A Praying Life

I shut off the mower’s whirring blades, removed my hearing protection, and there it was:  the splash and whoosh of the Atlantic Ocean, always restless, continually wearing away the granite at the bottom of the embankment in the back yard where I had been mowing.  Clouds above were heavy with rain; therefore, sunset would come early. Even so, I paused for just a minute to absorb the sound of waves, to note the gray, glassy swells, and to soak in the truth that the sound had been there before I could hear it. My listening did not bring it into being, but stopping to hear and to appreciate it had changed my view of the world.

Prayer has the same effect, it seems. God is always present, always moving, continually at work. It takes just a minute to remove my ear plugs (and my blinders) of busy-ness, anxiety, entertainment, and the endless drivel that occupies my gray matter during waking moments. Prayer is the conversation that welcomes God into my life, and lately, I’ve been absorbing the idea that it’s not self-talk that’s going to change me or my way of thinking. It’s more productive for me to turn that stream of words toward the God who is always there listening anyway.

Prayer is a Conversation with God

I am committed to the responsibility of praying for my family, and have embraced the privilege of praying by name each day for those closest to my heart, but there’s an emptiness in a prayer life that ends up as a shopping list. There’s a touch of the audacious in showing up with my list when that’s the only conversation of the day.

Reading Scripture, especially from cover to cover, the narrative arc from Eden to Golgotha shouts God’s involvement in the weaving of a story. The post-ascension Acts of the Holy Spirit set up one book-end on a continuing story, and that’s where we pick up the thread until the second book-end called The Revelation brings the story to its glorious conclusion. In all this weaving of story, God is no less present as the main character in these days of Google and Facebook than He was on Mt. Sinai. In spite of my persistent doubts, prayer is still a conversation with the God of the universe, even if my face does not glow after every encounter.

In C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, he refers to this planet as “the Kingdom of Noise,” and since he was writing in the 1940’s, his readers would have been nodding their heads (and clicking their tongues in disapproval?) about the persistent background noise of “the wireless” in their homes–and maybe a Victrola? It’s no wonder that 21st century believers mistake prayer for a one-sided conversation. After all, podcasts abound, Alexa speaks audibly, and even my antiquated GPS (which I love) gives me spoken directions when I veer off course. In all the aural chaos, how are we to distinguish the voice of God from our own tangled thoughts?

I’m reading A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller, and it’s about time! He writes from such an awareness of my frustration with prayer that it’s practically eerie, and yet I am encouraged by his insights to persevere and to cultivate a praying life that is commensurate with the way I talk (and write) about my relationship with God. For Miller, prayer “feels like dinner with good friends.” There’s no agenda other than simply enjoying each other. That’s the motivation that kept Jesus continually coming to the Father, and if “prayer is simply the medium through which we experience and connect with God,” (8) and if Jesus felt the need to pray, no wonder we humans are plagued at times by a sense of the absence of God.

Prayer is an Invitation to Come, Weary and Overwhelmed

If “a praying life feels like our family mealtimes,” it’s because “prayer is all about relationship.” (8) When we make it formulaic and tear it away from real life, we miss the point, and it becomes as dry and unappetizing as yesterday’s muffins. In a real relationship, conversations go down rabbit trails, but when that happens in prayer, we complain that we’ve lost our train of thought and are tempted to give up. When it seems as if all our messiness floats to the top like the layer of scum on dirty dishwater, we write ourselves off as hopeless and wish that we could pray with soaring syllables of praise. What a relief to read that prayer is an invitation to come, weary and overwhelmed! The God who made me wants to engage in an authentic relationship with the real me, not some super-spiritual version of me who shows up a few times a day for a quick conversation.

I’m still reading, and A Praying Life may be front and center on my Kindle for a long time, because I have a lot of bad habits to unlearn, and prayer is, after all, the journey of a lifetime.

Thanks for joining me along the way,

michele signature[1]

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Everyday Habits of Holiness

The insistent tone of my cell phone’s timer carried through floorboards to our basement schoolroom–another call to prayer unanswered.

I sighed, turned the page, and continued with my sixth-grader in a lesson on fractions.

I had been reading about the historical practice of praying the hours, setting aside intentional moments throughout the day at specific times to stop everything and pray.

Believers long ago listened to the sounding of bells to remind them to pray.

My solution?

Setting a cell phone timer.

It seemed like the perfect solution for a more intentional prayer life..

Why, then, did my timer always seem to sound when I was in the middle of an un-interruptible task?

  • Dinner preparation on a ball game night.
  • A fervent untangling of numerators and denominators.
  • An intense disciplinary moment.

The reminder was impractical for that season, but it was an important step on my journey toward a more mindful use of my minutes in building my relationship with God.

Today I’m joining Sarah Koontz over at Living By Design to share 5 ways I’ve learned to invite holiness into my every day habits. Click on over to join me there, and let’s pause together to consider how these simple strategies may encourage your faith and help you to grow.

Everyday Habits of Holiness

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Teaching Children to Worship at Home

When the year is fresh and the calendar pages are crisp and spacious, our commitments and resolutions seem like adventures. “We can do this!” we declare as we gather the family around and open our Bibles to Genesis. Unfortunately, by Epiphany, the luster has worn off our resolve, and family devotions have begun to feel like a chore. And then there’s Leviticus . . .

Lora A. Copley and Elizabeth Vander Haagen have prepared a guide that does the heavy lifting of plotting a course for family worship. Teach Us to Pray: Scripture-Centered Family Worship through the Year is organized into seasons based on the church calendar: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time. The readings are dated for long-term use through 2027. An introduction to each section provides background and front loads a challenge to the parents along with a heads up about materials and recommended activities for planning purposes.

In the process of teaching the small people in our lives to worship, our own hearts learn the practice anew, and as I perused each day’s lesson for Advent, the eight-part pattern began a drumbeat in my thinking about exactly what worship entails:

  • Preparing – What environmental conditions will enhance the experience?
  • Inviting – God is there already. Invite Him into the center of your worship.
  • Stilling – In the silence, ask the Spirit to help you pay attention to God.
  • Singing – Music and lyrics for thematic songs are provided.
  • Reading – When we read Scripture together, we hear the voice of God.
  • Dwelling – What questions come to mind in relation to the text?
  • Praying – Thank God and praise Him for the day’s wonderful truth!
  • Blessing – Words from Scripture invite you to pray a blessing over your family.

How would my personal, grown-up variety of worship be enhanced if it was continually being shaped by these action verbs?

Encouragement for Worship at Home

Family worship took on many forms during the growing up years of our four rowdy sons. Often we gathered at meal time, but there were seasons when we occasionally claimed a Saturday night for a more intensive teaching session — followed by popcorn or some other treat. Three principles come to mind that guided us through those important years:

1.  Persevere.  Don’t give up!

If you forget, remember next time.
If you fail, do better next time. Just be sure there IS a next time.

2.  Take grace.

Conversations about spiritual things with my kids never go as smoothly as I plan them.  Sometimes my words sound brittle or awkward even to my own ears, and now that they are older, even if they are gracious enough not to roll their eyes, I wouldn’t blame them if they did! However, the Word of God is living and powerful. He keeps His promises, and He is able to incline our children’s hearts toward truth, even if we are unhappy with our own skill in delivering it to them.

3.  Maintain a long view.

Even the most serious of cross hymns sung during Holy Week lose their solemnity when there is a St. Bernard in the dining room throwing his head back and howling a descant in accompaniment.

Advent candles set a worshipful tone and help us to focus.  They have also been known to ignite a paper napkin that somehow went airborne during family worship.

I can laugh at these aberrations now because they are part of our family’s story. They remind me that worship is part of life, and as we guide our children’s faith-formation, daily times of family worship will set up a rhythm of faithfulness that will enable our children to envision a life in which God and His Word are part of every season and every day.


This book was provided by Calvin College Press via Westra Events and Media 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.”

 I  am participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Teach Us to Pray: Scripture-Centered Family Worship through the Year, simply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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A Bundle of Letters on the Church’s Doorstep

When a pastoral search goes well, everyone wins. Last year when a soft-spoken lobsterman rose to his feet and challenged us at Spruce Head Community to seek a shepherd who would lead us and love us, we began praying and seeking to that end. The seeking and the finding has united us, and we are blessed to have welcomed a godly man and woman who are living small-town life alongside us, all the while holding forth the Word of Truth.

Winn Collier is also a small-town pastor, but with Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church, he’s wearing his fiction-writer’s hat. Nonetheless, his heart for ministry comes shining through along with a clear-eyed affection for Christ’s body, communicated through the character of Pastor Jonas McAnn.

The pastoral search committee of Granby Presbyterian Church had grown tired of searching, weary of interviews, and fed up with the pretense when Amy Quitman, resident of Rural Route 28, took matters into her own capable handwriting and penned a letter that wrapped itself around one question:

“Do you actually want to be our pastor?”

Formalized by four signatures, the letter went forth to all future candidates.

In a half-hearted search of his own, Jonas McAnn saw in the letter a reason to reply with his own epistle, and finally, to leave behind his safe and predictable life in an insurance company cubicle, and to risk following his heart back into the trenches of pastoral ministry.

What follows is a bundle of letters from Pastor Jonas to his flock, randomly spaced and warmly personal. They have landed on my doorstep as well with their revelation of one side of a “spacious” conversation between a man who knows he was not called into the pastorate to fix anything or anybody and a group of people who have committed themselves to contributing “disruptive input” to each other’s lives.

With engaging characters and a page-turning narrative arc, Love Big, Be Well is a satisfying read for the story alone. Shades of John Ames of Gilead and Tim Kavanagh of Mitford made me hope for a sequel to follow Jonas’s return from sabbatical and future ministry at Granby Pres. However, at the risk of being banished to Wendell Berry’s desert island of exile for finding a subtext where none was intended, I will share that I came away with valuable insights — not in the form of a treatise on ministry, but rather more like thoughts overheard from a corner table at Stu’s Mud.

Thoughts on Calling

Jonas came to life in Granby with the settled conviction that he was committing himself to a web of relationships:

“So I committed my life to walking alongside people who I hoped to call friends. I committed to learning how to help people pray. I determined it would be my job to simply recount, over and again, that one beautiful story of how Love refused to tally the costs but came for us, came to be with us, came to heal us. . . “

Thoughts on the Role of a Pastor

Jonas McAnn came from a long line of pastors and proudly owned his heritage as one who fulfilled a unique and valuable role in the community:

  • to “live with people” (42);
  • to pray with them;
  • to ponder Scripture with them;
  • to “speak in good faith to other people who are trying very hard to listen in good faith” (47);
  • to receive the wisdom of God as “a slow drip, not a sudden knowing,” (60) and then to keep showing up where it will do the most good;
  • to “not take a position” when that is the most honest response;
  • to take cues from the farmer who “tend farms small enough to know and love, using tools and methods they know and love, in the company of neighbors they know and love.”

Thoughts on the Role of the Church

Amy ruefully described Granby Presbyterian to a friend and managed to capture every other church in the process:

“Unfortunately, if you’re looking for people to disappoint you, we will provide the material. In spades.”

Even so, under Jonas’s leadership, the church was called away from a shiny and boisterous presence into a resourceful availability to clean up messes — with the humble admission that the church is called to go first in admitting to our own messiness. “This is why we need the church all the more . . . [for] the only thing worse than our failing to inhabit mercy and holiness would be our making no attempt at all.”

On a practical note, the pastoral/congregational relationship gets off to a good start when the body is there en masse to greet and unload the moving van. From that point forward, the liturgy of even the most non-liturgical band of worshipers is one of “showing up, doing the work, being together.”

Thoughts on Love

Pastor McAnn’s eponymous “Big Love” comes down to “simply circling and staying near.” It was God’s big love that called Granby Pres. member Don Brady into the kingdom and that carried him through the rigors of cancer treatment as he wisely concluded:

“Love’s the main deal.”

Thoughts on Prayer

When elderly Miss Nelson prayed over Don’s cancer treatment, she reminded me that even when we do not know the will of God on a matter, there’s nothing wrong with reminding Him of how much we love and need someone in our community.

Given my own uneasy relationship with prayer, I collect wisdom to keep me in the game. Jonas related a homely parable on prayer from a fruitless fly fishing adventure with Luther that left him flat on fishing, but tutored him in the practice of prayer:

“‘Why would anyone torture themselves with this galling pastime?’

‘I like how you’re just in it. You’re in the water, in the woods. Everything’s happening around you.’

I’ve concluded that my problem (aside from how I have no idea what I’m doing on the river) is my focus on casting properly, on actually catching fish. Luther, however, comes to the river in a much different way. ‘I like being in the water,’ he explained, ‘with the breeze and the scent and the solitude. Even when I don’t catch anything, I come back different than when I left.‘”

Jonas McAnn wrote letters to his congregation from a desire to pay attention and to help his people do likewise. He wanted to remind his readers that life together is good and it consists of shared stories — shared experiences that call us toward the Light. For anyone who is committed to this calling over the long haul, Love Big, Be Well is a benediction, a reminder that ministry is “shot through with blessing,” and a celebration of the dignity of the slow work of ministry in community.

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This book was provided by William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company 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.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field 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.

Thanksgiving Prayer

For those of us in the United States, this is a day of thanksgiving. However, gratitude is not circumscribed by geographic boundaries. Nor do we need a calendar’s permission to leave room for gratitude, so . . .

LORD, we thank you!
We confess that our hearts are often full of ourselves, for we mistake self-importance for self-worth and make much of every burden, so today we thank you for all the good that you have piled into our lives by your grace.

Thank you for the successes and the victories that embolden us to risk more.
Thank you for the setbacks and disappointments that send us in new directions.

Thank you for the people we enjoy who bless us and enrich our days.
Thank you for the folks who require a concerted effort and Outside Help in order to love them as we should.

Thank you for the steady stream of blessing that comes to us through your love: healing, forgiveness, redemption, mercy, renewal, welcome, peace.  May we “enter Your gates with thanksgiving and Your courts with praise” no matter what the season of the year.

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The Necessary Work of the World: Jayber Crow Discussion Group (9)

My grandson likes nothing better than a good project, so on our days together, he and I are a force to be reckoned with. He has saved me many a bend in the tomato patch, and when he pulled orange carrots out of the ground with quivering joy, each fistful was a miracle to behold. Even at three, he enjoys meaningful work, and I think that Jayber would approve of the way we spend our time when we’re together.

In Chapters 24-26, Jayber the “married, ineligible bachelor barber” shares his favorable opinion of Athey Chatham’s relationship with his grandson, and treats us to his reckoning on many other topics as well:

  • the beauty of little jobs and the prideful air of a man who is too big to “fiddle around” with them;
  • the instinct for complaining which requires the knack for “making much of oneself” (263);
  • the “Ceceliafication” of the world in which one despises any place she can afford to live.

Perhaps it’s because I read the complete works of Dr. Seuss on repeat when my children were little, but Jayber’s lamentations on the modernization of the farming industry, the impact of the interstate road system and school consolidation on small towns, and the vicissitudes of  growth in The Economy brought to mind these lines from The Lorax:

“I, the Once-ler, felt sad
as I watched them all go.
BUT…
business is business!
And business must grow
regardless of crummies in tummies, you know.

I meant no harm. I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.
I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads
of the Thneeds I shipped out. I was shipping them forth
to the South! To the East! To the West! To the North!
I went right on biggering… selling more Thneeds.
And I biggered by money, which everyone needs.”

Writing from the vantage point of 1986 when The War had gone underground for a few years, Jayber reminisced on the loss and small-town sorrow that came to Port William when The War “broke out” again, “this time in Vietnam.” (286) Jayber was feeling the loss of a foundation and a cutting loose from historical moorings in which “the necessary work of the world” was always done in the same way with predictable outcomes and according to the “dignity of continuity” in which what was known to one generation could be passed on, known, and loved by the next.

Unfortunately, with the “biggering and biggering” of barbershops in America, Jayber was once again subject to the whims of “the man across the desk.” Again, he came to a parting of the ways, and his friend Burley was there to ease the transition.

Unforeseen Blessings

When Mattie came to Jayber asking for help, he rose to his secret calling and rejoiced in the doing. His involvement in her family life, ministering to Athey, providing support to Mattie with her wayward son, “was something [he] might have prayed for, if [he] had thought of it . . .”

I am also the recipient of many unforeseen blessings I didn’t have the sense or the optimism to pray for, and maybe that makes them all the sweeter. Truly, I find Jayber’s thoughts on prayer to be refreshing and helpful, and as the plot unfolds following his having prayed “the terrible prayer: ‘Thy will be done,'” (252) we can see the wisdom behind his also having prayed for strength.

After Jimmy Chatham’s death in Vietnam, Jayber found himself unable to pray while at the same time imagining prayers for restoration that demonstrated incredible faith in the power of God to make things right. He recognized in himself the terrible tendency to “advise God” and likened it to the kind of mockery that Jesus received from the lips of the chief priests and scribes: “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”  Jesus did not take them up on their dare because, in mercy, He saw my sin, but also “from the moment He did, He would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be His slaves. Even those who hated Him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in Him then.”

Jayber’s words are a corrective to my desire for a “vending machine” God who responds in predictable and controllable ways to my requests.

Another Great Moment Lost

After delivering a zinger to his despised rival, Jayber could have rested on his laurels and made favorable comparisons between his own repartee and Athey Chatham’s hammering comeback to Hiram Hench, the racist. (214)

Troy had just finished a tirade against the communists when Jayber stopped cutting hair, looked at Troy, and said:

“‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.’
Troy jerked his head up and widened his eyes at me. ‘Where did you get that crap?’
I said, ‘Jesus Christ.’
And Troy said,’Oh.'” (287)

A stunning triumph for the Sermon on the Mount. However, Jayber is learning to see himself; he is being schooled in the self-awareness of love. And so, standing in the momentary spotlight of our admiration, he comes clean:

“It would have been a great moment in the history of Christianity, except that I did not love Troy.”

Amen and amen.
How easy it is to love “the world.”
How difficult it is to love the annoying person who stands before us in the moment.

Questions to Ponder and an Invitation for Your Insights

I will confess that I am often grumpy about technology, but I am determined to persevere, knowing that the other option is to become obsolete. As I read Jayber’s observations about the building of roads, I remembered my annoyance at highway noise around many of the places we have gone camping. I guess if we want to tent in the company of crickets and owls, we have to do it in our own back yard. How are you managing change and progress? Even with all its obvious blessings, is there some aspect of life in the 21st century that particularly rankles you?

Have you ever found yourself “listening to yourself with some interest” as you shared a dream or a plan out loud for the first time? (296) This was an example of Wendell Berry’s brilliant characterization alongside his clever turn of a phrase.

A quick mention of Troy at his son’s graveside service was poignant and cautionary:

“Afterward, it seemed for a while that Troy had been almost unmade by his grief, but then, having nobody else to be, he became himself again and continued on.”

How sad if we do not allow ourselves to be unmade and then remade by the hard things that come into our lives. Reading this observation of Troy leads me to pray for grace and strength not to waste any of my grief — past, present, or future.

And so with Burley passing on “the use” of his little camp house to Jayber, we’ll spend the next two weeks following Jayber’s observations from the banks of the Kentucky River.

I’ll be listening for your thoughts “with some interest” as I look forward to reading themeither in the comments section below, or in your own blog posts. Please share links so this party can reconvene at your place!

I’ll be here next Thursday (November 9) having read Chapters 27-29.

Here’s the schedule for future discussion topics:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion

NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32

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Declaration of Dependence

Long lashes against his pale cheeks, my youngest son was sleeping soundly despite the beeping and whirring backdrop of the children’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU).  The ambulance ride, the endless testing and probing, and the grim diagnosis were secondary now to my boy’s constant pain, his fear, and the question marks that persisted hour after hour.
Surgery?
More tests?
What’s next?

What I remember most from those days of wondering and waiting was the uncertainty and the chaos of it all.  There was no silence – and there was certainly no privacy – but, in the background, my prayers thrummed the cadence of a continual S.O.S., pleading for strength from God to bear the next thing, whatever it might be.   By His Spirit, God reminded me that He had taken in all that had happened:  the bicycle crash, the ruptured spleen, the ambulance ride, the continual suffering of my tiny boy.  God knew about the present situation and all that I feared for the coming days– but, unlike me, He had not run out of strength.

So, I asked.

In a Declaration of Dependence, I asked for His strength.  I looked at my desperate situation, my very sick boy, my fear, and my questions, and I asked for strength to wait and to trust God for whatever would be required in the coming hours and days.

Click here to continue reading . . .

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Community among bloggers is a precious thing, so it’s my pleasure and privilege to be sharing this long ago experience of the faithfulness of God over at Debbie Kitterman’s writing home today.  

Debbie Kitterman, is an author, speaker, and the founder of Dare 2 Hear, a ministry training individuals in hearing the voice of God.  For information about her book or her speaking ministry, click here to visit her website.

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field 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.