Ministry Moment: Good Gifts Prayer Walk

“One day we went to Guatemala and my prayer life was transformed.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still very much a work in progress. But once upon a time, 11 years ago we were invited to partner in mission work with those working in and around the Guatemala City garbage dump. I went to teach VBS. Who doesn’t love a good VBS? That’s my gig. I can easily organize a chaotic group of kids to sing and play and discover the promise of Hope in the Word of Christ Jesus. No problem. I was shocked when one day the missionary walked us through a shanty village and abruptly stated, “Now we will pray.”

Before I knew it we were knocking on doors and entering homes by the invitation of warm, but weary, residents. We introduced ourselves and said who we were with. We asked one question – “Is there a way we can pray for you today?”

I expected resistance. Heck, I was surprised anyone even opened their door. I expected small things, practical prayers, based on physical needs – the need for food, clean water, a better home than their current cardboard and corrugated metal shanty, or more money…any money…

What we got were prayers for healing after the loss of a stillborn child named Emilio, prayers for strength and others to walk alongside in the battle of alcohol addiction, prayers for a teenage son to know the Lord among the voices of friends who would only share with him darkness, and prayers for hope after a child had been kidnapped from them while they slept in their beds.

No where on this earth do we have less struggle, less concerns.

No where are we more desperate for the love and hope of Jesus. We all NEED it. We needed it yesterday, we’ll need it today, and by golly, you better believe that whatever tomorrow brings we are going to need it.

I realized that praying is a simple kindness with deep roots. Praying together is the sharing of the burden with one another so that together you can place it on the shoulders of Christ Jesus, the only one who can really hold it anyway.

I literally groaned with one mother, selfishly thinking of my 18-month-old, praying together for our children by the Spirit grace of a Spirit who intercedes when there are no words, no words (Romans 8:26-27). The beautiful thing is that groans of a fellow mother overcome the language barrier like few other things can.

Praying with others on this trip wasn’t about me and what I would learn and do, but isn’t it always like God to refine and teach in every moment? When we returned back to the States my conscience poked and prodded me. Why don’t I do this more? What is holding me back? So I made a concerted effort to pray with people like mad. And I mean like mad. I had to rip a Band-aid of distrust and embarrassment off like you would not believe! I still do, every day. I just have to do it…or I won’t. Every day it’s a battle of the Spirit in me against the Prince of Darkness –

“Pray with them…pray for them…just ask…I am with you…”

“What can your little prayers do?! Don’t humiliate yourself! They don’t want your prayers anyway!”

Thank goodness there is confession and forgiveness, and He doesn’t really need me to do His work, He just invites me to be a part of it all. Praise God that even prayer holds the same grace as every other piece of life lived with a Savior and Redeemer.

So, as part of our study of James, I created a prayer walk. It’s usable, whether you have studied James recently or not. Use it in your individual prayer life, in your small group Bible study, in your women’s group, at a prayer breakfast, anywhere! Here’s some ideas to get you started.

Some ideas for using the prayer walk:

Get up and walk! 😉 It’s good for us. Walk around your neighborhood, your church, your work place, anywhere and let in a little Gospel light by silently or quietly praying as you go.

Use the prayer walk for a “walk through James” as you sit in your chair for quiet time with the Lord. Spread the prayer walk out over multiple days, and pray one segment a day. You could do it on repeat for a season as well.

Journal your prayer journey with the prayer walk in your journaling Bible, prayer journal, a notebook, or scrap pieces of paper. Post it notes and 3×5 notecards are a personal favorite. Just get it out of your brain and into open space to share with the Lord.

Host a prayer breakfast or luncheon and work through the prayer walk (sitting or walking) as part of the program, or all of the program.

Use the prayer walk as an intentional time of prayer in your marriage. Use it every night for 9 days, or spread it out for 9 weeks, or whatever works.

Got another idea? Share it with us in the comments so that we can learn and grow together. Did you do something that works? Feel free to share that in the comments as well.

Pray, praise, and give thanks. Ask. Seek. Knock. Let the Spirit dwell richly. Watch and see what He has in store. He gives generously…

Click here for the free printable prayer walk

The Invitation to Draw Near

God is jealous for us.

It says it all over the Old Testament, but I don’t think we picture our God as jealous post-resurrection reality. Let’s not rob Him of His character. He has a right to be jealous. He has set us apart for His work in our baptisms. We are called by name. We are His.

James reminds us of this New Testament jealous God. He is jealously passionate for our souls. He reigns inside our hearts with His Spirit. He will not take the devil’s attempts at power in our lives lightly.

Read James 4:5-8

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

What promises can you find from our God in this passage? Where is God in the actions James calls believers to? What is God’s response to our actions? Make a small list for the discussion portion. This is good stuff and I can’t wait to hear your insights!

I really believe that all of these promises could be summed up in one statement, found in verse 8 –

Draw Near…

We are invited to draw near. We’ll never get to the purifying, resisting, or even the grace without someone drawing near. God draws near to us in His incarnation as Jesus Christ to walk along this earth. He drew near by taking our sins on His shoulders, to bear the load and redeem us. He draws so near that He chose us as the dwelling place of God the Spirit. Look back at James 4:5 and underline the quotation found in this verse. Can you see how drawing near in verse 8 can be linked to the Lord’s drawing near to us?

How do we draw any nearer then? What does James suggest? I think we will find part of his answer to this later on, in James 5:13-20. When you read this, underline or jot down every instance in which James suggests prayer as the answer to something –

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

One of the most common requests I hear from women and men looking for resources to grow their faith is, “I wish my prayer life was better.”

My first response is, “Don’t we all.”

Don’t feel less than or ostracized by your lack of prayer. God doesn’t point His finger and shame us. Instead, He whispers in your ear…

Draw Near…

Just do it. Make time for Him. Make room for Him. It sounds super law oriented until you’ve heard the Gospel call of

Draw Near…

Add prayer in snippets into your life and in great gulfs of time in your day. Look back at James’s words in James 5:13-20. Can you hear the cadence of both, prayer thrown into the immediate, prayers of searching drawn across the expanse?

There’s no one right way. Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer and we would be wise to utilize it. Beyond that I can only share three ways I have seen make a difference in my personal prayer life and that of others. Maybe these will help you as you walk growing up in your faith and drawing near.

Whisper breath prayers

Pray in the moment, when the thought first comes to the surface. Snatch that prayer up. Share it with the Lord. Don’t let it pass by unnoticed. The Spirit intercedes for us in groans that words cannot express, but we are also given grace upon grace to draw near by sharing our thoughts and words intentionally with God anytime.

Prayer with others, rather than just for others

One day, we went to Guatemala, and I learned to pray. I could go into detail, but there’s no time for that. It was uncomfortable. It was heart-wrenching. It was exhausting. It was awesome. Next time you are in a conversation with someone and they share something, offer to pray for them, yes, but offer to pray with them. Right there. It’s a stretch. You need the Spirit for this. Oh, but watch Him work!

Utilize a prayer journal or pray out loud for a set period of time

Instead of expounding, I am going to send you over to Sybil MacBeth’s website, http://prayingincolor.com/

She explains right on the homepage why utilizing visual prayer can help us to draw near and grow in our faith. Our minds are wonderful things, but the devil would like to use every barrier to us drawing near. Distractions abound. You can print prayer calendars to utilize for the season, and find other resources on the website as well.

However you do it, hear the call of draw near.

You are invited in- to His Word, to His love, in His Spirit, and by His grace.

Draw Near…

 

Discussion:

From our first passage, James 4:4-8 – What promises can you find from our God in this passage? Consider even the statements that are directed to us as believers. Where is God in those actions? What is He doing? What is His response?

What comfort do you find that God draws near to us and that we are invited to draw near to Him?

What is your favorite way to pray or what new suggestion offered for drawing near might you try?
Who can you share the message of Draw Near with today?

My plans and God’s pursuit

Sometimes I think I have good ideas.

Well, all the time actually. I really like my ideas and I’m full of them. How’s that for honesty?

When we talk about the future, we have to talk about ideas, because, whether we think we have lots of them or not, we all make plans. We all create an ideal scenario in our head of things we’d like to see happen. At the very least, we have ways we think things would work best, even when we are at our most flexible.

By being aware of this internal dynamic, we can begin to understand how to hand it over to God intentionally. Let me be clear – He already has the control, the very best plans, far better than our own, but it’s so much easier to walk in them when we are connected to Him and communicating with Him regularly.

Let’s see what James has to say about it, in James 4:13-17 –

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

James reveals the heart of our sin when it comes to our ideas and plans. It’s not that we have them, but that we boast in them. We like them so much that we leave no room for God’s ideas. This creates two problems:

First,

We think so much of our ideas and plans that no one can see God in them.

We leave God out. We flit around our day saying, “I’m going here. I’m doing this. I’m creating this out of my life.” We may even look good doing it, because our God doesn’t use fire and brimstone to make us aware of our ridiculousness (most of the time). We may feel like rockstars of our lives for a while, but we do so at the loss of closeness with God. When we are turned in on our own plans and profits and ideas we can only see us. We are less likely to pray, to turn to Him, to seek His Word and insight. Life may be fine, but we’ve given our days away and missed the very best part – Jesus Christ. And no one else can see Him in a life lived only for ourselves and our plans.

Second,

We end up walking the long way around, up the mountain, and through the fire, to get to the path God would have showed us to begin with.

Most of us know this pain. Have you ever walked the hard road to a destination God was trying to lead you to gently? I hear this from families that go to the Seminary all the time, or families who become believers later in life. God pursues because He knows and loves us. He has gifts to give and He doesn’t want us to miss them.

What does Psalm 23:6 tell us about the Lord?

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

God will chase us down to help us find the path He has chosen for us. Someone pointed out to me recently that follow in the original Hebrew of Psalm 23:6 also means pursue. Isn’t it good to know we have a God who won’t give up on us, even when we’re looking every which way but up?

Our God pursues us with mercy, despite all our plotting and planning without Him.

I believe God isn’t chasing us down to make sure we turn left to go to the right grocery store. He’s not that opinionated about the adiophera of life. But when it really matters, when it’s life or death, and by life or death I mean Jesus or not-Jesus, He’ll run down that road to show us.

James firmly turns us to prayer, again and again. What plans do you have today? What ideas would you really like to come to fruition? Turn it to over to Him.

Read James 5:16 and share what plans you have today with Him. Present your requests, your ideas, and your plans to Him, knowing that He is a God who pursues, who knows best, who gives generously, from a wise and steadfast heart.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

Discussion:
When have you walked a road that God veered you from?
When have you seen God’s faithfulness in the plans of your life?
What good idea or plan would you like to entrust to Him today? Let’s pray about it together!

 

Mama said there’d be days like this – when awake just isn’t working…

pexels-photo-29992

Ever had the day when you’d like to just go back upstairs, put on your pajamas, crawl back into bed, and hide from the world around you? Yes? So this was my day last Tuesday. It took everything I had to leave my clothes on and walk around out where the people live.

These are the kind of days that we are reminded of a hard truth – we are sinners, living in a sinful world. Life isn’t always sunshine and roses, but it certainly is worthwhile. As much as I want to slip on my pajamas and hide under my covers, He calls me out for more.

Israel in the Old Testament had plenty of pajama-and-under-the-covers kind of days. Some were their own fault. They chased other gods, let lust have its way, and set aside the opportunities to worship for whatever seemed good at the moment. Sin creeps into our lives in ways we least expect as well.

We think we’re pretty good people, we go to church, we do alright. The Truth: Not one of us is without sin. We have blunt and obvious sin – hurtful words and anger, ignoring our neighbor, the chitter chatter of gossip, and more. We also have the secret sins – hate in our heart, lust, discontentment, thinking highly of ourselves.

Look at Isaiah 26:16-19

O Lord, in distress they sought you;
    they poured out a whispered prayer
    when your discipline was upon them.
17 Like a pregnant woman
    who writhes and cries out in her pangs
    when she is near to giving birth,
so were we because of you, O Lord;
18     we were pregnant, we writhed,
    but we have given birth to wind.
We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth,
    and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen.
19 Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
    You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
    and the earth will give birth to the dead.

As we read, we hear the Israelites proclaim their allegiance to the Lord and the Lord alone. They recognize their sin and the mess they’ve made, while looking around and seeing the sin and mess of the nations around them. They recognize the goodness and necessity of the Lord’s discipline. Consequences happen, but in this instance, instead of sneaking away, they cling tightly to the promise that only the resurrection can offer – life eternal and an eternal life perspective.

Sometimes God not only gives me grace, He also gives me excessively practical advice for these exact situations in my own life. Isn’t it nice when it works out like that? What can we learn for life from Isaiah 26?

They pray:

…they poured out whispered prayer…

He wants to hear our sin. He knows it, why say it? Why confess it aloud?

Hearing it from our lips and poured out from our hearts, gives Him the opportunity to pour in.

He pours into us forgiveness and life. He pours tenderness and healing. Do you have past sins that sit on your heart like a boulder? Do you ever feel like if people found out your real story, they would never look at you the same way again? God says, No. I heal. I restore. This sin, let me use it for my testimony. I have a plan.

“pray without ceasing…” 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Pray unceasingly also means pray about all of it, even the ugly. God invites us to pour out every last sin and temptation to Him.

Pour it out to Him. Let Him pour in.

 

They rise:

(v.19 ) Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
    You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!

God invites us to confess, not to make us sit in the dust, but to pick us up out of our shame and pour Himself into us.

“…my cup overflows…” Psalm 23:5

This exchange of pouring is part of the overflowing cup – Him filling and filling and filling some more, releasing us from the burden of our own incapabilities and inadequacies. “Let me take that,” He says, “I already carried that cross.”

When faced with our sin, we can look to Jesus, or we can look away. We can crawl back into our jammies and hide under the covers, or we can let Him give us a New Day.

Pour it out to Him. Let Him pour in.

My cup overflows with mercy and grace. I pray you know the truth of this today. Forgiveness and grace, poured on you for every last sin, every last fail, for pajama days and rockstar days and every day in between.

fontcandy-42Exploration:

When was the last time you wanted to crawl back into your pajamas and hide under the covers? How did God tend to your heart?

Read John 17:1-5 Identify the following:

Who is praying?

Why?

What does he identify as eternal life and how does this perspective change each of our days?

 

*background images courtesy of Pexels.com, memes always sharable`

 

 

Men Who Pray (and the Women Who Love Them) Church Work Edition

I’m so thankful for these men who meet and pray with my husband, taking the time to build one another up.



Last week I wrote a blog for the CPH website that addressed prayer in marriage. I suggested that it is one of the most important ways to build intimacy in your marriage. Key points included:

   I talk to women all the time who desire deeply for their husbands to pray with them more.
   Biblically speaking, we know prayer creates connection between us and God and us and one another.
   That doesn’t mean we are always great at making it happen. There’s a whole lot of Grace with the Spirit and Jesus interceding for us, but we also don’t want to miss the invitation to grow together!

The thing is, you would think the church work marriage would be different. I feel a little bad for ratting pastors and other church workers out, but the reality is that we are not praying with our families more than the general population. In fact, some statistics show that we may be praying with our families LESS than our lay members around us. Ouch.
Now, this doesn’t mean we don’t pray. It doesn’t mean we aren’t beseeching the Lord on behalf of the flock daily, or that we aren’t praying earnestly with the member dying of cancer or hurting from divorce. It does mean that we aren’t necessarily praying around our tables or at our bedsides with our wives and husbands and children in a way that allows us to share our heart, our struggles, and the myriad of joys God gives us in any given day.
I hear the following phrase all the time, and ladies and gentlemen, it’s just a bit real and Technicolor, so hold on to your hats.
“My husband prays with everyone else. How can I get him to pray with me?”
Double ouch.
Pastors, DCEs, missionaries, church workers near and far, hear my words knowing that I get it. I get the busyness of life. I get the draining of your heart and energy for a world in need and having only drops left when you arrive home. I get that our spouses and children could just as easily be the ones “responsible” for starting the prayer. I’m letting you know today, though, that there is a huge opportunity for you to share Jesus with the people who matter most in your life…pray with them.
Intimately pray with them. You can choose a prayer book or the Psalms or resource, but we get really blocked up in the finding of the resource and the digging it out, and the actually doing it, that I think it’s a hindrance at some point.
So here are my suggestions for church workers who pray….
   1)   Just start. It doesn’t have to be regular or epic or fancy. Grab your wife’s hand and start praying. Pray for her, pray for your children and your parents, and pray for your church. Pray for the aching world, and stop whenever you feel like it. Try it again the next day. It may feel weird and awkward; someone may even get a little bent out of shape because they are trying to make dinner. But forge ahead, friend!

   2)   Be creative. Add petitions to the family meal prayer, pray on the way to school or over the rushed breakfast table, leave post it note prayers to your wife or husband on the bathroom mirror. Text a prayer in the middle of the day when you are praying for or with someone else. Everyone has a communication love language, feel free to utilize it.

   3)   Start a prayer journal. List prayers and leave it on your spouse’s nightstand or Bible. Ask them to list some prayer of their own and return it. Pray, give thanks, confess together. Its like a secret prayer spot just for the two of you.  Every once and a while look at the journal together and pray the items out loud.
Prayer is a major work of the Church. Martin Luther shared his wisdom,
Prayer is a strong wall and fortress of the church; it is a goodly Christian weapon.”
Let us build strong walls in our homes, strong reinforcements for our marriages. This, friends, is no less ministry than preaching and teaching and sharing the faith.
His mercies are new every morning. Let’s start this one recalling them together. God be with you as you tend and feed and care for your beautiful marriage.