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

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.

On Losing Weight

From my 2009 Journal. This Sunday I watched a particularly well-padded lady at church who loves to move to the music. I’m fascinated to watch human flesh respond this way in motion. Why does this mesmerize me? I feel sorry for the lady, but in truth I feel sorry for me. Here she is, obviously enjoying the joy of the Lord and (seemingly) oblivious to the fact that the people around her are watching. I feel like slapping myself for my rudeness in staring.

Here’s what I’m thinking: “If she only knew what she looked like . . .” Is that what people say when they watch me? If I don’t like what I see in the mirror, why should others?

I confess my fascination, my rudeness. Why am I not very tolerant of obesity? Why so critical? Is this self-righteousness? There’s always someone who is heavier than I am, and I’m envious of those who are thinner. I don’t like the numbers I read on the scale. I want to lose some weight, but why? To fit my clothes better? To feel better physically? To feel better about my looks?

The one I want to explore is Reason #3. Is this vanity? Where am I getting the belief that thin is beautiful, that I’ll look better in the eyes of others if my underarms don’t jiggle or my stomach is flat?

Though I’d not say I am obese, I do know I’m not at an ideal weight at the moment. What would motivate me to give up one thing in order to gain something else? My strongest drive, and the only one I think, that would work to help me lose weight, is to believe that it would please my Savior. But is that true? He loves me no more, no less, if I’m fat or thin.

What I do know is that obesity is often a symptom of a heart need. It’s just that an obese person’s issues are visible, whereas the issues of a thin person may not be. When I’m judgmental of people who are overweight, I fail to address my own hidden hurts.

Ok, now that the issue is out on the table, what do I do with it?

I’m currently reading Bill Thrasher’s book A Journey Into Victorious Praying. He states, “God wins His greatest victories in the midst of apparent defeat” and “God uses the needy moments in life to prepare us for His work.” And when anticipating temptation, “think ahead and ask God to give you a prayer burden to pray each time you are tempted to go back to your previous lifestyle . . . Make it a prayer that will damage Satan’s kingdom as God answers it” (pp. 33-35).

Suddenly I realize that I haven’t talked to God yet about my desire to lose weight. Oops.

As I pray, I hear Jesus say, “Step into the light. The mirror and the camera don’t lie.” First I have to come out of denial, acknowledge the truth, and confess my vanity. And then I ask God to reveal to me what’s really in my heart. I am willing to stop filling the empty place with food and I ask Him to fill it with something of Himself instead.

I can now see the church lady in all her beauty, loving God in full abandon. God knows her heart. It’s no longer about me.

Chocolate

Live Long and Prosper

From my 2009 Journal. Why do we hold so hard onto life here on earth? Suicide, euthanasia, and murder are odious to us. Is staying alive a God-given survival instinct? What if we knew the date of our death? Would we accept it or bargain for more days?

In her last days, my mom observed, “The will to live is pretty strong,” and she fought hard till the end to stay here on earth. Shortly after she passed away, I read Isaiah 38, the record of King Hezekiah’s demise. God said to him: Set your house in order; you’re going to die.

Hezekiah wasn’t too happy about that announcement and he wept bitterly. Remember my good works and service to You,” he replied. And later, “I must depart . . . deprived of the remainder of my years . . . my sleep has fled, because of the bitterness of my soul . . . Give me back my health and make me live.

I cannot judge Hezekiah for his response. We do this all the time. The minute someone gets ill, we pray for their recovery. I don’t think that’s wrong—but I think it needs the condition “if it’s Your will.” What would happen if, when someone fell ill, we also prayed for their spiritual growth or acceptance of their plight?

We do not always know the mind of God. We think all affliction is bad, but sometimes it fulfills God’s purpose. In Hezekiah’s case, God told him directly that His will was that it was time for him to leave this earth. When we do know His will, why do we fight against God’s directions? Do we really think we know better? He knows our heart. Do we know His? Do we know the whole picture? The whole truth? (See Job).

Surprisingly, God responded to Hezekiah’s plea: I have heard your prayer. I have seen your tears. I’ll add 15 years to your life. And I’ll deliver Jerusalem from Assyria.

It is a comfort to me that the God of the Universe has an ear to His creation. He has compassion on our tears and He responds with abundance. Not only did He spare Hezekiah’s life, but He offered safety from his enemies. He answered Hezekiah’s prayer, but at what cost? During the remainder of his life, pride and arrogance took over his heart. Was 15 years on earth really better than 15 years he could have lived in heaven? I can picture Hezekiah arriving at the pearly gates, realizing the ignorance of his request, hitting his forehead with his the palm of his hand, and saying, “What was I thinking!?”

The Scriptures talk about long life being a blessing. We always assume a person’s life is cut short if he dies young. Somehow it seems easier to grieve an elderly person’s passing than a younger one. But from heaven’s perspective, the younger one has been spared an awful lot of heartache. If God’s best is for a person to live 5, 15, or 50 years, then he has lived for his full quota.

When God speaks, when He reveals His will, it is best to keep silent. I don’t think it’s wrong to struggle and work through our emotions—even Jesus struggled to accept the Father’s will—but our conclusion, in the end, must be, “God’s will be done.” I don’t want someone praying for me if they’re not praying the Father’s will!

I’m not near death’s door. When my time comes, will I, too, scramble for a foothold in order to stay bound to earth?

On Prayer—Doing It Right?

From my 2012 Journal. I started to pray for a friend, asking God to move all obstacles from his path. But then I paused. How can I be sure what obstacles are from God (remember Balaam’s angel?) and which are from Satan? And so I modify my prayer—please, Lord, remove all obstacles that belong to or originate from the enemy. And then I think again, “But what if God was the One who originated that idea (remember Job?) So again I change my prayer:  Lord, give courage, wisdom and strength to grow through all obstacles that You allow to enter my friend’s path. That sounds right.

Does God ever get tired of my asking for the same things every day? Every day, same prayers for the same people, with different words perhaps, or different needs prayed for. But same, same, same. And then I think of my three-year-old Grandson Jack. He walks in my front door, flings wide his arms, and cries out, “Hi Grandma!” followed by “Play Wii?” Every time. And my heart melts, and I delight in his childish exuberance, and I don’t mind that he asks for the same thing every time he greets me. He makes me smile. And maybe, just maybe I make God smile when I open my eyes in the morning and say, “Hi, God.”

To Whom should we pray?

From my 2009 Journal. I listened to a radio pastor yesterday who stated: we are to pray to the Father, through Jesus, by (I think he said) the Holy Spirit.

Always? Is it wrong to pray to Jesus? To the Holy Spirit? And are not all three God—equal, unified? Is it merely semantics? Or is it indeed the biblical model? When Jesus was on earth, He never told the disciples to “pray to Me.” Or did He? He said, “Ask Me what you will and I will grant it.” I know my prayers change in tone and in request depending on the One to whom I focus in prayer.

The Trinity is spatial to me. I visualize The Father high up, above, beyond the earth’s atmosphere, ruling the universe, sitting on His throne, judging, overseeing, in charge of the atoms, big, big, big. Jesus, on the other hand, is here, beside me, friend, intimate, sitting with me on the bed, at the table when I eat, watching over my shoulder while I’m at the computer, walking beside me at the grocery store. I see the Father watching over me; the Son is beside me. But the Holy Spirit is in me. He permeates every cell of my body and brain and heart, convicting, whispering truth into my innermost being, comforting, enlightening, revealing, opening my eyes, teaching.

Three separate Beings? Yes—and no. They are one—there is only one God, no longer separated now that Jesus is home again. They’re not “apart.” Just as I am made up of three separate (but unified) parts—I have a body, soul, and spirit. I can no more separate one from the other than God can divide Himself. I suspect it’s not as big an issue as we make it. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one after all!

I still have my earthly body, and my spirit/soul are finite/limited, but I am made in the image of God. I cannot pray to one “part” of God without praying to all parts. I suppose you could say that I could speak to my body, or I could talk to my “self” (my soul/mind), or I could converse with my spirit, but each part is aware of the other parts.

Just for fun, listen to people when they pray and note whom they address. What do you think this reveals?

Do What You Can

She has done what she could. Mark 14:8 (NKJV)

[Context: the woman with the alabaster jar of precious nard who poured it on Jesus’ head]

From my 2012 Journal. I worry so often about what I cannot do, but when I feel limited, what if I would simply “Do what I can” instead?

What’s holding me back from getting adequate exercise, for example? The wrong focus. I can’t before breakfast because . . . I can’t do it at night because . . . How pathetic my excuses sound! What if, just for once, I tried doing what I CAN do? Then, perhaps, I might see some change.

When it comes to prayer, I feel so inadequate. I opened my reminder list this morning to begin my petitions and recalled Daniel’s prayer—first he thanked God and then he petitioned. Uh-oh. Did I pray in the right order? Did I do it right? And then I realize I’m placing myself back under a “should.”

Boo boo 2

My daughter Cindy with Ben eating spaghetti (comfort food)

God reminds me of the many times my girls would run into the room and ask, “May I go play with [whoever]?” or “I’ve got a boo-boo; need a kiss and a Band-aid.” They don’t need to get down on one knee and formally enter my presence and thank me for being their parent before they blurt out their request. I am not offended if they don’t first tell me how wonderful I am as a mom.

At the end of the day, when all is quiet and still, it is a delight to have my daughters crawl up into my lap and cuddle and pour out their woes and hurts and struggles. And it is a joy to help them work through their issues or give them bits of wisdom to carry them through their day.

And so I see myself running the length of the Throne Room and flinging myself into my Abba Father’s arms and telling Him: I have some playmates who need Your help. Just want to bring them to Your attention. I know You have the universe to run and enemies to battle, but my playmates have boo-boos that need tending to. It’s my little petition … my little attempt to fix things in the kingdom. And of course I know He already knows about them. He has servants all over the kingdom and guardians already attending to those little ones. He knows. He cares. But He’s glad that I’m concerned too. He has it all under control, “but thanks for bringing it to My attention.” He’s glad I’m cultivating compassion in my heart.

Pray how you can, not how you can’t. (Monastic advice)

Why Have You Forsaken Me?

cross

Around three o’clock, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34 (NET)

From my 2016 Journal. A victim often asks the question, “Where were You, God, when the abuse happened?” In my experience, God seldom answers the “why” question immediately. Generally, there’s an emotion (often anger) standing in the way, behind the “why” that needs to be addressed first.

I believe it was Jesus’ humanity speaking when He asked, “Why have You, Abba Father, forsaken Me?” In my opinion, contrary to many preachers and songs that claim that the Father turned His back on His Son, God had NOT forsaken Him. Never! But in this moment of extreme physical torture, head throbbing from thirst, body in tatters, fighting to breathe, bruised and battered, His back on fire as it rubbed against the wood, three hours felt like an eternity. One minute would be more than the average man could handle. Minute by minute agony, waiting for the end to come. Wishing it to just be over.

Jesus had intimate communion with His Papa all along. He’d wrestled with His own will just twelve hours earlier and submitted to His Father’s plan. But in one’s pain, it’s hard to focus, to think, to use logic. The focus is all on the removal of pain.

“Where are You, Father? I can’t feel You near. I can’t see You or hear You.”

The abused take it a step further: “You could have chosen to stop it and You didn’t; what kind of a cruel God are You, anyway?”

Jesus’ anguished cry could not include sin or blasphemy or lies. “Why have You forsaken Me? It FEELS like You have.”

Jesus is quoting Psalm 22. The words, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” are only the first few words of verse one. The rest says, “I groan in prayer, but help seems far away.” (Note the word seems.)

Verse 19 declares, “But you, O LORD, do not remain far away! You are my source of strength! Hurry and help me!”

Jesus knew the whole Messianic Psalm by heart. It’s a Psalm of agony and truth, but it ends in triumph. Jesus knew this had to be His lot in order to fulfill prophecy.  He did not have the physical strength to quote the entire Psalm, but He could begin it, and those Jews who heard it would immediately recognize its source and be able to fill in the rest.

The abuse victim cries out, “Where were You, God? Why did You forsake me?”

And the Father gently replies, “I was there all along.”

When Prayer Is Not a Good Thing

From my 2016 Journal. Sometimes we pray out of our triggers; and God, for some reason, listens and answers our prayers—even when they’re not good for us or for others.

Moses begged God not to destroy the people of Israel and start over with a new nation. What if Moses hadn’t prayed and God did destroy His chosen people? Israel’s history would have been very different and forty years of desert wandering avoided.

Hezekiah begged for more years to be added to his life, and after God granted him an extra fifteen, this king turned to idolatry.

Abraham begged God to spare Lot’s life, and incest and warring nations ensued.

Hannah cried out for a son and then lived with the pain of giving Samuel up to be raised by an ungodly priest.

And yet—God is capable of turning bad into good.

And yet—we also suffer the consequences of our poor choices.

I wonder if I have ever begged God for something that was not good for me, and He relented, and I paid the consequences, but He turned it for good . . . I can’t think of anything right now, but I suspect I’ll be quite surprised when I find out the truth in heaven.

I think the lesson here is learning to ask God first what His will is, and then praying that prayer, rather than trying to twist His arm to do mine.

Have you ever noticed that the majority of our church prayer requests are for physical needs? We list all known ills from a sister-in-law’s cousin Becky who has cancer to Great-uncle Bob who just had a toenail removed. We pray and ask for healing and get all excited when someone is “miraculously” healed. But what if . . . just what if . . . God had a better plan but He relented and gave me what I asked for? Even Jesus was discerning as to whom He touched and whom He healed. And He certainly didn’t raise everyone from the dead.

For me, personally, I want to glorify God whether I’m ill or well. I can’t ask for something with great assurance unless I discern first that He desires it, lest like a child begging for candy, I do more harm than good. But if I ask for good things, I can trust my loving, heavenly Father to supply what I need.

What’s your experience?

Candy