Monday Morning Meditation: A Path to Answered Prayer

After hearing a inspiring and convicting sermon on prayer yesterday, my Bible reading just “happened” to be John 4 today. I always think of John 4 as the story of the Samaritan woman and find myself relating to her, but God had something else to speak to me today.

After the story of Jesus’ work in Samaria, there is a short story that is headed “Jesus Heals the Official’s Son.” There are a few things that struck me about this story as it relates to prayer. It is not a long story, and I encourage you to read it here or in your Bible before you consider these thoughts of mine.

An Example of a Path to Answered Prayer

The man went to Jesus.
He traveled a distance to get there*. There was a cost and much effort to his prayer.

The man begged Jesus to come.
He first invited Jesus to be present.

He begged Jesus to heal.
He clearly stated what he hoped Jesus would do in his begging. It was a passionate prayer, a prayer of faith.

Jesus said that people need a miraculous sign to believe.
He may have been speaking directly to this man, but likely was also commenting on what had just happened in Samaria.

The man said, “Sir, come before my son dies!”
The man said, “I don’t know what that means; all I know is I love my son and am asking that You would heal Him!” He restated his hope and his prayer.

“Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed.
The man chose to believe all that the Son of God had spoken to him and left prayer, believing.

*The man headed straight home. Later, when his servants met him on the road toward home, the man learns his son was healed yesterday at about 1 PM (or the seventh hour). This means the man had traveled at least overnight to go to Jesus. And the servants confirmed that Jesus healed the boy at the moment He said He did.

The man and his whole household believed.
Healing is not just for the benefit of the person healed. It is a testimony to those around the person that God is alive and active.

What do we learn about prayer here?
There is a cost to prayer. My pastor’s sermon on prayer yesterday was based on Mark 1:35-39. It was fantastic, and will be available on iTunes within a day or two (Church is Brockton Assembly of God). As I considered my own prayer life in light of what he shared, a thought came to me: the time and effort I am willing to devote to prayer is often directly proportionate to my belief about prayer. In other words, if I only devote a little time to prayer, I likely don’t really believe that prayer works or that it will help.

Ouch. I hate it when I convict myself!! OK, not really. But it made me face the fact that sometimes I leave prayer, more discouraged than when I started, because I’ve already talked myself out of believing that God is going to move!

I sang this song at church yesterday. I was asked to sing a song about prayer due to the theme of the day, and this song came to mind. 18 years ago last week, I surrendered my life to Jesus while listening to a song by this artist, Keith Green.

I want my whole life to be a prayer to God. I want my thoughts and actions to reflect that I believe in a God who is near and who loves us and who desires to answer our prayers.

In this morning’s reading, I was most struck by verse 50: “The man took Jesus at his word and departed.” God has already shown me in about 15 different ways that learning about prayer and having a fuller prayer life is to be my theme of 2017.

OK, God, I’m listening and obeying. Lord, may that be my response to prayer. May I always leave prayer, walking in faith, taking You at Your Word.

What has God spoken to you concerning 2017?

Freedom Friday: I Am Not The Same

Today, Friday, is one of the very rare mornings where somehow I was awake before my beautiful 1 year-old baby girl. I snuck out of bed, searched for the baby monitor, and settled into my comfy chair to read some psalms.

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

 

There is something about this familiar passage that is so life-giving. The song with these lyrics sings in my ears as I read – a song I learned in those early days of walking with Jesus.

My soul exhales.
********************

 

I prepared a teaching on Philippians 4 for the ministry this week. I wanted to share all my wisdom about how God’s Word would have us approach anxiety.

And wouldn’t you know it. I spent the 10 days leading up to the teaching, feeling more anxious than I have in a long, long time.

Times like these – I start to question myself. Why do I do this? I think. Who am I to say that Jesus changes lives? I’m as anxious as I’ve ever been.

There is something so familiar about these thoughts. Comfortable, almost. They are words I have heard in my thoughts for years. A voice of hopelessness.

In those low moments, I am unable to recognize those words for what they are, or whose they are: whispers of Satan.

This morning, I got down on my knees after reading a few psalms and repeated back to God:

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

I spent thousands of days elsewhere. I dwelt in the tents of the wicked. As I pondered these words, my soul exhaled again as God spoke to me:

You are not the same Brenna that you once were. Do not give in to the lies. I have changed you and will keep changed you.

I am not the same.

Fall in a park

The leaves are changing color here in New England. They have no control over it, but are submitted to a more powerful force.
 
The same is true of us. If you are a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit in you is changing you day by day as you surrender your life to whatever He has for you. You may have some of the same struggles, face some of the same fears, but you are not the same.

 
If the anxiety returns today, so be it. Rather than wonder how long it will last, I will walk out the truths from Philippians 4 that I shared on this week:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 
Don’t let the devil whisper into your ear. Listen to God. Pray, and sink deep into God’s peace.

Worshipful Wednesday: Breathing the Breath

I’ve always found breathing a very spiritually-centering activity. Not in some sort of new age, emptying one’s self sense. But in a way that reminds me of who gave me breath in the first place.

When fear, doubt or anxiety threaten to overwhelm me, having a seat and taking a few deep breathes reminds me that the same God who breathed His very breath into me to give me life can handle whatever concerns I am facing today.

Several days ago, I read the following about prayer in Oswald Chambers’ devotional My Utmost for His Highest:

We think rightly or wrongly about prayer according to the conception we have in our minds about prayer. If we think of prayer as breath in our lungs and blood from our hearts, we think rightly. The blood flows ceaselessly, and breathing continues ceaselessly; we are not conscious of it, but it is always going on.

You can read the rest of the day’s devotional here.

That’s how I’ve begun to think about prayer. As a mom of young kids who works outside the home, I began to be frustrated concerning my prayer life. No matter what I did, I seemed to lack a set-aside chunk of time to devote to prayer. I needed to think outside the box and get creative. I’ve learned to make prayer more of an all-day activity.

Sometimes, I just say the name of Jesus as I go about my day. I’ve even been known to say, “Holy, holy, holy” under my breath – though I realized it wasn’t really “under my breath” when my then 5 year-old started to do the same one day in a store! I realized that prayer is simply a recognition of Who is in control, a day-long conversation with the God who is able.

Today, I’m sharing a song entitled “Breathing the Breath.” It’s a Matt Redman song.  This song has become especially meaningful to me since losing an uncle to complications related to COPD, a condition which makes breathing difficult and for which there is no cure. The song recognizes that much of life is a “giving back” to the God who gave us everything in the first place, even in the very breath we breathe.

Here are a few of the lyrics:

We have nothing to give that didn’t first come from Your hands
We have nothing to offer You which You did not provide
Every good, perfect gift comes from Your kind and gracious heart
And all we do is give back to You what always has been Yours

Lord, we’re breathing the breath that You gave us to breathe
To worship You, to worship You
And we’re singing these songs with the very same breath
To worship You, to worship You

You can listen to the whole song on YouTube.

 

Freedom Friday: The Power of God’s Will

For it’s only in Your will that I am free*

Do you ever think about the Garden of Gethsemane? With Good Friday coming up, I’ve been thinking a lot about the words Jesus said as He prayed one of His final prayers here on earth.

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”**

Prior to this prayer, Jesus asked all the disciples to sit in Gethsemane while He took Peter, James and John further into the garden to pray. He stated, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

After uttering His first prayer of submitting to God’s will, He walked back and found His three closest friends – asleep.

“He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.'”

***********

I first heard the song “Jesus, All for Jesus” at a women’s conference. I was struck by its simplicity and depth and challenged by the lyrics.

But I find myself singing one line over and over as Good Friday approaches:

For it’s only in Your will that I am free

The only place we are truly free is in the center of God’s will. This was true for Jesus, too.

But how can horrific suffering that ended with death on the cross be freedom?

Isaiah records in a section of Scripture that prophesies of Jesus’ coming and is often referred to as “The Suffering Servant” that “it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.”

The cross was God’s will for Jesus.

The first time I saw the above verse, I didn’t know how to respond – because I knew the implications. It was the fulfillment of God’s perfect will that Jesus die on that cross – for me and for you. It was the only way for us to be reconciled to God (Romans 5:10). And not a quick, easy death (because God could have done that), but one that involved being crushed and suffering immensely.

Jesus knew that there is no life apart from God’s will.  And so He surrendered to the will of His Father.

“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:8-11

For the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).

For our freedom (Galatians 5:1).

And for His glory (Philippians 2:11).

Jesus, All for Jesus
Jesus, all for Jesus
All I am and have and ever hope to be
Jesus, all for Jesus
All I am and have and ever hope to be

All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands
All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands

For it’s only in Your will that I am free
For it’s only in Your will that I am free

Jesus, all for Jesus
All I am and have and ever hope to be*

*Song lyrics are from Jesus All For Jesus (Featuring Robin Mark).

**The story of the Garden Gethsemane, as quoted above, is found in Matthew 26.

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #8: “The Cross and the Switchblade” by David Wilkerson

I finished my 8th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.

The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson

This book was a little different because I actually listened to the audio version. As I mentioned before, Christianaudio.com has a free monthly download. All you have to do is sign up for their email newsletter, and they will let you know what the free download of the month is. You go to the site, enter your email, and it downloads. You can’t beat free!

I’ve also shared that I don’t think absorb as much from audio books as I do from actual hold-in-your-hands books. But since I’ve read this book at least 5 times already (though probably not in about 5 years), I was very excited to listen to it.

The audio version did not disappoint.

If you’re not familiar with David Wilkerson, he traveled to New York City in the late 1950’s to minister to teens in gangs and with heroin addiction. He eventually began a ministry that is known as Teen Challenge today. This book is the story of that ministry’s beginnings. Teen Challenge is now one of the most successful drug rehabilitation programs worldwide.

The story is so compelling (even the 6th time around) that I limited myself to only listening to it while exercising. I found myself cheering, pumping my fists, crying and praying, even though I would be running or on the elliptical. I won’t give away the whole book, but I will share one story.

David Wilkerson comes from several generations of preachers. His grandfather was a preacher, and so was his father. One day, his grandfather said to David, “The day you learn to be publically specific in your prayer, that is the day you will discover power.” He learned the power of this truth one day when he was about 12.

He came home from school to find several cars and an ambulance at his house. He knew it was his father. His father had duodenal ulcers, and for more than ten years he was not free of pain. David’s mother warned him on this day that his father would likely die. Just then, his father cried out in pain. As his mother ran into the room, David saw that the floor and bedclothes were covered in blood.

I’ll let the book pick up there:

Ignoring my grandfather’s words, I ran just as far away from everyone as I could. I ran down the basement stairs, shut myself up in the coal bin, and there I prayed, trying to substitute volume of voice for the belief that I lacked.

What I didn’t realize was that I was praying into a kind of loud-speaker system.

Our house was heated by hot air, and the great trumpetlike pipes branched out from the furnace, beside the coal bin, into every room of the house. My voice was carried up those pipes so that the men from the church, sitting in the living room, suddenly heard a fervent voice pouring out of the walls. The doctor upstairs heard it. My father, lying on his deathbed heard it.

“Bring David here,” he whispered.

So I was brought upstairs past the staring eyes of the elders and into my father’s room. Dad asked Dr. Brown to wait in the hall for a moment, then he told Mother to read aloud the 22nd verse of the 21st chapter of Matthew…

“And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer,” she read, “believing, ye shall receive.”

I felt a tremendous excitement. “Mother, can’t we take that for Dad now?”

So while my father lay limp on his bed, Mother began to read the same passage over and over again… And while she was reading I got up from my chair and walked over to Dad’s bed and laid my hands on his forehead.

“Jesus,” I prayed, “Jesus, I believe what You said. Make Daddy well!”

There was one more step. I walked to the door and opened and said, loud and clear: “Please come, Dr. Brown. I have…” (it was hard) “I have prayed believing that Daddy will get better.”

Dr. Brown looked down at my twelve-year old earnestness and smiled a warm and compassionate and totally unbelieving smile. But that smile turned first to puzzlement and then to astonishment as he bent to examine my father.

“Something has happened,” he said. His voice was so low I could hardly hear. Dr. Brown picked up his instruments with fingers that trembled, and tested Dad’s blood pressure. “Kenneth,” he said, raising Dad’s eyelids and then feeling his abdomen and then reading his blood pressure again. “Kenneth, how do you feel?”

“Like strength is flowing into me.”

“Kenneth,” said the doctor, “I have just witnessed a miracle.”

David Wilkerson went from being a “country preacher” from the hills of Pennsylvania to ministering through the power of the Holy Spirit to teens in New York City with strongholds he’d never even heard of. He was able to do this because God enabled him to.

If that doesn’t get you excited about what God is capable of, then you might not be alive!

Grab a copy of The Cross and the Switchblade. Your local library might have it. And prepare to be changed!

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:
           

Monday Morning Meditation: Teach Us to Pray

Luke 11:1: “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.'”

I’ve been spending a lot of time with the section of Scripture we call “The Lord’s Prayer” lately. Not studying it – just praying it. This prayer I memorized as a child that flows out of my heart when I’m not sure what else to say.

In December of 1998, I was introduced to Keith Green. I was given his biography, No Compromise, as well as a couple of his CD’s. I was not yet a Christian, but a friend thought maybe Keith’s music and life would draw me closer to Jesus during a difficult time.

Keith was a radical. He was 100% sold out to Jesus. And one night in January of 1999, as I listened to one of Keith’s passionate songs, as I heard him sing about Jesus, I cried out to God, “I want what he has!”

I don’t know that I was ever taught the context of the Lord’s Prayer. This wasn’t a prayer that Jesus apparently recited over and over, as my Sunday School teacher did, in order for the disciples to memorize it. It wasn’t super lengthy or wordy. It wasn’t even a topic that Jesus brought up on His own accord.

One disciple wanted to be taught how to pray.

Read Luke 11:1 again, as quoted above. The disciples saw Jesus praying. When Jesus was finished, one of his disciples said of Jesus, as I said of Keith Green that January night, I want what He has.

If you struggle with knowing how or what to pray, ask, as the disciple asked:

“Teach us to pray.”

God, let that be our prayer this week. Teach us to pray as You pray. We want what You have.

Monday Morning Meditation: And All That is Within Me

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name. 103:1” Psalm

I have just finished 30 days of concentrated prayer, something that Mark Batterson suggests in The Circle Maker. I asked a few of my closest friends what they would like me to pray about for them, and prayed for those things most days. Somewhere in that process I was reminded of Psalm 103, and read that psalm out loud many of those days.

This psalm has special meaning to me. Long before I knew much about Jesus, I loved using the gifts He gave me. One gift He has given me is music. When I was a tormented high schooler, ostracized among my peers because of my sexuality, I auditioned for the musical, Godspell. I was given the part in the production that sang, “O Bless the Lord, My Soul,” a song based on Psalm 103.

During a time of turmoil, God gave me moments of peace among my musical peers and even my non-musical ones. We performed pieces of the musical in front of the whole school. From that moment on, I may not have been liked by some, but in my small town, they respected me because of my talent.

Godspell

Oh bless the Lord my soul!
His praise to thee proclaim!
And all that is within me join,
To bless His holy name!

God’s truth is still truth, no matter what its source or circumstance. Despite the fact that I didn’t know much about God, at this early age, God began to allow His truth to take root in my heart.

I auditioned again for another production of Godspell 5 years later at a theater company where my girlfriend worked. I was once again given the same role and sang the same song.

He will not always chide
He will with patience wait
His wrath is ever slow to rise
And ready to abate
Oh bless the Lord

Psalm 103 begins with self-directives. David sings (as psalms were sung) that he is to bless and praise the Lord with all that is within him.

As I have repeated this psalm many times in recent past, I recall the truth God began to weave into my soul decades ago. I am reminded of His faithfulness and sovereignty in a time when I did not recognize Him as Lord.

I also plainly see that there is much within me that does not bless Him at all: my complaining, my procrastination, my fear that paralyzes at times, my unloving and prideful attitude.

Oh bless the Lord my soul!
His mercies bear in mind!
Forget not all His benefits,
The Lord, to thee, is kind.

How would my life change if I were to choose to allow “all that is within me” to bless His holy name? No allowing the negative thoughts to take over my mind but instead, pressing my fears into God’s heart and choose to praise Him?

Take this thought with you for the week. Ask yourself: are my words, whether spoken or thought, allowing all that is within me to bless His holy name?

*Words in italics are from the song, O Bless The Lord My Soul, by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak.

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #2: The Circle Maker

I finished my 2nd book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.


The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson

I don’t plan on doing full book reviews, or summaries even. Rather, I will share a few quotes as well as my personal takeaways from the book.

I’ve been hearing about Mark Batterson for a long time. I have a few friends that are on staff at the church he leads, National Community Church, which isn’t far from where we live. I have spoken at conferences alongside some of his church members. The free download at Christianaudio.com a few months ago was his book In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. I have begun to listen to that. Then our church started reading The Circle Maker at the midweek service (which we don’t usually attend), but a good friend started talking about it a lot.

So I checked the book out of the library.

(Side note – for the #EmptyShelf challenge, why not find out what your library might have to offer? I just asked my library to order 2 books I wanted to read, and they did!)

I really enjoyed The Circle Maker. This book has a lot of great takeaways. Mark Batterson uses 3 main themes to structure the book:

1. Dream Big
2. Pray Hard
3. Think Long

I had a 4th takeaway: Praise Through.

The book hit a bunch of themes and Scriptures that God has been challenging me with so the past year, especially in light of the book release. I was simultaneously reading this book as I reviewed words and impressions that God spoke to me over the last year. It actually almost became comical after a while to see the parallels. OK, God, I’m listening!

God has been calling me for a long time to dream ludicrous dreams, and this book reinforced that ludicrous dreams are, in fact, Biblical. Here is the main quote that I’ll leave you with:

At one point, God spoke to Mark, “Stop praying for it and start praising Me for it.” At the beginning of 2013, I wrote in my journal: 2013 = Sacrifice of Praise. I didn’t do so well with that last year, so God is giving me another chance to learn what that looks like as a daily practice.

I’ll be making a little virtual bookshelf at the end of each update:

I may also include some other meaningful quotes at the end, like these:
“God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less.”
“To me, writing is praying with a keyboard.”
“If you want to see crazy miracles, obey the crazy promptings of the Holy Spirit.”
“What we perceive as unanswered prayers are often the greatest answers.”
“Goals are dreams with deadlines.”

Freedom Friday, Tools for the Journey: Fitting Concentrated Study into a Busy Life

I have an occasional series in my blog entitled “Tools for the Journey.” Today, we’re talking about concentrated study.

Before I dive into this tool, I must mention how much God loves you. The God who spoke the universe into being loves you so much that He sent His Son down to earth as a man – to live as we live, to experience life as we have, and to even face the same temptations we face. That’s how important it was for this God to connect with you.

When I talk about studying or reading the Bible, often what we hear through our filter is, “I need to read the Bible to be a good Christian.” I hope today what you will hear instead is, “God loves me so much that He desires to connect with me all day, every day. One way I can connect with God is through His Word. There, I learn about His character, His promises and His heart for me.”

So, that said…..

I was recently listening to some teaching by Ian Green (he did some leadership training for Chi Alpha campus missionaries back around 2004, and then more recently at my church). He mentioned how, when he was younger, he took one night a week to spend concentrated time with God. He would read the Bible for 30 minutes, pray for 30 minutes, read a Christian book for 30 minutes, and then repeat.

I used to do something similar when I first became a Christian and wondered if I could somehow find a way to do this again. On a smaller scale 🙂

So for the last 2 weeks, I have been doing this in 10-minute increments. I read the Bible for 10 minutes, pray for 10 minutes, read a book for 10 minutes, and then repeat (if I have time). I set a timer on my phone for each increment, and keep my journal close by to jot down any thoughts. I use the prayer time to mostly pray for the needs of others. Sometimes, I send them a note of encouragement based on my prayers if I feel led to do so. This type of rotating study has been a welcome relief from the type of reading I normally do, which is much more academic.

You could also do this on a smaller scale. If you only have 10 minutes, you could do each segment for 3 minutes each. For your book reading, grab a devotional like My Utmost for His Highest, Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening (a favorite of mine, and only 99 cents for Kindle), or another I’ve been using lately, John Maxwell Daily Reader (a book my mentor Mike Olejarz gave me on the topic of personal and leadership development).

One of the warnings Ian Green gave is that when he began to set aside time for this purpose, all of a sudden, everyone wanted to visit him on that night. The phone would ring, and lots of things would cry out for his attention. He was living with his parents at the time, and simply told them to not interrupt him, no matter what.

It is easy to put our time with God as a secondary priority. There are other priorities that seem more immediate, more pressing (like little kids, dirty kitchens, incomplete work assignments). As we begin to be more purposeful about study and spending time with God, we need to guard that time. Block it off on your calendar. Ask for His grace and favor in getting that other stuff done as well. You will find the investment of time to be well worth it.

What methods do you use to make sure you get in your study time? 

Monday Morning Meditation: How Do You Start Your Day?

Good morning, Living Unveiled readers! I have a very important question for you.

How did you start your Monday?

Did it start it quietly soaking in God’s truth in prayer and Bible-reading?

Or did it begin with frantically grabbing something to eat as you ran out or pushed your kids out the door?

How your day begins sets the tone for hours to come.

I posted something on my Facebook page last week (have you “liked” my Facebook page yet?). I have been in the habit of almost-daily Bible reading for about a year now. This consistency is new for me. Recently, I thought I missed a few days due to work, etc. and had felt “off” as a result. I sat down to read that night, only to realize I had missed just one day. My heart is now so accustomed to the daily bread that every day missed impacts me.

I used to read the Bible regularly because that’s what good Christians do. I now recognize a difference in myself when I read the Bible, process it and pray through it, even if it’s only for 5 minutes.

Have you consumed your daily bread today? 

Start your week with true humility. Dive into the Word and find out what your loving Father says about you. Read about all that Jesus died to give you. Soak in the Spirit’s presence. Ask God to fill you again.

For Freedom Friday this week, I’ll be sharing an exciting method I’ve been using to structure some of my study time. See you then!