God Moves Mountains When Women Pray

Last year, I started keeping a list of prayer requests, dated and described, and then, to my great surprise — answers!  Clear direction for a son, help and success in a ministry opportunity, a new and wonderful job for my husband.  Reviewing the list from time to time, I’m reminded to give thanks, and I’m reinforced in my thinking that when it comes to prayer, there is always something new and fresh God wants me to know.

Women Who Move Mountains by Sue Detweiler is clear and comprehensive enough to serve as a primer on prayer for the uninitiated, but Sue has shared so many deeply insightful stories and has woven them so beautifully with Scripture that those who are further along on the journey will also find a rewarding read.  Twice in the gospels, Jesus talks with His disciples about mountains moving at their command.  Of course, this is not a matter of showcasing the disciples’ great faith, but rather, the power of God at work on behalf of those who believe.

I have been guilty of praying small and safe, so it was a challenge to hear Sue’s rallying cry to pray with confidence, boldness, and grace.  The book is set up with odd-numbered chapters covering real and raw stories of women who witnessed mountain-moving responses to their prayers, while even-numbered chapters pose questions based on living the principles here at ground level.

Belief in the ever-present, always-available Maker of Heaven and Earth is the foundation for a vibrant prayer life.  Unfortunately, fear, shame, anxiety, perfectionism, entitlement, and timidity often derail us in the mountain-moving life.  Staying close to Truth is transformational, and this becomes evident in the lives of women whose childhood wounds have been healed and whose “orphan mindset” has been replaced with assurance that in God’s eyes, they are a much-loved daughter.

Sue hammers on one truth about this following life that almost cannot be overstated:

“Just because you obey God does not mean that it will be smooth sailing forever and ever.”

Our obedience opens the door to God’s help and connects us to God’s plan, but prayer requires trust at every level.  Offsetting the vending-machine-God mentality, Sue reminds readers that Jesus suffered greatly in His time on this planet.  The following life is not lived above emotional pain and loss.  Women who feel like the walking wounded are encouraged to turn to God rather than blaming God for their wounds.

Biblical examples of women like Hannah who prayed for a child and Esther who prayed for the rescue of her people demonstrate that prayer is a powerful weapon, that it launches us into our destiny, and that — amazingly — it is as simple as a conversation in which we transparently come before God bearing “our stuff.”

Just as conversation builds relationship between people, prayer is a day-long interaction with God.  And since it is not simply prayer or my puny faith, but rather GOD who moves mountains, I want to press into that relationship and know the heart of this powerful God.  Indispensable to our prayer life is a right understanding of who He is, and Sue has shared rich Scriptural insights:

  1.  Jesus is uniquely equipped to comfort and strengthen us when we face rejection.  Remember what happened in Nazareth?  When He challenged the hometown crowd, they were ready to drive Jesus off a cliff!
  2. It’s an American idea that if God calls you to a task and if He is truly in it, then success always follows.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it well:  “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  Some of our most enriching spiritual growth experiences come through failure.
  3. Jesus always had choice words of condemnation for the Pharisees in the crowd and set the example for us.  “Becoming a woman who moves mountains means you care more about what Jesus thinks than the Pharisees in your life.”

F.U.N.K. and H.O.P.E.

Sue employs a couple of creative acronyms to stimulate readers to prayer that results in renewed thinking and powerful life-change.  The next time you feel as if you are in a funk, realize that you are Floundering Under Negative Knowledge.  Everything that seems dark and wrong may be very true, but staying close to God’s truth fights the slide into the pit.

Likewise, when the dark tunnel seems endless, hope says, “Hold On, Pain Ends!”  God offers His hope when ours has long ago sputtered to a stop.

God-confidence gives perspective for the long haul of praying in light of God’s specific promises.  There is so much that He wants to do as He trains us in righteousness, so many good works, prepared beforehand, that are waiting for us who walk with Him. Thanks be to God that we have been invited to come before Him in confidence, boldness, and grace.

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This book was provided by Bethany House via Interviews and Reviews in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Long Live the Queen! Till We Have Faces Discussion Group Week 8

Today we come to the end of Part I!
With only four chapters remaining in Part II, I’m amazed at how quickly the time for this discussion group has flown!

Plot Summary

Queen Orual has plowed into her new role with gusto, handily defeating Prince Argan with her sword, celebrating her victory as a lone woman in a place of power among men, and then settling into the routines of running a kingdom.  Her identity as the ugly princess is continually being swallowed up into that of the mysterious, veiled warrior Queen who leads her soldiers into battle and implements far-reaching economic and social reforms.  Even so, Orual is there behind the veil, haunted by grief and weighted down with the futility of a life devoted only to a dutiful completion of the day’s round of tasks.

A long recreational journey alleviates Queen Orual’s restlessness and brings something close to joy — until she stumbles into a secluded temple and learns that the story of the goddess who “resides” there is based on the story of Psyche with some important changes in the narrative details that settle once and for all Orual’s conviction that the gods hate her.  She resolves to set the record straight by writing the story from her own perspective and by bringing before the gods her charges against them for their injustice.

Reflection

Orual is a brilliant leader, and part of her brilliance lies in recognizing the importance of tapping into the wisdom of her counselors, Bardia and the Fox.  In her own right, however, she is enthusiastic, progressive, and a lover of justice, so even though there is no joy  or satisfaction in it for herself, Orual rules well. Lewis’s friend Screwtape would grudgingly admit that his Enemy (God) would be pleased with this human who does what is required, day after day, purely from a sense of duty.

Her veil, the “treaty made with her ugliness,” serves her well as a tool of intimidation and also advances Orual’s disappearance into the identity of The Queen.  All the grief, unhappiness, and bitterness can go on behind the veil while The Queen soldiers on, keeping up appearances.  She speaks with strong verbs that unmask her self-hatred, saying that she will kill Orual (225), that she has “locked Orual up” and “laid her asleep as best [she] could” (226).  As Orual’s face is lost to the world, queenship becomes her new face.

As with any addiction meant to deaden and smother pain, Orual’s ceaseless work and her string of accomplishments don’t satisfy her for long.   Her longing for the slaking of thirst and the old memory of satisfaction comes through clearly (and poignantly) with these words:

“Oh, for that bowl of milk, drunk alone in the cool dairy, the first day I ever used a sword.”

Some Issues to Ponder

Desperate to gain some relief from the sound of wind-blown chains that sound like Psyche’s weeping, The Queen builds a formidable stone wall around the well. Later, she refers to this building project in the same breath as triumph in the Battle of Essur (235).

“I heard Psyche weeping no more.  The year after that I defeated Essur.”

The Queen may have succeeded in walling up grieving Orual, and she may have felt powerful in the face of what she perceived to be  a “weakened” version of Ungit who smelled “cleaner and less holy” (234).  She may even have been rich enough and broad-minded enough to contribute silver to the temple for the fashioning of a new replacement for the “old, hungry, faceless” Ungit.  However, it was not long before she discovered that the gods were clearly at work behind the scenes, striving to have the last word.

Remember:  Orual had told NO ONE that she had seen Psyche’s palace.  Imagine her horror when she heard in the sing-songy repetition of the “gods’ version” of her story that it included the detail that the sisters had seen the palace and, yet, still enticed their sister away from her husband.

Orual had learned on the banks of the river near The Tree, when she saw the god’s face and experienced his power:   The god of the Grey Mountain is “no tame lion.”  Moving into Part II in which the Queen plans to argue her case against the gods,  it seems certain that we’re in for some sorting of the truth and revealing of motives:

“Let no one lightly set about such a work.  Memory, once waked, will play the tyrant . . . The past which I wrote down was not the past that I thought I had (all these years) been remembering. (253)

These are cautionary words for us as well, for it is God who writes our story and it is His prerogative alone to “set the record straight.”

 Some Issues to Ponder

If readers in the U.S. are busily completing tax forms, Orual’s attitude about her sacrifices to Ungit may have struck a chord with you.  She considers the task burdensome and the temple requirements to be an odious chasing after the prosperity of others.  Whatever we might think about the demands of the IRS, we know that whatever we give to God is simply a return of what is already His in a glorious affirmation of our free will and of our design for worship.  Sadly, this is not the case in Glome.

Orual’s heaviness and gloom reminded me of the writings of Paul the Apostle who did not lose heart — whatever hardships he endured — for he considered every difficulty to be light and momentary when weighed against the “exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”  In Chapters 19-21, The Queen has her own tragic system of measurement.  On one side of the balance scale rest the adulation of the people of Glome, her huge impact for good, and all the daily doings that go into the management of  a kingdom.  They land, in her estimation, like feathers on the scale when weighed against the howling wasteland of a life without Psyche, of a relationship of cool professionalism with Bardia, and the piercing loneliness of an existence in which, in her own words, “one little stairway led me from feast or council, all the bustle and skill and glory of queenship, to my own chamber to be alone with myself — that is with a nothingness.”

We live an a world full of Oruals who keep themselves busy and fill their lives with stuff and accomplishments in order to quiet the questions and mask the ache of longing.  This ending to Part I leaves me feeling sad for our main character and her present-day sisters — and wistful about finding a way to share the hope Paul wrote about, “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” which gave him the ability to view this world with its trials as light and momentary, which indeed it is.

Your Turn

I would love to read your thoughts on this section — or on Part I as a whole.  Join the conversation by linking up a blog post or by commenting below.

Next Time

On Thursday, March 2, I’ll be here having read Chapter 1 and 2 from Part II.

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Pausing in the In-Between

It was a day like any other day in the life-long ministry of Zacharias the priest.  With Elisabeth’s goodbye kiss still warm on his cheek, he went about his business, reporting for duty in his scheduled commitment to serve in the Temple.

It was a day like no other day when the honor of entering the most holy place fell to Zacharias, and his aging eyes found the burning incense eclipsed by angel light. Startling and strange, the heavenly messenger’s words hooked unbelief, earning Zacharias a nine-month sentence of mute pondering.  God’s four-hundred year silence was broken, leaving an elderly couple blinking and gasping at this new way of understanding the word impossible.

“Well stricken in years” is the delicate, traditional rendering, a state that would have made for a challenging pregnancy in any era — even if you are carrying the forerunner of the Messiah.  Like a spavined barn with tar paper siding, Elisabeth’s olden frame would have been covered with skin already stretched and sagging, but with joy she bore the bone-on-bone pain of an aging back and a heavy load.

Did she understand that her glorious passage from barren to fruitful was more a rending of history than a miracle of gynecology?

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It was a December day like any other.  There was dog hair that needed to be vacuumed.  There were lessons that needed to be prepared.  There were emails unanswered and dishes unwashed.  By my calculation, Advent season includes the routine preparation of at least seventy-five meals on top of all the other holiday baking and decorating.

What does it take to transform those December days?

Capture

Join me at SheLoves Magazine today and ponder with me the challenge of staying present to the wonder of the Word made flesh.

May God’s present-day proclamation land with power on your believing heart this season:
God is with us.
Nothing shall be impossible.

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captureCounting down the days until the beginning of the book discussion group on C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces. Watch for a reading schedule on January 5!

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Image credit

The Way to Hope

A long-ago friend I’ll call “Beth” suffered from depression, growing more and more discouraged as she slogged through her days under the weight of it.  I asked her one day, “Why don’t you try reading a book about depression?”

“I’ve tried,” she replied, “but they only make me feel worse!”  If only she could have read Hope Prevails by Dr. Michelle Bengtson, I believe she would have been uplifted, encouraged, and enlightened in her understanding of what was going on in her body, her mind, and her spirit when depression washed over her days.  Dr. Bengtson has experienced depression herself, so she writes from inside the problem, and, as a clinical neuropsychologist, she experienced the shock of realizing that the treatment suggestions she had offered to her patients were not working for her.  Medication, therapy, diet, exercise, prayer are all tried and true remedies for depression, but it was only when she began exploring the spiritual component of depression that she began to find freedom.

Hope Prevails offers the comfort of companionship, the clear light of truth, and the gift of hope with solid facts about depression:

  • “In any given year, approximately 18.8 million Americans adults suffer from depression.  If we broaden the scope, in most countries 8-12% of the population suffers from major depression at some point.”
  • Depression is chemical; it is genetic; it can have physiological roots; and it is influenced by environmental factors such as stress.
  • The underlying roots of depression lie in the spirit of the depressed person who lacks peace and joy and has bought into lies about herself that detract from her ability to live life to the fullest.

The hope Dr. Bengtson offers is not a personal recipe that she takes credit for, but springs instead from a Scriptural promises that point the way to a supernatural hope.  When she says that those who mourn will find comfort, that those who sow in tears shall reap in joy, and that there is an inexpressible joy available on this planet, she is not offering Scripture as a “snap out of it” lucky charm, but as a truth to replace the lies that lead to depression and as ammunition to fight the battle.

Dr. Bengtson’s go-to verse is Jeremiah 29:11, for it speaks of a hopeful future that is invisible to the eyes of the depressed believer.  A steady diet of strong truth works to bring feelings into line with a quest for biblical joy.  Michelle recommends a gratitude journal as solid accountability in practicing “the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details . . . the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”  This “settled conviction about God” is Kay Warren’s definition of joy which forms the bedrock on the road to healing and restoration.

Peace flees in the presence of shame, and owning one’s brokenness shines light into the dark places where shame rules.  Dependency on God and genuine forgiveness as a path away from bitterness and resentment are strong medicine.  Hope Prevails urges readers to take responsibility for their responses to circumstances —  a victim mentality leads only to self-pity and gets in the way of accepting God’s glorious validation of our identity as believers:  Accepted!  If God says “beloved,” who am I to disagree?

The truth of our value to God rests on the exorbitant price He paid to own us, and this counteracts all the whispered lies that hiss “unlovable” and “not good enough” into the ears of our heart.  Dr. Bengtson’s own embrace of this truth is part of her story, and she also shares her experiences of  illness, dysfunction, and grief that allow her to reassure her readers that pain is not wasted, nor is it evidence to disprove a loving God.  On the contrary:

“God never protects us from that which He will use to perfect us.”

Dr. Bengtson urges her readers to take advantage of any and all possible treatments for depression from medication to better sleep habits, but stresses that a God-reframed mindset and care for one’s spiritual self is the foundation upon which all other modalities will find greatest success.  Her message and the message of God in His Word are one:

Hope does not disappoint.
Hope prevails like love poured out in the heart;
Like light kindled in a dark place;
Like a Listening Ear who “searches the heart” and intercedes in wisdom;
Like a sign post in the road pointing away from danger.
Even in the midst of depression — by grace — reach out for and rejoice in hope.

This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Borrowed Strength for Mothers

Encouragement; reassurance; words of wisdom crafted in the trenches.

Somehow, Seth Haines knew that this was the gift his wife needed for the Christmas following the birth of their third child — so he put out the word.  Friends, favorite authors, and bloggers were asked for a contribution of hope, a letter from the heart of a mother.  The response far exceeded Seth’s expectations, and he was able to present to his wife, Amber C. Haines, a collection of stories:  joyful accounts of tiny people and huge love; tales of grief and estrangement; recollections of disappointment and of celebration.

Now the gift is being multiplied in The Mother Letters, an exquisitely bound and illustrated gift book that fosters community while it celebrates the beauty of borrowed strength.  The truth is that motherhood is (as the subtitle suggests) an amazing and exhausting mix of laughter, joy, struggles, and hope.

Each letter overflows with grace and simple wisdom:

  • slow down
  • have grace with yourself
  • stay faithful to your whole calling
  • listen to what your children are teaching you
  • the days are long, but the years are short
  • simplify everything

Like Amber, I have lived the chaos that accompanies life with four tiny boys, but any woman who wears the name “Mother,” will find in The Mother Letters an invitation to die — and then to discover the strength that lies on the other side of weakness.

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This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

A Living Hope

With rain pattering on the roof of the mini-van, I opened my tiny New Testament to the book of I Peter and dove in.  I’ve learned that if I wait for perfect conditions to begin anything, I’ll never get started, and the first step to a study with Jen Wilkin is:  open your Bible and read.  When studying a short book like I Peter, it’s possible to read the whole thing in a sitting, and that’s the first order of business each week of this nine-week study. Therefore, in tackling I Peter:  A Living Hope in Christ with Jen Wilkin, the foundation is laid for studying the Bible by . . . studying the Bible.  That means no commentaries and no study notes — at least not until after homework is done. However, cross-references, dictionaries, other translations of the Bible are fair game, and the process of working through this study will provide ample opportunity to learn how to use most effectively those aids in study.

When I read Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin’s first book, I was riveted by her firm belief that studying the Bible is a means of training our minds to love God.  That means I’m not looking for tiny tweetable truths about me.  That step of self-discovery follows on the heels of a deep pondering of this question:  “What does the Bible say about God?”  Could this be what Paul was talking about when he told his readers to be “transformed by the renewing of your minds?” (Romans 12:2)

Reading in context and reading repetitively are key.  Diving into a study of the Bible without considering the who and the where and the why is like receiving a letter, tearing it open, reading part of it and ignoring the return address on the envelope.   Jen’s teaching via video provides some of this background — reading and re-reading provides the rest.  Five-days-per-week study questions over a period of nine weeks allow for a slow and thoughtful digestion of the truth served up in Peter’s first letter.  As one of Jesus’ inner circle and the leader of the early church’s outreach to the Jewish world, his words about our living hope in Christ ring true, for hopelessness is not an option for those who are promised an inheritance, undefiled and unfading! (I Peter 1:4)  In Jen’s words:

“We have that which will endure.  All the rest can fall away, and we lose nothing.”

Major themes covered in Peter’s letter are our identity in Christ, showing honor to others, and Christ-like conduct, thinking, and humility.  Jen Wilkin’s study is an invitation to read deeply on these themes, to engage in open-ended pondering, and to sit in the place of unknowing before rushing into a ready-made answer.

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This book was provided by LifeWay through the B&H Bloggers program in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Spring Is a Promise

“Spring is a promise in the closed fist of a long winter . . .”

Lifted from a poem by Luci Shaw, these words frame my thinking on this blustery day when the promises I made to myself and to God back in January about healthy choices and better habits have begun to sputter out for lack of oxygen; when no one even remembers what the groundhog saw or didn’t see.

Here in Maine, March 2o, the first day of spring, is just another number on the calendar, and so until winter opens its fist on the promise of spring, I’m sticking close to some promises of a more reliable sort.

And I’m sharing those promises today over at Faith ‘n Friends, so I hope you click on over and join me there!

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Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.