Tuesday, October 6, 2015

When Prayer Isn't Work

As I grew up, I must admit that I developed a skewed perspective of prayer. Prayer was work. It was hard, monotonous, and took effort. I felt all this pressure! Because, although no one ever actually said these words, prayer was what it took to make God do something I wanted. My efforts shaped His efforts. 

That's what I heard when people kept saying "you just have to pray more."  That's what I heard when people said "prayer changes things." That's what I heard when people touted "ask and believe and you shall receive." That's what I realized when I never heard people asking God - for wisdom, guidance, manifestation of His will - but instead told God what He should do, as if He didn't know best, and as if He needed their efforts in order to move.

This is why I struggled so much when Andrew experienced his healing in God's presence instead of mine.

But God is slowly giving me a different perspective of prayer. There still is much I don't understand: I don't yet understand the mystery of God "using" our prayers when He sovereignly keeps things running; and I still struggle some with the "authority" of the believer.

But I am finally realizing prayer is not work. It's not hard, it's doesn't require massive effort, and it's not up to me to direct God... (as if I would know better than He how to run the universe! Ha!)

The picture God is giving me of prayer is conversation.

I'm a processor. I love to talk because I need to talk. I need to think things through and because of my love for people, I prefer to do that with people, not in isolation. What I'm starting to see now when I think of prayer is simply having a conversation with God... like when I pick up the phone and call a friend or sit down to chat over a cup of coffee.

Don't you share what's going on, what bothers you about things, how you wish things were different? As you process an issue or need, don't you talk with your friend about options and together figure out the best way to proceed? 

Well, isn't prayer the exact same thing?

But it's even better! Because when I process with a friend, I am benefiting from our synergy, but as awesome as my friends and family are, I think God's a little smarter, and way more powerful! :) He can actually make things happen... in ME, and in others, and in the world.

I see us sitting down and talking about the issues I face at work or with my husband or concerns for my family. And as I share, God gives perspectives. He reveals truths that help me think about things the right way. His Spirit prompts questions and reminds of scriptures and brings peace. 

Conversation like that is not work! 

I'm finding the key to my prayer life is trust... trust that God's good, His intentions are good, and that He truly has the power to fulfill His promises. When I stop questioning Him and instead question myself, I usually find myself learning truth.

As I said earlier, I don't have this thing figured out. There's much mystery in prayer that I don't know if I'll ever understand. 

But I am definitely learning what prayer is not, and that's making communing with God way more fun. :D

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Love Check

Most people know 1 Corinthians 13, the Love chapter. Recently I was asked to read it as a litmus check for how I love in relationships. To do so, you simply read verses 4-8 inserting your name where it says love. Then you have to honestly ponder if what you read is accurate.

Juli is patient and kind. Juli is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Juli does not demand her own way. Juli is not irritable and she keeps no record of being wronged. Juli does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Juli never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstances. Juli never fails.

I know that I have some good moments, but when you put it all together like that, I can't say I like what I see. There's a lot of that not happening I must say.

And that can be discouraging.  I know it's not within me to be all of that all the time. But then I was encouraged to read the same verses a second time with a slightly different slant....

Christ in Juli is patient and kind. Christ in me is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Christ in me does not demand my own way. Christ in me is not irritable and keeps no record of being wronged. Christ in me does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Christ in me never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstances. Christ in me never fails

This gives me hope my friend. God has an impossibly high standard - that of himself. It's something we in no possible way can attain on our own. But He knows that. So He offered Himself to make it possible. 2 Corinthians 13:5 asks "Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you?"

Yes, God has this standard. 
But God makes it possible for us to achieve it....
if we let Him.

To love like this, I have to be willing to let Him love through me. I have to be willing to put away my self interests. I have to trust God's provision for me and allow myself to be God's provision to others.

We can do this, friends! We can love with real love...
when we let Jesus work in us and through us.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My Cairn

This past weekend we went hiking. It’s something we used to love to do as a couple, but life made us let it go for a while. It’s been fun to get back to now.

This first weekend of fall, the leaves hadn’t yet changed much, but the temps were cooler and we had fun nonetheless. I surprised myself in that what started as an ordinary walk turned into a rather special event.

See, with the onset of Fall, I always miss Peter a little more. So many memories resurface with fall experiences… his love of the Eagles as football begins, the onset of cooler temps that allowed him to get back outside after his intolerance of summer heat, his birthday that’s only a few weeks away…. Peter’s been heavy on my heart and mind lately.

So as my husband and I trudged along our 6 mile hike, Peter often came to mind. And then, as we rounded a bend, I noticed a pile of rocks on the side of the path. As we got closer, I noticed multiple stacked towers, or cairns, and suddenly the day took on more significance.

I paused and quickly made a cairn in memory of the boys. A friend commented that it represents a turn in the path to hikers. Another friend asked if I’d made an altar to the Lord. And as I reflected on their comments, I realized maybe they were both true.

In one sense I had made a turn in the path as we entered Fall. I also made my cairn as an act of remembrance like the Israelites in the wilderness.  For every remembrance of the boys includes the faithful support and grace of God that carried us and still sustains us every step of the way.

Then I went to church.
Our message was on unanswered prayer.

It was really good but in some ways it felt like a scab torn off bringing fresh tears, fresh pain, fresh anger and fresh discontentment. Will I ever get totally free from all this?

But I realized this morning how much I desperately want to fix this missing of the boys. It just feels wrong. It IS wrong. Life is supposed to include long years and milestones of growth and grandchildren and children burying parents, not the other way around.

And once again I realized a perceived “error” that made me question my worth. At the time we lost Andrew, we were immersed in a religious culture that placed blame with one’s faith when life didn’t go right. We experienced judgment at “giving up” when we chose to peacefully accept God’s will, whatever that might turn out to be. I know in my head that all of these are lies, yet that deep, tender wound that cringes at something not right still screams in pain that I should somehow fix this wrong.

But this wrong can’t be fixed.
Not in the present.
Yet, that’s not my fault.
And it has no reflection on me… even though my wounded soul feels like it does. I don’t have to keep being wounded by this… it is not a wrong that I cause, a wrong that speaks against me, a wrong that I can fix.

So now, that cairn feels so much more significant. It is a tribute to the boys, and a remembrance of God’s love, but maybe too it’s a turn… a turn in the path of healing. A monument to the next part of healing – where I can stop finding my identity in performance, in “rightness”, in being a Mom or a teacher or anything else… and simply bask in my identity as a child of God.

I don’t even know if this makes sense. I struggle to get what’s in my heart into words. But I felt I should share and say thank you for praying. God’s working. It’s a deep work. A hard work. But a necessary and freeing work. Please keep praying for me. 

Thank you in advance….


Friday, September 25, 2015

Which Way Are You Turning?

I know so many people who struggle with doubts and questions. You have to admit. The realities in this life leave a lot of us hurting, confused, uncertain, and fearful…

Earlier in my life, I legalistically resisted any question or doubt when it entered my mind. There wasn’t room for question because that might mean something was wrong in my life, my perspectives, or my knowledge. And as I mentioned last post, that was something to avoid at all costs. I went through life acting like I had it all figured out, but secretly wondered in fear if that was true.

Later in life, especially after losing Andrew, while caring for Peter, I couldn’t deny my questions and doubts. My supposed knowledge and experiences crashed in a head-on collision, and many wounds were left in the wake.  These were way too significant to just brush aside as if nothing happened. They were way too heavy for me to handle on my own. Yet, as I mentioned, what if I was wrong? Or worse, what if I lost my faith? Isn’t that where questions led, what questions meant?

Thankfully, God patiently guided my life as I struggled with my questions. At first, I was so angry with God I couldn’t even voice any questions. I just shouted accusations and tried to push Him away. I feared admitting I didn’t understand things, that my past doctrines and understanding of God might be wrong, that I had been mistaken. But eventually, handling my questions by myself just didn’t work. I found no release, no answers, no healing, no peace.

Eventually, the pain got strong enough that I had to change. I had to risk possible rejection, risk any failure, and I finally stopped accusing God. Instead I started asking God.

And God patiently, tenderly, answered.
Over time.
Step by step.
As my heart was ready.

He led me. He led me deeper into faith. My questions didn’t take me away. They took me home.

I came to understand that asking questions and having doubts is not a sin. Life creates questions. It raises doubts. What matters is what we do with them. Do we try to handle them ourselves, or do we take them to God?

I realized that taking a question or doubt to God is not denying God at all. It’s actually acknowledging Him as your source. And that my friend, is all God asks of us.

God wants our questions. He is not scared of our doubts. He knows much about Him and His ways are beyond our capabilities and comprehension. The very act of turning TO God with questions honors Him.

Questions and doubts only lead to sin if we allow them to turn us away from God. Again, the questions and doubting thoughts are not sin. It’s our response to them that can be.

My friend, I have no idea what might be causing your questions this day. But I do know that you will find absolutely no condemnation when you bring them to the Father. Like a loving parent, He will patiently meet you right where you are. He will bring you His wisdom and His grace for the moment. He will honor your dependence upon Him.

I pray you will turn to Him, run to Him, trust Him for the answers. I pray you will be open and receive all He has to say. I pray, like me, your questions will bring you home.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Freedom through Obedience

The Bible often speaks of freedom…how we are free in Christ, how He has freed us from slavery to sin, how we have the freedom to choose….

Scriptures also speak about how it is obedience that leads us to that freedom. When we surrender to Christ, we freely receive grace. When we obey and live His way, we experience the freedom from our sins, no longer enslaved and bound to old ways of living, thinking, and relating – both to God and to others.

I realized today that I tend to think about obedience as a do-don’t list. 

Do take comfort in Christ … don’t turn to idolatrous addictions and pleasure sources.
Do trust God to be my source … don’t serve a bank account to be my security.
Do speak truth in love … don’t lie and dishonestly promote one’s self.
Do live other- focused … don’t live selfishly.

Today, God challenged me to realize that those do-don’t categories are not just for physical actions and behaviors. They also apply to beliefs, thinking, perspectives and mindset.

Do receive God’s grace in failure … don’t use failures to shame and condemn you.

That’s the one I’m struggling with right now.

I’ve come to recognize a really deep root of wrong thinking in my life that has many, many far-reaching branches into my life. And the more areas I see its effects, the more I’ve struggled with that “don’t” above…. Shame and condemnation.

See for as long as I can remember, I’ve equated making a mistake with unworthiness and lack of value. Events in my life shaped that thinking and that root grew and spread rapidly and extensively the past 40+ years. So now that I’m starting to recognize it and work to correct it, today, I found myself in a battle.

I realize that this wrong thinking (aka mistake) had caused many struggles for others too. (aka more mistakes) Acknowledging all of these mistakes had triggered my old way of thinking. It's shredding my value and declaring me unworthy, condemned, without value. It screams “shame on you for not dealing with this before, for not recognizing it earlier. How many people you could have spared if you had done this right…”

I recognized that this was all coming from my “wrong mindset” yet I struggled to come out from under it.

But then, God challenged me today, that obedience brings freedom. And He’s commanded me to live under His grace; to secure my value from Him not my performance. He challenged me to obey His truth and not shred myself in shame and condemnation, but stand tall in the truth of His Word, boasting in the love and grace of Christ.

To keep thinking this old way and beat myself up when mistaken is disobedience. It’s sin! I'm doing this to myself!

Instead, just like I so easily chose God’s directives for physical behaviors, I must so choose His directives for mental behaviors too.

How empowering to know that, in Christ… because of Christ…., I have the ability to choose. I do not have to stay locked and bound and captive to this way of thinking. I simply must choose, one mistake at a time, to think God’s way.

Step by step.
Decision by decision.
Choice by choice.
Mistake by mistake.

How precious of God to redeem even this…. The failures that I have always thought condemned me, He has redeemed into opportunities for me to serve Him.

His expectation is not perfection. He already knows I’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice! J His expectation is progress. It’s getting back up when I fall. It’s choosing what will fill me when mistakes occur… will I be filled with grace or filled with shame?

That choice, because of Jesus, is up to me.

Please pray with and for me that God will continue to till the soil of my heart, breathing in His life-giving nourishment; that this root can be pulled up and removed, once and for all. Only through His healing touch can this victory transpire.

But our God is willing!
And able! 

Thank you Jesus!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


This weekend, with cooler temps and the occasional falling leaf, there's been a hint of fall in the air. So I thought before I moved into the rejoicing of all that's new which lies ahead, I would give thanks for special graces of summer. I hope these glimpses of beauty will lead you to worship as well.

And let everything that hath breath, praise the Lord!

Friday, September 11, 2015


Sometimes it pays to wake up early.

With my new job, I have the time in the morning to get in a workout. But with fall approaching, it’s still dark out as I hit the street for my power walk. But this week, it was worth it. The moon was still in the sky. The stars and a few planets shone brightly. The sky was awe inspiring.

One very cool thing that happens when you walk at that time in the morning is you walk “from dark into light.” Daylight has begun by the time you get back home.  That kept me quite inspired for a few days.

But this week, on one particular morning when everything was shining so bright and so crisp, another realization struck me. As bright as the stars were when I began my walk, it didn’t take long for them to start to fade.


Because a greater light appeared.

As the Earth turned and the sun neared the horizon, its light moved closer and stretched farther. The more that light strengthened, the more the stars’ light weakened.

As I noticed this reality around me, I thought of the verses scattered throughout the Old Testament which I’m still traversing through in my yearly read through the Bible. It talks about how the Israelites forsook worshiping the Holy God and instead worshiped the gods of the heavens. And it made me think about people chasing idols and lesser gods instead of the real God.  Kind of like people preferring the light of a star instead of the light of the sun.

Can you imagine how foolish that would be? Yes stars are amazing. There is light. But why would anyone choose that small presence when you could have such a magnificent presence?

This is what we do. We choose to take comfort in physical pleasures instead of the magnificent love and grace of God. We choose to rely on our own strength instead of the incredible power of God. We choose to rely on our own wisdom or the norms of society instead of leaning on His infinite knowledge and guidance of scripture. We choose the twinkling light of distant stars instead of the blazing glory of the nearby sun.

Sometimes it’s hard to release those habits and admit that we are settling for less than the best. We like what we know, what’s familiar, what we are used to. But the more we experience the truth of God and the reality of Who He is, just as the stars fade in the presence of the sun, the draw and desire for the lesser things will also fade away.

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, "I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won't have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life." John 8:12

Father, forgive me for the many times I chase the lesser things instead of basking in the blazing glory of You. Help me to recognize the fallacy of the lesser things and the truth of all that You are.  When I get caught up in the lesser things, in what I know, open my eyes to see the trap I’ve walked into. Give me the courage and strength to walk out, away from the limited, and into your arms, into the infinite and eternal. May my heart only be satisfied by the One true Light. In Jesus Name, Amen.