Tag: Prayer (page 1 of 2)

Two Questions to Find Deeper Relationships

Who would you say is the greatest friend you ever have? As you think about that person, you felt like you clicked. Proximity played an important role. You might have gone to high school or college together. No matter where you are today with them, you feel like you can pick up where you left off.

For some people, you have a close friend with whom you remain close to this day. Yet, many of us build a bond with a person or group of people and for various reasons we relocate or they do. Sometimes, we lose touch due to changing life stages.

On a regular basis, I help people try to get connected into small groups. My job title is even called Belong Director –the guy that helps you BELONG at a church. You and I pursue community to engage the Bible, pray together, and serve, but our larger hope is to find our tribe, the people with whom we can share life.

Let’s be honest. This process of finding deeper and more meaningful relationships is tricky. It’s far more art than science.
Each decade of our lives has more complications through changing life stages.
The effort it takes to meet new people can feel exhausting.
Even when we intentionally commit to a new group of people, we’re not always convinced it’s the right one.

An observation that I have seen in myself and others is this: we measure our new relationships by our best old relationships.

What do I mean by that? Remember the friend you answered in the first question? When you set out to find deeper community, ultimately you are looking for something similar to the good you had. Don’t get me wrong; there are consistent characteristics of great friendships that are universal. But there is a line of wanting to over-replicate something you already had.

When we measure our new relationships by the old ones, we will have a difficult time letting the new friendships grow naturally. In many ways, we’re asking for duplicates rather than originals. Our expectations could be ruining the beautiful reality of growing relationships.

You might find yourself in this spot. You moved to a new area or you long for deeper relationships. I want to leave you with two questions to pursue deeper relationships: What’s realistic to your life stage right now?

1. What’s realistic to your life stage right now?

Many people tell me that their most meaningful relationships came during their time in college and 20’s. Both these eras of our lives had copious amounts of availability and invites. Then our career responsibilities and family life changed. Start with what’s possible to develop now and manage your expectations.

2. Who are two-three people that I want to invest more time into?

I think we have to start with the people already around us. Whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, we can either meet too many new people or not enough. Start with two-three people. Perhaps you meet with them one at a time and then move to a group setting. Begin by building the proximity so a deeper relationship can happen.

What insight can you give about finding deeper relationships? Share in the comment section below.

Photo produced by Phil Coffman

Reads of the Week | 01/30/2016

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Start your weekend with these five articles in the Reads of the Week.

When the Coffee Machine is Just a Human by Andrew Pilsch

Pilsch shares about the qualitative difference of coffee made by humans as opposed to the instant pod one cup. I agree, coffee made by humans tastes better.

Re(de)fining Purpose by Carlie Galla

Carlie calls readers to look beyond goals, careers, and dreams to start as the question of character. Many of us need a little more focus on who we are becoming as opposed to where we are going.

Tuesday Reflection: Who Knows How to Listen? by Seth Haines

Last week, I read Haines’ book Coming Clean, and I highly recommend it. His short reflection invites to experience silence so that we can hear from God.

One Day I Stepped into a Puddle and Disappeared by Becky Martin 

Becky just started blogging, and her first posts have been fantastic. She wrote a remarkable post about motherhood and finding her identity in Christ.

Our Prayer Instincts are Backwards by Andrew Wilson

Wilson makes a phenomenal observation on prayer:

The topsy-turvy order of the Lord’s Prayer is one reason it is so remarkable. Jesus’ disciples knew the Scriptures, so they probably already knew how to ask for rescue, forgiveness, necessities, and God’s action in the world. What they didn’t know, and what Jesus wanted to make sure they never forgot, is that prayer is not intended to move from action to relationship.

What were your reads of the week? Share the links in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Roman Mager.

Unmet Expectations

Words seem cheap. When we experience a “No” from God, we grasp for the platitudes and pillow stitched verses. People in their kindness attempt to provide hope. The simple clichés never speak to the angst and the amount of effort we have asked God to intervene. You and I petition God for the healing, removal of the pain and struggle, and He answers us with a “No.”

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If each of us had the opportunity to share of unmet expectations in prayer, we would recall the painful situations. Some of us would reflect on the beauty from the ashes. Others of us would still interrogate God on the question of “Why?” The pain of a broken world does not exempt us from unmet expectations, especially in our prayers.

Isolation becomes the lie we believe in these circumstances. God says “Yes” to everyone else. People reticently amplify the good news of answered prayers. Perhaps, we have lost the ability to weep with those who weep. In the all good news, does anyone want to tell the truth of the bad news? Disappointment happens to all of us.

I wonder if we need to hear more stories. Not for advice, but to experience the “me too” of life. Debunking the lie of isolation falls flat when we encounter someone in a similar situation.

Seth Haines in Coming Clean courageously and eloquently shares about his journey. The book outlines the ninety days of recovery from alcohol while his young child Titus fights for his life in a hospital with a rare disease.

In one of the most remarkable sections, Haines speaks of unmet expectations. He reminds us that David received a “No” in losing a son in 2 Samuel 12 and so did Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when He asked not to suffer. If you and I receive a “No”, we’re in good company. I would encourage you to read the whole book, but Haines sums up this section by saying this about prayer and unmet expectations:

The invitation to make our will known to God, to beg for his intervention, is an invitation to act like the blood-sweating Jesus in the garden. Bending the will, though, requires the Christlike willingness to endure the cup of unmet expectation. Bending the will requires Christlike faith, a faith that says, “Father knows best.” Bending requires Christlike knowledge that even in the shadow of every valley, God works all things together for good (Romans 8:28) pg. 158

A perspective like this does not negate the agony of unmet expectations. Rather, we need the reminders of faith. Many of walked through these dark valleys and that includes Jesus. It moves us from faith in circumstances to one directed towards God.

I look back at my prayers that resulted in unmet expectations. In the bending of my will, I learned to know Him in a different way. His promises met me in surprising ways. In my disappointments after the weeping, I began to realize that Jesus walked into the same dark places. Our Savior hears our prayers as someone who sympathizes and emphasizes.

Today, you might be in the midst of hearing a “No” from God. My prayer for you today is that you sense Christ in the dark places and that you could find the hope of joy in the morning. May you feel the prayers of the saints and may their presence encourage you to sense God’s presence.

Photo credit by Elliott Engelman.

MLK Day 2016: A Prayer

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Today, we remember the life and influence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
His life embodied Your words on the Sermon on the Mount,
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
He had the audacity to believe that You bless those who repay evil with good, rather than evil.

Almost fifty years have passed since King’s death, and we still face similar issues.
At times, we have overlooked injustices.
We sometimes lack the compassion to walk in another’s pain.
Political affiliations separate us from each other.
It seems now more than ever; we need the peace that You offer.

Lord, forgive us.
Forgive us for not seeing each other as created in Your Image.
Forgive us for continuing the fight rather than seeking reconciliation.
Forgive us for not practicing presence by listening to others.
Forgive us for not moving towards each other in love.

The Gospel reminds us that You bring peace.
Though sin alienated us, You brought us near through Your grace.
Thus, You removed the wall that divides us from each other.
We stand at the same level at the foot of the cross.
We realize the message of the Gospel brings us closer to You and each other.
You are our peace.

Give us hearts motivated to bring peace.
Move us to have empathy for each other.
Teach how to extend the grace you have freely given to us to each other.
Let us love each other in words and deeds.

Prince of Peace rule in our hearts and lives.
Let us reflect on this day how to embody Your peace and reconciliation in remembering the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Photo credit by Michael Wilson.

Loneliness in the Midst of Joy

What emotions do the holidays provoke in you? Nostalgia brings us back to the happiness of positive memories. Excitement bursts with every carol and Christmas commercial. For better or worse, we begin anxiously anticipating December 25th right after Thanksgiving. Our hustle and bustle within the shopping, decorating, and attending parties can exhaust us.

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Hidden among these external emotions includes loneliness. In the overwhelming polarities of this season, we find ourselves desiring deeper connectedness. Who can we share our joy? Who can understand us in our anxiety? Who can be present with us in our pain? The search to be known heightens.

The feeling of loneliness enters our lives in various contexts during the holidays:
It comes from actual physical separation from others.
It results from not feeling understood by others.
It happens when a person continually gives and serves without the feeling of appreciation.
It seems apparent because everyone else has an invitation to the party except you.

We can believe certain lies of loneliness. Somehow, feeling this emotion means neediness or ingratitude. To numb the pain, we often add to our activities, turn to entertainment, and look for distractions without ever dealing with this emotion. It’s not easy to share with others, let alone thinking they could understand us.

Christmas celebrates the miracle of Jesus coming down from heaven to earth; the Incarnation. In our reading of scripture, we can lose the human element of the story. The writers of the Gospels give us glimpses of Jesus alone. These writers account for times Jesus retreats alone to pray. His interactions with the disciples reveal how little they understood His pain. He walks alone in the wilderness of temptation.

The Incarnation reminds us that our Savior walked through the loneliness. When Hebrews describes Him as High Priest, identifying with us in our weakness (Hebrews 4:14-16). He has been where we are, not to tell us to get over the pain but provide His presence to us in those moments.

Loneliness reframed becomes an invitation. Not easy to receive, but a moment to recognize the content of our hearts and become more aware of God around us. I think sometimes our struggle with loneliness comes from distracting ourselves from it rather than entering into it. Thomas Merton in No Man is an Island says this:

The man who fears to be alone will never be anything but lonely, no matter how much he may surround himself with people. But the man who learns, in solitude and recollection, to be at peace with his own loneliness, and to prefer its reality to the illusion of merely natural companionship, comes to know the invisible companionship of God. Such a one is alone with God in all places and he truly enjoys the companionship of other men, because he loves them in God in Whom their presence is not tiresome…(pg. 229)

Whether you find yourself with people around or not, you may walk through loneliness in the midst of the joy of the holiday. Entering the invitation of loneliness does not dismiss the pain. Instead, we learn to create spaces of solitude and like so many in the pages of Scripture wait on God.

Then as we embark into of community, Christ’s grace makes us more aware of others. Just as Christ has provided His presence to us, we can help others who face loneliness sense His presence. Entering our loneliness helps humanize others and bring hope in the midst of the darkness.

How might loneliness invite you to find Jesus? Who around you is experiencing loneliness and how can you be present with them?

Photo credit by Nikola Jelenkovic.

An Advent Prayer for Peace

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This Advent season feels further and further from Silent Night.
All seems far from calm.
All seems far from bright.
The darkness of tragedy engulfs us.
Our pain reminds us of the brokenness of the world.
Peace can be hard to come by.
Debates upon debates consume conversations.
You have seen and heard our infighting and arguments.
We worry about the future and anxiety fills our thoughts.

The Prophet Isaiah refers to You as the Prince of Peace.
The Gospel writers recount You calming the storms.
Paul describes you in Ephesians as One who preaches peace to those near and far away.
Lord, in this season of Advent, we ask for Your peace.

We ask You for the forgiveness of our sins.
We confess being strife-makers and not peacemakers.
At times, fear has motivated us more than the Good News of the Gospel.
Sometimes our words have lacked kindness and compassion.
Give us the grace to see others, even our enemies, as You do.

Let us experience Your peace this season.
Teach us how to reconcile with each other as You have reconciled us with Yourself.
May the Incarnation remind us that You are with us, and You know our pain and weaknesses.
During this Advent season, make us peacemakers embodying Your humility, generosity, and meekness.

You are our peace.
In You, we have experienced grace and mercy.
Darkness cannot overshadow Your light.
Like the shepherds, we still need the message of “Fear Not” and the Good News of the Savior.

Photo credit by Dakota Roos.

Your Life Will Never be the Same | Guest Post by Elaine Englert

During the week of Thanksgiving, you will have the opportunity to hear from five guest bloggers. They will be sharing about reflections related to the holiday season. Today’s guest post comes from Elaine Englert, my Mom. She and my Dad reside in Endicott, NY. You can find her teaching water aerobics at the YMCA and blogging for them at http://ymcabroome.org/blog/.  She’s the Mother of my brother, sister, and myself along with our spouses, most importantly the Grandma of my niece.

“Your life will never be the same!” Those words still ring as clearly in my ears as when I heard them in 1988. My six-year-old daughter’s oncologist’s eyes filled with compassion, as he described the pineapple-size tumor on her kidney, the treatment plan, and her future.
A few days later, I stood facing the hospital window to shield my daughter from the tears chasing down my cheeks. Way down on the sidewalk below, I saw people bustling about the ordinary events of their ordinary day on a sunny late April day.

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My ordinary days ended on Monday, a week and a half earlier in the pediatrician’s office. It was just a fever in a little girl who only once needed antibiotics. The doctor examined her and slipped out the room. He returned holding a stack of orders for the hospital across the street. When he pressed them in my hand, I saw “STAT” written on top and deep concern etched in his kind face. I held tight to Susan and took the last steps in the safety of the familiar. I tried to swallow dread as hard as a rock as we walked through the hospital doors. After hours of tests, someone told me they were admitting her. My husband rushed back from a trip and arrived soon after. Thursday evening I viewed the scans that gave the cancer a name, Wilms Tumor. The doctor sent Susan home the next morning and instructed us to have her at a hospital an hour away on Sunday afternoon to prepare for surgery on Monday.

Susan endured countless pokes and needle sticks during her 11-day stay. On the 10th day, Susan had her first round of chemotherapy. My confident little girl grew withdrawn and rarely spoke. Nothing in my 30 years prepared me to watch my child suffer so intensely and feel so helpless to help. When we got home, we returned to a daily routine, but 60 weeks of chemo cycles stole the ordinary. I was a wreck.

During this time, the Lord and I had many tear-filled conversations. I entrusted Susan and my fears into His care only to grab them back in the next crisis. Though I directed most of my anger at myself for missing a 4-pound tumor and for my spiritual shortcomings, one night I called God out as my daughter writhed in pain that could not be soothed, “I am her parent; as her parent how can You allow your little girl to suffer?”

The Lord waited for my honesty and brokenness to reveal His Father-heart for me. He called me to journal one gratitude daily, no matter how many difficulties filled those 24 hours. On the days I struggled to find anything, I often found the blessing in the ordinary. I scribbled down a word that my 23-month-old added to his vocabulary. I celebrated all five members of our family sitting around the dinner table. Other days, I journaled about His mercies when the doctor discovered Susan’s cancer. In only 10% of Wilms cases do patients run a fever like the one prompting me to make a doctor’s appointment. Susan’s surgery was delayed a few days because the surgeon was attending a conference on Wilms. We had people praying literally around the world for Susan. Friends, neighbors and church family, stepped in and met needs for food, rides, child-care. Our pastor called a day of fasting and prayer for Susan shortly after that sleepless night. From that day on, things improved for Susan.

The most enduring entries included verses others shared to encourage me or verses the Lord pointed out to me in my daily times with Him. They anchored my soul in the storm and revealed His desire for a relationship with me, his daughter. My life was never the same when I finally found rest in his “chesed,” the Hebrew word, often translated, as his steadfast love.
Psalm 107:28-29, 31 (ESV) best expresses my thanksgiving to Him:
“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still….
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love….”

On an extraordinary day, this past March, nearly 27 years later, Susan married her beloved, Ben. Tears of joy chased down the cheeks of many…mine mixed with tears of gratitude to my Father.

Photo credit by Alex Jones

A Prayer for a Transformed Heart

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Search my heart – Lord, you see every motivation and attitude in my heart.
The pride that causes me to rely on myself rather than asking for help.
The arrogance that places myself ahead of others.
The bitterness and resentment I hold against those who hurt me.
The anxiety that keeps from me from experiencing the life as You intended.

If I’m truly honest, I don’t always see my own heart as I ought.
I confess to You my blindness and unresponsiveness to my hardened heart.
Forgive me for focusing on everyone else’s issues and neglecting to see my own.

Your grace transforms our hearts.
A heart of stone becomes a heart of flesh in Your presence.
It’s not just a surface touch up or behavior modification, You invite us to experience change from the inside out.
Because our hearts are the wellspring of our lives and out of the abundance of our hearts our mouths speak.

Lord, I ask You to search my heart.
Exchange the pride for humility so that I may rightly see You, others, and myself.
Move me from arrogance to compassion towards others.
Heal the bitterness and resentment in me, so that I can forgive those who have hurt me.
Replace my anxiety with trust in the One, who feeds the sparrows.

Photo by Dave Meier from Picography.

A Prayer for the Stuck

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The same conversations replay over and over in our minds…
Each hurtful criticism resurfaces.
What we really want to tell people out of anger and frustration.
The alluding to-do list seems to never finish.
Not to mention the anxiety and insecurities that haunt us on a daily basis.

We confess to You our “stuck-ness.”
You promise us an easy yoke and call us to experience an abundant life.
Yet, we don’t have the power to move past the lies we tell ourselves, the guilt of our sins and the limited perspective of our view.
This prayer comes to You because we recognize our weakness.
And in weakness You say, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”

Remove the calluses of bitterness and resentment from our hearts.
Replace our angst towards others with compassion and mercy for them.
Remind us of the Gospel; we are far broken than we could ever know, but more loved by You than we can ever imagine.
Forgive us of our sins.

In the rebellion of our “stuck-ness”, we offer our gratitude and praise towards You.
Lead us today to see Your presence at work in our lives.
Sanctify our hearts and minds.
Thank you for times we feel stuck because in these moments we can experience Your grace in new ways.

Amen

Photo used with permission by Chris Mason Design.

Unrecognizable Answers to Prayers

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said of the Psalms, “The more deeply we grow into the psalms and the more often we pray them as our own, the more simple and rich will our prayer become. The writers of these passages delve into the spectrum of human emotion: joy, anger, despair, discontentment, and reverence towards God. They give us words for our prayers.

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I have found myself in the Psalms. Certain chapters of our lives, we run out of our own words to God. This can happen for a variety reasons. Disappointment repeats its song over and over. We find our lives in neutral not sure to remain or take the next step. And whether good or bad times, sometimes God can seem far away.  The writers of the Psalms lived in our reality.

The Psalms gives us prayers that we cannot always identify God’s answer right away. Some of our prayers have a definitive outcomes and the answers come quickly based on circumstances. Yet, many of our prayers bring through a process. For example:

Psalm 33:20 – “Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield…”
Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God…”
Psalm 86:10 – “Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth…”

These prayers carry a daily ongoing requests. They call us to a perspective on understanding the presence of God in our hearts.

The one prayer I come back to like these is Psalm 51:10, Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.” David prays this after the affair with Bathsheba and Nathan’s stern rebuke. Even though we may not prayer this on the heels of an egregious failure, all of us desire a clear conscious, wholeness, and renewed vision of God.

How in the world can you recognize the answer to these prayers in your life? Tullian Tchividjian in a sermon series on Job makes this statement, “When we depend on anything smaller than God to provide us security, meaning, and value we long for, God will love us enough to take it away…” This says something about our heart. God begins to prune and form us.

When we pray in waiting, we learn about our impatience to understand God’s patience.

When we pray for stillness, God closes doors and causes our lives to halt.

When we pray for teaching, God brings people who tell us the difficult critiques we need to hear.

And when we ask for a clean heart, God loves us enough to take away what we have valued more then Him.

We begin to see a God who answers our prayers in unrecognizable ways. Though growing causes pain, He makes us more aware of Himself. Along the way, the things we see in our lives that we thought would destroy actually bring us to a place to experience answered prayer.

Stop today and take notice, perhaps God has answered your prayers in unrecognizable ways. He works in our hearts in more ways than we can ever realize.

How might God have answered your prayers in unrecognizable ways?

Photo credit to Olya Myers Photography.

 

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