Posts tagged ‘Prayer’

Now in those days…

Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.  1 Samuel 3:1

My parents took me to college as a freshman, made sure I was registered and then made the 4 hour drive back home. I called them once or twice a week for the first two months as I was homesick. But before long, the dorm became my new home and my phone calls to my parents became less and less frequent. I found out later in life that my parents would call me frequently, but I never received the calls as we didn’t have call waiting or message machines in those days. I was rarely in my room except to sleep, which often was long past the time my parents had gone to bed for the night. And so contact with my parents became somewhat rare.

This experience reminds me of what life with God too often can become. He calls, but I’m too busy to answer. Sometimes I don’t even have the ringer of my phone turned on. I may even have my messages turned off. I am busy with work, pleasure, chores, ministry, thoughts, ambitions, dreams, heartaches, pain, failures, successes, and much, much more. Even if I did have my messages on, I wouldn’t have time to listen to them. Before I know it, I am “Now in those days…”

“Now in those days” has a context. Eli was so busy cleaning up the messes his wayward sons were making as priests that he didn’t have time to listen to God. His sons didn’t want to listen to God as they were determined to do as they pleased. Everyone else in Israel was busy with their lives as they had plenty to worry about with their crops, their own families, and hostile nations all around them.  And so the messages from God were either ignored, unnoticed, or deleted. “Now in those days” God must have felt isolated, rejected, and alone. I can’t even imagine the pain God must have felt in those days. His own children wouldn’t even pick up the phone when He called. Even though His angels were around Him and He experienced the love within the Trinity Itself, there must have been a huge hole in His heart to be cut off from His children. Nothing is quite right when you can’t talk with those you love so much. 

We know God was always there for the Israelites in those days because we read a few chapters later in 1 Samuel 12:22, “For the Lord will not abandon His people, because that would dishonor His great name. For it has pleased the Lord to make you His very own people.” Abandoning His people would dishonor His name because God is love. To stop calling on you and me is not in His nature, no matter how often we delete His messages. It would bring shame upon Him to stop contacting you because He is wired to connect, to love, to reach out, to talk and listen and understand you. 

I don’t know about you, but I am ready to listen to the messages God is sending me every moment of every day. But to do that I will need to turn on my awareness of God in the occurrences, circumstances, and conversations with people I have throughout each day. The best way I have found to do be aware of God throughout the day is to set aside some time each morning to listen to Him though prayer, meditation, and reading His Word. What steps will you take to ensure you hear the messages God is sending to you?

Are You Ready to Plow?

 I said, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.”  Hosea 10:12

I grew up in Indiana, went to college in Michigan, and spent over 15 years in Illinois. When it comes to planting soy beans and corn, you have to start with plowing the soil. This is because there is so much clay in the soil that it becomes as hard as cement. If you were to plant seed in the Spring without plowing the soil, it would never germinate and there would be no harvest in the Fall.

And so it is with the human heart. Our hearts become hardened by bad decisions, misbeliefs, and the arrows of emotional trauma that come from things like rejection, isolation, loss, and abuse. Only God can break up the hard soil of your heart and plant the seeds of righteousness that Hosea writes about. But how do you plow the heart and where do you get the seeds of righteousness?

I have found prayer and meditation on His Word to be the most effective way to plow my heart. Without prayer, the Bible is just literature. But with prayer, the Author of the Bible interprets it for my life today! The Bible then becomes a living and powerful tool to change my thoughts and behaviors. Paul says it this way in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” When I pray the Word of God, open my mind to His thoughts, and seek His will, then my thoughts and desires are “exposed.” That describes plowing! It is just like the farmer that exposes the soil to the sun and rain. Plowing the heart with God’s Word through prayer exposes the heart to the light of the Son and the rain of the Holy Spirit. It can be disruptive to my plans and desires. It can be unsettling to discover that my thoughts and actions have been wrong when I thought they were right. But that’s the point of plowing – disrupt the soil to prepare it for a harvest that could otherwise never occur.

The harvest of the heart is what we are all seeking in life – LOVE! We all seek to be loved and to love. There is no greater need of the human heart than love. But our hearts have been hardened due to a lack of love. When I plow my heart each morning by submitting to Jesus and reading His Word, God plants the seeds of His Word in my heart resulting in a harvest of love. And it all happens because I was willing to be disrupted. I was willing to allow Him to change my thoughts and beliefs and desires. It happens when I let Him plow my heart. It can be painful for sure. But the harvest of love is worth it. 

 

Is God Listening?

I love the Lord because he hears my voice… Psalm 116:1

There may be no greater gift than the gift of listening. The word listen is derived from two Anglo-Saxon words. One is “hlystan,” which means “hearing.” The other is “hlosnian,” which means “to wait in suspense.” Listening is a combination of not only hearing what the other person has to say, but an intense psychological involvement with each other. True listening binds hearts together. But listening is a two-way street. If I’m sharing out of a sense of superiority, arrogance, or pride, then I am only speaking and I hear no one but myself. There is no connection with the heart of the other person. True communication always involves listening, even when I am the one speaking.  

Have you ever failed to recognize when someone is actually listening to you? How could that be possible? Psalm 115:4-7 tells us the problem just might be the idols we construct. We make idols with our own hands. The problem is that these idols cannot speak, cannot hear, and cannot feel. We then read in verse 8 of Psalm 115, “And those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them.” There’s the reason I can’t recognize when God, and often even those around me are actually listening to me. When I worship my works, my plans, my desires, my wealth, my talents, then these are the idols I have made that will ultimately isolate me. And the only one I will hear is myself.

Is your love for God wavering? If so, perhaps you don’t realize that He is listening to you. Perhaps you are doing all the talking. Perhaps you have made idols that do not speak or hear or feel. We all have times when we doubt God is listening. Sometimes we feel to dirty, too sinful, or too inadequate. But God is there. He is listening. When we seek Him, talk with Him, and take the time to listen to Him, we will know that we have been heard. What would it look like for you to say with the Psalmist, “I love the Lord because he hears my voice.”?

 

What Does it Mean to Devote Yourself to Prayer?

We get busy with school or jobs or both, chores or recreation, dating or marriage, and so much more that we easily neglect prayer. Perhaps this is why Paul gives us the following admonition: Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. (Colossians 4:2) But what does this mean?

Devote. One definition of this word “devote” that resonates with me is to “give up or appropriate to or concentrate on a particular pursuit, occupation, purpose, cause.” This word “devote” packs quite a punch. There’s a lot to it. And just to make sure we understand what he means, Paul tells us to devote OURSELVES to PRAYER! He doesn’t say devote some time or resources to it. That would be like sending a little money to the mission field rather than being a missionary. Nothing wrong with sending money to help others, but when you send yourself you know you’re really serious about helping others. This is how important prayer is in our walk with God. It is so important than we are to devote our lives to prayer! It’s not enough to just send a prayer God’s way now and then. But what does a life devoted to prayer really look like? Paul gives the answer to this question in this one little verse.

Paul tells us that effective, life transforming prayer has two components. The first is an alert mind. We pray when our mind is engaged. So we can pray as we are reading His Word, meditation on His thoughts, allowing His truths to seep into our minds. But it’s more than this. When we devote ourselves to prayer, then we pray without ceasing. We then are alert to recognize when God is around us. We recognize Divine appointments and the devil’s snares. With an alert mind we avoid temptations and seek God’s path. But the companion to the mind is the heart. Without the heart, the mind can become fanatical and harsh.

And so we have the second aspect of prayer – a thankful heart. With a thankful heart I recognize the trials in my life as blessings. With a thankful heart I can see obstacles as opportunities. With a thankful heart my attitude is one of gratitude. With a thankful heart, I am given peace of mind and joy that can make every day the best day of my life. A thankful heart takes time to see the blessings in life and to give God the credit. So a thankful heart is always other-centered, not self-centered. Ultimately, a life devoted to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart will be a life filled with love, purpose, and joy. 

What will you devote yourself to today? What would it look like to devote yourself to prayer?

 

Where Does Prayer Fit In?

Have you ever been afraid to talk someone? A few years ago we were seated in one of our favorite Italian restaurantswebsite graphic in Chicago when I saw Jesse Jackson seated at the next table. His table was located a few feet behind my wife, Pam, who was seated across from me. No matter what I think of his political views, the fact that he was famous gave me pause. I sat with Pam trying to focus on our conversation, but I found myself preoccupied with Mr. Jackson; what he ordered for dinner, who he was talking with, and how he interacted with the waiter. In all of my preoccupation, I never seriously considered walking over to his table, introducing myself, and having a conversation with him. After all, he didn’t know or care about me.

When I completed my bicycle ride across America last summer to raise money and awareness for diapers, I had several visits in Washington D.C. that were arranged by Allison, program director for the National Diaper Bank Network. Our first appointment was with the president of the National Women’s Law Center. It quickly became obvious that she was more amused by my ride than interested in talking with me. Her demeanor changed, however, when I explained how I discovered the number one request of young mothers across the country was for diapers. She became engaged as she strategized with Allison for over an hour on ways to help these young mothers. What made the difference in her attitude? I believe it was when she realized I was there to talk about an issue close to her heart. 

It is difficult to talk with someone who is more influential, intelligent, and powerful than you… unless they know and care about you. It can be difficult for some people to believe that God actually wants to talk with them. After all, He is the most influential, intelligent, and powerful Being in the universe! But what makes Him approachable is His love for us. He invites us to talk with Him. In fact, He has a word for it: PRAYER. We are told in the Bible that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to take the punishment of our mistakes so we could talk with Him today and live with Him tomorrow. In the book, “Steps to Christ” page 93 we read that “Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend.” I believe this is true because in Revelation 3:20 we read that Jesus invites us to sit at His table to eat with Him. What a difference from my experience with the rich and famous on this earth! Jesus doesn’t just happen to sit next to me at a restaurant, but He invites me to HIS restaurant and wants me to sit with Him at His table. Unbelievable!

So where does prayer fit in? Well, let me say it this way… If you want a life fully committed to God, pray. If you want to know His calling in your life, pray. If you want to live the adventure God has planned for you, pray. If you want to love your enemies, pray. If you want to overcome temptation, pray. If you want to receive God’s grace, pray. If you want to be happy, pray. If life doesn’t seem fair, pray. If you’re happy, pray. If everything is going right for you, pray. If you have a great marriage, pray. If you have super parents, pray. If you love Jesus, pray. Ultimately, let’s pray because we all need an influential, intelligent, and powerful friend.

Connections: The Missing Link

Downton Abbey is a hit TV series on PBS as part of the Masterpiece Classic anthology. There is an episode in Hands1season 2 that illustrates the missing link in relationships that is far too common. According to Wikipedia, “The series, set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the post-Edwardian era — with the great events in history having an effect on their lives and on the British social hierarchy.”

Robert Crawley is the Earl of Grantham in this series whose relationship with his wife, Cora, Countess of Grantham has become distant. They have allowed Downton Abbey to be used as a hospital during World War I. Cora has become overseer of the newly established hospital that is taking all of her time. Their lives are completely disrupted. They are committed to each other and have a very good marriage by every account. But in an innocent exchange with a housemaid, Robert shares his feelings about his life during this difficult time. He has made an unintended emotional connection that catches him by surprise. He now finds the housemaid almost irresistible and yet he is still completely committed to his wife. In the end, he honors his commitment to his wife, but seems puzzled as to what happened and why.

What Robert didn’t understand is that we all have a need for emotional intimacy. It is a powerful inner motivation. We can do and buy things for each other, but if we don’t share our feelings with each other, there is a missing link. And then when someone comes along who provides a release for our feelings, we become connected with them. The key is to share myself with those I love if I want to have a lasting, vibrant, and real relationship with them. It’s called communication. It is the avenue husbands and wives have to reigniting their passion and shoring up their commitment to each other. The best communication is when I share my hopes, dreams, anxieties and joys and listen to yours.This is the missing link in many relationships.

Our relationship with God has the very same dynamic. If we want to be close to God we need to share our hopes, dreams, anxieties, and joys with Him. But that’s not enough. We must also listen to His hopes, dreams, anxieties and the joys He has for us. This is called prayer. It’s the missing link for many of us in our relationship with God. Without it, we will seek emotional intimacy elsewhere. The Bible calls this “idol worship.” We begin to chase after wealth or get trapped in all manner of addictions to satisfy our need for emotional intimacy with God. And then when we pray we make it about getting answers and things from God rather than a relationship with Him. We then make our relationship with God about doing things for Him. I have become convinced that all God really wants from us is us! He wants my heart. He wants to spend time with me. He wants to talk with me and listen to me. That’s what prayer is all about. It just might be the missing link. What does prayer mean to you?

Day 41 to St Mary’s, MO – Stereotypes, Listening, and Prayer

I started today’s ride nearly exhausted from the beating I had taken in the Ozark Mountains the past two days. I wasn’t sure I could make another 80 mtoday old multiple steep climbs so I was a little discouraged. However, it had rained duthey the night and the starting temperature was 20 degrees cooler than it was yesterday so I knew God was with me as I started pedaling. And as usual, I felt at home on the bike once again even with the growing saddle sore and tired legs. Win two and a half hours I pedaled into Bismarck, MO which meant that every mile thereafter would be banked for next week. To celebrate I decided to take a break and eat me sandwich that Dorothy makes for me every day of the ride.

As I was getting out of the car to start riding again a man came to our car and introduced himself as Jim. He wanted to meet Pastor Eric and find out about the ride for diapers (we have a logo on the car that he read). Pam gave Jim a business card as I described the need many families have for diapers. He gave me $10.00 because he said he would otherwise just spend it on another lottery ticket. I thought this was interesting since I had just blogged about tithing yesterday. Jim told us that he had been convicted to begin paying tithe and thought he should give this money to me. As we talked I learned that Jim, who is 46 years old, is recently unemployed as is his wife, Shannon. What’s worse is that Shannon’s stepfather just died. So she is now in Florida for 3 weeks to help her mother with this tragedy. I prayed with Jim asking God to lead him to a job, a deeper spiritual walk, wisdom, and courage to face the challenges in life. We said our good-byes and I pedaled away. Pam stayed there for another 15 minutes and as she was ready to leave Jim came back to our call to tell her he had justbeen offered a job. He was ecstatic. Two hour later when I stopped at the car to get resupplied Pam told me about Jim’s job. 

With Jim’s story in my mind I finished the ride with a flourish going further than I thought possible. Today’s ride ended up being one of the most enjoyable and invigorating of the trip. Before I met Jim I was tempted to think ill of Missouri residents in this part of the state as many drivers made me feel unwanted by their gestures and horn blowing. I saw Confederate flags in yard after yard making wonder if I am still fighting battles that are long past. But Jim gave me a different perspective and reminded me once again that this ride is about connecting with others one person at a time.

So I challenge us all to avoid stereotypes, be ready to meet others where they are, listen to God, and practice intercessory prayer because it works. Just ask Jim!

Ride Stats:  Total Miles- 81.8    Elev Gain- 4,419 ft    Avg Speed- 11.4 mph   Avg HR – 113

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