Tag Archive | Trials

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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Memorable Monday: Trusting God in the Hard Places

It’s Memorable Monday again, and this week’s book review and memorable quotes come from When God Doesn’t Fix It, by recording artist and worship leader Laura Story.

When they married in 2004, Martin and Laura (Story) Elvington had plans for a perfect life. Their intention was to move to Savannah, Georgia, where Martin would finish his degree at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). He would also continue as campus director and Bible study leader for a college ministry and do graphic design and web development for Wofford College, while Laura toured with a traveling band and wrote music for their concerts. When Martin completed his training, their hope was that he would find a well-paying job in the graphic arts field and move back to Spartanburg, South Carolina, to be near their parents. Laura would then become a stay-at-home mom and raise the children they both wanted to have someday.

The first detour in their plans came in 2005, when Laura was offered a job as worship leader at Perimeter Church in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. At first, Laura was hesitant to accept the job since she had no experience leading worship. But when a friend of their’s from the church kept encouraging them, and they learned the church was offering a steady income and health insurance, and that SCAD had just opened an Atlanta campus where Martin could complete his schooling, they decided to make this move.

But as they prepared to move, Laura became aware of some things that concerned her. Martin was more forgetful than usual. And some days, he wanted to do nothing but sleep. He was also having symptoms of panic attacks, but none of his doctors had been able to pinpoint the cause of all of this. Laura spoke by phone with her boss-to-be, Randy Schlichting, telling him something was wrong with her husband and she was having second thoughts about taking the job. Randy encouraged them to load up their belongings and come to Atlanta as soon as possible, promising that the church would take care of whatever was wrong with Martin once they got there. So in August of 2oo5, Martin and Laura moved to Atlanta and she began learning how to be a worship leader.

To not give away the rest of the story, in a nutshell Martin required major surgery. It was scheduled, but things didn’t go as hoped. Martin and Laura’s story was forever changed. Instead of God performing a miracle and fixing Martin’s problems, God was more interested in building his and Laura’s relationship with Him. This is a “not to be missed” book, especially if you’re going through a hard time yourself or are a fan of Laura Story’s music.

One of the highlights of the book, in my opinion, is a summary at the end of most chapters, presenting a myth we often believe, contrasted to the corresponding truth from Scripture. These are red also presented in a chart at the end of the book. I see this as a helpful tool for me personally, and for anyone who is facing difficult circumstances. One of these in particular stool out to me:

  • MYTH: The plan I have for my life is much better than the place where God has me right now.
  • TRUTH: Where God has me right now is the best place for me.

The book is filled with MEMORABLE quotes, making it difficult to choose just one.  I choose a rather long one from the same chapter as the above myth and truth, and then I’ll close with a graphic of a shorter quote.

“If you find yourself struggling in a situation you didn’t see coming, consider it an opportunity to trust God. When we trust God is for us and not against us, we can see our future as he sees it. It is a future filled with plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future. And plans that will ultimately draw you closer to him.”  

Memorable Mondays: JOY

I’ve been reading some outstanding books recently, and starting today I’ll be sharing a brief book review and a memorable quote every Monday from a book I recommend. Today’s quote is from One More Step: Finding Strength When You Feel Like Giving Up, by Rachel Wojo. 

This book definitely was my favorite read in 2015, and I still find myself going back to it frequently.  Last year was a difficult one for me, as I dealt with chronic pain and a growing list of chronic illnesses. Before reading this book, I was close to the point of giving into despair. This book literally changed my life, starting me on the pathway of looking for JOY in the midst of my circumstances.

Rachel Wojo also knows what it is to face devastating situations. In this book, she transparently shares some of the heartbreak she has faced, and gives practical steps that helped her keep moving forward, one step at a time. She reminds us that God is in control, even if our lives appear to be out of control. If you want to learn how to persevere in less than ideal circumstances, taking hold of hope and finding joy in the Lord even if He does not bring miraculous deliverance, I highly recommend this book.

One More Step is filled with memorable quotes, and choosing one to focus on was my hardest task.  I chose a quote about JOY, since this is my word for this year. If you haven’t read this book yet, don’t delay any longer. I truly believe it has the potential to change your life.

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When

This week’s one word prompt for Tuesday at Ten is When. 

I decided to do a different type of post today, one with some of my favorite sayings and Scriptures on “When,” with graphics. Here they are.

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“You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭139:2‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Psalm‬ ‭56:3‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me.”  ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭86:7‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
‭‭James‬ ‭1:2-4‬ ‭NASB‬

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“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.

At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  Luke‬ ‭21:25, 27-28‬ ‭NIV‬‬

 

 

 

 

Family

I remember the day my husband asked me to marry him. We had met as students in Bible college, both determined to put God first in our marriage and dedicated to serving God in anyway He chose. We were in love, looking forward to our life as a married couple and then as parents to as many children as God gave us. We were married on September 2, 1973, by one of the pastor’s of our Bible college, Charismatic Bible Institute, which jokingly became known as Charismatic Bridal Institute, and after our honeymoon moved to Houston, Texas, where Mitch’s family lived.
As newlyweds, we went through some major adjustments, as most couples do. I felt neglected as my husband was busy with work and church activities and I was often at home alone. After a few months, our church started a discipleship class, and our home became one of the bases. Now I had three extra people to take care of, cook for, etc. And soon after that I became pregnant. Unlike most ladies who battle through morning sickness for three months, mine started in the first few days of the pregnancy and lasted until I gave birth. I went through this four times, though one pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage. During our time in Houston, our first daughter, Teresa, was born.

In 1975, we moved to Throckmorton, Texas, to work with a ministry there. We prayed long and hard about this move, and felt strongly that it was what God wanted us to do. But before many months there, we experienced our first major trial. We were on our way to Fort Worth to pick up some carpet for Mitch’s boss and to visit friends, when a man who had been drinking crossed into our lane.  The truck we were in was totaled, and we were all injured. Teresa died shortly after we reached the hospital, and the doctors warned Mitch that I might not survive. But I did, leaving the hospital over two months later, using a wheelchair.

Our next major experience as a family was the birth of our daughter Amy. She was a healthy, happy child and a real comfort to me after losing Teresa. By this time,  Mitch had joined the Air Force and we were stationed in Blytheville, Arkansas. A few years later, our church decided to start a preschool, and since I had been a kindergarten teacher I was asked to take a class.  Amy had just turned forum and that was an interesting year, as I tried to teach while Amy kept wandering out of her classroom looking for her Mommy. But she finally adjusted, and we had a good year. At the end of that year, Mitch’s military service came to an end, and we moved to Jacksonville, Texas.

A couple years later, I became pregnant with our son David. After David was born, we felt that God wanted us to move back to Houston, and we made plans to move in with his Mom temporarily, to give us time for Mitch to find a job and us to find a house suited to our needs. We expected to be there no more than three months, but it turned into more than a year. During this time, our son was diagnosed with massive infantile spasms, an age-specific seizure disorder that causes cluster seizures and often results  in severe brain damage and mental retardation. To cut the story short, David is now thirty-one years old, but mentally he is still like a baby.  He can do nothing for himself, has fourteen hours of private duty nursing care per day, and is completely bed bound.

I could also tell you about our days of homeschooling, of having a home bound school and therapy program for David, and of our years of caring for Mitch’s Mom before she passed away from Alheimers. But there isn’t time for more details. To summarize our experience as a family, I’d have to say that there were good times and there were hard times. Our story is different than yours, but you too will experience good times and bad times. No family is perfect, no relationship is perfect, because no person has ever lived a perfect life on earth except Jesus. I don’t know why God has allowed our family to go through so many difficulties, and I’ve stopped asking. What I do know is that God is good and He is faithful. As Laura Story said in her book When God Doesn’t Fix It, “We need to see marriage not as a union to make us happy but as a union to make us holy.” Marriage is the beginning of family, so the same thing applies to family. She goes on to say, our stories aren’t just a series of things that happen to us. They are part of a much bigger story of how God is drawing all of us closer to Him. A story of His faithfulness intersecting  with our unfaithfulness.

And that’s my final word on family. For now.

Chronic Illness and Joy

To understand how all the bad things that touch our lives could possibly be a source of joy, we need a basic knowledge of the effect of sin and the curse that resulted from it. The history of mankind can be divided into three time periods:

  1. The time right after creation, before sin entered the picture. God and man lived together in perfect harmony.  God Himself described this time at the end of the six days of creation by saying, “It is all very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
  2. The era we currently live in, when earth is under the curse because of sin, and life includes mourning, pain, illness, and ends in death. When Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, came to earth, lived a sinless life, and then through His death on the cross and resurrection, paid the full penalty for the sins of those who receive Him as Savior and Lord.
  3. The future time, when the present heaven and earth will have been destroyed and redeemed mankind will live with the Lord in the New Jerusalem, in the new heaven and the new earth. Then, those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus, will not only experience freedom from the penalty of sin; they will be freed from the presence of sin. And the curse that accompanies it.  

As it says of this future time in Revelation 21: 3b-4, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

    I look forward to an eternity spent in the presence of God and with sin and its effects wiped away. But that is still future. We still live on an earth that has been corrupted by sin. Until God destroys the present heaven and earth, and we go to live permanently in His presence on the new earth, the presence of sin will continue. And with it, the presence of pain, mourning, disease, and death. Living with chronic illness is just one part of the curse that has personally touched my life.

    The Curse of Chronic Illness: My Story

    At first, it looked like I had minimal lasting damage from the accident in November 1975 that took the life of our firstborn daughter, Teresa. Though I left the hospital using a wheelchair, with my husband’s hard work making a set of parallel bars for me to use to learn to walk again, and then him being the “bad guy” and insisting that I exercise on it several times a day, I was soon walking with crutches. Before long, I was able to walk with a cane and a little later with no assistance.

    But a few years later, I started having problems with arthritis, which my doctor said was “secondary to the accident.” As years have passed, my physical condition has continued to deteriorate, with new diagnoses many years. Then a couple years ago, one doctor’s office suspected that my symptoms were being complicated by neurological issues, and things started moving downhill at double-time.

    Then, in July of last year (2015), my pain management doctor did an injection in my right shoulder to see if it would help the pain in the shoulder and numbness in the fingers of my right hand. But instead of helping, it made my overall condition much worse.  I spent a week in bed to treat a spinal fluid leak. And when I was able to get up, I had severe pain after less than five minutes of standing or walking. The doctors were stumped. They ordered several tests, but even then had no explanation for the sudden change in my condition. I am no longer able to drive or do most of the housework, and trips out of the house usually now require using a wheelchair. 

    As of today, I still have no answers. I now have over twenty-five diagnoses, and since I’m still waiting to learn some of the more recent test results the list could possibly grow even longer.

    Word of the Year Update

    In the midst of all of this, when I was praying last December about picking a word of the year for 2016, God clearly spoke to my heart that my focus for the new year was to be joy. Frankly, that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. But after walking with God for almost fifty years, I’ve learned that it isn’t wise to fight His leading. So I began studying Scripture and Scripture-based books about joy.  It’s still January, so I have over eleven months left to focus on joy.  But here are just a few of the things God has already taught me:

    • Joy isn’t the same thing as happiness, which comes and goes with changes in circumstances.
    • Joy isn’t affected by our outward circumstances. In fact, difficult circumstances are the ideal soil for learning to “count it all joy” (Philippians 1:2).
    • Joy is closely tied to giving God thanks in all circumstances.
    • Even in our desert situations, God delights to give us His gifts. We need to be sure to look for them.  (God actually began teaching me this last year, during a group study with God-Living Girls, on Rachel Wojo’s book One More Step.)
    • Joy is the inner assurance than everything is going to be alright in the end, because God is in control.
    • Another way to cultivate joy is by praising God for who He is (His character) and what He has done (His works).
    • Counting it all joy – seeing every circumstance we are facing as an ultimate source of joy – is the key to growing to spiritual maturity.


    The natural response to all that I’m facing is fear and anxiety. But those who are in Christ are no longer limited to natural responses. The supernatural God lives in us, and He will work within us if we will allow Him to do so. And one of the primary ways He is working in my life during this season is through a double focus on joy and on my life purpose of writing (through #Write365). Do you think it’s a coincidence that the next study for God-Living Girls, beginning on February 1st, is entitled “Finding Joy & Purpose in Chronic Illness”? I see it as a God-incidence!

    Embracing the Life You’ve Been Given

    Today, I am linking up with Tuesday at Ten, the weekly blog link-up where you have six days to use the prompt word or phrase as a part of your writing. This week’s prompt word is EMBRACE.

    As I was reading my #First5 devotional this morning, God spoke to my heart. The question was: “What harm has the Lord delivered you from?”  Immediately, I saw one of the most difficult events in my life in a different light. In 1976, we were hit by a drunk driver, and our eighteen month old daughter Teresa was killed. This morning God spoke to my heart, “But I spared your life.” Yes He did, but this had never been my focus.

    Since the accident, my life has been different. Not only did we lose our precious daughter, I also left the hospital in a wheelchair. I was later able to use a walker, and for a window of time even to walk without support. But from that time, my life was different. My health began a downward spiral, to the point where I now have over a dozen chronic illnesses that are directly or indirectly related to the accident. This is the life God is asking me to embrace. And since my Word of the Year is joy, to embrace with joy.

    So how is this possible? It requires letting go of the past and turning my focus on the future. Or as Philippians 3:13b-14 says:

    “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” 

    There are some positive things about living with chronic illness. First, I have lots of free time to spend with the Lord. My daily quiet time is one of the delights of my life, as I spend unrushed time in God’s presence, in prayer and God’s Word. This has helped me grow spiritually, as I seek to be more than a hearer – or reader – of Scripture. God’s Word is gradually becoming the guidebook by which I live, as I lean daily on God’s grace. As James 1:22-25 says, this leads to being blessed.

    “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

    And 2 Corinthians 4:16b-18 makes it clear that God values inward renewal above what is going on outwardly. I can identify with Paul’s words in this passage:

    Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

    Yes, outwardly my body seems to be “wasting away.”  My chronic illnesses could be considered “a thorn in the flesh.” Like Paul did concerning his thorn, I have pleaded with the Lord to take this thorn away from me. God’s answer, for now at least, has been similar to His answer to the apostle in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10,

    “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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.”  

    Finally, Scripture makes it clear that life on earth involves warfare and suffering. Jesus has already defeated the enemy,  but the full effects of His victory won’t be experienced until we go to be with Him in the new heaven and the new earth. Therefore, suffering of some type is usually a part of life on this fallen planet. As it says in 1 Peter 5:8-10,

    “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

    Father, I am choosing to embrace the life You have given me with joy. These are just a few of the blessings You have revealed to me in this particular wilderness. So today, I embrace the life You have given me in love, and the writing that is a part of Your purpose for me.  Thank You for opening my eyes to the truth that you spared my life, so that Your purpose for me would be fulfilled. Help me to seek Your will daily, and to walk in the fulness of what You have for me. In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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