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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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.”

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.

 

Rising in Grace and Glory

Because I am married to an unreasonably patient man, we hardly ever argue – except for when it comes to the Ascension.  His (perhaps quite reasonable) conclusion from Acts chapter one is this:

Jesus went up.
The disciples looked up.
Therefore, heaven is up.
My (perhaps quite unreasonable) argument is that on that day when His feet lifted off the Mount of Olives, Jesus was dealing in metaphor.  As a Teacher (THE Teacher), Jesus knew that His disciples would need to see Him leave – to watch Him actually go somewhere else with their own eyes — in order to get on with things.

And so he rose, but isn’t the power of God such that heaven could be anywhere?  Just as Narnia-Through-The-Wardrobe was a place completely “other-than” World War II era England with a different cadence of hours and a population of talking beasts, I tend to think of heaven as a place without a possible zip code — and yet still close at hand.

The immanence of God, the idea that He is right at my elbow and at the same time filling the entire universe, stops me in my tracks:
“’Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.”

When I read and respond to powerful words that I read in Scripture, I am careful to filter my motives.  Am I rejoicing in this passage because of the unvarnished veracity of those words?  Or is my heart soaring because of a particularly effective combination of nouns and adjectives, because of a plangent metaphor that I wish I had thought of myself?

Given this tendency toward nerdy swooning, I had to read and then re-read Romans 5:2 back in January when I discovered it in The Message Bible:

We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”

While I’m all the time imagining a closed door and cramped quarters, God has envisioned and provided for open access and my feet standing on the place of grace, planted in the fields of His glory!

I’ve never before chosen One Word for my year, and truly had no intention of breaking with that tradition in 2017, but standing  reached out from those verses and chose me for its own.  That word —  “standing” —  and God’s miraculous gift of hope are calling me to rise from my chair of unbelief, to ascend visibly, not merely for the benefit of others as Jesus might have, but for the broadening of my own view of the world.

With my feet planted firmly in those wide open spaces, how can I continue in my small prayer life with its locus around safety and good health?  I was rebuked in this tendency recently when my oldest son announced that he was starting a prayer group in his work place – a shop environment populated with hard-handed welders, most of whom make no bones about their disregard for the numinous.

Did I launch into immediate prayer for their lost souls?
Did I plead for the efficacy of my son’s efforts to irrigate that parched wasteland?

No, and I can hardly bear to reveal the words of my narrow soul:

“Oh, Lord, they just bought a house, and he needs that job.  Please don’t let this hurt him.”

Stooped, round-shouldered prayers shrivel my courage, but even worse . . .
What if they are contagious?

Since my children are all priceless to me, my deepest desire is for their greatest good:
Wise decisions
Satisfying relationships
Holiness and healthfulness.
But time-bound and short of sight, do I really know what’s best?

This new awareness that I’m standing “where I always hoped I might stand,” means that I can do away with my prescriptive prayers:
(“Lord, do this thing that I have planned for us . . .”)
Standing tall, I want to see over the top of my fears.  In hope, I want to catch a glimpse (however slight) of what’s on the other side of the walls that divide, and, in that ascending, transcend a few of the artificial boundaries that plague the white, the middle-aged, the orthodox, the comfortable.

In The Reason for God, Tim Keller reminds me that at the very heart of my belief system there lived “a man who died for His enemies, praying for their forgiveness,” (p. 21).    This was no sparkling success story for Mary to share at Galilean Tupperware parties.

Or was it?

Jesus’ death calls me to a rising that may take me lower into a humble, peace-loving place of repentance.  His rising invites me to ascend with Him to the people who are outside the gate, unlovely and unlettered, to be carried by the eternally transcendent questions and the answers that I affirm – not merely by the falsehoods that I fight.

Rising, we step through God’s open door and find that He is far bigger than we ever imagined.

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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 Mosaic of Images on Joy and Prayer

I come from a tradition that is suspicious of written or scripted prayers, believing that spontaneity is a sign of sincerity and casting askance glances at those who must borrow the words of others in order to talk to God.  Then I became a mother and realized that not only were my own words in prayer untrustworthy at times, but there were also events in life for which words would not come. Praying the examen of conscience at the end of a day has often given my tired brain a place to go and an outline to guide my conversation with God.

Light When It Comes by Chris Anderson is a guide book for the practice of “paying fierce attention” to life in order to enhance one’s prayer life and to ensure that we catch all the stories that matter.  At the end of the day, it is helpful to me to remember that I have an audience with God and to review the events of the day with thanksgiving, paying attention to emotions, to the ways in which guidance has come and miracles have happened.  It is also a time to offer up all the failings and disappointments for forgiveness and grace and to make plans for a more Christ-centered tomorrow.

In the midst of this reflection, I find that life distills down to a series of moments.

“The only place I can be is the moment.
Everything else is an abstraction.” (25)

Chris Anderson intersperses his teaching on joy and prayer with vivid re-tellings of moments from his own life in a way that I found to be jarring at first:  a story about a yellow warbler calling “sweet-sweet-sweet-sweeter-than-sweet”  jostles around between a vignette from a funeral and a description of the sound of his son playing the harmonica with a Bruce Springsteen CD.  Eventually, though, these disjointed stories began to “appear in their real potency,” just as the unsettling stories of Scripture do when we let them speak for themselves and to communicate beyond the stained glass and the flannel boards.

Reviewing the events of the day in the presence of God is an opportunity to face the darkness as well as to remember the joy.  This too is part of the paying attention, part of the humility that acknowledges that “God is greater than our hearts and He knows all things“– including the things we wonder about.

The author examines servanthood from his perspective as a church member and a deacon, acknowledging his own mixed motives (the only kind of motives available to humans), and the thirst that tries to satisfy itself with something other than Living Water (Praise?  Order?  Certainty? No, these do not quench the thirst . . .)

He portrays service as a learning process:

“Whatever else it is, the story of Jesus is the story of letting go and the giving up we have to do every day of our lives.” (86)

This paying attention to life means that God shows up in surprising ways:  in the midst of confusion, on the days when I don’t like myself, when what I really need to do is to stop analyzing and to start trusting. It is a recognition of the humility of a simple “and” when viewing the pieces that make up the mosaic of our lives, not striving for or forcing our way into “thus” or “therefore” before light has come, but offering up the individual events, both good and bad, so that the creation of the mosaic is, in the end, left to God.

Chris closes with two premises that bring the pieces together into a joyful whole:

  1.  “God is present in every moment and in every molecule.  His grace and His love are nowhere less than complete and full, anywhere in the universe, anywhere in time.
  2. The love of God and the grace of God are freely given, are nothing but gift, [and] there’s nothing we can ever do to earn them.  No matter how much I read or pray or do good works, I will never be more loved by God than I am in this very second.  Yes, we should strive to be better, we should strive to be more moral and faithful people, but not in order to merit the love of God but rather as a loving and grateful response to it.”

Having said all that, it is not in premises that Light When It Comes urges us to find our life, but rather in the blessed randomness of holy joy that flows into the wildly disjointed pieces of our moments and our days, making of it all a gift.

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This book was provided by the 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 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.

The Power of a Single Word

Receive . . . Enjoy . . . Let go

Freighted with meanings and memories, associations and reflections far beyond their official definitions, words can be an invitation to pay attention.

Watch . . . Accept . . . Resist

Marilyn McEntyre has chosen fifteen words as the basis for fifteen weeks of daily meditations, as Word by Word, she challenges readers to let the word of the week become a focus for prayer and for biblical meditation.

Allow . . . Be still . . .Follow

There is a delight to discovering that “words may become little fountains of grace,” and Marilyn’s brief daily musings amplify the voice of the Spirit, sending me back to the Source.

Rejoice . . . Ask . . . Dare

For those who believingly follow Jesus Christ, meditation begins, not with an empty brain or a blank slate, but with revealed Truth.  Our use of language is a mark of the image of God, and the words we use are the basis of our communion with ourselves, with one another, and with God in prayer.

Leave . . . Welcome . . . and my favorite:  Listen

Word by Word reminded me again (I’m a slow learner) of the need to listen with humility and openness, to “notice what I notice,” which is sound advice indeed, especially in the pursuit of Spirit-breathed wisdom.

Throughout Scripture, the faithful found that the voice of God often emerged from the silence.  In this season of Advent, I find myself listening in to the four- hundred-year silence between the testaments, the pause that was broken by startling birth announcements and accompanied by angels.  John’s first epistle identifies this “manifestation” as The Word of life, a reminder that God’s ultimate self-expression and His message are so inextricably linked that they have been identified by a single term:  The Word.

Of course, it should be clearly understood that listening is a risky business, because the listener may be required to act upon what she hears.

Those who dare to engage in the counter-cultural practices of listening, pondering, and praying will find that it turns down the volume on this kingdom of noise and clears the deck for a habit of stillness and a continuing practice of listening — really listening — as we read Scripture in the manner in which it was given:  word by word.

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This book was provided by William B. Eerdmans 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.”

An Announcement for January

Most of us have a favorite C.S. Lewis book, whether it’s the incisive practical theology of Mere Christianity or the glorious story-telling found in The Chronicles of Narnia.  It turns out that C.S. Lewis’s favorite of all his books was Till We Have Faces.  One Lewis scholar calls it his “most subtle treatment of the relation between good and evil.”

Till We Have Faces is a novel, based on the mythical tale of Cupid and Psyche, and in it, Lewis explores themes such as the selfishness of human love, the limits of reason, the corrupting effects of self-will, and in Lewis’s own words, “the havoc a vocation or even a faith works on human life.”   I’m planning to lead a discussion group about the book starting in January, and am hoping that many of you will join me, so here’s a quick overview of the plan:

  1.  The pace will be leisurely at three chapters per week (about 30-ish pages), which will take us into the beginning of March.
  2. I will be posting weekly starting January 5 (Thursdays) with introductory material and a detailed reading schedule.  My hope is that the comments section here at Living Our Days will become a comfy living room where we can discuss our thoughts on the book.  If you blog, PLEASE plan to include a link to your post about the week’s reading so that we can all benefit from one another’s impressions with more detail than is possible in the comments.  If you don’t blog, no worries.  Just share your thoughts in connection with the weekly reading here, and be sure to visit and respond to others.

More details to follow!

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A Prayer for November 9th

By faith, we have gone behind the curtain.
We have made our voices heard, according to the temperature of our hearts —
Some with a raised fist;
Some with a wavering hope.

We have sifted the relative merits of two deeply flawed and difficult candidates.
We have heard the word “Never” said about the person who lost the election —
and about the person who won.
We have learned that only You are equipped to say that word with absolute certainty.
Thank you that the eye of the storm has passed, and we can now begin to put feet to those whispered prayers:  “Thy will be done.”

In the aftermath of this political hurricane, we ask for grace:
To be charitable;
To pray for the winner;
To honor the brother or sister who voted for our “Never” candidate;
To advance into the culture — knowing full well that politics is all “downstream”;
To trade litmus tests for conversations with real people;
To renounce our deep desire to say, “I told you so”;
To live in such a way that strong families, strong churches, strong communities, and strong faith will become our First Thing, giving us courage to stand for righteousness.

May our desire to be folded into the number of those nations who are called “blessed” impact the way we practice Mere Christianity, knowing that those who fear You, who hope in Your mercy, and who wait for You are those who will rejoice.

Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us,
Just as we hope in You.”   (Psalm 33:22)

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This prayer was inspired by the stimulating and insightful conversation between World Magazine’s Warren Cole Smith and Rusty Reno, editor of First Things Magazine in the November 4, 2016 edition of the Listening In podcast.

I invite you to join  Deidra Riggs at her Prayers of the People Facebook page to unite in prayer for our nation in these days following November 8th.

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 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.

 

 

Sometimes, Instead of Bread, I Ask God for Stones

 

I have a battered notebook that has been with me for so long that four of its pages date back to the birth of each of my sons.  It is in this notebook that I write down the requests – big and small — that I bring to God.

Should our family take the adventure of a cross-country trip in a mini-van? 

Who gets my vote this time?

Lord, help our church family to find a shepherd.

Certainly, my notebook is a record of God’s faithfulness, but even after all these years, I don’t pretend to understand the pattern of scattered checkmarks – or the replies from God that they denote – for the notebook also chronicles my uneasy relationship with prayer.

At some point, it’s bound to happen to everyone who believingly follows the One who said “when you pray”:  the bubble of predictability is pricked and horror comes rushing in regardless of prayers to the contrary.  My notebook speaks into this tension.

  • Fervent prayer for a missionary friend with cancer – dead six weeks from diagnosis.
  • Focused supplication for a marriage to survive . . . and another . . . and another. All have dissolved, and are barely a memory now.

Even the Apostle Paul with his inside track to the third heaven never claimed to understand the ways of God.

Instead, he said, “I know whom I have believed,” (II Tim. 1:12).

Therefore, he took grace —  and the power of Christ —  as glorious consolation prizes that came instead of the healing for which he prayed three times, (II Cor. 12:8,9).

What has been your experience with prayer — especially when God says no?  This tiny confession of mine is part of a month-long theme over at SheLoves Magazine, so I’m hoping that you will join me over there to read the remainder of the story — and, hopefully, to be encouraged to persevere in your prayer life.

And while you’re there, do take a moment to visit the thoughts and shared wisdom of so many others!

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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 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.