) to adhere closely to (as a servitor): – attend (give self) continually (upon), continue (in, instant in, with), wait on (continually).”

I find myself at times placated by the fact that I pray often throughout the day, throwing concerns quickly to the Lord as I think of them.  But if I am devoted to, earnest towards, continuing steadfastly in (KJV)  prayer, doesn’t that imply significant resources applied?  So wouldn’t I spend significant time in prayer?  If I am only praying throughout the day or as I’m awake during the night, am I doing the listening part of praying?

Lord, teach me to pray as you would have me pray.  Draw me to you so that I cannot help but desire time devoted to my relationship with you.

Small Distractions

I love the early morning hours when the house is quiet except for the coffee maker gurgling.  I praise the Lord for his faithfulness to meet me each morning that I take the initiative to get up and meet Him.

I’ve tried to spend time with the Lord in the evening, but it just doesn’t work.  It’s definitely not my best time after a long day of work and my 1.5 hours on the road (combined).  And that is my time to spend with Ellis.  He’s not up at 5 am.

One morning as I was sitting at my desk with all my quiet time resources around me –  Bible, devotion book, prayer notebook and journal, I saw a mouse run out from behind the desk and into the kitchen.  Of course, I jumped and screamed, but the mouse was out of sight by then and I had to take several minutes to calm down and get back into my study.

Mice are such small little animals and yet they can typically cause a pretty big distraction from whatever is going on.  But as I reflected on the experience through the morning I realized that anything that distracts us from God is tiny in comparison to Him.

What is it that keeps you from spending daily time with the Lord.  I mean really concentrating on His Word and lifting your prayers to Him?  Make your list and then compare each thing on it to the Lord God Almighty.  Don’t most items on there pale in comparison?

Lord, we say we want to know you and to think like you and yet we struggle to make the time it takes.  Show us your importance compared to everything in our lives and give us an unquenchable desire for you.

You Need a Bucket to Build Sand Castles

We didn’t go to the beach this year as planned.  (Note the header photo – the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.)  I tell my husband the beach is my favorite spot besides in his arms and when we go there together it is pretty much perfect.  But this year we feared arriving along with the tar balls.

One of my favorite beach activities is building sand castles.  I don’t make the kind that are formed with buckets.  After building a foundation of packed sand, I let  very wet sand drip through my fist.  This is very relaxing for me and one of the few ways in which I can be very creative.

One year I didn’t buy a bucket for making my sand castles.  But I need a LOT of water.  Fortunatley (or not, if you are really concerned about litter)  as I walked along the shore, I found a discarded gallon milk jug and thought it would be a good tool for carrying water.  However, I found that filling the jug with ocean water was difficult because a wave will cover the entire hole and air can’t get out to be replaced by water.

Although I thought of the jug as empty, the fact is that it was full of air.  While the air was invisible to me, it still filled the jug. This reminded me of how sin acts in my life.

Any sin in my life, no matter how small or insignificant in my eyes, is a barrier to my being filled completely by the Holy Spirit.  While we are promised the Holy Spirit at the time we are saved, (Ephesians 1:13).  He cannot completely fill or occupy our hearts when sin is creating a barrier – just like the air in my jug.

Praise the Lord for his promised to “forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” if we confess our sin.  1 John 1:9.  Regular time before the Lord will help make us sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s conviction of those sins.  We must be prompt in our confession and repentance.

Just like the jug is full, even if it isn’t full of water, so our hearts are full, even if not with the Holy Spirit.  If the jug isn’t full of water, then it contains water AND air.  It IS full – even if I can’t see it.  We must allow sin to be replaced by the Holy Spirit if we want to be completely “filled” and become like Christ.    This requires daily prayer and Bible study.   What are you filled with?

Many times, trying to get water into the small port of the jug quickly resulted in the jug seeming overwhelmed.  We must  seek environments that are conducive to being filled with the Spirit.  While we must be in the world to win it, we must take care that the world doesn’t “take” us.

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. (James 4:4  NLT)

How do you know if you are “of the world”?  The Lord has spoken to me personally about behavior that isn’t of Him.  These are mine, so yours might be different.

  • Going to movies, watching TV shows, reading books or listening to music that is not God-honoring
  • Eating when I’m not hungry
  • Shopping when I don’t need anything
  • Using language or telling stories that do not distinguish me from the world

Part of my problem with the jug was the small opening.  Is your heart wide open to receive the Holy Spirit’s touch or do you have the opening restricted?  How much opportunity do you provide the Holy Spirit to have control?  Only through the Spirit can we know Christ completely.

Father in heaven, how we thank you for your Holy Spirit – the comforter who comes along beside us – who you sent to inhabit us.  Lord, show us how to make room for Him and how to make Him welcome in our inner beings.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen us with power through his Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. And I pray that we, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
(Eph 3:16-19 NIV)

Missing Out on Answered Prayer

There is no doubt that Matthew 21:22 is one of the most mis-applied verses in the Bible – especially by those who don’t truly know and walk with the Lord.

If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.  (Mat 21:22 NIV)

But the point of today’s thought is not how that really works for a believer.  What I have realized in the last few months is that so often we fail to recognize answered prayer.  Is your answered prayer list as long as your prayer list always is?  I know mine isn’t.  So why is that?

Is it because I don’t really believe?  Is it that God isn’t answering prayers because I don’t believe?

Or is it because I am selfishly expecting the prayer to be answered in exactly my way and on my time-line?  Let me give you an example of an answered prayer that came disguised in difficulty.

I had been praying for opportunities to influence our grown children and our grandchildren for the Lord.   Even though they live in the same community, it’s hard.  I work in an executive level position that I feel called to and have a 45 minute, one-way commute each day.  I also  play the piano for Sunday morning worship at our church and lead the choir (with rehearsal on Sunday afternoons at 5pm).  My husband used to drive a truck over the road, but was typically home on weekends.  Saturdays was our only day together.

Unlike some couples who don’t give a thought to when they will spend time one-on-one, we have been very protective of our time together.  I believe it is one of the reason’s our relationship stays strong.  But that has also limited time we have “available” to spend with friends or family.  So our periodic family get-togethers (typically on a Sunday when we didn’t have an evening service) provided limited opportunities for influence.

After the near-fatal injury of our oldest boy in August, Ellis decided to come off the road for the time being so he could help with transportation to therapy and any other day-time help that was needed.   Ultimately, there was complete healing and Clint has gone back to work.  But since then Ellis has been managing and dispatching our other truck and our other business interests from home.  This gives us more time together during the week.  This was an answer to prayer.

Then another son began a new job where he was supposed to be able to have the hours off needed to take care of his kids on the days that he had them.  But the employer wasn’t working with him as promised, so he had to be at work at 4am.  It just made more sense for the kids to sleep at our house so they didn’t have to get up, come to our house, go back to sleep and then get up and get on the bus.

So during that time, we had the kids a lot.  Our evenings went from empty nest to the hustle and bustle of young elementary kids.  I was exhausted.  Until I realized that this was an answer to prayer.  I was now having hours at a time to influence these children for the Lord.

So I now pray regularly for God’s answers to prayer to be revealed to me.  His ways are not our ways (Is 55:8) so if we aren’t tuned in, we will miss many answers to prayer.

Listening to God. . . Asking questions

Conversation is 2-way and most of us do all the talking in our time with God.    Out of the model prayer we spend the most time on “give us this day. . .”

Maybe this is something we need to watch in our other relationships, too.  But how do we grow closer to a person if we do all the talking? A great way to ensure you don’t monopolize the conversation is to ask questions.  And our questions to God may not sound significantly different than what we might ask a friend.  “Can you tell me more about that?”  “Why do you feel . . .”  “Is there anything I can do?”

So let’s say you take time to listen.  You spend time in His word.  You attend regular preaching services with your church family.  You even listen to a radio preacher or two on Bott Radio.    But if you are  really having a conversation, you may need to ask God for clarification as he speaks.  You may need to delve into the passage you’re reading more or look at similar or related passages.  Maybe you need to follow up after a service to read a scripture for yourself to check out what the pastor said.  God desires for us to know his Word.  It is the only way we can know his will or be like him.

Spend time considering WHO wrote the passage, to WHOM it was written, WHY it was written as well as WHAT it says and HOW you can apply it to your life.  God will bless every moment spent acting on your desire to know Him.

I believe that God will respond to questions posed out of our limited understanding if they are spoken to Him in reverence and the faith that He is sovereign.  “Lord, I trust you in this tragedy.  How can this be your will?”

“Thy hands have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments.”  Psalm 119:73

Repeat back to ensure understanding

Repeat back to ensure understanding – I have heard this touted as a good listening skill for many years.  However,  only in  the last two years have I really started practicing it and asking others to practice it as well.  For instance, when I am wrapping up a meeting at work, I might ask all the participants to voice their main take-away or their action items.  Or, when I have a one-on-one session, I may ask them to send me the notes from the meeting.  This allows me to know whether they have understood me.  And I also try to practice repeating back to make sure I am hearing someone’s message.  This really makes me more aware of whether or not I’m actively listening when I know I’m going to need to say it back to the person.

I think this skill can be practiced with God as well.   Before reading scripture we should ask the Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ name, to reveal His word in a way we can understand and apply it.  Having read the passage (or been presented it in a sermon) and received the message, “repeat back to ensure understanding.”

One way to do this is through a journal.  God will continue to speak to you as you meditate or spend time considering the message.  What better way to begin hiding God’s word in our heart than looking for the application?  (Ps. 119:11)   You may even want to keep a separate journal for regular daily thoughts (more like a diary) and one for keeping track of what God has said to you through His Word.

Other ideas include:

  • Memorize scripture so that it can be repeated now AND later.
  • Pray scripture can be a way of acknowledging to God that we are hearing him speak.
  • Obeying God’s instruction is the ultimate way of confirming to the Lord that we have heard his message.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.   (Jas 1:22 NIV)

Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands. (Psa 119:73 NIV)

Being a Good Listener

My husband is so polite that he won’t laugh out loud when I talk about doing training on developing good listening skills at work.  He just grins.

I wish it were my strong point.  I’ve worked on it a lot over the last few years and I think it is better, but being a habitual multi-tasker makes it difficult.  Ladies, no matter how good you think you are,  listening is that it is NOT an activity for multi- tasking.

Having a meaningful prayer time requires some of the same “listening” skills with God that we ought to use with other people. I’ll cover one each day over the next week or so.

Make eye contact.  Granted, we can’t see Him eye-to-eye, but we can truly “be still.”  Taking some time as we begin to truly focus on Him is how we make that connection.  It is a great reason to have adoration as the first part of the prayer time – just telling God how great he is and the ways in which he is great.

“Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10

What are your favorites?  Here are some of mine.

Holy

I AM

Faithful

True

The way, the truth, the life

Strong

My strength

Fortress

Rock

Refuge

The light

The door (gate)

Our righteousness

Immortal, invisible, the only wise God

WOW!  Is there ever enough time to pray and worship the Lord?!

“What you do in the Spirit. . .”

I am slowly working my way through another of Stormie Omartian’s “The Power of Praying” books.  My first I read YEARS ago and have given copies to several women – “The Power of a Praying Wife.”  And that was even before I was as committed to prayer as I am now.

When I walk into Lifeway I can just plan on spending at least $50.  Maybe it’s like that for you at Wal-Mart.  But when I walk into Lifeway I forget all the time challenges I have and reading suddenly becomes very attractive and very important; sometimes too important if I choose a Christian fiction book.   But in December, 2008 I noticed “The Power of Praying Through the Bible” and I thought that would be perfect.  Here is a book that will provide me a springboard for my Bible study each day as well as teach me more about prayer. Prayer is a serious thing for me and I hope those of you who know me best think of me as a prayer warrior.   As in everything with the Lord, there is always more to learn!

The reason I am not already done is that I take breaks from the book from time to time.  For instance, when I travel, I go a different direction with my prayer and Bible study.  During Christmas I focus my quiet times on Advent.  Next fall I recommend some great tools for that.  So I’m about 3/4 finished with the book.

Today’s lesson was on Haggai 1:1-11 where Haggai admonished the exiles who had returned to their land to work on God’s temple instead of their own homes.  The last sentence in the devotion grabbed me.  “What you do in the Spirit — your praise, worship, and prayer–lasts for eternity.”  I agree!  But I had mostly thought in terms of the things I do OUT of the Spirit being burned up.

Our pastor, Jay Adrain, has taught several times on 1 Cor 3:12-15.  I can hear him saying, “Anything you do outside the Holy Spirit will be burned up like wood, hay and stubble.”  So that had been my focus when I think of that scripture.  And it makes me think mostly of  “works.”  You know, leading the choir, playing the piano, serving on a committee, taking a meal to someone who is sick. . .

So as I turn my thinking to my praise, worship and prayer lasting for eternity when I do them in the Spirit – WOW!  How could I not?  How could I possibly hit snooze one more time?  You and I both know that sleep is very short-lived (especially the older we get).

It’s time to get back to my prayer list for today.  Hope this has helped you get some perspective like it has me.