To neglect communion with God

“Some things may be neglected with but little loss to the spiritual life, but to neglect communion with God is to hurt ourselves where we cannot afford it.”- A. W. Tozer

“May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.  Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”- Ephesians 3:19 (NLT)

In John Eldredge’s foreword to Susie Larson’s book  Your Powerful Prayers, he compares giving up on prayer to a solder laying down his arms in the midst of a firefight.  Prayer, Mr. Eldredge adds, “is something you grow into, something you mature in and get better at over time.”  In addition, John adds that prayer’s far more like learning to drive than sneezing.

Thus, as Ms. Larson notes in her introduction, Jesus wants us to be comfortable with, as well as undone by His great love for us. As a result, God’s love and acceptance of us has everything to do with prayer.  Furthermore, Jesus invites us to:

  • know Him more intimately
  • walk with Him more profoundly
  • trust in His Word more confidently

Most importantly, Ms. Larson exhorts, as we get to know God’s love, our life spills with grace, insight, and power.  The author explains:

“If we want to be powerful in prayer, we must spend our lives learning to accept and embrace how fiercely God loves us.  We must continually stand in awe of the fact that Jesus defeated death and sin for us.  And then from there, live our whole lives in response to what Jesus has already accomplished for us.  This is what it means to stop striving and to know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).”

Today’s question: During your desert, land between time, what circumstances cause(d) you to neglect communion with God?  Please share.

Coming Monday: the new Short Meditation, ”

Tomorrow’s blog: “That place where joy and faith collide”

Difficult people in our life – become the best version of you

“We all have difficult people in our life, but hear this: God can use them to help you become the best version of you — maybe even more than the people you like.”- John Ortberg

In Chapter 18 (“Find a Few Difficult People to Help You Grow”) of The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg observes that other people don’t create your spirit.  In fact, if God desires to grow some quality in you, He may bring someone into your life who tempts you to behave the opposite way.

Although we always hope God plans on giving us a life without difficult people, God used difficult people to mold many great Biblical characters.  For example, Moses had Pharaoh and David had Saul.  Pastor Ortberg explains:

“If God loves you and wants to shape you, he will send some difficult people your way.  But take heart.  You are the difficult person he is sending to shape somebody else.  If we can learn to have rivers of living water still flowing through us in these relationships, we will be unstoppable.”

Furthermore, John notes, people impact our lives in one of two ways.  The either energize us or drain us.  Life-bringers:

  • increase our energy
  • deepen our hope
  • add to our joy
  • call out the best in us

In contrast, life-drainers (a) add to our anxiety and (b) invite us to cynicism.  As a result, we find ourselves becoming defensive, depressed, or exasperated.

Since only God can touch the deepest place of another’s soul, prayer provides the only way to influence people at their deepest level.  In prayer, John states, we go with God into another person’s soul.  The space between you and your enemy = the space where love grows.  And love is the only way to live.

In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg tells us there’s a quarter-second gap between when an impulse takes place in your brain and when that action takes place in your body.  That’s enough time for the Holy Spirit to take control.  Remember, every difficult person is a real person with their own story.

Today’s question: Do you surround yourself with life-energizers or life-drainers?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “When you discover your strengths”

Being alone with God – fully yourself

“Being alone with God, you can fully be yourself.”- John Ortberg

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”- Matthew 6:6

In Chapter 15 of The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg states God wants to give us sanctuary.  Yet, we all prefer a unique way to experience God’s presence when we’re alone.

Commenting on Matthew 6:6, Pastor Ortberg suggests the room Jesus refers to might be a supply room- certainly not a private bedroom.  The supply room held food and tools or a few small animals. Thus, the supply room = the most humble room in a humble house.

When Jesus was baptized, Luke tells us, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus as He prayed.  Hence, John notes, the flow of the Spirit connects closely to prayer.  Consequently, Jesus desired to pray when He:

  • felt crowded and drained by life
  • faced important choices
  • felt sad or frightened
  • needed strength for His work
  • worried about people He loved
  • faced an insurmountable problem

Therefore, when we desire to pray much, or deeply, we must move from what we think we should do toward what we want to do.

For Jesus, prayer energized, rather than drained, Him.  As we see God’s face shining on us, the same holds true for our prayer life.  Just as you gain energy when you meet with your best earthly friend, God wants to meet with us in the same way.

As Pastor Ortberg reminds us, prayer, more than any other single activity, places us in the flow of the Spirit.

Today’s question: What prayer ‘room’ fosters your ability to be alone with God – fully yourself?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Our capacity for connectedness”

God – the constant gracious listener

“God is the constant gracious listener to our every thought, and prayer begins when we bring what we most naturally think about before God.”- John Ortberg

“But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”- Philippians 4:6 (ESV)

As John Ortberg concludes Chapter 11 of The Me I Want to Be, he explains the goal of prayer.  But first, he stresses that the goal of prayer is not to:

  • get good at praying, as many people think
  • try to set new records for how much time one spends praying

Rather, Pastor Ortberg underscores, “the goal of prayer is to live all of my life and speak all of my words in joyful awareness of the presence of God (italics author’s).”

For example, John observes, Jesus lived His everyday life constantly aware of His Father.  As a result, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead,  He began by ‘looking up to pray (John 11:41, paraphrased).”  Unlike today, when many people close their eyes to pray, people in Jesus’ day commonly prayed with their eyes open.

In conclusion Pastor Ortberg notes his personal prayer tendency.  Although John ends up praying for things he thinks he should pray about, his mind wanders toward the stuff he genuinely cares about.  Thus, the way to let talking flow into praying involves praying what is in you.  John explains that praying what’s in you is and “in everything” kind of prayer.  Therefore, he doesn’t:

  • first clean up his motives
  • present a false spirituality
  • pray what ought to be in him

Today’s question: How’s Jesus proven Himself the constant gracious listener in your life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Real freedom = internal freedom”

A ‘stained-glass’ image of prayer

“Countless people . . . have such a ‘stained-glass’ image of prayer that they fail to recognize what they are experiencing as prayer and so condemn themselves for not praying.”- Richard Foster, Prayer (1992)

In  Chapter 11 (“Let Your Talking Flow Into Praying”) of The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg asks, “How is your prayer life?”  Hence, John wonders if you measure the state of your prayer life by how:

  • long you pray or how often
  • many people you’re praying for
  • much faith you’re praying with
  • many prayers get answered

Yet, Pastor Ortberg asserts, your belief in God means you’ve already entered into dialogue (prayer) with Him.  Because, when you believe in God, you believe He’s always present and listening to what you say.

However, Pastor Ortberg observes, we often hide our real heart when speaking to someone or in front of someone.  As John describes, there’s a dynamic at work in your body that manages what you say in the light of that person’s presence.

In contrast, the reality of God’s presence means we never speak or act in His absence.  Furthermore, at times God allows us to feel as if we’re apart from Him.  John offers his thinking on why God allows this:

” . . . God doesn’t want forced compliance.  God is so immense that if he were ‘too visible,’ people would give forced compliance without expressing their heart.  So God makes it possible, in enormous love, for us to live as if he were not there.”

That, in turn, allows us to shift away from a ‘stained-glass’ image of prayer.

Today’s question:  Have you ever envisioned a ‘stained-glass’ image of prayer?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “God – the constant gracious listener”

Listening to God on behalf of another

“Listening to God on behalf of another may be one of the greatest gifts we can offer each other in the body of Christ.”- John Eldredge

In the Fall section of Walking with God, John Eldredge states a really, really helpful place to begin prayer involves asking God what to pray.  Too many times, John adds, we just jump in and start praying.  However, making prayer speeches to God has little effect.  If we do this for a while, John notes, we’ll get the impression that:

  • prayer doesn’t really work
  • God isn’t in it

But, the author stresses, prayer works and God’s in it- when we pray effectively.  When we pray according to God’s will, He promise to hear us (1 John 5:14-15).  And God answers our prayers.

Sometimes, though, we react in a way that’s way out of proportion to a given situation.  As a result, our overreaction makes it difficult to hear the voice of God.  Yet, it’s an important sign that other factors play into the situation.  Those factors include:

  1. God’s possibly using the situation to surface deeper issues we need to process
  2. Satan’s up to something
  3. Both

Therefore, when helping another human being, we must treat the cause rather than the symptoms.  Most importantly, as you keep an eye out for what’s going on in a hurting person’s heart, use your radar to alert you of Enemy activity.  Satan wants to prevent help from coming.

In conclusion, John cautions, when you intervene on behalf of another, be on guard not to make the same agreements as the person you’re helping.  For you will (emphasis John’s) be tempted to make those same agreements.

As a result, we return to holiness.  Mr. Eldredge provides the reason to pursue holiness.  He writes:

“This gives us a new reason to pursue holiness — we might not always be able to rouse ourselves to fight the battle on our own behalf, but we may find deeper resolve when it comes to loving others.  Don’t give way, don’t surrender.  You are needed.”

Today’s question: When have you had the chance to be listening to God on behalf of others?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Called up to the real thing”

The discipline of lament- honesty about pain

” . . . the discipline of lament requires going backward with God to process our pain, and it asks us to be honest about our pain in the present.”- Esther Fleece

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”- Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

In Chapter 5 (“Permission to Lament”) of No More Faking Fine, Esther Fleece notes that lament brought her to her knees in a whole new way.  Scripture normalized her pain.  Also, Scripture promised she no longer needed to be paralyzed in it.  As a result,  Esther began to move forward.  Hence, when Esther got real with God in prayer, He began to get very real with her.

For many years Esther considered Jeremiah 29:11 her favorite verse.  However, her broken past confused her.  She saw no “divine plan” for her life, let alone a good plan.  In fact, many times Esther felt taunted by God.

Yet, Esther notes, God goes to great lengths to repair a cracked foundation in our faith.  For if we misunderstand God, we can miss Him completely.

Thus, Esther’s fresh look at Jeremiah 29:11 transformed her.  She observes that the Hebrew word for “plans”, machashabah, literally means thoughts or ideas.  In other words, God’s thoughts toward you are infinitely greater than anything you’d possibly imagine on your own.  Furthermore, God’s thoughts toward you remain the real constant, despite past, present, or future circumstances.

Therefore, rather than fixating on the plans for your life, concentrate on knowing God’s thoughts toward you.  Finally, you need not try to make something happen.  Instead, God works in you, giving you the desire and power to do what pleases Him.

Today’s question: How have you implemented the discipline of lament?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Secure in God’s love for us”

Some assembly required

” ‘Some assembly required.’  Not the most welcome sentence, but an honest one.”- Max Lucado

Max Lucado begins Chapter 4 (“I Need Help”) of Before Amen by observing that life comes as an unassembled gift.  Therefore, rather than force the pieces of life to fit, take those pieces to Jesus.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, took that track when she attended the Wedding at Cana.  When she informed Jesus no wine remained, Mary’s attitude evidenced no bossiness or critical spirit.  In addition, she neither blamed Jesus not herself.  Mary simply identified the problem, brought it to Jesus, and left the problem with Him.  She trusted Jesus completely!

As a result, Max muses, we’re left to wonder how many of life’s disasters would be averted if, in truth, we petitioned Jesus first.  As Pastor Lucado reminds us, “An unprayed-for problem is an embedded thorn.”

A single prayer may or may not effect the desired change.  However, prayer puts the problem in the hands of the One able to solve it.  Furthermore, our responsibility becomes resisting the urge to reclaim the problem once we’ve placed that problem in God’s hands.

In conclusion, Max returns to his opening theme- some assembly required:

“Pieces don’t fit.  Wine runs out.  Water bottles burst.  These are facts of life.  But Jesus responds with this invitation: ‘Bring your problems to me.’  State them simply.  Present them faithfully, and trust him reverently.”

Today’s question: Following your ministry downsizing or vocation loss, how does “some assembly required” apply to your current situation?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Godly grief”

God’s unrivaled goodness

“God’s unrivaled goodness undergirds everything else we can say about prayer.”- Max Lucado

“Before you face the world, face your Father.”- Max Lucado

In Chapter 3 (“You Are Good”) of Before Amen, Max Lucado tells of a recent flight he took the encountered extreme turbulence.  However, Max remained calm because he knew the pilot- a close, personal friend.  And Max knew his flying skillset.

Pastor Lucado reminds us it’s a stormy world out there.  Yet, the Bible reminds us we have a good Pilot!  The Lord’s authority extends over the world- and over your world.  Yet, we often suffer from narrow thoughts, as Max explains:

“Most people suffer from small thoughts about God.  In an effort to see him as our friend, we have lost his immensity.  In our desire to understand him, we have sought to contain him.  The God of the Bible cannot be contained.”

Hence, Pastor Lucado emphasizes, “God’s unrivaled goodness undergirds everything else we can say about prayer.”  As a result, at any moment we’re only a prayer away from help.

At the age of fifteen, Max inherited a Rambler station wagon from his big brother.  When time came to change the oil, Max’s father- a trained mechanic- offered to help.  Full of pride, Max declined.  After two hours of groping and wrestling , Max ‘completed’ the oil change- or so he thought.  Unfortunately, Max’s father called his attention to the river of clean oil running down the driveway.  Max forgot one thing- the oil pan plug.

Therefore, Max suggests, begin each day with prayer.  Most noteworthy, don’t ignore this opportunity and blessing from God:

“Don’t underestimate the power of this moment.  You just opened the door to God and welcomed truth to enter your heart.  Faith sneaked in while despair was dozing.  Who knows, you might start to worship.”

Today’s question: What evidence of God’s unrivaled goodness have you seen during your desert, transition time?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Some assembly required”

Forget greatness; seek littleness

“Forget greatness; seek littleness.  Trust more, strut less.”- Max Lucado

Max Lucado begins Chapter 2 (“Father . . . Daddy”) of Before Amen by telling of the time his eldest daughter, Jenna, flubbed her piano piece at a recital.  Midway through her piece, she forgot the next part.  When her mental block broke, she completed the piece.  After Jenna curtsied to sympathetic applause, she ran of the stage.

Max and his wife scurried out of their seats to meet Jenna.  Next, Jenna threw her arms around Max and spoke two words: “Oh, Daddy.”  And that’s exactly where honest, heartfelt prayer begins.

As a result, Max wanted to find out how young children approach their daddies.  So he went to a school playground, notepad in hand, to find out.  The statement below, however, exemplifies what Max didn’t hear the five-year-olds say:

“Father, it is most gracious of thee to drive thy car to my place of education and provide me with domestic transportation.  Please know of my deep gratitude for your benevolence.  For thou art splendid in thy attentive care and diligent in thy dedication.”

Although Jesus downplayed the importance of words in prayer, Max notes, we tend to place great importance on the proper words: “The more words the better.  The better words the better.”  However, Pastor Lucado quips, no panel of angelic judges with numbered cards stands ready to score your prayer.

In other words, the power of prayer depends on the One hearing our prayer, not on how we pray.  That gives us hope.  As Max concludes, Father . . . Daddy . . . And sometimes ‘Daddy’ is all we can muster.”

Today’s question: How does approaching the Father as your Daddy enable you to seek littleness?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “God’s unrivaled goodness”