Monday, August 31, 2015

How Full is Your Prayer Bowl?

Prayer sitting down at a table that God has prepared for us. He says, "I have everything you need today - all the grace, all the wisdom, all the provision that you need - but sit down at the table and eat. Don't be so rushed and so busy and try to live without My supply." Jim Cymbala

Prayers in Golden Bowls 

Imagine your prayers, rising from bent knees and bowed head, ascending to the throne of God. He holds out a golden bowl and the prayers gracefully settle into it, leaving a sweet fragrance from earth to heaven. That's what happens when we talk to our Father. My prayers mingle with the prayers of my father, pastor and friends. The collective fragrance doesn't come close to the exquisite perfumes we splurge on today. Nothing could prepare us for the glory of its scent.

Prayer. It is that magnificent, that important and yes, that necessary. So many of us get hung up on prayer. We don't practice it consistently, our words stumble over each other and embarrass us, we wonder, Is prayer important? Won't bad things happen even if we pray?

Communion with God

Prayer is communion. Communion with the Creator, God the Father through Jesus, the Son. We can come boldly before His throne with all the things we wish to share with Him. It doesn't need to be profound. We just have to be aware, authentic and full of assured faith. Just like with our friends -- we share all our most intimate secrets, our dreams, our plans. That's what God wants to share with us. He doesn't want the stench of hurried, demanding prayers. He wants our love for Him to show in our praises, our faith in Him to sit perched on top of requests and our silence to whisper "tell me more" in our listening.

Children of God who sit in rose gardens, prison cells or in a hut in India add to my own prayers --scented prayers, each as fragrant as the other. Saints gather in stained glass cathedrals, in humble chapels or hidden rooms in third world countries, and all churches in between the three, offering collective voices. It makes me wonder how sweet Heaven smells on the Sabbath with each congregation sending prayers heavenward. Do the bowls overflow?

We are flawed and sometimes fail, but God still accepts the prayers as they leave our lips. Our prayers pass through the nail printed hand of Jesus as He pleads--intercedes--for us. "For," the Bible tells us, "there is only one God, and one mediator, also between God and Man, the man Christ Jesus" (1Timothy2:5). God delights in the sweet smell. He whispers, "I delight to grant your wish," when our request will bring glory to Him. Sometimes God whispers, "Not now, my daughter, it's not the right time." Then there are those hard times when the soft words are heard clearly in our soul, "No, this is not my will."

God Knows Our Hurts

It is in the "no" times that God sends the Holy Spirit to minister to us. Our tears may still flow, but the comfort of the Spirit soothes, embraces and helps us to understand the "no" in light of the Father's will.

When we rise from our closet place we have the assurance our prayers were pleasing to God. And in the depths of our hearts we know it is time to face life again. We gained our strength from the Father who revels in our scented prayers -- yes, even preserving them in golden bowls -- from Jesus the Son, sitting at the right hand of the Father pleading our case, and from the Holy Spirit who gave us comfort. The beautiful heavenly Trinity taking part in our human prayers.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

5 Ways to begin a Mail Ministry

The art of art, the glory of expression, and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity.  Walt Whitman

They are old and yellowed, with ink fading to a light blue. The soft, midnight blue velvet ribbon tied around them says it all – these letters are treasured. The art of writing personal letters is almost a gift of the past. Letters tell rich stories – of the writer and the recipient -- yet our generation is robbed of this gift.

Are handwritten letters a thing of the past? The availability of electronic communication makes it easy to send a quick message or make a phone call, thus writing a letter is usually too much trouble. Regardless, we all like receiving letters, and topping the list – the elderly.

Last year I made a commitment to send one letter a month to someone important in my life – someone who was alone and/or in a difficult situation. I didn’t quite reach my goal, but when I did, I was more blessed than the receiver. I knew I had brightened someone’s day. 

Essayist Phyllis Theroux said, “To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.” But it seems so hard. Where are the stamps? What’s the address? I found a way to make it easier. I addressed twelve notecards – even added stamps, then readily visited with my pen – moving only my heart.

If you sense God urging you towards a mail ministry, consider these suggestions:

1. College students: Young people away from home and need encouragement. I think it’s fun to stuff the envelope with a $5.00 coffee shop card.

2. Facebook friends: How many times do you read of a friend struggling? You can find almost anyone’s address on Buy a stack of encouraging cards or use a blank notecard. Write an appropriate Scripture, a verse of a hymn, or a personal prayer asking God to bless and comfort them.

3. Preschool children: Children love to get mail, and I’ve found that sending mail to a child also encourages their mother. When my young daughters received mail, they carried it around all day. Include a sheet of stickers or a coloring sheet. Teach your own children the beauty of letter writing, and suggest they write a letter to their friends.

4. Weary, tired mothers: Being a stay-at-home mother is priceless, but let’s not think every minute is a Kodak moment. Kids get sick, pout, tug on clothes, and wear out the word “Mommy.” What harried mom wouldn’t love to watch the postman drop a personal letter in their box? You could write a funny story from when your own children were young or include a cartoon clipping about motherhood.

5. Extended family. My Aunt Posie is slowing down. I rarely get to see her. When I connect through letter writing, I make sure to remind her I don’t expect her to respond to my letters. It’s my gift to her. In my most recent letter, I included a picture of my grandchildren so she could feel a part of my joy. 

Write letters to soldiers, prisoners and missionaries. Send them “just because” or on special days. Share what God is teaching you. Make a bookmark to send in the envelope or sprinkle in some lavender petals. There’s no right or wrong except not writing at all.

You may write on beautiful stationary with matching ink, or scribble quickly on your child’s school notebook paper. You may write the address with a flourish or quickly fold the letter into business envelopes. You may seal the envelope with wax or quickly run your tongue over the glue. But we can all write like the great Biblical letter writer, Paul, opening with, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.”

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Monday, August 24, 2015

My Children are His!

Guest Post by Tracey Thornton. We are focusing today on praying for our children. School is beginning, students are headed off for college -- let's pray for them. Add your child in the comment section so we can all pray for each other's children. Sons (and daughters!) are a heritage from the LORD (Psalm 127:3).

If you are a parent, you know about worry. We want to trust God, but it's easy to get bogged down in everyday life, and in being human Lately, I have let stress and worry about my children eat away at me til I've been worn down to a pathetic useless frazzle. It's my own fault. When we take our eyes off Him and start looking down at the waves, we will sink every time. Today I was reading an article and one sentence jumped out at me: "Children crave their parents’ attention because it makes them feel known—deeply and intrinsically” (Mia Mauss).

I hope and pray my children feel that I know them. Divorce rips apart families and no matter what, the children always lose. I can't undo the damage. I can't fix it for them. Those of you that have intact families, thank God for it. Don't waste that precious gift. Don't take it for granted. Make the most of it. I never thought it would happen to me or my children. It was not my choice, and not having my children with me for ANY amount of time has NEVER been my choice. It would be very easy to be bitter and just abandon hope. I've been at that heart wrenching, completely broken, point so many times. 

I would like to be able to tell you that God always bails out the children and they are protected from the pain and loss. But that isn't true. Mine have suffered great loss, they still do, they always will. I've fought, struggled, cried, prayed, beat down heaven’s doors, but in the end, I can't make it be the way I want for my children. They live in a sin-cursed world, just like me, and will always suffer because of the choices of others. It's not fair. It just isn't. It is reality.

But, I choose not to be bitter. I choose HOPE! I know that we love and serve a big God and that He is more than able to bring my children through and home safe to Heaven. He will even bring them joy in this earthly life! He loves them far more than I even do. He knows everything that has happened to them, every heartbreak, every triumph, every battle, every joy. He knows and He cares. He won't let them fall. He said He wouldn't and I believe Him! All the good and all the bad that has happened to them, HE alone, can work it all towards their good. That is His promise!

I have one right now that is pretty angry with God and has chosen not to believe in Him. He knows that and He loves them anyway. He knows their heart and soul and every single heartbreak they have suffered. He knows the pain and anger and anguish that has surrounded them. But more than that, He has a redemption for them -- JOY for them. I'm praying, I'm trusting, I'm believing that God will take this that we have created and redeem it. He has loaned my children to me for a little while, but they are HIS!

So today, I'm letting go of the stress, the fear, the guilt, the constant worry that breaks down my soul and shatters my heart. I'm letting go and grabbing hold of JOY. I’m trusting in a God who cannot fail! I’m resting in His big, powerful, sheltering, loving hand and putting my four beautiful children right there with me.

by Tracy Thornton 

Linked to:
Women with Intention
A Little R and R
Hope in Every Season 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Finding Joy in the Everyday

When I said, 'My foot is slipping,' your unfailing love, LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy (Psalm 94:18-19).

Do you feel it -- that tightening in your chest that makes you think medical attention is eminent? That uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach when you think of your to-do list? Those tears when you think of those you love going through hard trials? The shadow that hovers over your heart as you deal with grief?

My “Everyday” this week encompassed all of those. Physical issues, writing deadlines looming, mixed with entertaining preparations, a continuing grief, and friends coping with cancer, empty nests, and frightening physical diagnosis.

But as I began my day I realized that while my heart is aches, frustration sits with tenacity in my stomach, heart shadows creep closer, my body wants to curl up without moving, I can still be joyous! 

The Psalmist asked God: Satisfy us in the morning with Your faithful love so that we may shout with joy and be glad all our days (Psalm 90:14). This is the satisfaction that comes with beginning our day with God. Satisfaction from reading the love letter He left for us. Satisfaction from conversation with our Best Friend. Satisfaction from listening to worship music. It is out of this satisfaction that we can find joy in our “Everyday.”

Joy in the clear amber of my iced tea.

Joy in an egg casserole, RB-style.

Joy in a successful morning of writing.

Joy in lunch in a “hole-in-the-wall” diner.

Joy in West Virginia peaches, corn-on-the-cob, and cherry tomatoes from a vegetable stand.

Joy in a refreshing nap.

Joy in texts and laughs from my teacher daughter.

Joy in anticipation of family togetherness.

You see, I could let life irritate and overwhelm me – and I almost did. But I was reading Psalm 41 when verse eight stopped me. “I take joy in doing your will, my God.” God’s will is for us to live the “Everyday” with joy.

Joy when we’re not feeling well.

Joy when we don’t have enough hours in our day.

Joy when we stand at a loved one’s newly laid grave marker.

Joy when we are bearing others’ burdens.

Because when we choose joy, we find it waiting in every moment of our day, around every corner we turn, in every activity. Too often we use joy and happiness interchangeably. Nobody is happy with pain, happy when grieving, happy that our friends are suffering, happy with more work than hours. But joyful? Yes, for the joy of the Lord is our strength.

In the midst of a week of difficult circumstances, I found joy in my “Everyday.” 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

An Organized Prayer LIfe

Nowhere can we get to know the holiness of God, and come under His influence and power, except in the inner chamber. It has been well said: "No man can expect to make progress in holiness who is not often and long alone with God.” ~Andrew Murray

The yarns were tangled, beads and wiggle eyes mingled with buttons and brads. The pipe cleaners were hidden under a pile of felt and the paint pots were separated from the brushes. Scissors, glue guns and glitter formed an unhealthy alliance. Fragments of craft foam hid the tiny feathers once used for a bird’s tail, while art markers had a mind of their own and were scattered among it all. Requests for "Where's the red ribbon?" caused me to panic and search through craft drawers in hopes of finding it. For an organized mind, this was not working.

An idea on Pinterest caught my eye. An old dresser, minus the drawers, painted and sanded into a Shabby Chic beauty. It was filled it with clear shoeboxes--that sure spoke to me. As I should have guessed, a trip to all my favorite thrift shops yielded not one suitable dresser. So I improvised.

I emptied a bookcase, found an online source for black photo boxes, and waited -- a bit impatiently -- for them to arrive. What fun! My handy dandy labeler printed my labels with glee. I certainly got my organizational fix by the time my project was finished.

Sometimes my prayer time gets all mixed up without any organized thoughts. A health request for a friend gets all tangled up with thoughts of an idea for a blog post. My praises for blessings are hidden under planning a meal to serve on my new yellow dishes. Prayers for my grandchildren are shoved aside by the planning of a craft project Morgan would enjoy. In desiring to communicate with my God, the disorganized thoughts pushed out that closeness I craved. When praying for one of my small group friend’s needs, I'd find myself telling God how to solve their requests, as if He needed help with organizing His answers to my prayers.

F. B. Meyer said, The greatest tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer but unoffered prayer. In allowing my mind to travel its own course, I was cheating those for whom I had promised to pray. I wanted so much more from my communication with my Heavenly Father. 

So... after pondering and praying, I've come to the conclusion to re-focus by saying aloud -- Dear Lord, I want, above all:

A heart filled with Your holiness

A mind filled with the sacred

A strength from a contrite spirit

Open hands and heart

An inward quietness

Sincerity motivated by faith

I want to go about my daily duties thoroughly present with intentionality, yet filled with abiding prayer -- so filled with God that my very breath is a prayer of praise.

Admittedly, I haven't arrived, but I'm on the road. I'm getting my thoughts in the right boxes, I'm setting both eyes on the Throne of Grace, and I’m meeting God—alone and long.

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Prayers Around the World

We can reach our world, if we will. The greatest lack today is not people or funds. The greatest need is prayer. — Wesley Duewel 

I wrote in my journal, "My jar of tears won't be very full, unless God counts the heart tears." Tears don't form in my eyes often, but my heart sheds them frequently -- especially when I think of those around the world and in our own country in need.  

The needs are heartbreaking. One in nine people are hungry -- that's seven hundred and ninety-five million hungry people. Two million women and children are forced into sex trade each year. One hundred million are homeless and one billion have inadequate housing. Eight hundred thousand suicides are committed every year. 17% of adults and 122 million youth are illiterate. 2.5 million people die from alcohol-related deaths. 750 million people lack access to clean water.

Even more heartbreaking is the statistic that 1,629 billion people have never heard the Gospel. 66,000 people die each day having had no access to the Gospel – statistics I can barely wrap my head around.

Yet, there are people across the globe dedicated to changing the statistics. They are missionaries -- 400,000 Evangelical missionaries sent out each year.

This week let's pray extra for our missionaries. I have a friend leaving for Ghana Wednesday. She has written a phonics program using items in their culture. It's hard to teach them "A is for Apple" when they've never seen an apple. "M is for mango" is more understandable." I'd love for you to add Chris to your prayer list.

Christians in other countries are awakening to America’s needs for missionaries. 100 million Americans are unchurched. Korea is recruiting and sending hundreds of vibrant young Christians to bring the Gospel here. A number of Christian Mexicans minister on the U.S. side of the border, and born again former Hindus are reaching Indians for Christ in North America.

I also have a nephew who serves on a Native American Reservation. He and his wife fight against alcoholism and suicides -- a battle that on the surface seems slow and disappointing. Their love for the people is deep. Pray for Jordan and Kayla as they labor faithfully!

Do you have a missionary you pray for? Leave their name and the country where they labor so we can pray for them this week. You can leave your missionary's name in the comments, or on Facebook publically or in private messenger. 

Come back each day and pray through the list. Bottle some tears for the unreached around the world. Ask God to burn Vicky Beeching’s words on your heart...

Break our hearts
With the things that break Yours.
Wake us up to see through Your eyes.
Break our hearts
With the things that break Yours.
And send us out to shine in the darkness. 

It's time to move outside our comfort zone
To see beyond our churches and our homes;
To change the way we think and how we spend,
Until we look like Jesus again

Here I am, send me
To be Your hands and feet.
Here I am, send me; I will go.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Healing for Scars

The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it. Simone Weil

Scars. Most of us have visible ones – acne scars, chicken pox scars, or, as in my case, a small dent in the middle of my forehead from having stood too near my uncle as he swung a large piece of machinery from the bed of his pickup truck. When my daughter was three, she thought she would “help momma” by carrying the almost-half-her-size sun tea jar from its sunny brewing spot on the sidewalk to the kitchen door. She struggled with all her might.  She tripped.  And for the past twenty eight years, she has sported a scar on her leg, from stitches expertly designed by the doctor.

Yet many of our scars are hidden. Heart scars, soul scars – hidden from view by our smiles and our busyness. Hidden behind the fake cheerfulness of “I’m fine” words. They are scars formed by the broken trust of a friend. They are scars formed in childhood from being outside the “in” crowd and scars from engaging in promiscuity as a teenager. They are scars from a verbally abusive marriage and scars from a defiant child. They are scars of our own making and scars inflicted upon us.

But what kind of an attitude can we have towards the undeniable presence of our scars? We can determine this by first noting the example of our scarred Savior. He had visual scars -- scars from the nails pounded into His hands and feet. He had heart scars from the rejection of those who should had loved Him most. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him (John 1:11). He carried soul scars from rejection by one of His closest friends. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus (John 13:2).

What did Jesus do with his scars? He used them! He comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Jesus wants access to our heart and soul scars. He takes his own experiential knowledge of how deeply scars go and reaches down to pour His oil of comfort on us. He wants us, in return, to follow His example. His desire is for us to drench ourselves in this comforting oil and offer comfort to those around us -- those who have wrapped their arms tightly around their heart and soul, standing with determination to guard against future scars.

As I stand before Jesus, cupped hands nearly filled to overflowing with my scars, I hear His whispered words, “I know each scar. I was there when each that one was inflicted. I saw your tears when this one cut your heart painfully.” With the mention of each scar, I feel Jesus’ comforting oil as it warms and saturates my scars. Gently the Savior opens my hands, and I watch as my scars pour into people – people I love, people I know, and people I don’t know. With each dropped scar my heart grows lighter, my soul breathes deeper, my being fills with joy.

It is in this giving, this allowing Jesus to use my scars, I see healing like a rubbing of Vitamin E into a visible scar. I look at my scars as a blessing – a reminder of the comfort of Jesus and a knowledge of the healing He wants to bring through me.