6 thoughts on my father

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This week’s list is all about this guy! If you know him, you’ll understand. If you don’t I sure hope you get to meet him someday, ’cause you’re missing out!

My father is in the midst of a “nice off” with two of his neighbors.  It all started this winter when Neighbor #1 (aka The Snowman) began plowing my parents’ driveway whenever it snowed more than a couple of inches.  The Snowman lives two doors down, and although he’s been to the house several times, we still don’t know his real name. Men aren’t big on details, it turns out.

By way of repayment, my father, who noticed The Snowman did not own a lawnmower, took over mowing duties at his house. Neighbor #2 (whose name we do actually know), having seen my father mowing The Snowman’s front lawn, appeared one afternoon and mowed my father’s front lawn.

It’s all just so beautifully ridiculous.  And it’s the perfect picture of loving one’s neighbor.


Last weekend I met an aunt and uncle of mine for the first time. Most people will probably think that’s a bit odd, or think there were circumstances that prevented us from meeting earlier in my life, but no, that’s just how extended family works with us.  I have countless cousins I’ve never met either. It’s what comes of my father growing up in a large family that was torn apart by divorce, alcoholism and anger.

But to meet my father, you would think he grew up in a Christian home with parents who loved him, his 5 siblings and each other to death, and loved God even more.

My father is one of the gentlest, sweetest, most godly men I know, but all of that came later in his life. God had a plan for him – and for our family – and so my father met Jesus in his early 20’s.  He and my mother just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and their only slightly shorter walk with God. Thanks to that divine intervention early in their marriage, my brother and I got to grow up knowing Jesus from Day 1.


Music has always been a big part of life in our house. I remember my parents playing old records on this stereo system that was clearly built in the 50’s and was so large, it served as a table for much of my childhood.  Barry Manilow, the Gaithers, and even a bit of Elvis from time to time poured through the rooms of the house like a vintage wine.  Later came CD’s of Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, and Pachelbel’s Greatest Hit.

My mother sang in the church choir when I was growing up, but my father always said the choir director paid him to usher instead. That doesn’t mean my father doesn’t sing. He sings.  A lot.  And he’s even pretty good at it – with one little catch: He gets the tunes right, but the words? Well, let’s just say, he’s a creative soul.  He sings about cats, cookies, the weather, and once, a particularly hilarious ditty about salmonella, all to the tunes of songs you would otherwise know.

Music is unquestionably a gift from God, and I’ve always been grateful that my parents passed a love of music on to me. I may roll my eyes at some of the words, but I love so much to hear my father sing!


If you ever want to meet someone with the gift of evangelism, let me know, and I’ll introduce you to my father.  I don’t know how he does it, but he is one of few people I know who can ask someone “so, if you were to die tonight, do you know for sure you would go to Heaven” and actually get an answer.  It’s probably because he’s so gentle and sweet and godly.

Time and time again, he has come home from work, the barber, the hardware store, and who knows where else with stories about his conversations with complete strangers that ended with a new brother or sister in Christ. He has this openness to God’s leading that I both admire and envy, and God has blessed him with so many opportunities to reap what someone else has sown.  This gentle, sweet, godly man is bold when it counts, and for him, what counts is the Kingdom.


 

You haven’t ridden the Tilt-a-Whirl until you’ve ridden it with my father. Trust me…

One of my favorite things to do is just to sit and watch my father laugh. Sometimes it takes a little while for him to get started because he doesn’t always get jokes right away, but once he does, he can’t stop himself. First he laughs at the joke he just got, then he laughs at himself for just now getting said joke.  He laughs on the Tilt-a-Whirl like no one you’ve ever known, and that alone it makes it my favorite ride too.  He laughed so hard he cried at this Mr. Bean sketch the first 10 times he saw it, and now, thanks to him, none of us can sing that song in church without busting up and causing a general ruckus in the rows around us.

Some people guffaw loudly when something strikes them as funny.  Some people cackle.  My father? He has this wheezy laugh that might make you think he was having some sort of lung issue if it weren’t for the fact that his eyes twinkle between scrunched up lids, and his whole body bounces up and down in a joyful dance.

More often than not, if there’s something funny going on, chances are quite good I’m not laughing so much at whatever that is. I am laughing at my father laughing.


I know that many, many people will say this weekend that they have the best father in the world.  And I know that many, many people this weekend will grieve that either they don’t, or their that father is no longer with them (and if that’s you, as I know is true for far too many of my friends, my heart breaks for you on days like today). But I know that God has given me the absolute best father in the world.  He’s perfect for me, and my Heavenly Father knew that before either of us were born.

The Heavenly Father who loves us both more than we’ll ever know how to love each other, hand-picked my earthly father for me and me for him.  He knew we would enjoy Tilt-a-Whirls, talking about Him and the work He’s doing around us, watching fireworks every chance we get, going for bike rides along the canal, and searching the night sky for planets and constellations. Our Heavenly Father, who knows us better than we know ourselves, knew we would need each other, and in His grace and love, He put us in the same family. And I couldn’t be more grateful.

Happy Father’s Day, My Dear! I love you more than all the words in all the dictionaries in all the world could ever say.

What’s on your list about your father? What’s on your list about your Father?

A prayer for the anxious heart

I noticed something this morning that I’ve never seen before. What follows is my prayer in response to God’s kindness. I pray that you will be encouraged too…

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time, He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties in him, because He cares for you. ~ 1 Peter 5:6-7 (ESV)

Father, I just noticed for the first time that this is all one sentence. It’s not 2 separate thoughts…

  • “Humble yourselves” – I’ve been asking You to humble me, keep me humble, etc., but I’m actually supposed to do that myself. I need to make the conscious choice, every moment of every day, to live humbly before You and the people You put in my path.
  • “under the mighty hand of God” – What other option is there, really, than to understand Your might and my frailty, and to therefore take on a position and posture of humility. To do or think anything else is to attempt to exalt myself above You, and…
  • “so that…He may exalt you”that’s Your job, not mine.
  • “at the proper time” – You, who are not bound by time, know the proper time for everything. And, You know my heart. You alone know when I have truly humbled myself before You, so You alone know when I am ready to handle being exalted by You, without being in danger of putting on even an ounce of pride.
  • “casting all your anxieties on Him”Anxiety is a type of pride. Pride, that most wily of sins, disguising itself in so many forms. When I am anxious, my focus is on me and my problems. But when I honestly and completely humble myself under Your mighty hand, I recognize that only You can do anything about what I’m choosing to be anxious about. It’s all about You and Your glory, not mine, and this is…
  • “because He cares for you.” – It is Your love, kindness, and gentle care for me that begs me to trust You. It’s Your care that assures me that I can trust You.

Father, You care for me, You know what’s best for me, so I don’t have to be anxious about anything. Anxiety and humility can not coexist. You invite me to humility.  Saying “yes” to Your invitation frees me from fear, and puts me exactly where You want me to be – in the care of Your mighty hand.

Oh Lord, Your wisdom leaves me in awe! Thank You!

On snipers and nudges

I lay on the couch, snuggled under a quilt, listening to the wind and playing a game on my Kindle to pass the time before I had to get ready for the party. The party I didn’t really want to go to, but knew I should. (It’s always the same story with me – I want to be invited, but I never want to go. Ah, the life of the socially anxious introvert…)

Just laying there, moving jewels around on the screen, crushing rocks, vaguely thinking about the party, listening to the wind. The very picture of peace and contentment…

Then, “It would just be easier if you were dead”.

Ah, my old friend. You’ve returned after a bit of a hiatus. Haven’t heard from you in a while. Can’t say I’ve missed you…

(Now before you go calling the authorities on me, allow me a moment to explain. Yes, I am clinically depressed, and yes, I do have suicidal thoughts with frightening regularity. But no, I am not suicidal per se. Thoughts only, not actions. I promise. Oh, and my counselor says I’ll be fine.)

I’ve heard that voice and that sentence more times than I can count. I still remember the first time I heard it. I was six. It floats in when I least expect it, when my defenses are down, drops the bomb, and floats out again. And since my defenses were definitely down in that moment, I’m not surprised it showed up.

But this time, it’s different. I’m different. This time, while I can’t say I was ready and waiting for the attack, I was at least prepared to respond.

“God,” I asked, “why does the Enemy want to destroy me?” It wasn’t an angry question, or even a fearful one. It was just a matter-of-fact, almost conversational question. I had no doubts about where the voice was coming from. In fact, God and I had been talking about it just a few hours earlier. And that right there was what made me different…

 


 

After finally succumbing to some nudging on the Holy Spirit’s part, January has been all about spiritual disciplines for me. Regular times of prayer, purposeful Bible reading, and saturating my heart and mind with good teaching have been my habits. Frequent conversations with God about whatever happens to be on my mind have also become habit again.

And these new habits allowed me to bring this latest development up with my Father right away. My Father who is for me. My Father who loves me. My Father who is listening for me to call His name. My Father who had been forming my habits and preparing my heart for this moment. My Father who I had just told I didn’t want to go to the party.

The answer came quickly and quietly, and it wasn’t particularly earth-shattering: “Think about what you’re doing. You’re helping kids get to know Jesus. Of course the Enemy wants to destroy you.”

 


 

It’s a reality I’ve come to understand with greater clarity over the last year: ministry is dangerous work. Sure, I get to go to work with some of my favorite people everyday, wear jeans and comfy sweatshirts and have meetings on couches. But I know that underneath all of that ease are landmines and a sniper’s rifle aimed right at my heart every moment of the day. (Dramatic much? Eh, maybe a little, but there’s a reason we’re told to put on the full armor of God, ya know?)

And anyone who decides, regardless of job title or position, to work for God, lives the same dangerous life day in and day out. Anyone, in any career, who has come to understand that the work she does, she does for God and God alone, ends up on the same spiritual frontline. Right there, in the Enemy’s crosshairs. An easy target.

But there is a beautiful, thrilling truth that renders the Enemy’s weapons useless and makes this work we do awesome: In Christ, the victory has already been won. Shots fired in our direction may wound from time to time, there’s no doubt about that, but they cannot ever destroy. We belong to the victorious Lamb and He has called us to work for Him!

 


 

So I agreed with God that yes, what I’m doing probably does make me an attractive target, and I settled back in with my game. But He wasn’t finished with the conversation just yet. I felt another little Holy Spirit nudge, this one about how I’ve been spending my time. I sighed and closed the game. Mindless entertainment was risky for me right then, and although it was enjoyable, I knew I needed to go do something productive. Eat dinner, write, clean my room (nah, not that ;) ), something other than allowing my mind to wander off its spiritual leash.

And thus I’ve stumbled onto February’s assignment: Practice being intentional with my time.

Oh Father, you do make me smile…

 

What has God been nudging you about lately?

2015 Word of the Year

A few years ago, I ran into the idea of picking a word to define my hopes, dreams, and goals for the year. The word is a picture of where I would like to be in 365ish days.  Sometimes it’s an action I want to take. Sometimes it’s a quality I want to embody. Sometimes it’s a goal I want to work toward. Whatever it is, it usually means I have some work to do.

This past weekend, some of my coworkers and I took 24 hours away from the frantic pace of ministry to seek God before starting in on a new year.  We spent time in corporate prayer, in solitude and silence, and in listening.  (For the record, I’ve decided this really needs to be an annual thing…)

I found this little chapel tucked away in the corner of the retreat center. The colors and the quiet took my breath away.

I found this little chapel tucked away in the corner of the retreat center. The colors and the quiet took my breath away.

Part of the weekend involved sitting quietly with God and asking Him what HE wants for us this year.  After a while, we came back together as a group and shared with each other our Word for 2015.

As someone who spends most of her time and energy trying to prove her worth, earn her place and just generally living the workaholic lifestyle (am I alone here? Yeah, didn’t think so.), the word God picked out for me was a little confusing.  My first thought was, “Well, sure, but how do I do that?” My second thought was, “But wait, that’s not measurable! How will I know I’ve succeeded?

God interrupted my third thought with a thought of His own: “That, my dear, overachieving child, is the point.

Oh.

Got it.

I think.

You see, for the first time since I started this annual exercise, the word God gave me was not a word I could act on, quantify, or strive for.  This year, there will be no doing, only being.  What’s my word?

Grace.

The sun shining against the windows created the most beautiful abstract art I've ever seen.

The sun shining against the windows created the most beautiful abstract art I’ve ever seen.

For someone who constantly thinks she needs to earn and prove and strive and convince, grace is confounding.  Grace can not be earned. Grace can not be taken ahold of. Grace can not be checked off of a list.

Grace is freely given from a Father who loves us more than we can even begin to imagine. Grace is poured out on us in such quantity that no human soul can contain it.

And grace, for people like me, is hard to accept.

But this year, I am asking my Father to help me understand how much I’m loved and treasured by Him, and to give me the will, the humility and the wisdom to accept the gift He has been holding out to me since before I was born. Because at the end of the year, I want to be someone who not only accepts God’s grace toward me, but who is fluent in extending His grace to myself, and to others.

There’s really no way to chart that. No graph can adequately depict when one has learned to live under grace.

And that, dear overachiever, is the point.

What’s your word this year? What challenges and opportunities does your word create for you?

An open letter to my BBC Crew

My heart is so broken right now. Yes, for the loss of my friend, but really for the loss of your friend. You guys should not have to feel this pain. It’s a reminder that all is not right in this world. That sin has ruined everything. My heart breaks when I think of the Jonny-shaped hole that has been left in your group. It’s a hole that no one else will ever be able to fill, and I’m sorry it’s there. It’s not right.

I can only imagine what each of you is thinking and feeling right now, so let’s talk about it for a minute, ok? There are some things I want you to know…

  1. It’s ok to be sad. It should go without saying, but there will be those who will try to tell you that because Jonny is with Jesus, you should be happy for him, and you should be happy that you’ll see him again. While this is true, in the meantime, go ahead and be sad. It’s ok.
  2. It’s ok to be angry. Someday soon, you’re going to wake up and you’re going to be really angry. Angry at Jonny for being somewhere he shouldn’t have been. Angry at God for ordaining that particular day in his life, and really, in all of our lives. Anger isn’t a sin. If we’re not careful, it can lead to sin as we saw sometimes in Jonny’s own life, but in and of itself, it’s ok to be angry.
  3. It’s ok to doubt. Part of growing up in our faith is that flipside of doubt. For some of you, what happened this week will make you doubt God’s love, God’s faithfulness, God’s kindness, God’s care and compassion for you. It’s ok to doubt, but talk about it together. Don’t hold it in and let it fester. “It’s not doubt that’s toxic, it’s unexpressed doubt that’s toxic.” ~ Cari Powell So if you have doubts, talk about them, work them out. It’s ok.
  4. It’s ok to laugh. This weekend, we’re going to tell our stories, probably around a fire in the Rowley’s back yard. And let’s be honest, with Jonny as the main character, those stories are going to be hilarious! So in the midst of our grief, we’ll laugh, probably a lot, and it will be perfectly ok.

I can’t wait to be with you this weekend. To listen to you, to love on you, to hug you (sorry, Riley, it’s going to happen…), to cry with you. But more than anything, I can’t wait to worship with you. Worship was Jonny’s heartbeat, and it’s going to be awesome! The first time I laid eyes on any of you, that’s exactly what you were doing, and in all the time I’ve known you, it’s what you’ve always done, in spite of some interesting odds.

You guys really are something special. I’ve never seen a group of high school and college “kids” who love Jesus the way you do,

Jonny Big Haus Kahuna Gregoire, Captain of the Football Team, Player of Guitar, Owner of a Pool February 8, 1993 - November 8, 2014 Philippians 1:21

Jonny Big Hoss Kahuna Gregoire, Captain of the Football Team, Player of Guitar, Owner of a Pool
February 8, 1993 – November 8, 2014
Philippians 1:21

who worship Jesus the way you do, and who love each other the way you do. Seriously, I’m in absolute awe of you.

Josh, JD and Nick, you guys have been the public face of our private grief this week, and I am so proud of you. The maturity and composure you’ve shown, but even more, the way you’ve pointed people to Jesus, is a testimony of the faith you’ve all cultivated together over these last few years. Thank you for doing the hard things, thank you for working out your salvation and for helping the next generation at Bethlehem see what that really looks like.

To the rest of you, the things you’ve written on Facebook this week have been so powerful and beautiful. They reveal your hearts for Jonny, yes, but also for God. Every last one of you has made sure that in honoring your friend, you pointed people straight at the Gospel. Jonny spent the last year of his life doing that – thank you for carrying on his legacy.

So with all of that said, I will see you soon. It’s going to be an incredibly hard weekend, but it’s going to be a weekend none of us will ever forget. There will be Chick-fil-A, and fires, and 4th Meals, and Arizonas and of course, Wiffleball in a stadium I strongly suspect will be rechristened with a new name. It will be hard, but it will be good. Jonny will be honored and Christ will be glorified – exactly the way it should be! Love you all!

Weapon one: worship

By His hand we stand in victory. By His name we overcome.

 

For months, it’s gotten harder and harder to pray, to worship, and even to sit through an entire church service. Fear, discouragement, guilt, feelings of worthlessness… Instead of songs of praise or prayers for help, these were my song, these were the thoughts I rehearsed.

I knew why. I knew exactly why, but I felt powerless to fight against it. I was exhausted. I felt completely alone. And no one can fight a battle exhausted and alone. So I gave in and let these evils wash over me like a hurricane-driven wave. And in doing so, I ended up exactly where Satan wanted me: Powerless, crushed, silent.

At a time when I needed to rely on and worship God the most, at a time when we were in the midst of building a new ministry at work and my pastors were preparing for a couple of pretty powerful series, I had willingly surrendered to all the wrong things. I handed myself over, not to the will and direction of my God who speaks Truth, but to the will and direction of the one who only speaks lies.

While I should have been gearing up for battle months ago, I was working too hard, not resting, really at all, and not dedicating myself to prayer, worship, Scripture or daily examination. I was completely undisciplined in the spiritual disciplines I knew I needed. I let my guard down. I invited my Enemy to walk right in, and he happily obliged.

So as usually happens in these cases, I had a little bit of a breakdown this week. I blamed it on things happening with my job, but the truth is that those things were merely the symptoms of the infection I’d allowed to fester. It was no one’s fault but mine, and I knew it, but God is unendingly faithful, gracious and merciful. I never should have allowed myself to get so run down and far away from my Lifeline, but when I did, He provided exactly the weapon I needed to begin to fight my way back.

After some chats with some people who, it turns out, care about me a whole lot more than I’ve ever given them credit for, I’ve spent some time today doing some spiritual surgery, immersing myself in confession, writing, and for the first time in a long time, in worship.

Through worship, I’ve begun to speak truths to my heart that it’s been unwilling to hear or accept:

  • In Christ I have victory over fear, insecurity, discouragement, guilt, and feelings of worthlessness.
  • God really does love me.
  • I do matter, and in Christ I have purpose, meaning and a calling for which He specifically equips me every day.
  • The promises found in God’s word aren’t just for other people – they’re for me too.

Worship is a powerful weapon. It’s light and easy to wield. It’s readily available anytime – day, night, at home, at work, in the car, at the gym. It takes many forms, whether songs, psalms, prayers, art, dance, or even just silent awe. We often think of worship as our gift to God, but really, it’s one of His greatest gifts to us.

So, how about taking a few minutes to worship? :)

Do-overs

do overI got to have a surprise lunch with my mother today. And it was nice. Really nice. We ate in a really cool old tavern with really good food just a mile and a half from our house. It’s been on the same corner in the same small town for over 200 years. I’ve been there once, just a few weeks ago, and she’s never been.  (That has me thinking about all the things around me that have been there forever, but which I’ve never enjoyed. Although that’s probably a post for a different day.)

We had a great conversation and got to talking about the fact that I’m unemployed. Again.  She sweetly pointed out, as only a mother can, that I’ve been here before. This is not my first time at the Unemployment Rodeo. She’s right. And she’s wrong. Yes, I have a Last Time, but I also have a This Time.

Last Time was hard. Last Time was incredibly painful. Last Time was terrifying. And Last Time, it was all my fault.

Last Time, I was angry, bitter, resentful and just generally miserable.  But that was Last Time.

This Time is different.

On Tuesday afternoon, I was introduced to this prayer.  The first time I read it, I had no words to describe how it impacted me.  It’s so comprehensive. It’s so powerful. It’s so scary. (What if God answered every part of this prayer every day I prayed it? Would I even be able to handle the things He did in my life? Mind blowing!)

As I started to work through this prayer this morning, I didn’t get far. The second sentence says this:

I honor you as my sovereign Lord, and I surrender every aspect of my life totally and completely to you.

That stopped me in my tracks. I sat there at the kitchen counter for a very long time mulling over those words.  I thought about everything I’ve been reading lately about the sovereignty of God (I’m on a bit of a Calvinist kick at the moment). The words of Piper, Pink, Edwards, and Stedman floated around in my head.

Do I believe God is sovereign? Do I believe He has ordained each of my days?

And if I do believe that, have I surrendered every aspect of my life totally and completely to Him? Because if I believe He is sovereign, and I haven’t surrendered to Him, I’m fighting against an unbeatable force.

Then I started thinking about Last Time and This Time and how they are so very different.  Unlike Last Time, This Time, as I wait for God to work out details, make decisions clear and move a mountain or two, I’m at peace.

This Time, I have chosen to trust in God’s goodness no matter how long it lasts, or what the outcome ends up being.

This Time, I’m taking regular time to rest because I recognize how exhausting this journey is and will continue to be until it ends.

This Time, I’m using my time wisely – serving others, studying Scripture very deeply, working on some new friendships.

This Time I’m happy.  This Time, I’m able to rejoice in the Lord (most of the time – hey, I’m still human…).

It has been said that we often repeat experiences because God is giving us the chance to do it right. True or not, it kind Do over 2of makes sense.  God sometimes uses trials to sanctify us, to help us grow, and to make us more like Christ. If, as we’re going through a trial we instead become angry, bitter and resentful, it would make sense that God would graciously let us try again. After all, He’s all about His glory, and anger, bitterness and resentment do not bring Him glory (shocking, I know).

The mercy and grace of God allows do-overs. The mercy and grace of God ordains do-overs. Because God loves us and wants us to be more and more like His Son, He gives us opportunities to move toward that goal. If we mess up and move in the wrong direction, because He is merciful and gracious, He lets us try again.

When we find ourselves faced with the same types of difficult circumstances over and over again, it can feel like God is picking on us. But what if He was using those do-overs to bring us to a place of joyful, complete and total surrender to Him and His will? What if those do-overs are a manifestation of His love and care for us?

How would we look at our trials differently if we truly believed that God is sovereign, that He loves us and that He only wants what’s best for us? Would we see do-overs as a chance to trust Him more?

That’s the approach I’m choosing to take This Time. How about you?

[Sidenote: This post reminds me of one of my least favorite movies and I find that pretty hilarious. : ) ]

Warning signs on the road of faith

Earlier this week, I was presented with a ministry opportunity at my church that I am, quite frankly, really excited about.  It was something I wanted to do, and was just kind of waiting for the opportunity to open up.  I knew that if and when it did, I would say “yes”.  Within hours of being asked to pray about it, I had already told my parents and a couple of other people that I was doing it.

So why did I wait more than 2 days after I had made my decision to tell the one person who needed to know?  I asked God about that, and two reasons popped almost immediately into my mind:

  • Pride: This could cover so much, but in this case, I didn’t want to seem too eager and at the same time, I guess I wanted to appear more spiritual. In all honesty, this particular opportunity had already appeared in both the S and T sections of my ACTS prayers the week before.  I knew the opportunity was opening up, it had been suggested that I’d be a good fit, so I’d already started praying that if this was something God wanted me to do, that it would be presented.  So why couldn’t I just say that I had already prayed about it and that it was a “go” instead of waiting and possibly giving the impression that I was still praying about it? The best I can come up with is pride, pure and simple. That and…
  • Unbelief:  By waiting to declare my decision, I was, in essence, giving God a chance to change His mind/take the opportunity away. This turned into a chance for my old beliefs about God to creep back up. Once again, the God in my mind trumped Truth, and I allowed myself to believe, even if briefly, that God is mean and is out to hurt me.

This is not the first time I’ve run head-first into these two issues. Oh no, we’re old frienemies.  In fact, I’m so familiar with them that I’ve become rather comfortable with them.  There’s comfort in hiding behind the lie of pride.  There’s comfort in blaming God when I’m disappointed.

And on the flip side, honesty and vulnerability are downright terrifying sometimes.  Real, genuine, not-backing-down-for-anything faith can be heart-stopping.  Honesty, vulnerability and faith require me to let go. Of my carefully crafted image.  Of my right to complain when things don’t go my way. Of the chance to hide behind a lie instead of being vulnerable.

The truth is, when we let go, there is that split-second of panic, but God always, always, always catches us.  He is unendingly faithful. He knows what’s on our hearts before we know it well enough to put it into words (Psalm 139:4). He knows exactly where we are prone to fail, and He shows compassion and mercy in those places (Psalm 103:13-14). More than that, He provides people who show His grace and mercy to us, just in case His Word isn’t enough.

I can’t promise that I’m breaking up with pride and unbelief, but I can say that I don’t enjoy them nearly as much as I used to.  I know that from time to time, I’m still going to hang out with them.  But I also know that every time I realize what I’m doing, God is already there, ready to catch me and ready to forgive me.

Moosen CrossingI’ve also learned to recognize the signs that I’m about to wander off the road of faith and into dangerous territory. Indecisiveness in the moment on something I’ve already firmly decided is a big red flag.  The temptation to deceive by appearing to be someone I’m not is a flashing light.  Pseudo-spirituality is the warning sign of a coming cliff.  I know the signs and I know what to do about them: Put my faith fully and confidently in the One who made me and knows me better than I know myself.

When our faith is rightly placed, many of our decisions will seem to make themselves because we know it’s not about us and what we want. It is all about our Father and His glory. Just the way He intended.

What are some signs that tell you you’re about to go off the road of faith?

5 crazy things I’ve learned about prayer

The more daring the request, the more glory accrues to God when the answer comes. ~ A.W. Tozier

For the last 6-8 weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer.  I say that I’ve been “thinking” about prayer because that’s the best way I can describe what’s been going on, although it’s really been so much more than that.

In October, my church went through a series on prayer that involved writing prayers down, reviewing them, watching for answers, and sharing those answers with others.  The purpose of the exercise was to make prayer a priority, to become more disciplined in prayer and to “practice the presence of God” (great book, btw – you should definitely get your hands on a copy at some point).

In addition to sitting under some great teaching on prayer, my Life Group worked through Bill Hybels’ Too Busyprayer NOT to Pray (yeah, go ahead and get that one too).  It ended up being a very needed opportunity for me to be vulnerable and honest about how and why I pray.

And because that all wasn’t enough, I also delved into Ray Stedman’s book, Talking With My Father (yup, that one too), and started listening to every sermon about prayer by every pastor I follow on Twitter that I could find. (Wow! You people talk about prayer a lot! Thanks!)

So why have I been doing so much research on prayer?  Why has this been where my spiritual energies have been spent?  The answer is simple: Prayer is our most powerful tool, and I wasn’t wielding it.

I have this nasty habit of intellectualizing spiritual principles.  One of the reasons I like Beth Moore’s studies and the reason I love listening to people like John Piper and other high-minded thinkers is because I love the academics of Scripture study.  However, it’s easy for me to get caught up in said academics, and fail to make any personal application from what I’m hearing.

So, for my benefit, and hopefully yours, here are five things I’m working on committing to heart, and not just to mind:

  1. Prayer that starts out focused on God, rather than on my needs and wants, tends to make my needs and wants less urgent.
  2. The Lord’s Prayer was not meant to be chanted. It was meant to be an outline for our conversations with God.
  3. Yes, we can pray anywhere, anytime, but it is critical to spend dedicated, intentional time in prayer every single day, and some of that time should be spent sitting quietly, not saying anything.
  4. The most effective catalyst for prayer is answered prayer.
  5. The bigger our prayers, the more opportunity we have to see God do great things.  The smaller our prayers, the more opportunity we have to be disappointed.

I love the quote at the top of this post.  The purpose of everything we do, and of our very being (!), is to bring glory to God (Isaiah 43:7).  Basically what Tozier is saying is that our bold, daring prayers not only allow us to see God do truly amazing things, but they fulfill the purpose for which we were created.  Our requests, made with audacious faith, allow others to witness the glory of God, and often strengthen others’ faith just as our own faith is strengthened through seeing affirmative and powerful answers to prayer.

All this reading and listening and thinking about prayer really has changed the way I pray in the last few weeks, as much as it has changed my consistency in prayer.  The last two weeks in particular have been a time of incredible blessing in every way possible:

  • I’ve seen God open doors I didn’t even know existed.
  • I’ve seen God provide in ways I never imagined.
  • I’ve seen God build and strengthen some key relationships in my life.
  • I’ve seen God give me opportunities to bless others in ways I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.

our-father-in-heaven-matt-6So I write this post today not only to encourage you, but as a memorial to God’s faithfulness, His character and His blessing.  There will be darker days ahead when I will need to remember what He has taught me.  There will be days when I will need to speak words of truth into a friend’s heart.  There will be days when I’ll need to remember why I pray in the first place.

I am in awe that the God of creation, the omnipotent, omniscient God listens to me, and more than that, wants to listen to me.  That’s just crazy! Why would I ever shy away from that?

What has been the most powerful influence on your prayer life lately?

November of the soul

The calendar is running out, and we’re in the final stretch of the year. These are the last days before our weekends start filling up with parties, out-of-town visitors and the craziness that is Christmas in the Western World. This is the last opportunity we have to take some deep breaths and enjoy just a little peace and quiet before time is no longer our own. In some ways, November is cozy, relaxing and comfortable.  november-trees-no-color

But there’s another side of November that is harder to think about. If you’re not in the Northeastern part of the US, allow me to paint a picture of what November looks like: At this point in the year, most of the leaves have fallen off the trees, leaving skeletons against a cold, grey sky. The songbirds have mostly finished their yearly commute to slightly warmer homes, leaving the harsh caw of crows and blue jays to fill the quiet of morning. The clocks have been changed, and darkness falls before many people get home from work. The first snow is still a month or more away. November here is ugly, cold, and unwelcoming.

Our souls have Novembers. Did you know that? We have times when our spiritual lives have grown cold and barren. We struggle to pray. We read our Bibles, but find no “ah-ha” moments. We continue in our spiritual disciplines, but they feel like pushing a boulder up a hill, rather than being wrapped in a cozy quilt. We’ve all been there, and it isn’t a lot of fun.

But here’s the thing about November: After three weeks of plodding through and missing the beauty of October, when Fall was new and fresh and beautiful, we enter what is, for some, the most wonderful time of the year.

Turkey BowlAt the end of November here in the US, we celebrate Thanksgiving. Those of us who take this holiday seriously (and it’s actually my favorite holiday) set aside a day to remember all the ways God has worked and blessed us throughout the year. It’s a day to enjoy time with family and friends, to eat amazing food, watch a whole lot of football, play games, and enjoy being in relationship with others.

At the end of a cold, dark month, we intentionally pause to give thanks.

Our souls, weighed down by our personal Novembers, need Thanksgiving. When we’re feeling cold and dark and distant from God, giving thanks is an easy way to bring back the warmth, light and closeness we crave. Remembering God’s blessings, worshipping Him for who He is, and looking for reasons to be grateful in every circumstance can refresh our souls and lighten our hearts.

Thanksgiving ushers in the Advent season – that season when we look forward to Christmas and all it symbolizes. Thanksgiving begins the reminder that every promise of God was fulfilled when a tiny baby was born and the heavens erupted with the praise of angels.

Giving thanks to God in all circumstances changes our mindset, and focuses our attention on Him. Giving thanks to God for who He is and what He has done can make even the coldest, cloudiest day seem bright and warm, and can rescue the human soul from despair. Thanksgiving brightens the November of the soul and prepares our hearts to receive the blessings Christmas makes possible. On those days when our hearts feel cold and hard, giving thanks is a simple way to bring back the warmth and softness we need.

What are you most thankful for today?

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