April Kingdom Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name;

thy kingdom come;

thy will be done;

on earth as it is in heaven.

When I sat down to write this morning’s prayer, my mind naturally drifted to my Dad, who just left this earth to be with you, Lord. I don’t know exactly what happens after death or what it looks like and it often leaves me feeling strange and a little uneasy. I make no claims to be bible savvy and don’t know how specific it gets when describing the immediate afterlife. Funerals and health scares gets one thinking about these types of things and for good reason. It does encourage envy in me sometimes of those already gone because when pain and failure hits, I want the ease of something other than this life. Jesus prayed that you, God, are in heaven and that You have a plan. If I’m choosing to believe that the Jesus of the Bible is honest and true, then I’m choosing to believe this prayer, given to Jesus’ disciples, is guaranteeing to us that this earth is not all there is, that You are worthy of honor and that You intend for much more. This morning I lift up in prayer to you the families that have lost someone they love and are wondering about the mystery and what comes after that last breath. I also pray for those of us hurrying about our days with little to no thought of death. My prayer is that you will hold us in a way that we can feel the sorrow and also practice the trusting in there being something greater.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Lord, what about that anger I feel? Anger over the power of words and anger over things out of my control. Anger that I don’t feel how I want to feel. Death and loss is hard enough, but having other feverish emotions grabbing ahold of the coat tails of grief feels plain tacky. Lord, help us to separate ourselves from the strong emotions that we often wear like reading glasses. Help us to step back and see them as something that could be getting in the way of a healthy perspective, a gentle response, or a kind attitude. When we see and feel pain caused by others words and actions, please give us space to separate from those, too; to see that others’ sin and mistakes do not define them and that we can choose forgiveness and grace regardless of how we feel about it. You tell us to forgive just as you do and I know that it can only be done with Your help.

And lead us not into temptation;

but deliver us from evil.

The movies I see and headlines I read give me pause as I consider what I truly believe. Wouldn’t it be easier to agree with this or that? Wouldn’t it feel freeing to escape the confines of my everyday life and explore one more adventurous and tempting? What truly is right and wrong? How much do we rely on generational “rules” or uptight guidelines that are never mentioned or implied in Your Word and that cause us to unnecessarily judge others? Are we falling prey to people pleasing that leads to jumping on the trendy bandwagon without too much thought or prayer? Stop us in our tracks before we make that comment or that choice, pass that gossip, or assume the worst in others.  

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

I Don’t (Wanna) Give a Crap!

I have a good friend who is a big-time people pleaser and I can really relate. I’m tired of caring so much about what other people think of me. Are you one of those that don’t worry much about what other people think? Do you have a “girl power” attitude and are just naturally proud to be you and can say, “I don’t give a crap what people think of me”? I am sometimes doubtful of that persona and wonder if anyone really feels that way, but I imagine some do and I envy that quality. I think back to a couple of guys I knew back in the day that acted like tough cookies with sarcastic responses given left and right, but in reality, they were just as self-conscious as I was. I think we all care to a certain extent, but I’m more on the unhealthy end of the spectrum and I’m ready for a change. Last night at a party, I prayed again, “Help me to just be me” and today I tried to be extra mindful of it, but it is much harder than I’d like. P.S. I overthink things. That might be the problem!

My brain wants everyone to like me. I don’t mean that I desire to win the “most popular” award, but just “approved” by a variety of people. The ultra-trendy gal (and you’ll notice that I lost the chance of describing myself as trendy seeing as I just used the word “gal”)that I occasionally run into, my neighbors, the mail lady, my kid’s teachers and fellow moms at school, even family members…I try to keep up my smile and hope they think I’m “cool” enough, or even more than that, I want them to think I’m kind and friendly enough. It sorta makes me tired.

I’ve said before that I don’t always feel the need to wrap faith into this blog of mine, but it inevitably finds its way there; especially on a topic that has to do with my value. I can go to verses in the bible that serve as reminders of what is most important when it comes to my worth and how I’m ultimately seen: Psalm 139:13-14 says “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” I have been created on purpose and am loved very much. I don’t need constant approval of others, but I also don’t want to be a big grump that doesn’t smile at anyone either. I think it can be a tough balance and may be harder for folks like me (and other friends I know) who tend to lean more on hoping others like us. Another encouraging verse on this matter comes from Zephaniah 3:17, and one of my very favorites: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” He adores us!

Knowing I don’t have to have anyone’s approval can feel like a relief and that’s what I love about verses like the one above; it serves as a sweet reminder to my little heart. But knowing it, and then living it, is hard. However, I also think that if we can practice resting on that truth of being loved so deeply by our Creator and that it is enough, it will only naturally allow us to want to be genuinely kind and friendly to others (not talking every moment of every day here because we are humans living life).

I wear an extremely bright, possibly too-bright, neon shirt to exercise sometimes and it says, “Be the Light” in reference to Matthew 5:14-16 where it says,You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Isn’t that a beautiful picture? I don’t want it to place a burden on ourselves to strive to always be liked, but rather rest in our God-given value and allow Him to work through us to love others and glorify Him.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Emily

I’m in the midst of reading Tim Keller’s book called, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God. I’m enjoying it because it’s both speaking down to my level on this sometimes tough topic and doesn’t sugarcoat what prayer can be “in just three easy steps”. One piece Keller addresses is how The Lord’s Prayer, as it was intended by Jesus, can be a guide for our own prayers as simple humans. As I’ve been reading I keep thinking, “Aha! My pastor must have read this book!” because we were emphasizing The Lord’s Prayer in church for a while where we took the basic outline of the prayer and filled in or elaborated with what that realistically looks like in our current world and community. To me, this practice in corporate worship has given it meat and more substance than we stereotypically give it since it’s become a rote memory version for many people. This prayer came directly from Jesus Christ in response to the question of how to pray. It’s not long, yet is deep and covers a lot of ground. Keller says, “Prayer in all its forms-adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and petition-reorients your view and vision of everything.”

I’ve written on my struggles with prayer in a previous post, and one of the refreshing and encouragingly honest reminders I read was that prayer is often hard work and that we should do it even when we don’t feel like it. Keller says, “We sometimes have to wrestle even in order to pray. We often wrestle in prayer just to concentrate” and he quotes Austin Phelps (nineteenth-century theologian): “When those hours of the day come in which we should be having our prayer sessions with God, it often appears as though everything has entered into a conspiracy to prevent it.”

Not only have I found it challenging to establish consistent quiet time, but I have also felt like I rarely “hear” from God (at least not like I’ve been thinking I should). When I do pray through the day or sometimes write out my prayers, I’ve been focusing on specific people that need help, circumstances, etc., but often about how to best use my time or I’ve asked to be guided by Him on decisions and how I can both glorify and rest in Him. I also spend a lot of time asking God to help me see how He loves me, to settle my mind and heal the broken parts that alter my thinking and outlook. With all of that asking, I have been hoping to really sense direction or “hear” it in my mind, so when it doesn’t come like I think it should or as often as I think it should, I bop around in a bit of doubt, frustration, and loneliness. However, I was reflecting recently on my frustration with myself and God on this issue of prayer and wrote this in my journal:

“I’m finding myself upset with God because I don’t think He’s making himself evident or close to me, but my definition of Him being accessible is that I would also feel good each time; giddy and peaceful, knowing He’s there. That can’t always be the case though, I wouldn’t think. How do I feel uneasy or unsettled inside, but also sense God? I don’t know. But, I don’t want to have a silly expectation that frustrates me with God and even possibly miss Him in other ways He reaches out to me.”

Realizing that I have misguided expectations was good for me. I’m hoping it will continue to help me let go of the efforts to try and pray just the right way in order to get Him to hear me. It doesn’t work like that. He does hear us. I have just recently seen encouraging reminders of that, too. After a rather honest journal/prayer entry about my frustrations, I ended it with, “I want you to change and heal me. I also want you to blow me away with supernatural direction or insight; to have certainty that you hear me or want to use me in some way. I know that doesn’t have to be spectacular, but I guess I want and desire affirmation from you that my issues and struggles aren’t for naught.”

A couple weeks after writing that, I was honored with the opportunity to encourage a dear friend’s child who is having an incredibly tough time with anxiety. Although his mother is one of my favorite friends and is devoted, loving, and tender, she couldn’t relate to many of his obsessive worries. I could though and I knew how his little brain was wracked with icky thoughts. I have had enough “practice” of my own with it to send him encouragement and tips that have helped me find rest along the way. I feel like God gave me just the right words, too. You should have heard his response and gratefulness! What a joyful treat it was for me to feel as though I have finally been able to use my own mess to bless another. I feel like God heard my prayer and that He gave me a gift of encouragement, too. Even though I had tangible evidence that He heard me in that situation, the truth is that He always hears us.

Tim Keller, using the wisdom of John Calvin as inspiration, says, “Cry, ask, and appeal-you will get many answers. Finally, where you do not get an answer, or where the answer is not what you want, use prayer to enable you to rest in his will.” He also directly quotes Calvin as writing, “Though cast down and overcome by true humility, we should be nonetheless encouraged to pray by a sure hope that our prayer will be answered.” 

I hope this can serve as an encouragement to you that even though it may seem as though you’re not being heard or if you’re feeling frustrated with God or worried you’re not good enough for Him and avoid prayer as a result, our prayers are not empty or unheard.  Ask Him to help you to pray and KEEP GOING. Tell Him everything and be open to the many ways He may respond, whether it be His word, others around you, opportunities, etc. You are heard and can rest in that truth.

Chasing my own tail

Do you continue to do what you don’t want to do and not keep up with things you do want to do?

Hoping that’s not just me and doubt it is. Thankfully, it’s somewhat encouraging to read that the Apostle Paul said in Romans 7:18-20,  “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

I want to be many things: tidy and organized, gentle, patient and encouraging with my students and family, passionate about my faith, spending less time wasting my time (i.e. Facebook, etc.), and the thing that bugs me the most that I can’t seem to get the hang of is quiet time to learn, grow, and know God.

I want to be quiet and really hear from God. I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve really sensed that. Should it be more than that? Am I expecting too much? Looking for a dramatic experience? Am I just not made that way and others are able to sense Him more clearly? Doing something wrong? Is He irritated with me that I don’t do a better job? These are the questions that continue to come to mind when I get frustrated that I don’t “feel” Him more. But do I really devote the time to hear Him? Not really. I want to and have tried to get into a habit, but don’t stick with it. I pray through the day here and there and do go to Him when I struggle or when others come to mind and I pray for them. It just doesn’t seem like it’s enough or that I’m good enough. Are my insecurities starting to shine through? yikes.

It’s gotten to a point where I try and carve out some time to be quiet, but I don’t even know what to do with myself. I tend to be on the mild side of the technology craze that has many glued to a device at every stop light, but can still connect with the discomfort that can come from just trying to be quiet. What do I read? How long? Do I follow a formula, like the ACTS prayer? Geez, I can see how I want it to be just perfect, but that’s obviously not realistic. He gets me. “He’s mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). I did just feel a bit of relief at that reminder.

I remember a bible study I did with some friends many years ago and there was reference to a well-respected Christian leader that would make himself set aside 20 minutes in a prayer closet. If he went in and was distracted a 1,001 times, so be it. He would give God what he could and continue to do that chunk of time. He realized after several weeks doing this that although he didn’t feel like it was productive, he eventually realized he was indeed praying and moving closer. It takes self-discipline that, especially for us Westerners, is more challenging than one might realize.

A former assistant pastor by the name of Ted Hamm, who left me with a few tidbits of spiritual advice while at my church, once said to “pray until you pray”. I can wrap my mind around that. It may not be what we think it should be or feel the way we hope it will, but we CAN make the choice to start and try to keep at it. Not in a legalistic way (that would add to my perfectionistic tendencies), but rather well aware of His compassion for us in knowing our weaknesses as humans.

I’ll end with a quote from one of my all-time favorite Christian authors, Phillip Yancey, that has helped with this struggle as a gentle reminder for us to keep at it: “When doubts creep in and I wonder whether prayer is a sanctified form of talking to myself, I remind myself that the Son of God, who had spoken worlds into being and sustains all that exists, felt a compelling need to pray. He prayed as if it made a difference, as if the time he devoted to prayer mattered every bit as much as the time he devoted to caring for people.”