Reading the Charts

Many industries rely on charts.  Health care workers chart vital signs, fluid levels, symptoms and reactions to medication.  Publishers  of books and music chart sales by category, age of audience, geographical region, and more.  Transport and shipping companies chart routes, weather, road construction, and fuel efficiency.

Keeping charts, graphs, and records can improve performance, solve mysteries, and increase understanding.  It is good to keep charts in our Christian walk, as well.  Charting scripture can show us where we have or have not studied God’s promises, warnings, and wisdom.  Charting our prayer life can show us patterns in our communication with God, and help us see when and how God has answered our prayers.

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I keep a prayer journal.  Each day of the year has its own page, with lists of people to pray for in general, a geographical region, and more immediate special requests.  But the back of each page has blank space.  This way, as God answers prayers in these areas, I can record them.  I’ve been using this journal for three years now, so the back sides are beginning to get filled up.

But that is not the most amazing part of what I wanted to share today.  The most amazing part is that I have had to revisit some of the answers because God keeps answering them!  Here’s a case in point:  About two years ago, I wrote in a request for a friend who was looking for a job.  There was a promising interview, and many friends were praying for a “positive” outcome.  The job seemed like a perfect fit.  But it didn’t happen.  More prayers led to other opportunities and one of them seemed to be working out.  I wrote the “answer” in my journal.  But when I came across it again this year, I realized that God used both the previous opportunities to prepare my friend for something even better:  a job that no one imagined two years ago!  We prayed, expecting God to answer with something good.  When the first answer was “no,” we trusted God to bring about something else.  And He did.  But I’m glad that I had charted this request, because I almost missed seeing how God used prayer to prepare for more that we had asked!

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Another friend was going through grief and distress just a little over a year ago, and I was reminded of how God answered prayers for strength, peace, and rest.  But  I was also reminded to lift my friend up again on a painful anniversary, and to offer thanks for the ongoing healing I’ve seen– not just for my friend, but for her entire family.

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If you don’t do it already, I highly recommend making a prayer diary or journal.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate or complicated– I use wire-bound theme books and write in them daily.  But you could use an actual bound journal, or a simple memo pad or old address book.  Don’t worry if you miss a day or two– no one is keeping score or grading you–the main thing is to make it a habit to record prayers and answers.  You will gain insight, remember God’s answers and promises kept, and be encouraged in the wait for other answers to come.

Prayer Journal

Proactive Prayer Points

Great Expectations

Earlier this week, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (otherwise known as Prince William  and Kate Middleton), welcomed their third child.  As with most royal births, there was a lot of fanfare and speculation well in advance of the actual delivery.  Early tabloid reports hinted at twins; bookmakers were figuring odds for delivery dates, names– even what the Duchess would be wearing as she brought the newborn outside for his first “sighting”.  As of the writing of this blog, the name has yet to be announced, which is cause for more speculation and anticipation.

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Preparing for a newborn is exciting, and filled with certain expectations.   We imagine what the baby will look like, what kind of personality s/he will have, all the wonderful discoveries to be made. But we need to be careful not to let our expectations become idols.  There’s nothing wrong with hoping for good outcomes, but it can be dangerous to get locked into a particular expected outcome.  Children surprise us (in good ways and other ways) be being themselves, and not who or what we expect them to be.

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When we pray, we sometimes come with certain expectations–that God will answer in a certain way or on a certain timeline.  This is not the same as having faith.  Faith says that God will hear our prayer; that he knows best, and that he will act in accordance with his own love and mercy.  It doesn’t mean that he will give us what we want when we want it, or that he will give us what makes us comfortable and happy.  His answers may seem difficult or even painful to accept– certainly not what we were expecting.  When he chooses to answer in ways that don’t meet our expectations, we wonder why.  When he chooses to say “wait,” or even, “no,” we may feel cheated and even resentful, instead of thankful that our prayers are heard by a loving God.  Often, we have built up such expectations of what “the best” should look like that we miss the real miracle God is giving us instead.

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Worse, there are times when our expectations reveal a lack of faith or a lack of understanding of God’s ways.  We pray for peace, but what we really want is ease and comfort.  Peace– real peace– is often revealed in times of stress, hardship and loss!  We don’t want stress; we don’t pray for stress, but stress and hardship are going to come into our lives at some point.  Praying for peace won’t bring stress, any more than not praying will keep it away!  We expect the peace to come without the battle; we expect the growth to come without the growth pains; we expect to win the race without having to run!

Sometimes we won’t even pray for what we really want or need because we expect that God will “test” us or give us difficult circumstances if we ask for certain things (like patience or peace).  We see God as some sort of cosmic con artist, who teases us with the promise of good things, only to laugh as we suffer.  But this is a wrong view of God.  God doesn’t play games or “trick” us by giving us hardship when we ask for healing, though it may feel like it at the time. Suffering and hardship are not the gifts of God– his amazing gift is the ability to redeem even the worst of circumstances and bring joy and rest and peace that passes any expectation, any dread, or any understanding we have.  Often, our very desire for extra patience, peace, and joy are opportunities for us to learn more about God’s grace–and more about ourselves.

Life seldom meets our expectations–God is waiting to exceed even our wildest dreams!  Don’t just pray expecting something good might happen.  Pray expecting God to SHOW UP!

 

Praying for Rain

Spring has arrived.  In my part of the world, that means many people are hoping for milder temperatures, gentle spring rains, and new growth after the cold and colorless winter.  Most of us love the idea of spring, and the promise it brings.  Those soft days of baby birds chirping outside our window as the gentle raindrops roll down; of newly budded trees and flowers opening to the warmth of the sun; the smell of freshly turned earth in gardens and fields; the bleating of lambs and the down of chicks and ducklings; children squealing in delight as they leap from puddle to puddle in their colorful boots; the world slowly waking up in a thousand shades of green..

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Of course, it never seems to go exactly like that– sometimes the weather this time of year can be volatile– tornadoes, freak ice storms, sudden heat waves, flooding, or a mix of all of the above in a matter of hours!  Chirping birds can’t be heard over the roar of traffic and blaring car radios.  The smell of exhaust chokes out the aroma of rich dirt or fresh flowers.  The same rain that brings puddles also brings mud and run-off and potholes in the road.  And, possibly because we have such expectations of spring, it seems to fly by and disappear almost before it comes.  There is a joke that sort of summarizes the unpredictable nature of spring around here– “I love spring in Michigan (or insert another Midwest state)– last year it was on a Wednesday!”

Like the season of spring, prayer holds promise and expectation.  God promises to hear our prayers, but sometimes our expectations are not in line with God’s answers.  Farmers pray for dry days to plow and plant, and rain to come before and after to soften the earth and water the seeds.  Little League players want the rain to come on Monday, and the diamond to be dry by Saturday.  School children want the rain to come overnight, so the playground will be dry for recess.  Commuters want the rain to fall after they drive to work and before they have to drive home.  All may pray for rain, but not in the same way, for the same reasons, or at the same time.

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We all want the promise of easy growth, gentle weather, and comfortable routine.  But God’s plan may involve blustery days and muddy driveways.  God will bring rain, and sunshine, in his time.  He will calm the storms and blow away the clouds.  He will send us flowers and rainbows, and perfect days for flying kites and playing baseball.  And maybe, this year, it will be on Wednesday!  But the stormy days remind us of three things:

  • God is with us through the storm.  He is with us when the rains come; and when the clouds roll back to reveal the rainbow.  He knows the pain you feel when you view the storm damage and assess the loss.  Even as the seasons change, he has promised to be with us always
  • God is stronger than our storms.  His ways are wiser than ours, and his plans are better.  We may be drenched and covered in mud when we expected to be dry and comfortable, but the race isn’t finished yet.  We may fall down, but we’re not out!  He can give us the resources and the power to rebuild, renew, and start over.  No matter how short (or long) our season of storms, it is only a season– it will pass.  Just as winter gave way to spring, spring leads to summer–sometimes overnight; sometimes in fits and starts.
  • God is eternal.  Storms and seasons are local and temporary.  I may be experiencing spring in Michigan, but others are experiencing rainy season in India, or “fall” in New Zealand.  It can be sunny here, and snowing in Minnesota, and raining at my cousin’s house in Alabama.  And when I am praying for rain, someone close by is praying for sunshine.  But someday, and for all eternity, God will be our source of light– there will be no need for storms and seasons, no need to pray for rain.

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