Time Flies

Yesterday had 24 hours, the same as every other day. Yet it seemed to zoom past, leaving me “behind” in getting my blog ready for today. So here I am, writing “under the gun” so that I can publish today.

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Blogs like this don’t have “deadlines” in the sense of print publications or broadcasts. I don’t have advertisers or managers demanding that I have content by a certain time or date. There are no editors to determine the length of any particular blog post. This one is likely to be shorter than most, in fact. And God isn’t standing by waiting to scold me for being late today. It is my own sense of expectation that gives me grief.

But God has placed all of us in time and space with a purpose. We do not have the power to “stretch” time, to reclaim it, or to bargain for more of it. Time “flies”–and what we do in the time we have flies, too. And He wants us to give our time to Him first of all.

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Falling behind on a blog entry is not a life-or-death matter. Falling behind in life is another matter.

I pray that today will be a productive day, a restful day, even a challenging day– and that, as it flies by, we will fulfill God’s purpose in it. And He’ll take care of the timing!

I Can Do All Things..

I know many Christians who cite Philippians 4:13 as their favorite verse: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” And while this is a powerful verse, and holds great promise, I think it has been misused and taken out of context too often in recent years.

The Apostle Paul wrote this– from a prison cell as he awaited trial and a likely sentence of death! And this thought is a summary statement. It follows a list of circumstances in which Paul had experienced needs, and questions, and setbacks, and lack of provision.

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In this season of “sheltering in place,” I have a new appreciation for Paul’s letter. I am not in jail, but there are many restrictions (temporary, but seemingly endless) on where I can go and what activities I can pursue in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. I cannot “do all things” in any normal sense. My family could not gather for Mother’s Day this year. We cannot have friends over for a meal, or take our grandchildren to the movies, or meet together for a traditional church service on Sundays. I cannot open my little shop to customers. I can’t go and get a haircut or hang out at the bakery or coffee shop.

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And there are others who are struggling, not just with restrictions, but with increased expectations. They cannot “do all things” to help a dying patient, or stop the spread of infection in their nursing home or hospital ward. They cannot answer frenzied questions about timelines and protocols. They cannot work effectively from home and still be available to their children as both parent and surrogate teacher. Or, they cannot meet the needs of their students without face-to-face interaction.

But Paul is not talking about the mere completion of a worldly task, or achieving a personal goal. Paul isn’t suggesting that he (or anyone else) can do anything and everything he might want to do or that others might wish him to do. He has just finished talking about times of lack, of wants and needs and facing uncertainties. Paul did not (even with Christ’s help) skip lightly around Asia Minor, making friends and influencing people.

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So what DID he do? What did he mean by “all things?”

Paul speaks often throughout his letter of “running a race.” Paul learned that in all circumstances, with whatever resources, whatever restrictions, and whatever obstacles, he could “run” his race. Under persecution or in times of great success; in times of plenty, or in times of hunger; in prison or on the road (or seas); in Jewish synagogues or Greek amphitheaters; alone or in crowds– Paul could worship God. He could proclaim the Gospel. He could spread the love and grace of Christ Jesus. If he couldn’t travel, he could still speak. If he couldn’t speak, he could write. If he couldn’t write, he could pray. He could do “all things” that were necessary to accomplish his one goal– to run the race; to finish strong; to live a life of purpose and worship.

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May we do the same today, through Christ, who gives us strength. I may not be able to gather with friends, but I have the blessing of being able to call, or e-mail, or IM, or send encouragement. I can still write this blog. I can still pray– in fact I have more time to do so! I can do “all things” that will fulfill my purpose and bring honor to God. And so can you. What a privilege–no matter where we are or what our circumstances!

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Writing the Next Chapter

Welcome to the year 2020! The next 366 days stretch before us– new, unknown, and ready to be discovered, experienced, LIVED!

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It is tempting to make bold plans, resolutions, or vague wishes for all the days at once– trying to fold the entire year into a single goal or set of goals. But is this consistent with Biblical principles?

Today, I want to pray, as Jesus did, that God would “give us THIS DAY our daily bread”– that I would walk and talk with my Savior each day, each moment as it comes. That doesn’t mean that I make no plans or goals for the future; rather, I keep things in a proper perspective. God knows the future much better than I do. I know where I am and where I’ve been (hopefully!), but only God knows everything that lies ahead. My job is not to dream about the finish line, but to continue running the race– step by step and moving forward, my eyes fixed on Jesus:

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV) taken from http://www.biblegateway.com

Life is like a long race; it’s also like a story. As we enter a new year, we can look around and see where the story has brought us. Some of us are in crisis. Some of us have just defeated a giant, or survived a trip down the raging rapids. Some of us are headed for disaster, or about to head into battle. Some of us are caught in a trap and we can’t see any hope of rescue.

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I can’t change the race course I must face in the coming year. Nor can I change the story I’ve lived so far– I can’t change anyone else’s. But I know this– the next unwritten chapter is in God’s expert hands. God, the author of miracles and second chances. God, who turns shepherd boys into heroic kings; God, who transforms prostitutes into saints; God, who sends Himself naked and shivering into His rebellious creation knowing He will suffer and die at the hands of those He loved into being, and knowing that this death is not the end, but a glorious beginning! This God has a triumphant and joyous ending in store for me– for you!

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God has given us the amazing story of our lives–and the next chapter is here. God also gives us the amazing opportunity to write the next chapter. He will guide us through the process– bring in new characters and plot twists, or send us to new places through unexpected channels–but we have the power to choose the next step. Today and every day.

My prayer for this new year is a prayer for this new day. Tomorrow, I get the gift of taking the next step; of writing the next sentence!

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Why Journal?

In this blog, I try to focus on three basic aspects of prayer:

  • The purpose of prayer
  • The power of prayer and
  • The practical pursuit of prayer.

Today, I’d like to just put in a plug for journals as a very practical way to pursue a better prayer life.  For a more detailed list of ideas to get started, please see this page:  Prayer Journal

Journals are as individual as the people who create them, but the very practice of writing and keeping a journal has certain universal benefits.

  1. It develops discipline.  Prayer should be a daily practice, but having a journal can provide structure, accountability, and motivation.  Writing down requests, answers to prayer, questions I want to bring before God, even feelings or events of the day, can help establish a routine and a reason to come back to the same place (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) each day.
  2. It serves as a focus for each day’s prayers.  There are times when prayer is difficult–maybe the stresses of the day are distracting; maybe I just can’t think how to begin because there are so many thoughts running through my head or needs that I want to bring up.  If I begin with items in my journal, and add others to a list, it can be easier to bring order, focus, and steadiness.
  3. It serves as a witness and testimony.  One of the values of writing things down is that it gives me a chance to look back and review.  Sitting down every few weeks or months can reveal how many times God has answered prayers that I’ve already forgotten about.  It can also show how my ongoing prayers for certain situations may reveal changes God has made in my own heart and my own thinking, which sometimes helps me see why God didn’t “answer” my prayer when or how I imagined.

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  4. It serves as a reminder of God’s general faithfulness.  In times of doubt or pain, it can be encouraging to see and remember how God has helped or healed so many others around me.  Even if it brings up questions, like “Why did you heal that person, and not me”, in the end, there are mountains of examples of God’s care and faithfulness that allow me to see that He works “All things” together for good.  All of which can be written in and added to the journal as a further reminder!
  5. It serves as a reminder of God’s specific faithfulness.  If I look at the list of people and situations in the past and present, I am often overwhelmed at the amount of love that God has showered on me in the form of friends, family, opportunities to meet and be inspired, or share and give kindness.  In big ways and small ways, God has brought in and through my life miracles, amazement, and blessings– so very many.  It is tragic that I can so easily dismiss such blessings, or be distracted by the same worries and fears that God has brought me through in the past.  The journal sparks powerful memories of God’s enduring love for each one of us.
  6. It convicts.  As I mentioned above, it is tragic to think that I can so easily be dissuaded and discouraged by present troubles, when there is so much clear evidence of God’s faithfulness in the past.  But the journal can also show times when I have been unfaithful or lacking in faith.  This is important, not to beat myself up or become despondent, but to turn me back from such behavior and help me get back on track.

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  7. It inspires.  As mentioned above, each person’s journal is unique and personal.  God has given each of us passions and interests that can be brought into our prayer journal.  If I have a heart for missions, I can include prayer requests from missionaries of my acquaintance, or from web sites.  I can research cities and nations and people groups being reached by missions organizations.  If I have a passion for art, I can include drawings and sketches that flow out of my worship time.  My journal (and yours) can be filled with unique expressions of our heart for God– our deepest questions, hopes, worries, aspirations, and worship.

If you don’t already keep a prayer journal, I hope you will consider starting one.  It’s never too late or “the wrong time” to start one, and it can be as personalized as you wish– keep a notebook, a sketch pad, index cards, a electronic journal, a calendar– whatever works best for your resources, your personality, and your needs.

 

I-Bug

It started out small– a glItch, really.
Every tIme I began to type, the same thIng would happen.
At fIrst, I barely notIced.

After all, It wasn’t lIke I couldn’t read my own wrItIng.
It wasn’t In every lIne or word;
It was a sIngle letter.

But then It began to spread.
As tIME passed, It becaME more dIffIcult.
I notIced a theME.  I could stIll read the words,
But theIr MEaning was gettIng lost In
SoME way I couldn’t quIte deterMINE.

It was begInnIng to spIll Into MY speech;
IMpossIble to MEnd; MEldIng Into MY mInd’s
NIches, MErgIng wIth MEdIocre comMEnts
And MYsterIous MEltdowns.

I I I I I,

ME ME ME ME ME.

As I and ME took over, yo_ went mIssIng.
ThIngs were s_ddenly less peacef_l…
Even Jes_s seemed sIlent In the dIn of ME and MINE.
SIn and prIde– I co_ld always be fo_nd there.

It was a fast-spreadIng vIr_s– s_rely leadIng to MY r_In:
_ntIl I lIstened to a stIll, small whIsper…
A Holy breath of fresh, clean, wholesome change.

AAAHHH!

Exhaling the I’s and ME’s, and breathing in YOU–
Brought hope and healing; renewal,
Perspective and life.

The Road to Hell…

I started down the boulevard,
Freshly paved, smooth and gleaming,
Its lanes clearly marked and a gentle rise
Toward a glorious horizon.

New construction sites caught my eye;
Here was progress– here was the future!
I drove on, excited in my new course,
Dreaming of destiny and fulfillment.

view of city street
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Gradually, the scenery changed.
Construction gave way to abandoned projects:
Half-finished high-rises, silent storefronts,
Driveways leading nowhere, weedy parking lots.

Now the road, so smooth at the beginning,
Twisted and turned without purpose.
Gravel and broken pavement lined with
Abandoned cars and broken glass.

white and black house painting
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Frightening thoughts intruded–
I had seen no open stores, no gas stations,
No houses, or other cars for miles.  I was alone.
There were no crossroads; no places to turn around.

The road that had begun with so much promise
Was now a rutted path going nowhere.

photography of railway
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I woke up in a cold sweat– it had been a dream.
More– it had been a warning.

I had “good intentions” for my journey.
But the easy road, the appearance of future success
Had lured me away from the path marked with suffering
And paved with ancient truths.

I had packed no maps, ignored the GPS, and trusted to “instinct”
To lead me, not to a fixed destination, but to “discovery.”

I drifted back to sleep, and dreamed that I was back at the beginning.
Roads branched out all around me.
The gleaming new boulevard no longer held any appeal.
But now I studied the other roads.

aerial photo of buildings and roads
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There were so many; roads leading to “enlightenment”;
Roads offering “fame” and “immortality”;
Narrow paths promising “mysticism”;
Superhighways advertising “happiness.”

Off to the right, there was a tiny filling station–
The old fashioned kind, with a service man.
He offered to fill my tank, but then he said,
“They all end up in the same place, you know.”

abandoned business classic dirty
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I looked up into his eyes–eyes that held in them
The wisdom of the ages and boundless love.
“Enter in at the narrow gate…”
“I am the way, the truth, and the life…”
“This is the way, walk ye in it…”

He turned and walked through the back door
And I followed him down a sunlit path,
Up a small rise, and into glory.

landscape photo of pathway between green leaf trees
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The Weight of Words

Words have weight– I’m not talking about thousand-page novels or multi-syllable legalese terms– some words simply weigh heavier on the mind and heart than others.  Some everyday words spill out like dust motes carried on a light breeze.  They hang suspended in midair, without any set purpose or destination, and finally settle, forgotten, until someone sweeps them away.  Other words explode, sending shards and pellets at unwary targets.  Some words thunder like falling rocks in an avalanche of guilt or anger or hatred.  And some rare and precious words have the weight of a quilt or a hug, or an arm lifting you up when you are falling.

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One of the amazing things about prayer is that as we pour out our words before the Savior, the weight of our words is lifted off our hearts and minds and given to him to carry– the weight of the guilt, the weight of worry, the weight of grief, the weight of anger, the weight of hurt.  Not only does God take on the weight of our words (and our pain and guilt), but he makes sense of it all– maybe not instantly, or in the way we imagine– but he brings order and goodness out of our chaos and burden.

 

 

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And those everyday words swirling around like dust fall into the light, where they shine like gold dust in His presence.  When we bring everything to God, he transforms it; he transforms us.

 

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Our words have weight in prayer.  And our words to others have weight, as well.  Today, I want to weigh my words carefully.  Are my words burdening others, or helping them lift a load of care?  If I had to carry the weight of my words– my criticisms and clever put-downs, my accusations and angry tantrums, my bragging and comparisons– would I be dragging them behind me with joy and pride?  What if, instead, my words were filled with the weight of shared laughter, encouragement, hope, and compassion?  What if my words held the weight of truth and kindness and peace?pexels-photo-210012.jpeg

Would it change the weight of my prayers?pexels-photo-64113.jpeg

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.

journal

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

Where Your Treasure Is…

Our church held a hymn-sing and ice cream social last Sunday.  It was an informal evening service, but we heard testimony of the power of hymns to shape our worship, and to help us remember scripture’s promises.  We also had the chance to just “call out” a favorite hymn to sing together.  We probably sang 15 or 20 hymns that night, and each one had special meaning to many in the congregation.  We treasure certain songs, certain verses, certain stories– they feed our soul, encourage our heart, steel our thoughts, and pour balm on our wounds.

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One hymn we didn’t sing the other night, though it is a favorite of many, was “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”  Sweet Hour of Prayer– lyrics and much more here  In getting ready to post for today, I thought about this hymn.  We treasure the thought of prayer being sweet and bringing relief, but do we treasure prayer enough to spend an hour or more at it?  If I add up the time spent in morning prayers of devotion, grace at mealtime, evening prayers, and “quick thoughts to heaven” throughout the day, it probably adds up to an hour…but I spend more time writing about prayer each day than I actually spend practicing it.  And when was the last time I got so caught up in prayer that I lost track of time and spent over an hour at it in one sitting?

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In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned that we should not lay up treasures for ourselves on earth, but to store up treasures in heaven, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21 KJV)  This is true of our material treasures, but also our spiritual treasures, our thought treasures, and our time.  When I hear “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” one of my first thoughts is always, “That would be nice, but I don’t have an hour to spend praying– I’d never get anything done!”  But would I have said that about watching my favorite TV show?  Spending an hour on Facebook or shopping at my favorite store?

God is beyond time– he’s not counting the hours, minutes or moments we spend with Him.  But he feels our absence and our distraction just the same.  He isn’t trying to pull us away from important things to waste our time– he wants to pull us away from the things that weigh us down, worry us, haunt us, and eat up the precious time He has given us.

grayscale photography of people walking in train station
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I have found that when I feel “too busy” to spend time with Jesus, it’s a good time to pause and make time for prayer.  When I do (and it’s not as often as I should), three things happen:

  • I want more!  That time refreshes me, calms my spirit, and removes the burden of  worries, failures, and frustrations.
  • I accomplish more–maybe it’s a case of God re-ordering my other priorities; maybe he just gives me the power to work more efficiently; maybe it’s a miracle–but I find that the “time crunch” I worried about seems to melt away.
  • Jesus becomes “more” to me– I grow closer to Him, and closer to the person He created me to be.

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