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Five Minute Friday: Place

I’m a day late, but it’s time to join the Five Minute Friday writing community. Each week, Kate Motaung gives a prompt and for five minutes we do free and unedited writing on the week’s topic. Today’s prompt: Place

When I first saw this week’s topic, I drew a blank concerning what to write. Then I looked up the definition of place and found it can also refer to a state of mind. This opened my eyes.

In one way, our family is currently in a difficult place. A place of great uncertainty concerning the future. A place of stressful circumstances and waiting to see if God will come through for us.

But it an important way, this has also been a place of blessing. In recognizing our need for God to intervene, this has become a place of close fellowship with God. A place of new intimacy in relationship with my Lord. A place of growth in prayer. A place of peace in the midst of the storm.

Circumstances may land us in a certain place emotionally. But we have a choice in how we will respond. Seasons of great trial present us with two options. We can either turn our focus on the difficulties we are walking through and feel overwhelmed. Or we can turn our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ and His promise that nothing can separate us from His love and be sustained.

We can turn our eyes on the problems, or we can turn our eyes on the Lord who is bigger than any problem we face. The decision we make will determine whether the place we are walking is one of defeat or victory.  Of turmoil or peace.

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Learning About Prayer

I am the leader of prayer ministries for a large and growing ministry for ladies with chronic illness. I am currently leading a prayer study for the Sunday school class my husband and I attend. So prayer is important to me. But I do not consider myself an expert in prayer. As my responsibilities in the area of ministering to others in the area of prayer have increased, the knowledge that I still have a lot to learn has become foremost in my mind.  I am a learner in the area of prayer.

I shared in a recent article that my husband and I have been walking through some difficult circumstances in our lives. I don’t want to go into the details again, so I’ll share the link for anyone who is interested in this story.        https://readywriterbr.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/living-outside-my-comfort-zone/

God has been at work through these circumstances in both my husband’s life and my life, but in different ways. In my life, He has had me in what I would describe as the Holy Spirit School of Prayer

During the same period of time, I have been preparing to lead the prayer study in our Sunday school class using The Battle Plan for Prayer Bible Study materials from Stephen and Alex Kendrick, producers of the movie War Room.. What I share today is a combination of what God has personally been teaching me and what I’m learning through the study of these excellent materials.

Now I have a more balanced understanding of what prayer includes. Up until recently, when I thought of prayer, what primarily came to mind was confession of sin, lifting our needs up to the Lord (supplication), and intercession for the needs of others. I always felt like I was falling short in these areas, especially in supplication and intercession, because the needs were so overwhelming that it would literally take “prayer without ceasing” to cover all of them daily.

These are important parts of prayer, but prayer is so much more. I knew in theory that worship, praise and thanksgiving were all elements of prayer, but in my mind they were separate things. I had even tried using the A.C.T.S. acronym – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication – during my prayer time, but I saw this more as a formula for prayer, with worship, praise and thanksgiving more as preparation for prayer than as actual types of prayer.

I had also read of the importance of using God’s Word in prayer, but in my mind and on my daily schedule Bible reading and prayer were two separate things. As we have walked through this difficult season, I’ve begun to understand each of these things as a part of true prayer.

At it’s root, prayer is communion and communication with God. When Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are to pray without ceasing, he was not talking about what I used to think of as prayer. He was saying throughout the day we are to stay in open communication with God. The main way God speaks to us is through His Word, so we are to read His Word expecting Him to speak to us. And we are to respond to what He shows us in prayer. Bible reading and study are meant to be a part of our prayer life, not separate from it.

This season of my life has caused a major change in my daily quiet time. Instead of seeing it as composed of a series of things I do, I have begun to see the whole quiet time as a part of prayer. Praise and worship are no longer preparing my heart for prayer – they are prayer. Overcoming discouragement by looking for God’s blessings in the midst of our trials and expressing my gratitude to Him is also a part of prayer. And when I pick up my Bible or open a Bible app on my iPad to begin reading and studying, I do so with an attitude of prayer and expectancy.

One thing that has really helped me gain this new understanding is prayer journaling. I’m not new to journaling. I remember many years ago as a new Christian getting up and reading my Bible and writing in my journal every morning before leaving for my job as a kindergarten teacher. And through the years, I’ve filled hundreds of notebooks and journals from this habit. But again, I saw this as separate from my prayer life.

When we began walking through this season where the cry of my heart daily became “God, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles‬ ‭20:12‬b‭ NIV)‬‬, I began prayer journaling. I now begin my quiet time with a prayer for God to speak to me through His Word, and as He began to do so regularly I grew into an expectancy that this would happen.

Now, as I read God’s word, I do so with a pen in my hand and my current journal open so I can put in writing the things God in showing me. This isn’t really much different than the journaling I’ve always done, but I no longer stop there. Those insights now become prayers of worship, praise and gratitude to God, of confession of sin, of honestly telling God where I am and asking His help, or of commitment to obey something He has shown me I need to do. Often as I’m reading a Scripture, someone with a need comes to mind and I intercede for them. Or I read a verse that gives a burden for Christians facing persecution for their faith and I turn this into a prayer. Or I read a passage that reminds me of how messed up things are in our nation , and I pray using that passage for our nation. Whatever God speaks to my heart during this quiet time in His presence is turned into a prayer of response.

As a result of this growing understanding of all prayer includes, and of learning to make prayer an important part of my day and not just an add-on to my Bible study time, I have been walking through one of the most difficult trials of my recent life, one where my normal response would be fear and anxiety, in almost constant peace. There have been days when staying close to God was a battle – life as a Christian in this fallen world is like that. But by staying in communication with God by talking with Him throughout my day, walking in meekness and submission to His will and purposes in our lives, and resisting the devil and his lies, I’ve experienced God’s peace and strength as seldom before.

As I was praying this morning about this article, a picture came to my mind of someone throwing a large stone into a lake. When the stone breaks the surface of the water, it creates a ripple effect, with concentric waves of water moving out from the spot where the stone landed. This is a picture of the effect of true prayer in our lives. True prayer isn’t just something we do as a part of our daily schedule, or even throughout the day as we become aware of needs. True prayer is like breaking the surface to enter into the presence of God, and the result has a ripple effect. It changes every part of our lives and even spreads out to touch the lives of others.

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Living Outside My Comfort Zone

The Five Minute Friday writing community, led by Kate Motaung and in which I routinely post, is writing on the prompt COMFORT this week. This is technically not a Five Minute Friday post – the two guidelines for Five Minute Friday posts are free writing for five minutes and no editing, and what I need to share today cannot be written in five minutes and is too personal and important to post without editing. But seeing Kate’s prompt for the week showed me the direction for this article which I’ve been sensing God directing me to write this week.

 

If I were in charge of my life, I would never step outside of my comfort zone, that place where I feel confident and comfortable and function with ease and familiarity. But many years ago, I turned the control of my life over to another, to Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. One big thing I’ve learned in the thirty-five plus years since then is that God is much more concerned with my character than my comfort.

From the automobile accident that took the life of our firstborn daughter Teresa and left me with crippling injuries, to the birth of our son with severe brain damage and profound mental retardation, to my later development of a long list of chronic  illnesses as a result of the injuries I received during the accident, comfort has not been a word I would choose to describe my life. Yes, in each situation, there has been a measure of comfort from God in the midst of heartache, but my Christian life has not been lived in my comfort zone.

In recent months, my husband and I have been walking through another dark valley, another season of life where in ourselves we can see no way out. It all started on a Saturday in May when we decided to take some much needed family time and have a meal out. My husband, daughter and I enjoyed our pizza and were on our way home when our car broke down on one of the busiest roads in southeast Houston. God protected us from injury and provided a way home, while our car was towed to a shop. Later, we learned that repairing our car – our only vehicle – would cost more than it was worth. We began praying, asking God to make a way for us to buy an affordable but dependable used car.

Fast forward a few weeks, and a series of letters, phone calls, and one visit to the court house opened our eyes to another major problem. We learned that the house and property we had inherited from my mother-in-law, which we thought the probate attorney who handled Mom’s estate had taken care of for us, was still in the name of the estate, and another plot of land on which she owed back taxes and which we had been advised by our attorney to just turn over to the county had been transferred to our name, apparently brecause of an error made by some level of local government. In addition, we learned that the senior homestead exemption we filed in January on our home had been lost by the county tax assessors’ office. Because of all this, we suddenly owed thousands of dollars in past due property taxes and penalties, on property that wasn’t even officially in our names.

It’s now the middle of July, and so far neither the need for a dependable car nor the property paperwork and tax issue has been resolved. We are still in a time of waiting to see what God is going to do.

Yet while our prayers have not yet been answered, this doesn’t mean that God hasn’t been at work behind the scenes. I can’t speak about how God is working in my husband’s life through these circumstances – that’s his story to tell. But God is doing a major work in my life during this season, first in teaching me about the power of prayer, and also in helping me to walk in faith in the midst of uncertainty.

Nothing prompts us to prayer better than a crisis! When circumstances feel over-whelming and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to change them, you learn how dependent upon God you really are. What began in my heart as a simple cry to God for help has become a major classroom on the discipline of effective, strategoc prayer. I’ve come to understand as never before the need to hear from God before I pray, and to be honest with Him in sharing the burdens of my heart. I’ve learned the effectiveness of praying God’s Word back to Him. And I’ve learned to keep praying and not give up until the answer comes.

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The last two months have also been a time of taking hold of the fact that I am loved and accepted by God, even when I’m struggling. It has been a season of having my trust in God stretched to the breaking point, but also of my trust becoming stronger as I spend time in His presence and Word daily. Daily prayer journaling has become a way of life, as it my weakness I recognize my need for God’s strength to make it through another day. My relationship with God is now stronger than it’s ever been in the past, and my morning quiet times have become the biggest blessing of my days.

We still don’t know what God is going to do in either of these situations. We have done everything we know to do, so now both problems are in His hands, awaiting His answer in His timing. I want to close with a verse God gave me about a week ago, from 2 Chronicles 20, the last portion of verse 12. It says, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” That’s where we now are, as we wait on God to work on our behalf.

Where are you today? Is God asking you to live outside of your comfort zone and trust Him? If so, let my story encourage you to seek Him with your whole heart and hold nothing back. Even before your prayers are answered, you too may be amazed at the work He is doing in your life.