Tag Archive | Gratitude

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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Contentment and Joy

I’ve always thought of contentment as simply being satisfied with the THINGS I have and not always wanting more. And until last year, I believed joy and happiness were basically the same thing. But this year, I’ve been studying joy and contentment, in the sense in which they’re used in the Bible, and I’m learning the meanings are much deeper than I  previously understood. 

The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible defines CONTENTMENT as “the acceptance of ‘things as they are’ as the wise and loving providence of a God who knows what is good for us, who so loves us as always to seek our good. Being content when troubles are flooding our souls, but if we truly do believe our Heavenly a father is always loving, faithful. And wise, and that He does the very best for us in every situation, contentment is possible.

Finding a clear definition of joy was more difficult, but I found an excellent one in a book I’m currently reading, Choose Joy: Finding Hope and Purpose When Life Hurts, by Sara Frank and Mary Carver. Sara was a blogger who suffered almost twenty years with a degenerative disease called ankyling spondylitis, which causes inflammation of the spinal joints, leading to severe pain and discomfort.  As time progressed, she faced the loss of one ability after another, until she was no longer able to leave her house. Of all people, Sara had the “right” to complain and become angry at God.  But this wasn’t the choice Sara made.

The introduction of her book says, “But rather than dwell on her pain and her loss, Sara chose to trust in a God Who is good all the time and to be filled with gratitude, hope, and joy…When asked how she defined joy, Sara said:’Joy is the unwavering trust that God knows what He’s doing and has blessed me with the opportunity to be a part of it – not despite what’s happening in my life, but because of it.'”

 This book couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Since last July, increased neck, upper and lower back problems have made me unable to stand or walk (with a walker) for more than five minutes without extreme pain. This all started immediately after an epidural steroid injection in my cervical spine. Then, about a month ago, severe dizziness, nausea, occasional vomiting, and frequent headaches were added to my symptoms. I was ready for some answers – and still am.

I’ve seen six doctors, had two MRIs and a CT scan since this started. At my most recent doctor’s visit (with an ENT), a problem with my ears was ruled out as a cause. He suggested I see a neuro-surgeon, saying it sounds like I may have a damaged or pinched nerve in my neck or upper back that is causing the headaches, dizziness and related symptoms.  Fortunately, I already had an appointment scheduled with a neuro-surgeon, since the neurologist had also confirmed two ruptured discs in the lumbar spine. 

 

As Sara said she realized that the primary purpose of this life is to glorify God, I also believe this. As she  wanted to be available to Him to live out her purpose even in the midst of chronic illness and intense pain, I feel the same. But one thing Sara didn’t hide was that she sometimes wished she could “run far away. But that’s the thing about illness…there’s nowhere to run.”  

I never would have chosen this situation I’m personally facing, but my heart is resting in the Lord. That doesn’t mean my emotions are always at rest. When they make me feel like I want to run away, I have to acknowledge that isn’t an answer. God is showing me ways to walk “in the deep,” and making those choices gets a little easier every time I obey. Thanks to a terrific God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness support group, led by Laurie Shoquist Miller, I have a safe place to go when I need prayer or encouragement. And the two Bible studies I’ve done with this group have given me the tools I need to overcome the desire to run away, or give into fear, anger, or discouragement.  When I start feeling overwhelmed, I’m learning to reach out for help, either to the Lord or to a friend. And then I’m making the choice to trust the Lord, be content where He has me, to give thanks for all the good things in the midst of this situation,and before long my spirit is joyful and at rest again.