Prayers Like Arrows

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[Read part one HERE (and a shorter version originally published HERE at www.desiringgod.com)]

My struggles with prayer run deep. The spiritual deserts in my life have always been accompanied by a parched prayer life. Eventually, I came to realize this was not only a symptom, but a cause. I was neglecting the very thing that would satisfy my weary, thirsty soul. I was ignoring the path that would not only lead me out of the desert, but keep me out of the wilderness in the first place.

I often fall short of my good intentions when I fail to view prayer as a discipline that needs to be learned and practiced and developed. We speak frequently of the importance of prayer, but often don’t know (or forget) the “hows” of prayer. Even Jesus’s own disciples had to ask Jesus how to pray (Luke 11:1). They saw something in the way he prayed so fervently and intimately to his Father that made them long to do the same. Lord, teach us to pray!

While it won’t be the same for everyone, here are specific actions that have really helped me in my battle against a weak prayer life.

Set prayer apart. The more we pray, the more we want to pray. To do this, you need to build it into the rhythm of your day any way you can: set alarms, leave notes, put it in your day planner. Prayer is a practice that requires discipline and perseverance, and we should own the cost. Prayer is the greatest act of our day, and we must fight for it. And not just in times of need. It matters how we train and prepare for the battle.

Learn to withdraw. Pull away from distractions — the phone, the computer, the TV, the constant noise of modern life — and find a way to separate yourself so you can be and feel “shut in with God.” It can be a challenge when you work away from home for long hours or are sharing your house from dawn-to-dusk with a bunch of loud and energetic children, but make it a priority. Your car on lunch break, a quiet corner in the office, a closet in between meals or feedings or naptimes, or simply the quiet of your heart if that’s all you can muster. But find solitude, and pray (Luke 4:425:1622:41).

Prepare for prayer. This one has really helped me. Just because I can pray anytime and anywhere I failed to realize the amazing benefits of truly preparing myself for prayer in advance and turning my soul towards God in anticipation of communion with my Creator. I’ve found that it helps me focus. I get excited as I seek the Spirit and think about what I’d like to pray for. I search my heart and repent of sins. *I have a purpose.* Don’t come thoughtlessly into His presence—remove your shoes before drawing near to the burning bush.

Have a posture of prayer. Do what you need to help you focus on what it is that you’re doing. Kneel, stand, close your eyes, look to the heavens — when your body is focused, it’s often easier for your soul to follow. If able, pray out loud. I’ve found that just softly whispering during my private prayer time is quiet enough that it doesn’t inhibit the flow of my praying, but loud enough that it keeps my mind from wandering. As C.S. Lewis observes, “The body ought to pray as well as the soul. Body and soul are both better for it.”

Pray Scripture. This is a great way to start. What joy it brings to a father to know his children hear his words, cherish them, believe them to be true, and then speak them back to him. So much of my prayers are “plagiarized” Scripture. Without even realizing it, they become the vocabulary of my prayers, sometimes because the beautiful promises make my heart sing, and sometimes because all I can do is desperately cling to his words.

Pray fervently. Praying should be active. We cannot truly come into contact with God and not be a different person, at least in some small degree, by the time we say, “Amen.” Struggle in prayer, wrestle with it, and let the Spirit move. Answers to prayer are a blessing, but prayer in and of itself is meant to be a blessing. Sometimes it feels like the moaning of parched lips in the desert, and we should still persevere because prayer is not just the fruit of spiritual life, but the means of attaining it. When words fail, try pausing to think about who God is, worship, then pick back up when words come. Let the Holy Spirit help you. He kindles our aspirations and does not let us rise from our knees until we have said something worth saying to God.

Pray specifically. Vagueness can be the death of prayer. Not that we can never be general, just not at the expense of praising God’s specific attributes, confessing specific sins, or thanking him and asking him for specific things. We must learn to pray specifically and boldly due to the status we have through Christ, while simultaneously being completely submissive to God’s will. Bold and expectant faith coupled with humble submission is a powerful thing.

Pray for and with others. Prayer is meant to knit together the children of God, oftentimes, people we have never even met. We share a Father, we are family, and we should bear each other’s burdens in prayer. We become invested in each other’s struggles and triumphs. We start to care more about the people we pray for and less about ourselves. What a beautiful thing to come before our Father of one accord with the same appeals out of love and care for each other. Prayer binds the church together.

Some friends and I started praying for each others’ children about a year ago. We spend a week praying for each child (usually a specific verse or trait that we want God to grow and develop in them), with an automated reminder every morning—separate, but together. It gives us accountability as we share the burdens of parenting and even better, the joys of watching God change the hearts of our children. Find people you can pray with.

 Talking about prayer. I worry we think of our prayer lives as something too personal to talk about, which is ironic in a culture where not much else is. Learn from the prayer warriors who have gone before us, talk about our struggles with prayer, ask for help, develop and teach others, teach our children—but with truth and transparency and *action.* Sometimes Christian language is filled with far more talk of prayer than actual prayer. “Asking for prayer” can become our means of venting or gossiping and we throw around “oh I’ll pray for you,” so readily without following through.

One thing that helps me is to set an alarm on my phone when someone asks me to pray for something. If their birthday or anniversary is December 31, I set a daily alarm for 12:31 and pray every time it goes off. Let prayer be a continual discussion among the church but always in ways that lead to fruit and action.

Prayers Like Arrows

Prayer is not a formula or something that only “works” if we do it perfectly, in just the right way. But it should never be careless. Careless prayers are like arrows that fall haphazardly at our feet. Prayers that we offer with little care or effort typically will do little after leaving our mouths (but be careful about underestimating God). On the other hand, when shot with strength and desire and fervor, our prayers fly swiftly toward heaven to the throne of God himself (Revelation 8:4):

It is not the arithmetic of our prayers — how many they be; nor the rhetoric of our prayers — how eloquent they be; nor their geometry — how long they be; nor their music — how sweet their voice may be; nor their logic — how argumentative they be; nor yet their method — how orderly they be; nor even their divinity — how good their doctrine may be, which God cares for: but it is the fervency of spirit which availeth much.
(Bishop Joseph Hall, 1808)

The fruit that God has graciously gifted my baby steps gives me hope. While it revealed how much I had been missing, it makes me excited to even just scratch the surface of the depth and the beauty and the nearness to God that prayer is meant to be for all of God’s people. May each and every one of us become like skilled archers in the discipline of prayer, with prayers like arrows — fervent and strong ones that change lives, bring healing, impact our nations, alter history, unite the church, and above all display God’s glory.

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A Revolution for the Weary

Revolution for the weary

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I overheard one of my kids describing the New Year, as “that time when grown-ups make New Year’s revolutions.” It made me think. I’m not one for resolutions—the cold and dreary arrival of January rarely incites enough excitement for me to add things to my endless to-do list. The holidays are over, everything is starting up with a vengeance, the expectations of the new year are before me, and I am WEARY. And weary people have no business making resolutions. Those are the things I make every night of my life. Tomorrow, I’m going to [insert well-meaning and lofty goal]. So many things I could put there. I just can’t.

A revolution, however, is a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works and by the time I actually get around to buying a calendar with the accurate year on the front of it, the reality that things just aren’t working could not be more apparent. A hard look at what my weary soul is revolving around is the only fix for something a resolution band-aid could never mend.

There are a thousand reasons I really, truly should exercise more, eat better, sleep longer, spend less, de-clutter, and parent more effectively but these things must never be my life’s orbit. My soul matters infinitely more than my body or my diet, God determines my future (not my savings account or 401K), my messy house and dirty laundry are not eternal (praise the Lord), and contrary to what all the blogs imply, motherhood is not my highest calling. There are so many good and noble things I can do, but the truth is, I will do them immeasurably better and more effectively and they will not be wasted when my life revolves around a perfect, holy, unchanging foundation—the person of God, rather than the hundreds of great things that will ultimately lead to the opposite of rest and peace when they become my focus, rather than my fruit.

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

We are drowning in choices. It’s hard to know which fight to pick, which cause to rally behind, or what to make our life’s work.  We can become so obsessed with finding our purpose and knowing God’s plan for our lives, that we forget HE is our purpose and knowing HIM is his plan. Not accomplishing our next (even godly) goal, but knowing the creator of the universe in a real and intimate way. God’s wisdom, direction, and his purposes are so intertwined with who he is. The deeper we know the person of God the more our hearts and passions (and resolutions!) will align with his. Oftentimes, this means letting go of the goals we already have.

I’m not sure why I fight this so much—embracing surrender. On paper it sounds beautiful and easier and simpler, but giving up goals is hard. “Surrender” is the last word that comes to mind when we think of revolutions. But God’s ways are not our ways. The world tells us to fight it and make it and do it and take it, while God says, “be still and know that I am God.” How’s that for a fight song? Instead of taking back our life we are called to give it up. We can say “in God we trust” all day long but if we can’t surrender our job, our children, our marriage, or our future then it’s not him we’re trusting in.

 “The Lord will fight for you. You only need to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)

Still can be the hardest. The word conjures up images of just sitting here oblivious to reality while our house degenerates into shambles, our children eat leftover Christmas candy for dinner, and our un-exercising selves just get more flabby and out-of-breath as we hide in our room reading the Bible all day. Or maybe that we give up on our dreams, stop applying ourselves to our work, or turn a deaf ear to the needs and battles around us because we need to “focus on God.” It just sounds lazy. But lest we think we are destined for a dreary existence of just quitting and eternal waiting, we must remind ourselves, that is not God. Why? Because that is not life, and God assures us that: “Whoever finds me finds life”! (Proverbs 8:35).

 “The people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” (Daniel 11:32b)

God sent his own son to the middle of our mess and Jesus did not merely sit home all day praying and neglecting the broken world around him—because he was in perfect fellowship with his Father. He knew God’s will because he knew God. And there were times he waited. He was a carpenter for thirty years before starting full-time ministry because sometimes God’s purpose for him was to live excellently with what was before him, sometimes it was to turn tables, and sometimes it was to rest and pray and literally give up his life. The more we know our God, the more his wisdom overflows, and the clearer it becomes whether we need to sit still and stand firmly in his presence or whether it’s time to act and fight his holy battles. We must cease striving for one hot second and seek him before searching for answers.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

As we set out to know God and bring him glory he opens our eyes to paths we weren’t aware of before. He wants us to have that unrivaled feeling of living out what we were called to do. These changes often happen in subtle almost imperceptible ways, but when we walk in his presence he directs our days and our thoughts and our work and our conversations and our errands in ways we never would have on our own.

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5)

It can’t be an afterthought, checklist, or just another read-through-the-bible plan. If we truly want our life to revolve around God rather than all the things competing for our heart and our thoughts and our time, we must expect to do life differently. There is a cost. A revolution can’t be one of our many nightly resolutions to do better tomorrow—it’d be like the earth trying to revolve around the sun in addition to a dozen other things. It will fail. God wants our all not just our Sunday mornings. But this can be different than our feeble attempts that rarely make it to February, because this one doesn’t just depend on us. In our distractibility and weariness, he is strong. His power is perfected in sleepless nights, 60-hour-work-weeks, mom-brain, failing bodies, and A.D.H.D. prayers. We need to be willing and open and fervently commit this to the Lord, but it is him who will act. He will show up every day and do beautiful things and show us who he is. Will we stop and look and listen and learn? Will we let him change our days so he can change our life?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) It’s the only answer to our busy, un-restful, un-peaceful lives. So let this be our desperate prayer and our rallying battle cry whether we’re crawling or sprinting into this new year before us:

Dear Lord,

Help me open my weary eyes in the morning and immediately seek you rather than the world. Turn my eyes from worthless things and let no sin rule over me. Make my weaknesses clear and your strength blindingly clearer. Transform my thoughts and my lists and my habits. 

Help me parent my children the way you parent me, and don’t let me forget that being filled by you first allows me to fill them better. Make the minutiae of my life matter eternally.

Trouble me more about the state of my heart than my body—help me train and exercise my soul to pursue you. Don’t let me use relationships to fulfill me in ways only meant to be satisfied by you. Enable me to use every cent that comes or goes to advance your purposes rather than my pleasures or security. Convict me that your Kingdom is more important than my house.

Help me rest in your hope rather than wallow in my fear. Thwart my feeble yet habitual attempts to rely on my own abilities. Burden my heart with what distresses you rather than what stresses me.

Help me seek you more than answers. Help me pray more than worry, and worship more than grumble. Be my rest after sleepless nights and my peace in the chaos.  Help my mind wander to you when I’m weary. Show me your glory today.

Amen.

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Busyness Is Not the Problem

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Originally published HERE at www.desiringgod.com

Every so often, my head hits the pillow and I curl into a fetal position, trying not to hyperventilate at the realization that in not nearly enough hours, this finish line will become the starting line. And I’ll have to tackle life all over again. Oh come again, Lord Jesus.

I wonder how I got here — the chaos, the mess, the failing — and I strategize how to make tomorrow better. This is just a season and it will pass. But is it? And will it? I suppose the seasons have been different. Whether it was adolescence, or insecurity, or exams, or finances, or breakups, or stressful jobs, or moves, or pregnancies, or anxiety, or babies, or hard relationships, or traveling, or sickness, or parenting, or just sheer exhaustion. But so often it’s just one thing replacing another thing. Another fire to put out. Another mountain to climb. And as a doer and a fixer, the to-do list is never-ending and there’s always something to improve or put back together.

I can do this. Just tweak the schedule. Get up a little earlier. Simplify. Re-organize. Streamline. Plan better. Focus. Pare down. Clear out. Divide and conquer. Tomorrow will be better. I’ll sleep more this weekend. It’ll slow down next week. Just waiting for summer. It’ll get easier when they’re older.

Self-Sufficiency in the Storm

But there are storms in every season. Whether it’s a constant, dreary spring rain, an unexpected summer thunderstorm, or a driving, relentless blizzard, there’s no avoiding storms.

And while I might cry out to God when the storms get really bad, it’s those long, weary rains that are most dangerous for my soul. Not quite bad enough to scare me, but they get me wet enough to distract me from my purpose. I put my head down, hide under the umbrella of my self-sufficiency, and forget to look up at the one who has power over every single raindrop.

Maybe it’ll hit me as I collapse into bed, battle already fought and lost. “Lord, please just pause life for a bit and stop the rain so I can catch a glimpse of you.”

But that’s not who God is.

He is not a genie who merely takes away bad things and gives me good things. He is my good thing. He is my peace and my rest and my life and my hope — in both the storms and the calm.

When Plans Fail

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Rather than commanding us to try harder to find him, God tells us to be still and know him. Stop. Enough. Cease striving. Because he is God and he is moving and doing glorious things in both the sunshine and the rain, whether we stop and notice or not. We must not miss out because our hearts are too busy.

Though I would never admit it, it’s almost as if I want to streamline and organize and simplify my life to a point where I no longer need God to get me through my day. But my strengths and abilities will fail, again and again. I need a Savior every day.

Perhaps feeling overwhelmed and inadequate isn’t such a bad thing if that is what brings me to my knees and shatters my false sense of security. To the place where I realize my planning and intelligence and coping mechanisms mean absolutely nothing if I’m not becoming more and more like Christ and resting in the strength and presence of my creator, the author of my day. More of him and way, way less of me.

Christ Our Rest

We don’t need answers to all of our questions and problems; we need the onlyanswer. Seek him first and allow the Holy Spirit to lead and problem-solve and prioritize. He’s way better at it.

Yes, we probably are too busy. Yes, we probably have too much stuff. Yes, we probably need more sleep. But fixing these things should be the fruit of seeking first the face of God, trusting in the blood of Christ, and yielding to the power of the Spirit — not the focus.

This is not meant to sound pessimistic. I realize that when I say we will continually fail and face hardships, it can come across as bleak. But I’m telling you, battling the storms while understanding our utter hopelessness and resting in the power of Christ is infinitely more peaceful and invigorating and impactful than a thousand chaos-free days. He is our rest. He is our peace within the chaos. He is the means and the end. Don’t spend so much of your energy running from the mess that you’re too weary to run to him.

A Different To-Do List

But how do we do this? Knowing something means nothing if we aren’t letting it change us. We have to start right now. Ask him for help. It will look a bit different for everyone, but try putting aside your own list of things to accomplish today for just a few minutes, and make a spiritual to-do list. Here’s my own:

  • Before I even open my eyes in the morning, seek God’s face and bask in his presence. Awake, my soul. Turn my eyes, Lord, from things that are unworthy.
  • Before I climb out of bed and let my feet hit the floor, confess my sins and my weaknesses and mentally lean on him. Carry me, Lord, so I can accomplish your goals.
  • As I get dressed, beg God to cover my unworthiness with Christ’s righteousness. Lord, clothe me with your armor, because I need your power and protection for the dark parts of this day.
  • Before I gaze into a mirror or look at a screen or to a single thing of this world, pray that he will show me his glory and goodness today. That I will see it. And that I will reflect it.
  • As I sip my morning coffee or fill my belly, ask him to fill me with his Spirit and the joy of my salvation. That I would taste and see that he is good. That I would hunger and thirst for him.
  • As the world and the day get louder and louder, remember to stop and listen for the Spirit over the noise. Learn to recognize him.
  • When I find myself growing weary, run to my God any way I possibly can. Not to the world or to myself, but to him. Whether I read his words, worship him, pour out my heart to him, or ask his Spirit to pray on my behalf because I just can’t. And then repeat over and over again, until my mind effortlessly wanders to him.
  • Don’t let a single hour go by without asking God to sustain me. Not tomorrow, not next week, but right now. Set an alarm if I have to until it starts to come more naturally. Like breathing.
  • As I climb into my bed, look back and identify God’s providence woven throughout my day in both the good and the bad. Help me fall asleep praising him for his goodness to me.

Start Now

This is not something you learn, conquer, and move on. You can’t cross it off your list so you can tackle the next thing. I’m ashamed at how many times I’ve had to relearn this. How many wasted hours have gone by that I’ve forgotten him. How many days I’ve foolishly spent relying on my own strength and overlooking his presence. But if you didn’t seek him yesterday, seek him today. If you failed to look for his glory an hour ago, look for it now. If you forgot who gave you your last breath, remember who is giving you the next. Be still and know.

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The Finer Things Club

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Every day at 2:30pm, the 10-year-old, and I drop whatever we’re doing and he makes us each a cup of tea. I clear off the kitchen counter and we sit. Usually we flip through art books, listen to music, or talk about books we’re reading. And we chat.

Today it was about The Wind in the Willows, Manet, and our NCAA brackets.
Hands down, the nerdiest thing we do. I love it.

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