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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

expecting a miracleWe all think we know what we need. It’s part of our human nature. And honestly, in many cases, it seems pretty obvious. In the case of the lame man, he had adapted to his disability and didn’t even consider that a need any longer. He asked for alms each day to meet his immediate needs and had already decided that he could not meet these needs himself.

Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.  [Acts 3:2-5, NIV]

I can’t help but wonder how many times I have missed the bigger miracle while reaching out for the thing right before me.

Right now, it’s kind of important for me to keep my head, heart, and eyes clear in just this way. It’s pretty obvious that I cannot remain in our big house anymore now that I am down to one salary after Mike’s death. With no life insurance or other nest egg to speak of, I am faced with downsizing now rather than later. Preparing a home for sale and looking for miracle treesomething else is overwhelming to say the least. I need a small miracle to find something that is affordable for my new life and yet practical for house guests or boomerang children.

What is my expectation of God here? I am trying to balance the realities of looking at properties (in essence, one can’t win the lottery without buying a ticket) and believing that God has something planned for me, yet out of sight. I don’t want to jump at “good enough” if best is around the corner. I don’t want to leap out of anxiety or doubt.

Work and pray. Like Nehemiah. That’s all I know to do.

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anxietyHistorically, I have not been an anxious person but when I checked the definition, I recognize a build up of some anxiety over the last few months, understandable I suppose, as a relatively new widow. The future carries a lot of unknowns that have generated emotionally charged days. Anxiety is a state of mind created from an expectation of future threat. I get that, totally, as they say. But I am told, instead:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Phillipans 4:6-7, NIV]

The essential information here is that anxiety can be pushed back successfully, but not by trying to “not be anxious.” Instead, I am encouraged to actively transfer my anxious feelings into and onto the Holy Spirit, that Presence within, that gift of God, who is willing to apply a strong filter. The future is still unknown and filled with dangers even, but a God perspective minimizes its impact and ability to cause actual anxiety.

It’s important to ask for help. That’s where the prayer part fits in.

grief angelI believe God is actually OK with me learning how to handle some difficult situations (as part of maturing). The more time and energy I spend with God, the more I am able to walk with God, be more like God, and dwell in the Presence of Christ’s Spirit. But, it’s important to keep tabs on this relationship. My tendency has been to blunder along and convince myself that I can do it all, I can manage, I can handle hard feelings and I can make lots of decisions, all the while working full time and running a household (at least, what’s left of it). That’s the old me who used her busyness and quick thinking and “bull in a china shop” approach to everything in order to side-step the anxiety, a fear of failure, overwhelming loss and grief.

That will not work this time. I have discovered that I, too, can drop into a kind of general malaise that manifests as anxiety that is peppered with muscular tension, restlessness, fatigue, and problems in concentration.

So, I’m asking God. Right now. I’m asking for that transcendent Jesus to go to work now. Thanks.

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Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature. Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to
think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. [Romans 12:2-3, CEB]

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Art by He Qi

Art by He Qi

This week in our Lenten journey, we’ll be talking about Service. What I like about Richard Foster’s words in the devotional selection for today, is that service needs to be in a symbiotic relationship with spirituality. There is no doubt that spirituality, represented by one on one time with God, is the “one necessary thing” but the true manifestation of that time is in serving others. The story of Mary and Martha shows us how one cannot be isolated from the other: the women were sisters after all.

By contrast, Martha was preoccupied with getting everything ready for their meal. So Martha came to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself? Tell her to help me.”
The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. One thing is necessary. [Luke 10:40-42a]

first things firstIn another interesting lesson I found online (Lesson 52, Bible.org), the writer builds on two questions from First Things First by Stephen Covey. He asks the questions this way: “What is the one activity that you know if you did superbly well and consistently would have significant positive results in your walk with God?” Then, “If you know this would make such a significant difference, why did you not do it this past week?” I believe the young people would yell “Booyah!” which is a bit of slang for “gotcha!”

So, let’s put these two ideas together, if service is best done out of relationship with Christ (more than likely through prayer), and if we prayed consistently and authentically, we would indeed experience significant results in our walk with God and undoubtedly, choose to serve more consistently as well. Why don’t we do it?

I cannot speak for you. I can only confess my own sin, for it is, I suppose, my story to tell.

private prayerI don’t pray privately much because it’s amorphous (another word from the Thesaurus: blobby!). Prayer is just so: private and lonely; there is no one who knows if I pray or not, or if I talk out loud or silently, or if my mind wanders and creates a menu for dinner. Prayer, when it’s truly just me and God, requires concentration, relaxation, and intent, all rolled up into one. There are no benchmarks. There is no one to say I’m doing better or not. There are no fireworks for the well-said prayer or the prayer that struck home, engaging God in a decision to change circumstances. I can’t measure prayer. Oh I suppose, I could monitor my time, but truthfully, I’d have to filter out the wasted minutes, the distracted candle-lighting or wrapping up in an afghan or escorting the persistent, playful dog out of the room.

And maybe, if I was really honest, maybe I’m not even praying. It’s easier to read a prayer or read scripture. It’s easier to write prayer or blog. It’s easier to think about praying or to think about God. It’s easier to do anything but center down.

rosaryI’m sure, in some ways, this is why Eastern religions may have a little edge on us Christian types. There are practices and breathing and instruction that is aimed toward emptying the mind. Sometimes I wonder if I should try some of the Catholic practices, would the rote repetition settle me into an inner place where the Holy Spirit and I could really commune?

I’m a woman of flash prayers and thanksgivings and even, service. I am a woman who can pray in public with intensity and love for my God. I can gather others into prayer. I am a woman of the Word for I find much solace in its depths. But I am not a woman of private prayer.

Going back to Stephen Covey, do I believe it will change my life? I do, or at least, I suspect. But maybe, secretly, the changes are too slow for my 21st century-cultured mind. Perhaps I am still looking for results too soon. I have trouble with the long vision. And yet, here I am, almost forty years a believer, and still I can’t pray with consistency, alone?

St. augustineI know, I know. This post is supposed to be about service, but my spirit is quickened to consider the importance of service growing out of spirituality. I “do” or “serve” because God leads me to do it. I serve because God is present out there as well as in here. And when I pray, I serve. That’s the idea.

Whether it’s learning a sport or a martial art or flying a plane, automatic body/mind memory only comes from repetition, practice, and consistency. If there is any time to practice, it’s during Lent. Now. Now.

Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done in Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

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Instead of reading my post, you may want to read a lovely essay of the same title by Joy Mosbarger. She captures very clearly the idea of “sacrificing an offering of thanks.” Unlike many of the sacrifices in Old Testament times, 9she writes) the thanks offering, given freely, was shared by God, the priests, and the giver. And more, for the remaining meat was shared with the family of the giver. A thank offering was shared in community. How cool is that?

fragrant worshipI Iove the Lord because he hears
my requests for mercy.
I’ll call out to him as long as I live,
because he listens closely to me. . . .
So I’ll offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to you,
and I’ll call on the Lord’s name.  [Psalm 116:1-2, 17, CEB]

That’s a lot of food for thought. I have been contemplating this idea of giving thanks all week and now, I am challenged even further, to share my gratefulness with others. Of course, just talking and writing about it, is one way. But, that work, outside of keeping up late at night or calling me from my bed earlier in the morning, is not much of a sacrifice. What else?

For Ms. Mosbarger, it was donating funds to a child who suffered from the same disease she had; for her, a way to say thank you God for helping me, now take from my abundance of thanks, and touch another life.

Many people have been reaching out to me in this way. I can see the framework of their thanks to God in their giving to me. This makes sense. So many around me have known losses and grief. And for those who were touched by others in their sorrow, they now reach out to me. Thank you. And eventually, I will do the same. Not just yet. I see it ahead, just can’t breathe freely in that kind of peace and acceptance inside.

Photo by Debbie "SalemCat" at DeviantArt

Photo by Debbie “SalemCat” at DeviantArt

So, I suppose, I am walking the road to Jerusalem, where I will lay it down. My God is patient.

One last tidbit from the other article: when all had eaten their full that day of meat and bread, whether it was the priest or family members, whatever was left over was destroyed. The thank offering was an event in time and space, almost like a great celebration (like a wedding or birthday), the revelry was rich and full but it also had a beginning and an end. It was a decision to give that special offering on that particular day. I like this idea.

In some ways, I suppose the American holiday of Thanksgiving could stand in for such a day. But I’m feeling the call of God to pick my own day. When I am ready. And I will invite you to be there with me, you have held my heart and soul in your prayers. I thank you. I thank God for mercy and grace.

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Asking and thanking go together. They are a song that has perfect but unique harmonies. Asking & thanking in prayer is a tight union, like an A Capella group that intertwines the main melody with sounds and riffs, highs and lows.

Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. [Philippians 4:6, CEB]

I cannot ask without thanking. Well, I should not.

If I take my anxieties and concerns to God in prayer, then the next thing from my lips needs to be my thanksgiving because “God’s got this!” That’s the point. The prayer part, the appeal, is not so much about God or Christ, but about me. I am sharing, as transparently as possible, how I understand my  situation and what I believe I need to happen. But listen, I may (more than likely) be wrong about the best outcome. Thank God. I mean, sincerely, I thank God who listens but is not particularly moved by my limited discernment.

But when I’m hurting, I tell God. When I’m confused, I complain. When I’m angry, I confess. When I’m convinced, I give God an opening to disagree.

Thanks for your patience Lord. Sing with me.

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grateful heartSaying “thank you” should not be just a polite expression or automated response. When the words come from the heart, they can germinate and roots will strengthen them. The words sound differently when they bubble up from the truth center of our selves, and as a result, they have the power to reach into the hearts of others. True thanksgiving is compelling. But, ya gotta mean it.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. [I Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV] and The Lord does look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. [I Samuel 16:7b, NIV]

When expressing thanks to another person, I think it’s important to make eye contact to reveal one’s intent, an acknowledgment and appreciation for the efforts of another. It is an I/Thou interaction. Another way of saying this: when a person feels thanks and shares that thankfulness with another, there is an exchange of energy and recognition, much like saying, “I see you and you see me.” It is the simplest form of gratefulness.

surrender 1God asks no less. Acknowledge Me, appreciate what I-God has given to You-Human, celebrate gratefulness, and express all of it with thanks. Trust Me.

No doubt, when circumstances are difficult, I tend to withhold thanks. I make assumptions and judgments: no, not this, no, this is a bad day, no, this is a bad choice, no, this is too sad, no, this is too painful. And so I reject the situation and look for another. I decide on my own that this is not the way I want to go, that this can’t be the path God intended me to take. I’m outta here.

But there is more loss; I’ve missed important lessons along the way because I ran, I eluded, I buried my head in the sand.

aloneI am facing such a time again, this newly minted widowhood. Can I find an inner thanks, a genuine “yes” to God, despite the tears, the loss, and the anxieties? Can I surrender into gratefulness? Can I fight off disappointment?

Little by little. Little by little. I must. I can. I will.

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