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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

bth_MarywithBabyJesus[1]It’s 4:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve and I never expected to be so heavy on this day with the things that are weighing on my heart. I’m not the only one I know. So many are facing much greater burdens and much greater life challenges. This season of joy and love and peace doesn’t always live up to it’s reputation, does it?

Well – actually it does. The TV specials are sparkly and white and soft and beautiful. We are led to believe that for Christmas to be Christmas we need the perfect outfit, the perfectly decorated tree, the perfectly wrapped gifts and the perfect loving family around the table. But today I’m realizing again that although the birth of Christ was the climax of that Bethlehem night, there are so many subtle lessons surrounding the momentous event.

Stress, worry, pain, shock, disappointment, confusion – all the things we live with today were in existence then. I would guess that a few sharp words may have been exchanged between Mary and Joseph along their journey, brought on by exhaustion and the weight of responsibility. Stress does that to us – brings out the irritation in our voice, the too quick answer, the sharp word.

I suspect that as Mary and Joseph made their way through the streets of the city on their way to the stable they fought crowds that had flooded the city. You can’t tell me the merchants didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to expand their line of products and overflow their streetside stalls. To purchase a simple meal Joseph would have had to stand in a long line, with impatient shoppers,  wailing children, tired, cranky clerks. Been there?

And as gentle as Mary appears in scripture, there is no way she didn’t crinkle her nose and give Joseph that “You’ve got to be kidding me” look when they entered the barn. Eating isn’t the only thing animals do in a barn, people!

God sent His Son in an ordinary way because He wanted ordinary people to be able to relate and accept this incredible gift. He wanted the poorest to know poverty doesn’t keep us from Him. He wanted the rich to know you must bow not buy your way to Him. He wanted the clean freaks to know even filth and unpleasant smells can’t keep Him away. He wanted the simple to know it’s not complicated, and the wise to know it doesn’t take a masters degree to find Him.

And the gifts – if you are anything like me, you have been wracking your brain, scouring the stores, scanning the internet trying to find the right one for each person on your list. I know Christmas isn’t about the gifts – but then again, it is. If I stopped shopping and tried to explain to my family from the 5 year old on up that I didn’t do gifts this year because Christmas is about the birth of Christ – I don’t think that would go over well. They know that but it doesn’t mean they are willing to give up gift giving.

So how can we take all of the not so wonderful things of Christmas and make them a part of the wonder, the miracle and the message? Here’s what I’m trying to do.

First, I’m taking my burdens, stress. irritations, frustrations and worry and I’m putting them in a gift box lined with prayer as tissue paper. I’m not skimping on the tissue paper either. I’m stuffing that box full until it pretty much overflows. Tissue paper is cheap. Prayer costs even less. 

Next, I’m putting the lid on that box because I know if I don’t I’ll be reaching in and taking those burdens out again and again to rearrange and ponder and carry them around for a while before putting them back. I’m taping the lid down so it won’t come off.

Then I’m pulling out the most beautiful wrapping paper I can find and covering that box with it because I want it to be visibly worthy of laying at the feet of Jesus. I want Him to know I’m serious about handing it over.

And the next thing I’m doing, after I walk away from the box, is pulling out every bit of kindness and gentleness and generosity I can find in my clothes closet and that’s the outfit I’m wearing today and tomorrow and hopefully beyond this weekend so I can bring the missing joy, peace and love to those around me.

Because I’m learning the lesson of Christmas.  God knows the pressure. He is aware of the demands on my time. He understands the things that make my heart heavy and my tears flow. But He set the Star of Bethlehem in the sky to show me the way to the Son of God in the manger and allow me to discover the truth of Christmas. 

It’s putting my trust in the Baby who became the Savior,

so I could travel from the Manger to the Cross,

and let Him come from Heaven to my Heart,

to make peace where there is none, to bring joy where there is sadness, and to give hope when things appear bleak. He gave Himself to me and I’m paying it forward.

Praying a beautiful Christmas for all of you.

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She Reads Truth by Amanda Bible Williams and Raechel Myers

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The subtitle of this book, Holding Tight to Permanent in a World That’s Passing Away, truly describes the essence of the author’s theme. These two young women, Raechel Myers & Amanda Bible Williams, share some of their most challenging, tragic and discouraging experiences reaching all the way back to childhood and stretching to their present-day lives as wives and mothers.   They use these stories to emphasize our need to stay grounded in the solid truth of God’s Word if we are to survive the shaky, constantly changing reality of this world.

The book is easy to read and the life events are relatable. Life can be hard and we can lose hope if we don’t keep a firm grasp on the promises of God.

In one of the early chapters Amanda states “When I grip too tightly to the things I think I can control, I lose touch of the eternal truth that it is God who holds things together.” She beautifully illustrates this in the chapter with a personal story involving her daughter.

Later, Raechel talks about the false gospels and false truths we are handed daily and emphasizes why we read God’s Word “to find the Truth. We study and know and memorize God’s Word because we cannot waste any more of our precious time on this earth believing the lies. Even the lies that sound really good and entertaining and close enough.”

What touched me about the book is that these young women don’t profess to have all the answers, but they certainly have learned where to find all the answers.

I am passing this book on to a young friend who is early in her Christian walk because I believe she will fall in love with Raechel and Amanda and because I believe their stories will speak to her and help her find the solace and guidance in God’s Word that I wish for her.

I would highly recommend the book to anyone struggling to get into the Word on a regular basis, or to anyone who wants to bless a friend with some beautiful motivation to read the Word, study the Word, and memorize the Word.

I received this book from B&H Publishing in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

 

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tearsJust survived a very busy, emotional, tension packed weekend. I don’t usually breathe a sigh of relief when Monday comes. In fact, it’s often the other way around – the sigh of relief when Saturday comes. But this weekend started on Friday when my granddaughters headed off to WSU to try out for the Crimson Girls Dance Team.

First you need to know they have been dancing competitively since they were three and they are amazing. Bethany graduated last year and has one year of local college under her belt. Bailey graduates this year.

The competition for a place on the team began Friday afternoon and for the next three days there were performances and cuts, performances and cuts. My cell phone was popping with text messages as their mother kept me updated. With each successful round, the competition got tighter and the tension magnified and my prayers became more frequent and more fervent.

I didn’t pray that they would make the team. I prayed that God’s plan for them would win out. I wanted Him to be in charge of their destiny. What I did pray was that they would either both make the team or neither make the team. I knew a split would be very difficult to deal with.

On Sunday, it was down to the wire. As I kept up my busy pace of setting up for worship. leading the team through our practice, helping to prepare for the barbecue being held after the service and just touching base with my church family as they arrived, I kept the phone close and waited for that vibration signaling news.

And it came – Bethany was officially welcomed onto the team. Bailey was not. Excitement on the one side, devastation on the other. Tears of joy, tears of sadness. My heart swelling with pride for one and breaking for the other.

As I got in my car after the barbecue, still trying to understand the results, I saw my memory verse for the week on my console. Psalm 56:8-9 You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in Your bottle. You record them in Your book. This I know, God is on my side.”

I thought I understood the verse but I realized God had just taken me deeper into His word. He does know every hurt and rejection we suffer, He feels every pain, He understands every grief. He hurts when we hurt. Our struggles are precious to Him. But in the end, in spite of how much we are going to suffer from the tragedies of this life – because He is on our side, He will not allow a result that leads us into danger or is not going to work for our ultimate good. Tears and disappointment today will keep us from the tragedy around the corner.

Someday we will meet Him and in His arms will be that precious jar of tears He collected. We will be enlightened and we will see that what seemed a muddy mess of hurt and weeping was truly one more step leading us down the path that got us closer and closer to our goal.

I’ve often wondered what He will do with that bottle of our tears when we finally reach heaven. I have this vision of Him dropping the jar and as it shatters, He and I will both be soaked with splashes of incredible joy. We will know the truth of His Word, “Consider it pure joy when you meet trials of various kinds…” James 1:2

For Bailey, the light won’t dawn today or tomorrow. But my most fervent prayer is that she will grow spiritually every day until she sees the beauty of every Word written between Genesis and Revelation; that His truth will come alive for her; that she will one day look back on this disappointment and be able to smile and say, “Thank you, God, for protecting me in that moment and lovingly moving me further down the path toward you.” In the meantime, not one of her tears will be wasted. The minute they are shed, He scoops them up and stores them close to His incredible heart.

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FerventWhat a great book with real, practical, helpful thoughts on making your prayer time powerful. In Fervent, Priscilla highlights ten strategies to focus on as we spend time in prayer. They are key to opening our hearts and minds to the true power in prayer.

I loved that strategy #1, right out of the gate, was to pray for renewed passion for prayer. Priscilla says “Fervent prayer is fueled by passion.” So very true but we get complacent, even lazy in our prayer life because the passion dims. We treat prayer time like a task to check off our to do list instead of the great privilege of coming before God and having a conversation.

Each strategy chapter includes Priscilla’s thoughts on why the strategy topic is key, a down to earth story illustrations from her life or the life of others to prove her point, and a host of scriptures that support the chapter. In fact, scripture is abundant throughout the book tying every thought back to God’s word. This is truly one of the author’s strengths.

I felt one especially “nailed-it” point she brought out in her chapter on “Our Hurts” was to point out that the bible tells us not just to forgive but to offer comfort to those that hurt us. What a challenge and yet, when acted upon, what a huge place of grace.

I also liked the way Priscilla began each chapter with a thought on “If I were the enemy I would ..” It made so much sense seeing it in writing that satan will attack the areas most likely to interfere with your ability to be completely focused in prayer.

I received this book from the Lifeway bloggers group in order to offer a review. I’m so blessed that this is the book I had opportunity to read and comment on. It was truly prayer-life changing and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to discover the power in fervent prayer. Some of my favorite women will find this book in their Christmas stockings for sure!

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We hear the word ‘glory’ so often it sometimes becomes a bit hard to define in the spiritual term. What is image[1]glory anyway? Can you truly see glory? And if you can – how would you describe it?

I love our motorcycle rides this time of year because the beauty in the landscape is just breathtaking. So all week I was looking forward to Saturday. Imagine my disappointment when I woke to fog and mist shrouding everything. However, this does not deter my husband in anyway so we leathered up. I always pray at the beginning of the ride for God to show me something amazing along the way. Yesterday I prayed especially for God to show me glory despite the fog and dark skies. (Honestly, I figured in order for Him to answer this prayer He would have no choice but to do away with the fog and give me sunshine and clear skies. How clever of me, right?)

We were just a few minutes on the road when the skies did open up to what promised to be a gorgeous day and I thought, now that’s glory – blue skies, sunshine and a wispy cloud now and then.

But down the road a few miles the fog set in again and pretty soon all we could see was well – fog with a few shadowy tree outlines buried within. We decided to keep going hoping things would change. (I can smile when I say that because my trusty electric jacket was keeping me toasty despite the chill in the air.) As we started over Blewitt Pass things did change. There were places where the sun would break through for a few minutes and shine on the rich autumn landscape and I thought to myself, now that’s glory.

Then the fog would close in again. We came around one corner and though we were still in fog, there was one spot where a break allowed sunlight to come through like a spotlight. You could see the rays radiating down and where they touched on a patch of meadow the colors were enhanced in such a way they shimmered – green grass touched with moisture, red and gold trees surrounding the patch. But it was better than that – standing right in the middle of the scene was a soft eyed doe, just frozen there enjoying the beauty. And – it was even better than that because at her feet was a small pool of rainwater and her reflection was clear as day. And I thought – now that’s glory.

We moved on, the mist closed in again. But a few miles down the road the fog was gone and brilliant sunlight highlighted the amazing fall landscape of red and gold and green and yellow and every shade in between. And I thought – now that is really glory.

But coming around a corner there was a stand of trees that hadn’t even begun to turn. They were still green and lush as if they had ignored the change in the weather. Right in the middle of that stand of green was one small maple – every leaf the brightest yellow. Kissed by brilliant sunlight it was almost blinding. And I thought – that truly is glory.

The realization suddenly came to me that glory is not in a beautiful landscape or the sun or the moon or the stars – the glory is that God chooses to reveal Himself through these things. Glory is in the fact that with our common human eyes – we can see God in the things around us He created. All things move and breathe and shine and shimmer because of Him. We won’t see glory in all its fullness until we meet Him face to face. But in His mercy He gives us glimpses and tastes and touches along the way.

We live life in a fog of busyness, stress, pressure, grief, bitterness, fear, anger, troubling news headlines, soaring highs and plunging lows. The only way we will see glory day to day is to choose to see it. We must believe God is always just a mind shift away waiting to show us He is bigger and better, more powerful, life giving, battle winning, promise keeping and hope shining in the dark. He is the beauty around every bend in the road.

Even more amazing about God and His glory – not only do we get to see it, but we get to be it. Matthew 5:16 says “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

We are to be the small maple among the forest of evergreen, standing out and shining that blinding light of Christ in us to a lost, broken, dark and suffering world. What a gift! What a privilege! What an amazing God to come up with a plan like that.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

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imagesQARDRAR3Having just finished our first and very successful Community Outreach Harvest Party at church I’ve been contemplating all the parts and pieces, comments and participation that made up this event.

It was a ton of work. Planning meetings and prep and set up just about did me in. And then just keeping things running on the day of the event challenged us all.

It took a ton of prayer and faith. You never know how these things will go. You can invest a lot of time and money and see no result or you can plan for a few and end up with a bunch.

It took a ton of courage. My least favorite thing in the whole world (with the exception of peas and squash) is going door to door to hand out flyers. But – I did it and found it not nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be.

It took a ton of risk. We risked doing away with our regular Sunday morning church service to move out of the building into the parking lot to try to catch the attention of the neighbors. But just like in the stock market, sometimes risk pays off. And it did with this event. We had fun and made contact with several families we otherwise would not have.

The biggest lesson for me and I hope for others was – church isn’t all about a nice comfortable seat in a nice sterile sanctuary where you sit back and get fed. Just consider the early church and the effort it took to get it going.

In order for the first churches to get off the ground 2000 years ago, a ton of work went into the preparation. The disciples had to plan long journeys on foot, by boat and maybe on horseback. They had to map out the most efficient route and plan for finding provision and shelter along the way. A mission trip back then wasn’t jump on a plane and be on the mission field in a few hours. It took months, years even, just to get where they were going.

The startup churches took a ton of prayer and faith. After all, they were trying to change hundreds of years of tradition and belief, ritual and law. They were leaving loved ones behind, possibly to never see them again. They didn’t have a Bible to carry along with them to pull out scripture when they needed it. They were speaking the words that would become the Bible and they were praying they got it right.

To preach the word and start up new church cells took a ton of courage for sure. As evidenced in scripture, the disciples suffered much for spreading the gospel. They were beaten, imprisoned, spit on, mocked and even martyred. No doubt their families suffered as well by association.

And without doubt, risk was involved. What if no one listened? What if their friends and family turned against them? What if, what if, what if? They experienced the misinterpretation of what they had preached and had to go back and re-teach. They ministered in violent times – where the innocent were tried and convicted and crucified. Many of them had seen that firsthand!

The early church services were held on hillsides, beside sick beds, under open skies and hidden away in secret sanctuaries. They happened on stormy seas, on sandy beaches, and on crowded streets. Wherever the Word of God was offered – be it verbally or through a smile or a healing touch, by laughter and fellowshipping with the Godly men who made it their mission to teach, through soft words of comfort in tough times or shouts of joy in a baptismal stream – wherever, church happened.

The only place it probably didn’t happen back then was in cushioned chairs surrounded by painted walls and controlled temperatures.

Even though we didn’t have “church” as we have come to know it last Sunday, as my pastor said, “We were church – to the friends and neighbors who came and saw God’s people reaching out.”

Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. Luke 14:23

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images84YL6NK0I have been feeling the heaviness of responsibility for two weeks and it is pretty much all tied to the new Bible study I’m leading. I struggled with the decision to do Beth Moore’s Children of the Day (a study of 1st and 2nd Thessalonians). Don’t get me wrong, I love her studies, but they are intense and demand a lot of time if you are going to get the most out of them. I have such a mix in my group, from brand new Christians to seasoned believers, it’s hard to always know that the material I’ve selected will meet everyone’s needs.

All that said, I felt impressed to move forward with Children of the Day. We are only in the first session, but I’ve already had some amazing testimonies from my ladies. One of my favorites was this – “I’ve never ever committed to actually following through on all the lessons of a Bible study until now. So far I’ve done every one and I’m hooked.”

I’ve had three ladies tell me in separate, one on one conversations “This is exactly what I needed right now.” And one who said, “I’ve been looking for something to motivate and get me moving and this is it, I can tell.” And today I heard from one who just made a decision to join us that ‘she doesn’t know anything about the Bible.’

I’m excited but I’m nervous at the same time. With so many women expecting great things I worry that I’m not smart enough, strong enough, educated enough to be their leader. I’ve been having mini panic attacks and major anxiety over this. So today I pick up my current personal bible study on the book of Esther (also by Beth Moore) and there God meets me with just what I need. Again!

This morning’s lesson focused on Esther 4:12-14. Mordecai has requested that Esther approach the king on behalf of the Jews and Esther has responded with the fact that she is most definitely not the person to approach the king. He hasn’t been interested in her for the past month. She has obviously lost favor with him. And death comes to those who approach the king without an invitation. There must be someone better for the job.

I’m sure you remember Mordecai’s response. “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

God puts us in a time and place for a purpose. To back off when that purpose becomes apparent is to deny that God can and does use us, inadequate as we are, in mighty ways. With Esther, Mordecai assured her that God would still accomplish His purpose because to annihilate the Jews would go against all of His Old Testament promises. But Esther and her father’s family would not be moving forward in history if she didn’t accept this task.

With me, I recognized from this study that God didn’t have to use me to see that these ladies’ spiritual growth takes place. But for some mysterious reason, He has chosen to use me. And – if I refuse – I am the one who will suffer, not them. I am the one who will not experience the miracles and the wonder and the enlightenment that takes place when His plan collides with my ministry.

Am I still nervous? You bet. But I’m taking it on because He will be with me, and it’s His show. It may look like I’m center stage, but I’m not. And that’s a good thing. Because when His shadow covers my spot at the head of the table, I’m disabled and He’s enabled to do great things.

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.” Phil 2:13
Or as the Message Bible puts it:
“Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.”
Wow!

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