BOXES OF PRAYERS

Each prayer is like a seed that gets planted in the ground. It disappears for a season, but it eventually bears fruit that blesses future generations (Mark Batterson in Praying Circles around Your Children).

From my 2009 Journal. As I continue to struggle with the concept of prayer, I can see myself seated in the middle of a room, conversing with Jesus. A large number of boxes line the periphery of the room. What are those? I wonder.

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“They are your prayers,” He says. “You had a question about them?”

How did He know? (Well, duh. He knows everything.)

“Yes,” I say. “I want to know what good are they?” They’re in files, categorized and maybe even numbered, but here they all sit, here in my mind. What good are they? I can go to a box, pull out a file, read what I wrote, but so what?

“Would you like Me to take them off your hands?” He asks.

“Sure. You’re welcome to them.” I have no clue what He’s going to do with them, but I agree.

Several angels enter and start picking them up, loading them onto carts, and removing them from the room.

“So now what?”

“Just sit and talk to Me,” He says.

“What shall we talk about?” I ask.

“Anything we like,” He responds. “Got anything on your mind?”

Nothing comes to mind.

“Okay,” He says. “Want to play checkers?”

Really?! This is the answer to my question “What good are they?”

“Do you trust Me?”

“Explicitly,” I reply.

“Then don’t worry about it. The angels know what to do with them.”

I watch as one angel pulls out a file and reads the contents. He laughs. Is he mocking me? Was it a silly little prayer that I tucked into that folder?

“Not at all!” responds Jesus to my thoughts. “It’s giving him something to do. He has an errand to run and delights in fulfilling my commands.”

“Your commands?! But that was my prayer!” I exclaim.

“But you gave it to me, didn’t you? You said you trusted Me with it. Now it’s mine to do with as I please. Some of the prayers will get dispatched immediately. Others need to stay in the box a little longer—it’s not time yet. A few of these files don’t belong there. We’ll sort them out and discard the redundant ones and the soiled ones. (We will replace those with clean copies before they’re dispatched.) A few we’ll just toss in the fire if you don’t mind.”

“Mind? Of course not! I trust You to figure out which is which.”

“Good,” says Jesus. “Your move.”

I mull over what He’s just told me. “So I don’t need to figure out what to pray or write down? Just do it, file it, and keep handing the boxes off to You?”

“Yep, that’ll work.”

“Jesus . . . thank You.”

“You’re welcome. You still have a question?”

“Yeah . . . does a bigger folder get more attention than a smaller one? For example, if I pray for someone once, it creates one sentence on one sheet of paper and makes one skinny file. But if I pray for someone daily, their folder gets stuffed and may even need a filing cabinet to hold them all.

I sense at once that no single piece of paper gets lost. But . . .

“So what’s your question?”

“Do You give preference to bigger files?”

“Do you trust Me?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Really?”

“I think so.”

“What would happen if this room burned down and all the boxes were gone?”

“It would feel like a waste.”

“But what if one paper survived? What if it was made of an incorruptible material?”

I raise my eyebrows.

“What if that one item was your heart? Prayers are important enough, but it’s your heart that I care about even more.”

“Wow!”

And all this time my focus was on how many prayers I prayed, how long I prayed, what I prayed—all the “shoulds” and “supposed tos.”

There’s no should in a love relationship.

2020 Vision

The key to healthy memory functioning at ANY age is attention (p. 20).

 From my 2009 Journal. When my eyes began to change around age 40, I decided to get progressive lenses so I would never have to search for a pair of reading glasses. But now I’m losing my mind. Sigh.

I just read the book Where Did I Leave My Glasses? (The What, When, and Why of Normal Memory Loss) by Martha Weinman Lear.

glasses

 Conclusion: I’m normal! Yay! Here are some of my takeaways from the book.

  • I can’t change or improve memory loss, but I can improve my ability to cope with it (the author gives some compensatory strategies).
  • Do you need to make introductions and you’ve forgotten names? Try “Do you two know each other?” and hope they introduce each other!
  • Multitasking ability actually does decrease with age (but since I was poor at it in my youth, I’m doomed!)
  • Tip: Focus on one thing at a time. Deliberately block out a time for one task, no interruptions. (Good luck with that!)
  • “I never said that” and “I always knew it” are ego protection statements. “The need to feel right is a huge factor in how we remember and how we forget” (p. 110).
  • “Just because it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, make no assumptions. Not when the subject is memory” (p. 115).

Now, what was I saying . . . ?

Church Buildings

Church Miya
Our church at Miya, Nigeria

From my 2009 Journal. Every church Scott and I have attended over the years has gone through a building program to expand its facilities. I’ve concluded that the leadership can never please everyone with their proposed budget or style of building. What does God require of us? Which principles do we use? Is it wrong to build a cathedral? Or erect a mud hut with no electricity? Even “in moderation” is a debatable continuum.

One side of the debate goes like this: Do everything with excellence. Build big and beautiful and lasting and use the latest technology to attract a bigger crowd so more will receive the precious Word of God. And be sure to give sacrificially.

The other side says to build as plainly as possible so you have more to give to the poor and to missions so others can hear the Word. And be sure to give sacrificially.

Both approaches have the same bottom line. Who’s right? The debate seems to center around money, but I suspect comfort and beauty and creativity also play a role in how we make choices.

What do you think?

Cathedral

Intercessory Prayer—God’s Part vs. My part

From my 2009 Journal. I know that God loves the person I’m praying for, and He wants her to have relationship with Him. God knows what a person needs and will pursue relationship with each person in His creation because of His great love. So, God’s going to pursue her whether or not I pray and ask. So why pray?

It’s an age-old question. I know that prayer releases something in the spiritual realm that I can’t see. But everyone has a choice, and God will not violate a person’s will. So, what do my prayers for this person accomplish? Does it change God’s mind? Does it change the person’s mind? Of course I pray by faith, ask what I know is God’s will, and leave the results to Him. I know that. How then should I pray?

Jesus, I have a friend who needs relationship with You. Is there something You want me to do today that will nudge her closer to the kingdom?

Now there’s a prayer I can sink my teeth into!

U of the South 2 (2)

University of the South, Sewanee, TN

What If God Asked?

Cow

From my 2009 Journal. Ezekiel 4 is a fascinating exchange between God and Ezekiel. God gives Ezekiel instructions that impose hardships on him, including eating rationed food and water, lying on one side for over a year and on the other for 40 days. But worst of all, God says he must prepare his food using human dung for fuel—like they will be doing in captivity. Ezekiel protests—he’s never defiled himself before with abominable meat. God relents and allows him to use cow dung instead.

In Ezekiel’s agrarian society, using cow dung is normal. It’s not offensive to them. Some tribes in Africa even use it to create shiny floors in their huts. But there’s something inherently offensive, disgusting, repulsive, unclean, about using human waste. At least it feels that way to me.

Ezekiel was used to using cow dung. Was there something in the Law that said human dung was defiling? Or was it inherently known that this was ceremonially or socially or emotionally unacceptable?

The part that really fascinates me, however, is that God relents from His command. He’s already asked Ezekiel to do some pretty humiliating and bizarre things. But He accepts Ezekiel’s protests based on his argument: I’ve never defiled myself—this would make me impure.

Now fast-forward to Peter in Acts 10:14. God instructs Peter to eat unclean animals. Same response: I’ve never defiled myself before. The passage doesn’t say that God made Peter eat them, but He does say, “What God calls clean is clean.”

God could have used the same argument with Ezekiel, but He doesn’t—which makes me think that God understood and took pity on Ezekiel. That He would not require of him more than he could bear.

Both men said they had never been defiled. Pete said, “No, Lord!” Ezekiel didn’t say no, but “Ah, Lord God . . .” Did Ezekiel protest or simply express his dismay?

What hard thing has God asked me to do? Did I protest? Yes, that’s quite normal, I think. But I eventually relented and obeyed. But He’s never asked me to go against my conscience—or has He?

End Times – Are You Ready for the Curtain?

Curtain

Now we see through a glass [curtain], darkly (I Corinthians 13:12).

From my 2009 Journal. I’m in the audience. The preliminaries on stage are over. The curtain is still closed. The lights in the audience are starting to dim. It’s getting darker all around. It’s almost time for the play to begin, time for the curtain to open so we can see what’s hidden behind it. The preparations that have been made in heaven are about to be revealed.

We know the plot; we read it in the program. We’re familiar with the characters. We know it’s going to be an interactive drama. Are we ready? We in the audience have all been given weapons so we can join the battle scene. Are we, the Church, ready?

What to Do When You Can’t Do

Jesus judged me and counted me faithful and trustworthy and appointed me to this ministry. (The Apostle Paul, I Timothy 1:12 AM)

From my 2009 Journal. My child-rearing days taxed my time and energy, but these days I wonder sometimes why I have so much free time. You’d think I’d be happy to sit around and read novels and watch TV or do jigsaw puzzles. But I want to fill more of my time with ministry and less with fluff. That’s when I think of the Apostle Paul sitting for months in prison. Did he long to get back into the ministry of preaching? Did he ever feel like he was spinning his wheels? Missionary life was exciting and challenging and suited his drive for evangelism. I know he used some of this down time talking to the other prisoners and guards and writing epistles, but I suspect time weighed heavily on him.

How much of my time is God-directed and passion-driven vs. drifting along day by day, with no goals or excitement to fill my time? Where is my focus—on TIME or on my character development? I fear I think too much like an American—filling time is the driving force and factor of our days. In a warm-culture setting with no calendars or appointments or clocks or watches, relationships become central. Maybe I need to go back to my African roots and sit for awhile under a tree. God appointed me to a ministry of inner healing prayer, so I may as well let Him be in charge of my time as well.

2020. Though I wrote this over ten years ago, it seems to fit today’s challenges with social distancing and forced isolation. I’m grateful that I’m still able to carry on with ministry through electronic means.

clock

Visible or Invisible Deeds

The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever (I Tim. 5:24-25).

From my 2009 Journal. While meditating on this verse, I came up with the following examples:

  1. The sins of some are obvious: Someone who yells obscenities and openly threatens a person in a parking lot.
  2. The sins of others trail behind them: An abuser’s sins are hidden to the world’s eyes; but eventually they become revealed (in the lives of the victims and, of course, at the Judgment Day).
  3. Good deeds are obvious: Someone gives a large donation to a charity that names a building after him.
  4. Even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever: when I leave cookies on a neighbor’s porch with no note.

Can you give me more examples?

I’d like to be a better good-deed doer. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Though I have occasionally done something in a generous and spontaneous way, I usually have to plan, set aside time, and then do. But I’m thinking good deeds are more than giving things away or doing an act of service. Could a good deed also be offering a kind word to a frazzled checkout clerk or giving a smile of affirmation to a child or hugging a grieving friend?

I recall the time when our family stopped at an out-of-town gas station to take a much-needed rest stop. I was surprised and delighted to find fresh-cut flowers on the ladies’ bathroom counter. An uncharacteristically clean stall and a fresh odor also caught my attention.

When I emerged from the restroom, I approached the clerk behind the counter and asked if I could see the manager. Her face visibly fell. “Why?” she demanded sullenly. She looked like she’d been caught doing something wrong and went on the defensive. “She’s not here.”

“Okay,” I responded. “I just wanted to tell her how much I appreciated a clean bathroom and especially enjoyed the fresh flowers.”

The change on her face was immediate. With the fear gone, she relaxed and grinned. “I’ll be sure to tell her,” she said. “And thank you so much.” I wondered then how often this tired clerk had to put up with complaining customers. It appeared that this one kind word had made her day.

And now that I’ve told you, my deed is no longer hidden, but maybe it will encourage you to do a good deed today.

Bouquetb

The River of Life

From my 2009 Journal. While Scott and I were visiting his family in Vancouver, BC, I picked up a novel from his aunt’s bookshelf.  Published in 1931, A White Bird Flying, is full of life’s lessons and philosophy and old-fashioned values—a gentle reminder of days gone by in rural Nebraska. Laura, a would-be writer, chooses love and a family over career and a promised inheritance. When her would-be benefactor dies, he sends her the grand sum of one dollar in retaliation for spurning him.

The author, Bess Streeter Aldrich, concludes:

Life is like a river—a groping, pulsing river, endlessly rising and falling, finding its way through mists and shadows to some far sea. Every human is a part of the story. One life touches another and is gone. There is contact for a brief time—an influence for good or ill. And the river goes on, endlessly rising and falling, finding its way to the sea (p. 123).

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For years, I simply drifted in the water, going along with what others wanted for my life rather than following my heart. A lot of the decisions I made were because I didn’t really know what I wanted. And even if I did, I got easily thwarted or side-tracked by the scenery around me or the rocks in the riverbed. I could make goals, but if people or events interrupted the flow, I’d give up on my dreams and let them paddle the boat for me.

So when does an interruption become a distraction and when is it actually a God-event? How can you tell the difference? Is the interruption like a bumper lane in a bowling alley? The rubber is there to keep you out of the gutter. Or is the interruption like a pile of sticks in the river that you want to avoid because it’s a snare or a trap?

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I think the rapids are the events over which you have no control, and you have to be on your guard, alert to navigate well to stay upright. Thankfully, not all of life is calm and not all is rapids. Variety is nice. So is it okay to drift? Sometimes. Those are the resting times. But it’s not okay when the water is rough. And that’s when I’m glad I have an experienced Guide with me Who knows the river and knows where the hazards are. And He’s strong enough to keep us on an even keel. But God expects me to engage in the fight to stay upright. I need to use my paddle as I’m able.

Sometimes, when you’re about to be dumped into the river, you just hang onto the sides for dear life. But you’re not going to drown (unless it’s your time to go Home) because Jesus has the lifeline in His hands. When He comes to rescue you, relax, don’t struggle against Him.

But back to the author’s metaphor. “Life is like a river. Every human is a part of the story. One life touches another and is gone.” What does that look like in the picture? Are we flotsam and jetsam? Tree debris? Turtles swimming downstream? Canoes that bump against each other? What do you think?

What other applications can you see in this metaphor?

Shame on You

From my 2009 Journal. Having a judgmental spirit is like trying to cast shame on another person.

Shame Ben

At my boarding school, kids were adept at using a little gesture that meant “shame on you” or “naughty, naughty.” Left pointer finger pointed at the victim. Right pointer finger perpendicular to the left one. Slide right finger repeatedly across and down left finger. Shake the head. “Tsk tsk.”

Why did we do that? Did we learn it from the grown-ups who said to us, “Shame on you!” or “You know better than that.” Do those words actually correct behavior, or do they simply cause the child to cower, believing there’s something wrong with him? Why can’t we discipline and correct without the shaming?

My judgmental spirit and attempt to shame a person is simply self-righteousness. And shame on me for doing so! I am not your judge. When a kid pointed a finger at us in judgment, we’d remind him that three fingers pointed back at himself.

I should just put my shaming fingers in my pocket.