Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Prayer

Melissa's Story


 

I've heard it said that if you have a small, skeptical view of what God can or actually will do in your life (or in the world, through you) that's fine – He will allow you to live life that way. But consequently, you will have an equally small experience of God.
 

I've struggled with understanding prayer for as long as I can remember. Does it make any difference? Does it change God's mind? Isn't God going to "accomplish his purposes with or without me?" I've let these questions and my lack of answers rob me of the joy of praying earnestly in faith, not to mention being anything close to a "prayer warrior."

Despite the fact that at times it feels like a lost cause, over the years I have continued to wrestle with prayer and search for a more satisfying understanding. This journey has been long and has had its twists and turns; I've let my search drop off many times. Often I have picked it up again with renewed vigor – sometimes with progress to show for it, sometimes not. Today, when I ask myself how God wants me to "raise the bar," I once again feel convicted about prayer. I've allowed my prayer life to be choked out by distractions and lack of conviction. My actions show that I have once again forgotten all that God has already taught me and brought me through.

Almost two years ago I attended a "prayer and healing service" for Jim, a family friend whose body was being absolutely obliterated by cancer. Scores of his family and friends came. The service was open to anyone for healing but over half the attendees were there just to support Jim. Leaders of the ministry prayed boldly over him, ordering the cancer to leave his body and thanking God ahead of time for the healing they knew and expected would come. It was very powerful, but I felt uneasy about the certainty of their prayers. I talked to them afterwards, wondering, did I just lack faith? A month later Jim died.

A few months later I met with a long-time mentor named Stephanie on a visit to Missouri. We were discussing my spiritual life, my growth, marriage, etc., and in all of this she repeatedly emphasized the necessity of prayer for making any kind of impact. Of course I went into sharing all my hang-ups on prayer, how I don't understand it, how I'm not sure I have faith in its influence and so on. She looked right at me and said, "Melissa, you have to stop waiting until you figure it all out and just DO IT!" Her words cut to my heart, and something clicked in me.

I started praying, a lot (for me, anyway!). The more I prayed, the more I realized my NEED for prayer. The more I prayed, the more I heard God. God was putting many people in my path, he was laying burdens on my heart – I knew I needed to pray! And furthermore, I wanted to. I had some incredible experiences with prayer, from basic provision and opportunities, to God prompting me to pray for specific and serious needs I couldn't have known about.

Like many idyllic spiritual seasons or "mountaintops", the intensity of my feelings accompanying this one eventually waned. This is what I wrote in my journal (about a year ago):

"If a month ago I was on a spiritual mountaintop, I am now back to ground level. I feel like I have lost something, which may be true, but just because my feelings change, it doesn't mean my actions and commitment to prayer should. It's a lot harder to focus on spiritual things when you're not on a spiritual buzz, but that's life. I know that at the very least, this time was given to me by God to show me more what things should be like. He showed me my desperate need for prayer, and even though I don't feel it to the same extent now, I know it's still true and something I need to strive for. And I will also still strive to be always in that place where I feel a deep need for and attachment to God. Not just on mountaintops, but during all seasons of my life."

It was really good for me to read over that again – to be reminded of what God has already taught me. For some reason it seems that I need to learn the same lessons over and over again. Just a few months ago, as I was speaking with another mentor (whom I had only recently met), she looked at me, much like Stephanie did, and said, "I think God wants to you to stop worrying about talking with other people so much and start talking to him." Once again the words of a mentor spoke directly to my heart, and I knew God was speaking through her. Not only was it exactly what I needed to hear, but truly, she didn't have much information about my prayer life to know on her own that what she was saying to me was so true.

Even though I have learned a lot about the nature of prayer through reading God's Word, there are still times it completely confounds me. But what I need to do is act on the simple knowledge God has already given me: He wants me to pray and intercede for others, and He works (somehow!) when His people pray. I don't want a mediocre experience of God. I don't want to keep my expectations (or "the bar"!) low because of skepticism. I don't want a small experience of God – I want to experience him in big ways. So I want to set the bar high, to move forward in faith, and to respond to what God has so clearly called me to: an ever-deepening prayer life that recognizes the incredible power of communication with Him.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I Will Show You Love

Cassie's Story


 

I will show you love like you've never loved before….


 

Trust in me my child….


 

Walk out on the water where you have no control…*


 

Before I became a believer, the life I thought was being a Christian never interested me – it seemed boring and dull. I thoroughly enjoyed the drinking, drugs, sex and attention of the crazy lifestyle I led. But in spite of that, I knew something was missing…


 

By God's grace, I found the answer. All along I thought this church thing was about rules - until someone told me it was about LOVE. That's what I was missing in my understanding of Christianity. But how could I ever be good enough for His love? I knew that the way I was living my life was not the way God wanted me to live. Then I learned that God was not asking me to be good enough, or to have it all together, but to come to him with total surrender and total trust - and let him change my life. The crazy whirlwind of my life soon changed to the crazy adventure of learning to trust in Jesus.


 

When I initially heard this challenge to "raise the bar" there were some areas where I knew the Lord was asking me to trust him for more in my life. Yet as I thought and prayed more about this I've realized there's no one thing that the Lord is asking me to do - no box to check, no behavior to start or stop. I realized that the meaning of 'raising the bar' in my life has never changed, but rather it is the same thing it's ALWAYS been - from the time my heart was shattered, desperately searching for something more, to the present when I've been following Jesus for years:


 

Radically TRUSTING Jesus and believing His love for me is REAL, TRUE, and MORE than enough for me.


 

A few years ago the idea of raising the bar and trusting Him first meant fully surrendering my life to him, even though I knew it probably meant giving up the drinking, drugs and promiscuous life I led, and that was really difficult. Those things felt good for at least a little while; those things numbed the pain, and gave me something to live for. At that time, trusting Jesus meant believing He could provide deeper (and true) healing from the incredible pain that came from a broken childhood, sexual abuse in my adolescence, and the incredible despair I felt at that time. It meant trusting that He had good plans for me, and that He would be faithful when I obeyed him and gave up the things that temporarily felt good.


 

Another time, it meant leaving a sexually active relationship with my non-believing boyfriend. I could later look back and thank the Lord for the decision I had made to walk away, trusting that He would give me something better.


 

Raising the Bar meant still trusting in Him even as I was convinced He had abandoned me when I lost the boyfriend who I felt called to marry (and later did!), my summer assignment and housing, my computer, and my car - my world had fallen apart. But raising the bar, trusting, I later watched as the Lord put the pieces back together and used those difficulties to bring another level of healing and intimacy in my relationship with him.


 

It meant trusting Him for my physical desires when I was in love with my fiancé and longed to fulfill the sexual desires we had - but trusting the Lord to help us wait. We did wait, and the fulfillment of those desires on our wedding night was beautiful.


 

It meant entrusting my marriage to the Lord when my husband was going through a significant struggle with sin and shame, and confessed things he had hidden from me. After trusting, we watched as the Lord used that pain in our lives to bring us closer to Himself and to each other, and to make our marriage and love for each other stronger and better.


 

So as I reflect on this idea of raising the bar in my relationship with the Lord today, it still doesn't mean checking a box, or willing myself to stop some bad behavior. It still means TRUSTING Jesus that HE is enough for me - as He's always been. It means believing that what His Word says is real and true. It means following him even when it's incredibly scary. Just as Jesus called Peter in Matthew 14, it means stepping out of the boat and onto the water, where I have no control. The best part is that He never has and never will leave me there, even if I truly felt that way at times.


 

At this time in my life the idea of raising the bar might look different circumstantially than it has in the past. I'm not being asked to give up an addictive lifestyle or in a life crisis. Yet the same faith the Lord asked of me in order to raise the bar in the past remains: radical TRUST. In this season of my life it means to stop planning, calculating, budgeting, and researching in regards to the infertility that breaks my heart. It means sitting back and trusting that the Lord will someday, somehow, give us the beautiful gift of a child.


 

Raising the Bar means committing to encouraging and journeying with others who desire to walk this same path of deeper trust in Jesus for their lives. Oh sweet sisters… will you journey with me? Will you too step out on the water where you have no control, and trust in Jesus… deeper than ever before… and watch as He blows you away with his faithfulness? Will you ask me how I'm really trusting the Lord in my life, and will you tell me how you are too? Will you share what scares you the most about that? Will you share with me what's really going on, what sin you're really dealing with? Together we can encourage each other to take our faith to the next level of deeper trust, intimacy and radical love from the Lord… and He will show us love like we've never loved before.


 


 


 


 

*Lyrics from Kendall Payne's "I Will Show You Love". Download the song… It's beautiful and the Lord has used it in my life to speak to me.


 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Transforming Truth

Jeanie's Story


 

About two weeks ago, Truth hit me hard in the face.  My sin brought me to my knees where I stayed for about 20 minutes just crying.  I think I had responded in a not so nice way to my husband and was feeling badly about that, and then I started thinking about my heart and how absolutely ugly it is. This was not the first time I have been hit with my sin, but it was the first time in a long time that I have felt and acknowledged it, rather than look the other way or find something to take my mind off of it. This is the first time in about 10 years that I have decided to actively pursue change and not just desire it.

I have come to realize that the Word in me is old.  Just about everything that I can remember - or verses that I can quote - is from 10-15 years ago when I was in high school, college and newly married.  There hasn't been anything fresh or transforming in my life, and I believe that needs to change. I have not been as open and transparent with others - even my husband and kids.

In recent years, my heart became more and more consumed by self and finding fulfillment for fleshly desires.  My day started out with me and ended with me.  Time for prayer and reading the Word was pretty much choked out in order to catch up on email, stay current on Facebook, read whatever book I was into at the time, keep up the house, take care of the kids, spend time with friends, exercise, watch TV or a movie, enjoy a craft project...

You see, these are not bad things in and of themselves; but when they turn my heart away from the Creator and take His place, something is wrong.  I realized that what I was doing was trading Him and His Truth for a lie, and chasing after things that will not satisfy.  I was cheating myself from His presence, His love, His intimacy in my life.

That night a few weeks ago I just gave up and cried, "HELP!"  Surrender is a powerful thing.  It gives us the freedom to start over, to lay down that which is hindering us, and to embrace a new way of thinking, feeling and doing.  

I love the way our God works.  A few weeks before Naty mentioned 'raising the bar,' I had already felt a tug on my heart to start a Bible Study with another woman and gear it towards those who felt stuck (like I was feeling) or were newer in their faith.  So I walked away from that meeting thinking, "Cool, God has already prompted me to raise the bar. We (God and I) must be doing pretty well here."  Well, that was before my 'ugly cry' and the realization that this Bible Study is going to be just as much for me as for others.  He and He alone knows our needs and how to fulfill them.

So, how am I raising the bar in my own life?  First of all I am sharing this with all of you, which is very humbling and even embarrassing for me.  I used to think that pastors' wives had it all together; that is until I became one.  We are no different; we live in the same world, feel the same struggles, and fight the same enemy.  

Second, I have found two women to meet with weekly for accountability, prayer and encouragement.

Third, I am making better choices.  Every minute we have a choice to make and I desire to honor my Lord in those choices.

In those three things, I desire to have these two things happen:  I desire the Word to saturate me: my thoughts, my words, my actions and my attitude.  And I desire the world to take a back seat as I spend time with the Lord, in the Word, and listening/engaging with my family.

So, the next time we meet, ask me about these things; I will do my best to honor you and my Lord with a real and honest answer.

I am blessed to be making this journey together with such an amazing group of women!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Laying My Life Down

Kaelin's Story


 

I really enjoyed the Women's Leadership meeting where this notion of "raise the bar" was introduced. I, too, strongly believe that if every influential woman at Hope (which is undoubtedly more than were just in that room) takes one big step of faith this year, big things will happen!

But, I had a problem. God has been asking me to "raise the bar" in so many areas of my life that it was really hard to narrow it down into one concept for the purposes of this blog! Every time I asked God where He wanted me to step it up a notch in my faith, I kept getting convicted in multiple places! So I thought, "Ok, that's fine. I'll gladly work on all of those, Lord, but what one thing do you want me to write about?" After I wrote an entirely different post (which was time with Him that blessed me), He finally revealed to me that all of the things He is asking me to do fit very nicely into one category: "Kaelin, I want you to lay your life down." This, as Scripture will tell, is the greatest expression of love:

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:13


I would like to share a few of the areas the Jesus has specifically asked me to lay my life down.

One is for the Lord's purposes for my life and ministry. It can be so easy to get caught up in what I think I am good at and what it is that I want to do. But as Maker and Ruler of the Universe, the Lord has the right to dish out any duties He sees fit for me. A good example of this is a time a few years ago when I was sitting in Bel Air Presbyterian Church in California and in my heart saying, "Lord, I would sweep the floors of this place if you let me work for your church!" Sure enough, one year after that I found myself doing LDI at Hope and using one very heavy vacuum (from the 1960s I'm sure) to clean the Community Room and the Main Area! I also see opportunities in my life currently to raise the bar in this way. It may come in different forms on different days, but the scenario is this: My husband isn't home and I'm trying to wrestle two boys into the bath and somehow get them both to bed. I race to put on one pair of jammies in one room, then I dash to rock a yelling baby in the other, then I race back to the first room to hear, "NO bed! Want one more book!" (And of course it's one more book from the BIBLE so I'd be the worst parent ever not to read it). I'm so exhausted that I just want to punch something, or yell, or even worse, entertain the thought that I just can't wait for these baby years to go by. Yikes. This is where I need to lay my life down for the Lord and for my own good. I do not want it to be over. I have already cried once thinking about my 2 year old getting a mustache and heading off to college! I lay my life down for my children because Jesus asks me to, but also because they are a great joy that I don't deserve and it is my immense pleasure to serve them in these precious and vulnerable years.

The next person I need to lay my life down for is my husband. Paul has been called to work for God's Kingdom vocationally. I don't always know exactly what that's supposed to look like. There are purposes for his life that I don't even yet understand. But I do know this: I have been called to be his helper, his teammate, and his greatest cheerleader. Wherever we are going together is better than where I could have taken myself. He has a crazy schedule, but I will rejoice when he's home. He doesn't always know where our money is coming from, but I must be grateful for what we have and trust that the Lord will continue to provide for him so he can provide for us. My role right now is to support him, and I must live my life in a way that reflects this to be my most important and influential role; it would be counterproductive to daydream about other purposes for my life that do not align with our purpose together. I have noticed that some of the most Christ-like men in ministry do have one thing in common: an awesome wife who is willing to lay her life down.

A third group of people I need to lay my life down for are my Christ-following brothers and sisters. One of my favorite things to do is hang out with God's people, so it won't be as hard for me to lay down my life here as for others. But God has been challenging me to be more giving of what I have to show love to them. Last Saturday I saw that my (believing) neighbor was trying to use a crock pot that was way too small for the turkey she was trying to cook. It was my great joy to run home and lend her my big huge one. What's mine is yours, I told her. Hopefully that doesn't get me into trouble! I need to remind myself each day that I cannot take any of my stuff with me when I die, but I can see and rejoice with people in Heaven!

The last, and possibly the most stretching, is that I must lay my life down for the lost, that the glory of God may be known to them. God has put us in this specific neighborhood at just this very time for a very specific purpose. He knows each person I will meet on every errand I run and every walk I take. There are some rough and nasty people in these parts! And sometimes when I see my neighbor on her front porch smoking it up yet again, I want to say, "Are you done killing yourself yet?" To raise the bar in this area, I'm asking Him to make me keen to the spiritual state of each "Pre-Christian" (as opposed to "unbeliever"… a term Paul so thoughtfully came up with!), so that I can appropriately love them, and share the gospel with them. This has meant getting numbers from single moms in Elliot Park to see if they want to hang out sometime (now I just need to call them…) and it has meant inviting a college girl who just moved in next door over for lunch. It also might mean (as I shared with a couple ladies at the Raise the Bar meeting) apologizing to old friends for things I influenced them to do that were NOT for God's glory, so that I may now share with them what Jesus has done in my life.

How in the world will I do all of this? I don't know. If you think of me, pray that I would see momentary sufferings as simple tests of faith that will reap a great reward here on Earth and in Heaven to come. Pray also that God would lead me to the people I need to apologize to and the people I need to reach out to. May I lay down my life so God will be glorified, and in doing so find my deepest joy in Him.