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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Learning The Power of Simple Prayer

This Summer, the past couple of months, we have been attending prayer at my church on Monday and Friday mornings. Just a handful of watchmen on the tower, praying for our church, the members, our region, the nation.

Yesterday, we prayed for rain.

Overnight, it finally rained. Coincidence? Could be, but I think not. It wasn’t in the forecast. But as I sit on my deck this morning, my upper body shielded from the drops by the roof, my legs tingling with sprinkles, I believe our simple plea for rain reached the heart of God.

God hears, He sees, He’s merciful.

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been listening as my pastor prays his heart out during these times. A busy man, pastoring a church of almost 1000 members. Longing to enlarge the borders of his tent, knowing with somber expectancy, the task set before him. Being faithful in the small, where there were only a handful of church-goers meeting in his mother’s home just fifteen years ago. God has blessed him. In a town and surrounding area of twenty-thousand or so people where there’s a struggling church on every corner, he knows his calling is great.

But in most ways, he’s not a likely candidate for the greatness set before him. A simple guy who likes sports, loves his family, likes Olive Garden and baked sushi. Can down a bag of chips like an Olympic event. He’s everyman.

And this is what God has taught me this summer, the last two weeks in particular and yesterday, most specifically: There is great power in simple faith, simple prayer, living everyday simply knowing that God hears and sees.

Listening to him pray is like eavesdropping on a conversation between two friends. That’s what it is, a simple conversation, no fanfare, no deep groanings—usually—just effectual, fervent prayer of a man who is righteous and faithful. His simple trust that God is listening, brings in a heavy presence of God, the kind I have only experienced through worship in the past.

I don’t post this to lift him up or glorify him, but to say this: leading by example, my pastor has taught me to pray. Simply converse on a level I’ve never known, with more simplicity than I’ve ever done.

Many Christians struggle with daily prayer, but I've discovered this summer, that prayer is easy. Just start talking to God. In much the same way the disciples asked Jesus: Teach us to pray. My heart was asking Jesus: Teach me to pray. After forty years of knowing Jesus, I’m learning to get on my knees or sit on my deck and just say, “My Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name,” Only I say it in everyman language. A conversation. Simple and honest and from my heart.

It’s making the difference…

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Prize is too Big to Quit Now!

I was fourteen years old the first time I read "I'm Running to Win" by Ann Kiemel. A book about her first marathon and faithfully running to the goal, trusting Jesus, being faithful through bleeding toes, injuries, saying "yes" to God no matter what.

It got into my soul in a deep-down kind of way that forced--yes, forced-- me to steal the book from my mom and never give it back. Don't worry, I confessed and she gave it to me, so my guilt is covered.

I've read the book so many times, it's discolored, frayed, coffee-stained, like all beloved books should be (apologies to my brother, Bill, who would probably hyperventilate at the thought of one of his books frayed or coffee-stained no matter how old it is).

How was I to know almost thirty years later my greatest struggle would be the very topic of my most cherished book: faithfulness?

We teach ourselves to be what we become, first through tiny compromises, excuses, one missed commitment at a time. One glass of wine too many, one failure to get on the treadmill then another until all our hard work is for nothing. One day of saying, I'll do it tomorrow or next week I'll drag my sorry, allergy-riddled fat head out of bed and head to the HOUSE for worship with my fellow Christ-followers.Or, I know I told the kids we'd go to McDonalds, but there's this deadline--which most of the time really meant, I don't feel like getting out of my PJ's (the writer's work suit), brushing my hair, putting on makeup and going out among all those people.

For the past nine months, God has been slowly (and most times, painfully) dragging me past comfort toward faithfulness. I don't know why I decided it was worth it, but something clicked in me and I said, "enough, already". If I'm going to do it, let's do it.

Which is not to say I've arrived. That's what running to the goal means. We press on, fall down, pick up and keep running. It hurts and our lungs scream for mercy and our legs are about to give out, but we keep putting one foot in front of the other, enduring the cross the for the prize at the end of the road. Even if a million others are in front of you, even if the banner has been broken by the strongest runner and the crowds have dissipated, and night has fallen while you limp along to the finish line. I have to remember, this is MY race I'm running. Jesus and me. One bloody footfall in front of the other. Becoming stronger every time I push forward, pain overcoming weakness. Determined to live holy, no matter how many others do better at holiness, faithfulness, writing, speaking.

I have parts of I'm Running to Win memorized. This little snippet in particular:

"it is not, 'Jesus, I will be deeply commited to you if you'll heal my brother or increase my salary...or give me that new house...or make me famous.' It is rather,
Jesus, I will follow you to the end, no guarantees asked. No special rewards except that you'll be at the end of the road to meet me when I get there...and I will know that I've lived out my life in truth. Whatever is along the road...during the race...yes to it. To anything you bring into my life."

We each have a race to run. Some sprint and get there faster. Others spring forward and fall back like the clock twice a year (unless you live in Arizona--but stay with me). Others sit back and never get into the race.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but on one receives the prize? So run your race that you may lay hold of the prize and make it yours. Gal. 9:24

What are you running for? What dream has Jesus given you that seems to big? Too hard, unattainable? Let me say this, for all my struggle and false starts. Starting strong and stopping short of the goal. Going around the same stinking mountain a million times, despite all those things, I keep trying. I won't give up totally. I think that's why God keeps allowing the small victories. He is so kind. He knows how much I love him. How much I want to please him. But how human and weak I am.

I'm running, even if I'm the last person across the finish line. Even if I crawl across the finish line, dirt-caked, sweat-drenched, bleeding. I'm not quitting. The prize is too big. The loss too devastating.

That I may know Him....Receive the Crown of Life, Well done, good and faithful servant, Jesus, Can I wash your feet with my tears? Your pleased, smiling face is my life goal.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Little Me, Big God

I woke up today praying about so many things. It struck me how small I feel facing some big challenges. Family hurting, friends facing huge, potentially life-altering pain and trials. Our own issues.

I told God how small I feel in all of these situations. How I want to make them better for the ones I love.

I realized a couple of things. I am nothing, but I have an everything God. I'm small, but I have a big God, I'm weak, but I have a strong God. I'm a child, but I have an Abba Father. I'm broken, but God is whole. I'm facing impossible situations, but I serve a Possible God. I'm insecure, but God is my shield.

This morning as I prayed for a way to make a difference in my small sphere (figures a writer would say sphere instead of circle--rolling my eyes at myself) of influence, I said, "Dear Jesus, I want so much to please you. Today, if only for today, I'll will say 'yes' to anything you ask me to do. And if I'm afraid to do it, I'll remember that I might be nothing, but you are everything."

Isn't that a really great, humble, surrendered prayer?

The thing about telling Jesus that you will say 'yes' to anything He asks of you is that He'll take you up on it. Even as I write this blog post, two paragraphs in, I received a text from my pastor's wonderful, inspiring, God-breathing, love empowered assistant: Pastor asked me to ask you if you will lead worship at prayer on Friday.

Here's the thing, I USED to be a worship leader. Like, 13 years ago. But after we started attending the church where we've been planted for 13 years, they didn't need a worship leader, so other than the occasional opportunity to lead at small gatherings, I haven't really exercised that gift or the singing muscles in a really long time. Recently, my pastor has asked me five or six times to lead and I have either said, "I'm sorry, I can't" or said yes (twice) and backed out. It's intimidating and overwhelming just thinking about it.

Last Friday I told God "If I knew this was you asking me to lead and not just my pastor being nice because he thinks I want to lead worship like I used to, I'd never say no. But I just hadn't (honestly, still haven't) settled it that it's still my calling. I know the gifts and callings are irrevocable, but just because someone CAN do something, doesn't mean they necessarily SHOULD. See?

So anyway, I was about to say, "gee, I wish I could, but...." and then make up an excuse, I remembered my prayer to say 'yes' to anything Jesus asked me to do, just for today. And I said yes, I will lead worship on Friday.

last Friday, the day I was supposed to lead, but backed out and the real worship leader led, she did a song that had the words, "You've called me to your purposes and I wouldn't trade it for the world."

So, today, just for today, I'm saying "yes" to Jesus. Whatever He asks. No matter how I feel.

I am small (not literally) but He is so big.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Red Panty roses and Green Tea

One of my bigger love languages is giving gifts. I love it! But mostly, I don’t get gifts except at the proper times, birthday, Christmas, Mother’s Day (if I set out not-so-subtle reminders a week to ten days ahead of time), so when someone takes their time and resources to surprise me with a token of love, it touches me in a deep-down way.

Yesterday was that kind of day.

I did a little volunteer work and when I got to the desk I was to use, there was a Starbucks coffee sitting right in front of my chair. At first I thought, “Gee whiz, someone left their coffee.” Then I looked down at the lid and my name plus a smiley (and we all know that smileys are AWESOME) was written on the lid.

My heart did a little flip and tears filled my sometimes-green-sometimes-blue eyes. The moment felt sweet and healing.

But it didn’t end there. A few minutes later, a new friend came into the office and handed me a gift card to Starbucks. Because she said, she knows I love green tea from Starbucks. And that's the thing about loving people and caring enough to really get to know them. Taking time to learn what sort of gift touches the heart in the gentlest way.

What she didn’t know was that on the way into the office, I really, really wanted a green tea from Starbucks, but I did the responsible thing and didn’t stop and spend money on one.

Giving gifts is easy. We tend to give what we like to people if we get the urge to give. Something that we’d want to get if someone were to give us something. I read a book a few years ago and the author relayed a really funny story about her husband’s efforts to bless her by cooking her a meal on their honeymoon. First, he botched the meal, plus he cooked her least favorite food in the world. And sure, she appreciated the effort as her stomach twisted and turned at the sight of chicken, burnt on the outside, raw on the inside, but-- and this is what really got me—she said, it isn’t a blessing unless the person you’re trying to bless values the thing you give them. How much better if he’d have asked her what her favorite food was and tried his hand at that instead of his favorite meal? If his motive was truly to make her happy and not just to feel good that he'd done a nice thing...get my drift?

That goes against our society’s new (dumbest ever) rule where you get a prize just for showing up. Giving people points for trying. But I agree with her. If you love me and want to bless me, take time to get to know me and find out what I truly value—coffee, for instance. On the other hand, my husband once—in our early days of marriage—bought me a rose made out of red panties. That gift did not bless me and I told him next time he wanted to score points, he better get me a real rose.

I’m still waiting… Ha!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Jesus Loves You...Everyone Else Thinks You're an Idiot

This cracks me up. I’m pretty sure it’s not meant to be a Christian T, though. And if it is, well, it’s not very edifying, even if it is kinda funny. ☺

I heard about it from a TV minister the other night. His point was that it doesn’t really matter what people think about you…Jesus loves you.

I guess in theory, I agree, but as I’ve mulled it over the past couple of days, I decided I don’t agree with it in most ways that matter. First of all, yes, it’s true Jesus loves me and His opinion matters most. But, to a degree, it also matters what other people think. Jesus grew in wisdom, stature and favor with God AND man.

We’re called to live in community with other people. Relationship is all about caring what others think and preferring them to ourselves. At least God-kind of relationships.

I’ve been in a place of isolation for a long time. Of my own design and preference that really started when I became a writer. Next to the word “introvert” in the dictionary there’s a picture of me and a caption that says, “Don’t bother this chick, she’ll ignore you anyway.” Seriously, I’d spend all my time at home alone or with my family if God hadn’t called me out of my hole.

But poking my head out for a look-see means taking the chance it’ll get blown off too. And we’re back to people and learning to live in community. It’s easier to stay away from people and not risk hurt, misunderstanding, anger, judgment, betrayal. But honestly, Jesus had to put up with all that too.

What might it have looked like if he’d been born, stayed home for thirty-three years then stepped into the temple and said, “I’m Jesus, God’s son, go ahead an kill me. It’s what I’m here for.”

I mean, we’d still be saved, but He wouldn’t have touched the lives He touched. And if we follow his life and example, it’s clear he had to withdraw from people—even his disciples—and get alone from time to time. But afterwards, he rejoined the human race and made his mark.

So, I’ve climbed out of my rabbit hole. Giving people a chance to know me and it’s scary. Because I look a lot more awesome in theory than when I start showing who I really am. The author persona looks better than the real-person reality. But I want to make a difference in my tiny world of influence. I want to ease others’ burdens and give God a chance to bring those people into my life who can help me grow. Iron sharpens Iron. But an Iron bar by itself will most likely gather dust and eventually erode.

I swear, there’s an iron-sharpens-iron person in my life I love more than I have words to express, but we can have a thirty-minute conversation and walk away with completely different versions of what we just talked about. It used to frustrate the heck out of me to the point that I avoided conversation at all cost because our lack of ability to understand a word the other was saying always left me looking bad. For no good reason.

Now, I think it’s kind of funny and also challenges me to pray HARD before every email, text, phone call or face to face with this person. I’ve figured out (I think) that it’s about our different forms of subtext. We hear the words, but interpret them in a way the other doesn’t mean based on our personalities and life experience. But I’m starting to decipher the code, I think. My inner conversation goes something like this: “Okay, Tracey, this is what he said and what you think he means, so this is probably what he REALLY means.” ☺

Giving the benefit of the doubt helps me not be hurt or frustrated. There are just people out there who don’t think like me. Go figure. I have to give more grace to those people and not call them idiots under my breath. ☺ Because, you know, I don’t want them thinking I’m an idiot either. And I can’t always just hang out with other writers so I don’t have to try as hard.

So, yeah Jesus loves you and SOME people think you’re an idiot (especially if you have teenagers), and some people think you’re more awesome than you are, and some people know the real you.

Take a chance on people. Care what they think and how they feel even if it means you might not come out looking so great in their eyes. It’s worth the risk. It really, really is.
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