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.

Boxes 2

“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.

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?

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

Guilt and Forgiveness—a Visual

Karekare Black Beach 491

Karekare Black Beach, NZ

Guilt is like strolling on a sandy beach—you leave footprints for all to see. You may try to cover your shame by smoothing sand over the prints; but as you walk away, you create more footprints.

Forgiveness is God sending His wind (the Holy Spirit), blowing across the sand, erasing all the prints. And even if you fail again, the wind continues to blow.

But how much better to scramble up onto a solid, flat rock where no footprints can be made and no guilt and shame exist.

I’m on the Rock, hallelujah,

I’m on the Rock to stay,

For He lifted me from the miry clay—

I’m on the Rock to stay.

 

More Thoughts on Prayer

From my 2009 Journal. I want to learn to pray. I really do. It’s been a drive, a passion, and a pursuit of mine since junior high. It’s one of those spiritual disciplines that one never seems to master. I think I am motivated by what others do, say, preach, and model. I listen, attempt to imitate or explore, try to learn from . . . but ultimately, this conversation is between me and my Creator, no one else. Is He satisfied with my performance (or non-performance)? Is my heart right? At peace? Are my motives pure? If they’re not, can I trust God to reveal them to me? To expose me? I keep learning, trying, applying, but it never seems “enough.”

It’s the word enough that trips me up. More implies time. Is one minute a day in prayer enough? Is one hour? What about 20 hours? If I talked to my husband nonstop for two hours, I’d be tired. It’s okay occasionally, but I don’t make a habit of talking that much. I prefer to listen. So . . . if prayer is also listening, I can increase my “time” easily. But does a certain amount of time spent with someone indicate how much you care for them? No. but choosing to do so out of delight in being together does. “Having to” is totally different from “longing to.” [2020 Note: I’ve since learned that enough and more are not quantifiable and never satisfied, and that’s why Satan loves to bind us with them. Relationship is about connection more than just time spent, though time spent can certainly impact relationship.]

I recognize that some people are more naturally gifted in the art of communication. And I also know that it’s not just the words themselves that communicate. When I smile at someone, or when I frown, I’m communicating. Cannot God, who made me, interpret every nuance, know every secret longing, and read between the lines, or does He expect me to use words every time? Those who have been given a prayer language would say words aren’t always necessary.

So how do I go deeper? How do I find that place inside that is deeper than words? Are visuals the key for me? The word pray sounds so formal: on the knees, head down, petitioning the King for a boon or a favor. Sometimes prayer is like that. But sometimes it’s chatting with your best Friend around the dinner table. Or snuggling up in your Papa’s lap and telling Him how much you love Him and appreciate Him. And sometimes prayer is begging for mercy for having disobeyed Him while He’s holding the chastening rod. Perhaps prayer is just breathing in and out.

candySometimes my prayers are so shallow, without thought, childish, and me-centered. But Jesus understands that we’re frail and immature and ignorant. He doesn’t mind our childish babble—when we’re children. When my kids asked for candy, I knew it wasn’t always best for them and often said no, and I said no because of my love for them. But sometimes I said yes because it was fun to give them a treat. Candy before dinner on an empty stomach? Not such a good choice. But if they insisted and persisted and perhaps secretly ate some anyway, hopefully they soon learned from experience that getting a sugar high and crashing or feeling sick afterward or getting a headache wasn’t worth it. And so I can relax with my prayers. I can ask whatever I want but trust God to run interference for me if I run my mouth off the wrong way.

Bottom line: I delight in spending time talking to and listening to God. It’s not a chore. Sometimes I make appointments with Him, and I like to keep those appointments. And if God makes an appointment with me, I won’t miss it. He’ll make sure I’m there. He knows how to get my attention.

The Worry Worm

From my 2020 Journal. Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon of trying to give us encouraging words and uplifting things to focus on during our forced isolation from COVID-19, and I’ve purposefully tried to stay away from the topic on my blogs. We’ve heard and seen enough for a lifetime on the news and in social media to bring fear and anxiety into our hearts. I am not afraid, so don’t tell me not to be afraid! But then it hit me. I’m may not be afraid, but I did identify some worry. Oops. So here’s my response.

Worm dried

Worry

Is like a worm,

Weaseling its way into my brain,

A virus that goes viral,

With nothing to stop the corruption.

Too late to quarantine,

It’s already done its damage.

All I can do is holler for help and pray and praise

To arrest it in its tracks and

To wash away the filth of the residue

Praise Him, praise Him, all ye little children,

God is love, God is love.

Ahhh, sweet peace.

Rule-Keeping 101

Rules

From my 2009 Journal. I’ve been reading Romans 14 and thinking about biblical rules. Old Testament rules included “Don’t murder.” but Jesus said it’s what’s in your heart that is most important. Is “Don’t hate” a New Testament rule? I suppose you could say that, but rules generally govern actions, not attitudes. For example, I may be imprisoned for murder but not for hating someone in my heart. But if you take care of the attitude (hatred) in your heart, you’ll have no temptation to do the action (murder).

In context, Romans 14 seems to be referring to religious activity: observances of meat offered to idols and special observances of days. I have freedom, the Apostle Paul says, to eat meat or not eat meat, to observe a day “unto the Lord” or not. It’s not just the action that pleases God, but the attitude of the heart. Am I doing it out of obedience to my conscience or out of disobedience? Am I doing it with a grateful heart? If I do the religious activity but am not thankful, what good is it? Verse 14 says food offered to idols in and of itself is not unclean. But if in your heart you believe it’s unclean, then to you it is. Don’t do it!

When I see someone’s action, I may or may not know their heart or their motive, but I confess I have been found guilty of unfairly judging them. It’s long past time for me to quit the Old Testament rule-keeping and be grateful for God’s grace and freedom to live according to the only two rules I find in the New Testament: love God and love each other.

Bottom line: examine your own heart, and don’t judge another believer’s religious activities. Can I hear an “amen”?

When Should We Disobey the Government?


From my 2009 Journal. Following up my recent blog post about The Blue Parakeet—Rethinking How You Study the Bible, I remember Scot McKnight’s injunction to read the Bible as a dialogue that includes different facets of a topic. We can get into trouble when we quote one verse or phrase in the Bible out of context, and we can come up with some pretty bad theology or advice. For example, I hear Paul saying in Romans 13 that you should never disobey government; and if you oppose government, you bring condemnation on yourself.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:1-2, 7 NIV)

Yet when Peter and the early apostles were instructed to stop preaching, they said to the high priest, “We must obey God, rather than men.” And God honored Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they defied the king and refused to bow down to his statue. Apparently it’s okay to practice civil disobedience if it conflicts with God’s law—but you’ll pay the consequences if you’re caught.

And so I think it’s wrong to apply Paul’s statement in every situation. In context, I think he was saying “Do what’s right.” There’s nothing morally wrong in paying your taxes and obeying the speed limits and [practicing social distancing, to apply this blog to 2020]. You don’t want to be slapped in jail for doing something the government opposes. But if the government forbids assembling together as believers [and I’m not saying as a temporary measure to avoid the corona virus], then disobedience is legit and the church must go underground.

Let’s dialogue. Over what issue would you disobey the government?

Flag