God is Speaking, Are We Listening?

God is present to his people, he is with them. If there is anything we can learn from the life of Jesus is that God was with him and part of Jesus’ mission was to provide a way for God to be with all of his people, even in the difficult times.

I have seen some difficult times of late, yet God has been with me in surprising and miraculous ways.

What has happened of late is that the books I am reading have had significant insights that touch on exactly what I am going through. Sermons I hear preached, not only have some encouraging words but are addressing the exact situation that I am going through. Podcasts that I listen to discuss things like prayer with the exact questions that I have about prayer but were afraid to ask.

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As much as I like to talk about God’s presence and work in my life, I am always hesitant to force my sense of God’s handiwork in every situation. I am cynical by nature, and don’t trust my own motives and desires in these situations to give me an accurate picture of what is truly happening.

But, like I have stated here before, the more you experience God the more you are able to recognize when he is at work. The more you begin to expect God to show up in a variety of ways. Though lately, I have experienced a heaviness and a burden that has been uniquely difficult and challenging and I have been angry at the way that God has handled my situation, I have also been overwhelmed at how often He shows up. He hasn’t left me or forsaken me, even in my darkness. And it hasn’t just been platitudes and spiritual pats on the back, it has been deep words of encouragement, surprising messages individually designed for me, and discussions, interpersonally or intrapersonally, that have been what I was looking for without knowing what I was looking for.

Just this past weekend, it was J.R. Briggs’ discussion of wilderness as the training ground for God’s chosen people. It was a sermon from Steve Queen on Romans 8 as a reminder that all things work for good for those who love Him. It was a podcast from Renovare on C.S. Lewis and how he wrestled with how to pray and the function and benefit of prayer. I didn’t go intentionally seeking these things out at these exact moments to receive these exact words. God sent these items to me and probably others if I was paying attention.

Though I have had plenty of words with God about how he has done things, I haven’t been surprised to see him work in this way over and over. My relationship with God, through Jesus, has taught me to expect God to show up. It still amazes me, though, how He is present and ready with just the right words at just the right times.

The Miracle of What We Don’t Want, Part 3

I have discussed the situation I found myself in here. I have also discussed how God directed me to lead with Spiritual Formation and Discipleship in mind.

Now, I will tell you about a few of the things we tried and how they worked.

Daily Prayer. Everyday at 9:30, any staff that wants to meet gathers for prayer. I will usually read a few verses and we will discuss it briefly.  Then, we will take prayer requests. When you have a fellow colleague who dies during the semester, there was no shortage of the need to pray. When another librarian loses her father and another one has a daughter with cancer, we have spent many of these daily prayer times crying, sharing with one another, and connecting in powerful ways.

Staffing With a Mission. We had many positions to fill. Our first priority was a part time person who could run our Circulation Desk. This person would be working closely with a large team of student workers. I wanted to find someone that could be more than a supervisor but could invest in and mentor our student workers. I needed someone with a minister’s heart. We found a Doctoral Student who was a former children’s minister and loved connecting with others. She could do the ins and outs of the job but she also could show love, care, and compassion for our student workers. She was an answer to prayer.

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The flier for Nuggets and Knowledge

Nuggets and Knowledge. I wanted to find ways to connect with our student workers beyond work. I had hoped to help develop what are known as soft skills with our students. And, I wanted to demonstrate and discuss how Christ changes how I work, parent, listen, and lead. I knew that I could meet with our male student workers and our new Circulation supervisor could meet with the females. I purchased a 30 count platter of nuggets and invited our guys to come to my office for lunch. I called it Nuggets and Knowledge. We were able to meet one time but I plan on making it a monthly occurrence. Our first meeting was a great opportunity to get to know each other and for me to share a little of my story.

The Value of Service. I couldn’t tell you how many times on our campus, I have heard people talk about experiencing something different when they arrived, the presence of God even. I have heard it so many times that I don’t think it is hyperbole. It is my desire that people have the same experience when they walk into the library. YES, the library. I want people to have a sense that something important is happening in our corner of the campus and that God must be a part of that. One way we can make this a reality is through our quality of service. We are training our student workers to smile and look up, to take extra time with our patrons, and to take their tasks seriously for the betterment of those they are serving.

I have only been Interim for one semester and I really don’t know what the future holds and I am not too concerned by it. I know that God has called me for this time and place and I want to honor that calling. The rest is out of my hands. No matter what happens, I can know that I did what I was asked to do and I did it in a way that fit with who I am and who God has made me.

The Prayers That Get Me Through The Day

I never thought of myself as a prayer warrior but then I started to count up all of the prayers I say that get me through the day. I realized that I consistently pray memorized prayers. For some of these, they surface without me even trying to pray them.

I use the Jesus Prayer the most when I am in line at the grocery store or trying to get food in a buffet line. Apparently, these are very anxious moments for me.

I say a prayer of St. Aidan’s, “I am going now into the sleep: O be it in Thy dear arm’s keep, O God of grace, that I shall awake” at bedtime. I say this not just for myself but everyone of my kids has had this prayer said over them throughout their life, especially when sick or disturbed.

The first few lines of the Lord’s Prayer always seem to be on my lips when I have my prayer time each morning.

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I say Philippians 3:10-11 when I want to be reminded of my deepest desire and the sacrifice I need to be able to endure. Sometimes I just say, “Lord help me,” over and over.

When I am at church I ask for God’s power to be present. This is my prayer because I once read a book about deep Christian spiritual experiences and it seemed that this was a common prayer voiced by great Christian leaders of the past.

When I am in a deep quandary and despondent about the state of the world and the hopelessness I see, I pray some of the final words of the Bible, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

On long runs, I will recite the 23rd Psalm. There is something about saying, “He leads me on paths of righteousness…,” while actually on a path that helps drive home the point.

This is my way of praying without ceasing. These prayers are half out of desperation most of the time but they keep me connected to God, keep me looking around for God’s work, and convict me when my thoughts and my worries, instead of God’s promises and reassurances, have taken over.

What are your go to daily prayers or Godly reminders?

God Provides For What He Has Called You To

It is funny how this time last year, I had a calling but couldn’t see the path to make that calling a reality.

Last March, I had a phone call with John Carroll, Director of the Apprentice Experience. This call was designed to determine my fit for the Apprentice Experience. Though I was extremely excited about the possibility, I had my doubts that it would ever come to fruition.

What about the time commitment?

What about my family?

Isn’t this self-indulgent?

And my thoughts usually returned back to how can I pay for such a thing?

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I began to devise some plans and determined that if people I know can raise money for mission trips why couldn’t I raise money for 18-months of discipleship training. I had to force myself to be vulnerable here. I knew there would be people who wouldn’t understand fund-raising for what looks like a series of spiritual retreats and small group activity. They would think that it is self-indulgent and a form of escapism. But I pushed ahead and knew there would be others that would totally get it and welcome the opportunity to help me.

Amazingly, I have had friends and family give. I have had people I have never met give and people I have barely seen in years and years. I have hosted a fund-raising party that saw people give hundreds of dollars and really commit to the cause. People’s willingness to give has been overwhelming.

God has provided in other ways as well and I have been totally blessed.

Last summer, I mentioned that I began praying for very specific things. One of my specific daily prayers was for the funds to complete the program. I can say, with a year left in the program, that I have met my fund-raising goal and have the funds to make all of the payments.

God has answered my prayers long before I thought possible.

When he calls you to something, He makes the way available for you to do it. I don’t know why I ever doubted this truth would apply to me.

How I Improved My Prayer Life

Every morning I go to the same spot on our living room floor and get on my knees and I pray for 4-5 things. These prayer sessions never last more than 10 minutes and I am usually praying for the same things each day.

There is nothing unique about this other than the fact that for most of my life, my prayer life was never this regular, consistent, or expectant. Yes, I am a Christian blogger who writes about spiritual things whose prayers were mostly little more than worries with wings. I would float them out there occasionally or when I was driving or walking to my car. My usual pattern would be to worry, which leads to a prayer something like this, “Father, may your will be done in this matter.” It wasn’t specific or very intentional.

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What changed is that I started to read Mark Batterson’s book Draw the Circle and was struck by how intentional and direct he encouraged the reader to be about their prayer life. I had heard all of this before but this time I decided to just test some of his suggestions out and see what happens. So I made a list of four things I was going to pray for every day.

I start brewing some tea each morning and as the tea is steeping, I get on my knees and pray. I have been doing prayers this way ever since July and for the first time in my life, I look forward to praying and see it as a privilege and not a burden.

Why has this worked? One, I don’t have a blank slate. I know what I am going to pray for and don’t have to fight off mental distractions just to get started. Two, I don’t stress about all of the things that I am not praying about. I am just one person and I don’t think I am called to pray for everything that my wife is called to pray for or my pastor is called to pray for. I hope that as this progresses, I will expand my prayer list but I am not wanting to be an endurance pray – er right now. Three, I have seen result after result. From my Dad’s fight with cancer, to my fund raising efforts, to work situations, my prayers are being answered. I am inspired by these successes and take to prayer now with expectancy.

I have a long way to go and I know that I will probably always have some deficiencies in this area, but I am no longer ashamed of my meager prayer life. If you share these struggles, try this:

  1. Make your list of 4-5 things that most need prayer. Don’t feel bad if your list doesn’t include your best friend’s co-workers cousin-in-law. This experiment isn’t a test of your empathy but a means to progress and build momentum between you and God.
  2. Go to the same spot each day. Don’t worry about the time so much as the location. Just as you have a favorite spot to drink coffee or to read, find a favorite spot to pray. This will quickly become a sacred space.
  3. When you are done praying, get up and do something else. Make this about your list and not the time. Don’t be done in by people bragging about their 45 minute prayer sessions. I don’t even pay attention to how long I am praying, I simply start when I start and end when I end.

Let me know how this experiment goes for you.

 

photo: Grace by Enstrom

The Time I Prayed For A Girlfriend

I was an 18 year old college Freshman and I was sitting on a rock looking out over a lake. I had started to come to this spot on a weekly basis to contemplate life, even pray occasionally in my very immature way. My life was good, I had great friends, great parents. I was attending a college that was the perfect size and environment for my own mentality. But I was lonely.

I had never had a girlfriend and my quiet and kinda serious persona was not conducive to making the kind of impression needed to change that. I thought I had a lot to offer in a relationship but I just had never really had the chance to show that side of me. So, on that rock, I prayed that God would send me a girl that I could be close to, someone that I could share something unique and special.

My whole life, my prayers have had a tendency to be a little generic. They go something like, “Lord, I pray for my time at work today, may you be present.” There was nothing generic about my prayer that evening on the rock overlooking the lake. I don’t know what I was expecting and I didn’t know if this prayer would even be answered but I was lonely and I sought God’s specific help.

Six days later, I am in the cafeteria when a girl comes up to me and asks if I was going to church that night. Apparently, her and I went to the same church occasionally. I had seen her around but we had never had a conversation up until that point. I stated that I wasn’t going to church that night and the conversation ended abruptly. I didn’t think much of it.

The next afternoon, as I am in the Student Center watching a baseball game, this same girl sits down in the opposite chair and starts talking to me again. This time, we have a real conversation and she seems nice and has a wonderful smile. Thankfully the conversation was long enough for me to start running the reel of memory back through my mind. This is the same girl who approached me the night before and now she has come out of nowhere to speak to me again. Then I remembered the prayer and it hit me that something bigger may be going on here. So I asked, “I was planning on going out to the lake tonight, do you want to go with me?”

One week to the day of my prayer, I was sitting on that same rock looking over the same lake but this time their was a pretty girl next to me as we talked about our lives and marveled in a moment that doesn’t happen everyday.

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I can’t promise you that all prayers for girlfriends will be answered or prayers for new jobs or money to pay off that debt. All I can tell you is this happened to me and that God answered my prayer. There have been many times when my prayers didn’t get answered so quickly or obviously or even the way that I wanted them to. But, I always have the reference point of God working in strange ways to answer my prayer and to do his will.

Oh, and I also have the daily reminder of this answered prayer in my beautiful wife, Leah. December 27 will be our 19th wedding anniversary.

Scripture Reading While You Run

Like last fall, I am training for the Dallas Marathon.* Though I try to find training programs that limit my mileage to a manageable number there is still no substitute for putting in the running miles.

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Pray-As-You-Go 1 (Photo credit: Church of the Redeemer)

The best audio version/podcast of scripture that I have found is Pray-as-You-Go. It is on iTunes and can be downloaded off the web. I place it on my iPod and listen to multiple days’ readings, sometimes multiple times (a Job passage was particularly powerful today but not yesterday). The format consists of a song (anything from Bach to Ladysmith Black Mambazo), followed by a call to prayer, a short reading of scripture, and then a prayer as you hear the reading a second time. Each day’s podcast last between 10-12 minutes.

Pray-As-You-Go is produced by a Jesuit group so the tone might be a bit more contemplative than many are used to but I always find myself engaged with the reading in a powerful way. I look forward to many of my runs because I know I am going to be fed the word and experience God in a unique way. If you have a long commute, spend time on a treadmill or exercise bike, or are more of an auditory person, Pray-As-You-Go can keep you in touch with the word of God and spark a prayerful consideration of his work in your life.

Here is a sample from this week: http://www.pray-as-you-go.org/mp3/PAYG_121003.mp3

*I am raising money for Texas Scottish Rite Hospital For Children. Go here to make a donation.

Lord, Teach Us To Pray

Cover of "When You Pray: Making the Lord'...

Cover via Amazon

We are discussing prayer and meditation this week on the blog. Check out this week’s 23 Things here. Who better person to learn prayer from than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:

Matt. 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

Matt. 6:5-9 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.

Matt. 21:22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer

Mark 11:25  And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

Luke 11:2-13

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,[a]
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.

John 11:41-42 Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me

23 Things – Week 3: Prayer and Meditation

Week 3: Prayer and Meditation

5. Explore what Henri Nouwen has to say about prayer

6. Have some fun with your prayers and Pray in Color

7. Learn what makes Christian Meditation different from Eastern Meditation

This is week three of 23 Things. See last week’s post for the first four things and an introduction to 23 Things. If you want to be eligible to win a free book, post a comment under each week’s session. Those who complete all 23 Things will be placed in a drawing for a free book.

Christian Life Hacker Recommends – d365.org, One Word, Praying In Color

I have recently come across three resources that I thought fit well with the Christian Life Hacker philosophy that more is not always better and that spiritual practices should fit our personality.

1. d365.org – This is a daily devotional site that is so simple in its approach but at the same time very powerful. First, the devotional text is broken into five sections – Pause, Listen, Think, Pray, Go. Each section is short and light on text. The Listen and Go sections include scriptures while the Think section has a brief devotional. To get to each section, you click on the next button. Just the fact that you cannot scroll through the devotional prevents our scan and click urges and allows your mind to dwell on each section a little bit longer so that it can make more of an impact. The best part is that every time you visit the devotional a musical selection will begin. The selections are pretty and reflective and help the reader awaken their more spiritual side. This resource is great for those who prefer limited reading, music, and more participatory activities.

2. Word For The Year – Dan Britton, executive vice president of ministry programs at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, has for years asked God for a word to bring focus and development for each upcoming year. Through much prayer, fasting, and scripture searching, he takes the word that God has given him and lets God show him how to live that word out over the next year. Britton, in an essay on the exercise, gives two big cautions. One, you have to let God choose the word. Two, be careful, “This exercise is not for people who want to pick a nice, comfortable word that will have no significant impact on their lives,” Britton says. “It truly is a discipline for those who want to press in and see God do great things in and through them.”

As you might have guessed, my word for 2012 is “Word”, as I attempt to live out the word that is scripture and the word that is Jesus. I like this exercise because it brings focus and intention to the entire year. I know that 2012 will be a journey through and about the Bible and I look forward to that journey. Hear more about the “One Word” exercise in the video below.

3. Praying in Color –  The biggest myth in Christian living is that we all experience God in the same way. Thankfully, God doesn’t abide by this myth as he has demonstrated through scripture that he handles most people individually. This is why Praying in Color is so welcomed. Instead of our prayers being simple words and thoughts that so often hinder us, Praying in Color lets you put your prayers into visual form. Sybil Macbeth explains,

If you are word-weary, stillness-challenged, easily distracted, or just in need of a new way to pray, give “praying in color” a try. Men do it, women do it; teenagers do it; and children do it. All you need: paper, a black pen, colored markers or colored pencils, and Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God.

Individuals commit their prayers to images and drawings that bring life to prayers and allow your spirit to work through the process of praying instead of the highly linear approach to prayer common among so many Christians. If you are more visually oriented and like to make your spirituality a little more participatory, this approach is for you.