It’s my last “prayer day” of the year, an extra-special one for me. Like the prayer day that precedes my birthday, I reflect, plan, and listen…
“I will listen to what God the LORD will say; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants– but let them not turn to folly.” Ps. 85:8
(and then listen again).
I have learned (and had to relearn too many times, and am still learning) that when I mix the order, I will later find myself reflecting with regret and begging God for mercy to bless what I have done of my own initiative, what I have planned in my own wisdom and limited understanding rather than in His leading, His provision, and His power.
I’ve made a deal with God, praying the same prayer countless times since I first prayed it in 1991, to remind myself and to restate my surrender for Him (He never really needs reminding, but I think He likes to hear me say it)…
“What ever the question, LORD, my answer is ‘yes’!”
…and a P.S. I added in college (after getting myself in way over my head with an overcommitted schedule of “good” things, not the “best” He had called me to)…
“As long as you make it clear to me what You want me to do, and let me know for certain that it is You asking me, I’ll do anything You ask.”
Once you hear and know what He is telling you to do, GET TO IT and STAY AT IT.
“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves… the one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:22-25
Some of the best counsel I have heard was given by a friend who, coming to the end of himself and his limited resources, was told these words by a godly counselor,
“What was the last thing you remember God clearly told you to do?”
“Do that until He tells you otherwise.”
Start there. Be faithful, and wait on the LORD. He will guide you!
So, can you remember the last clear instruction/command He gave you? — No? — Then when was the last time you were on your face seeking Him?
If it’s been a while and you feel at a loss for where to begin, grab your Bible, a pen, a notebook. Just start talking to the LORD, read a bit of His word, let Him talk to you, and then reply. Ask Him a question, then wait for Him to answer. Keep reading, listening, and talking to your Father.
It’s like a re-set button, a back to the basics “teach me to pray” guide that jump starts my prayer life with simple reminders. It was designed for Christmas; so now, before the start of another year, is the perfect time to cultivate a habit of prayer.
This will give you a taste of the type of things I do on my monthly prayer days. Only no two prayer days are exactly alike; so meet with the Lover of Your Soul, seek Him, and whatever tool you decide to use, make it your own, never getting away from the simplicity of
reflecting (praying and talking through your struggles, concerns, sins that need confessing, whatever is on your heart…)
listening (quieting your spirit, reading the Scriptures, being still in the LORD’s presence, waiting until You’ve heard from Him…)
planning (resolving in your heart a plan of action, a decisive step of obedience, even dreaming in the LORD’s presence of “impossible possibilities”…)
and listening again (asking “LORD, did I hear you clearly? Are my plans in line with Yours? Is there anything else You want to say to me <<< I get my best stuff in reply to that last question; so linger in His presence!!!!!)
You have time.
If you don’t, it sounds like you need to do a little more praying and listening before you do your planning. Like the wise old proverb says: “If you’re too busy to pray, you’re too busy.”
Enjoy His company today! Seek Him, and you will find Him.
a people under a spell: trapped in time, needing a Savior, …
a child of faith: knowing the truth, confronting a lie while clinging to the truth that the story book is not “just stories” but history…
and it all began, “once upon a time…”
It’s not just a TV show; it’s any show, every movie, every book, every story, every conversation heard in the company of Truth whispering revelations in parables.
I have an Ever-Present-Guide overwhelming me with glimpses of Perfection, of the Infinite, of ultimate Reality, Life, Hope, of Truth. It’s only a blink, and for a moment I see perfectly, clearly, vividly. Then the colors dim and a duller version of reality, a spell-bound, cursed illusion of reality, settles back over the world. Yet, something remains: insight.
I know the truth.
And I wonder, am I alone, awake in this dream, awake in this land of sleep-walkers who have forgotten who they are and where they come from?
I connect the dots, retrace the interweaving threads that have providentially lead me to this moment. — I am speechless. — I’m in a head-on collision with Providence. I had no idea that all “my ideas” were not my own. All along, I was walking down a path marked out of “works prepared in advanced for me to do”. And days slip by as I wrap my mind around the conclusion of the matter, another day, and I still am editing this same post…
Are these thoughts just for me, something to forever remain in the ever-growing catalogue of drafts to “treasure and ponder in my heart”? I set it aside, but I still wrestle.
(If you ever read this, I’ve surrendered this draft of jumble back into the hands of Sovereignty with the prayer, “LORD, translate my awe of You and how You speak to me into something that causes someone else to seek You.”)
… I feel like a child again, tangled-up in my inability to communicate.
Oh, to write of things unspeakable! I feel so inadequate.
How many stories have you heard already this week? Dozens to be sure. Were you entertained, distracted? Did you escape for a moment, veg-out? Or were you, a Seeker, walking so close to your Guide that you couldn’t help but hear the whisper of a revelation, the secret of a Parable?
In them (parables) is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” Mt. 13:14, Is. 6:9
I’m preparing for a Storybook (Kingdom Seeking) Spring Retreat that is all about stories: royal stories, princess stories, the stories of kings (particularly the kings of Israel and Judah), and our story; so in my free time, I’ve been reading fairytales, watching movies, and at the recommendation of a young friend, watching episode after episode of “Once Upon a Time”.
And as our family comes to the book of Revelation to wrap up our evening readings of the Bible this year, it is as if a series of hidden doors and secret passages are opening and from far away a cool breeze is blowing, stirring the stale, musty air of uninspired thoughts, rousing the nodding head and bleary mind, startling this drowsy-learner, alerting the senses to make connections in…
…stories. My story. Every story. His story.
It is the Spirit, sanctifying the ordinary, making the secular sacred, spinning and redeeming every tale, and touching my nerves so all my senses are aware of insights hidden in plain sight.
Without excuse, I am cognizant of the spiritual: the first of all the unseen dimensions, invisible qualities, eternal power, and divine attributes. Indeed, all History is His, all creation sings, the heavens declare. Oh, that I would not be mute to a blind and deaf world! I want to contribute my verse.
All around us, a Matrix of lessons woven into the fabric of our world goes unseen by the lazy heart, the preoccupied mind. Yet the Seeker, with her mind set on the Spirit, is led by the Spirit that, bearing witness with her spirit, guides her into all truth. She can learn from the ant, the fool, the wise and learned, from the good and the bad example. The Seeker learns from life, and life is stories: history, written and being written.
“Whoever has ears let him hear.” Mt. 13:9
Yet without a discerning heart, a listening ear, and a teachable spirit, stories are just stories, more of the same, a white noise of distraction that allow us to unwind and tune out the point. We are entertained but manipulated. We ride the train of thought fed to us and come to the clever conclusion intended by a script writer as our final destination.
We unwittingly find ourselves rooting for the handsome and charming, be he a lonely soul leaving his spouse to find true love. We’re willing to overlook the means for the immediate happily-ever-after, that cannot last, with no thought given to the age old tale that every use of dark “magic”, every sin, comes at great cost. — I want to yell at my computer screen as I watch back episodes, “Don’t do it! Won’t you learn? Don’t you see? Sin will cost you more than you know! Don’t make the deal! You’ll regret it in the end.”
The question is asked, “Can good win?” When we don’t cheat, when we don’t lie, when we don’t steal or make the compromising deal, when we don’t manipulate, when we play by the rules, can Love conquer all? Is Love the deep magic, the greatest power of all? Is there a Savior?
Jesus’s disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable…” Mt. 13:39
My college roommate came for a visit and gave me a Christmas book, a Once Upon a Time book of true stories. Had an angel appeared and handed me the volume, I would not be any more convinced of the timing being divinely inspired.
But, it is not just Ann Voskamp’s count down to Christmas, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. (Oh, what an introduction she writes! “In the beginning – that’s is when this story begins…”) Every story, fiction and non, that tells of love, good vs evil, happily-ever-after, character development; every children’s story or biography, contains an element that can resonate with man because it is either the history of man or the writings that expose the darkest heart or the deepest dreams of man.
Even when the plot turns sour or we are left wanting because of a poorly written, unresolved conflict, when we feel the Fall, we know there must be something more. It is there that the Holy Spirit speaks to us, if we will listen.
On a Lighter (more Christmassy) Note, since it is almost Christmas
I want to encourage you this week,
whether you’re watching Elf (the story of an ambassador who was out-of-place in this world),
Home Alone (the story of sin being pleasant for a season but ending in regret, loneliness, and separation / and the lengths that Love will go to bring reconciliation),
White Christmas (a story of love and relationships nearly destroyed by gossip and the importance of going to your brother first when you hear rumors of sin),
Christmas in Connecticut (a story of the inescapable mess that comes from one lie leading to another and the importance of telling the truth from the start),
The Grinch that Stole Christmas (an illustration of how easy it is to get wrapped up in holiday marketing and miss the message of Christ-mas entirely, how the acceptance and love of one humble person <or the hateful word and rejection of one insecure, proud, and selfish person> can impact the life of another),
It’s a Wonderful Life (another story of how one life touches so many others and how real wealth has little to do with material things),
or a Christmas Carol (a story of greed, repentance, second chances, and generously loving your fellow man), …
see if you can go a little deeper and find a “parable” (a spiritual truth or moral lesson hidden in a simple tale) in the stories you hear this week.
Don’t force it or make something up (as I did for the purpose of illustration with a couple of the movies above); rather, meet God in the morning, talk with Him throughout the day, and ask Him to speak to you. Then, when you hear a friend recount events of yesterday, listen to your child read aloud for school, or watch a movie with the family, tune in. Keep your spiritual ears open and see what hidden insight the Spirit will bring into plain view.
And remember, your life is a story! You are an epistle: “You yourselves are a letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone… you are a letter from Christ… written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 2 Cor. 3:2
Your story was written by God (“and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” Ps. 139:16); so you know it’s gonna’ be good!
God is Love! His is the deepest “magic”, the most powerful of all. He conquers all. There is a happily-ever-after that is pure and will last forever.
As the main character in your own story, and a major or a minor character in the story of every person you meet, be a hero, not a villain. Align yourself with God and the story He has written for your life. Make it beautiful, your favorite story, part of a grander story, with every day a parable for someone to read of some spiritual truth that God is weaving into who you are!
You have a story to share. Live it. Share it!
Before you know it, this part of your story will be over and a story, a never ending story, will begin. Then we will learn what “happily-ever-after” really means.
If you’re looking for a simple way to make Christ the focus of your days leading up to Chrsitmas, here’s a classic tradition that takes me back to my earliest childhood memories.
At our first Christmas as a new family, my husband and I chose to follow my family’s tradition of using an “advent” wreath to celebrate the first “coming” and anticipating the second “coming” of Christ, as we count down the four weeks prior to Christmas.
We follow a very simple tradition of lighting candles, asking easy to remember questions and responses, singing carols, and reading scripture that take us from Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah to the New Testament fulfillment in Christ.
Here’s a simple gift idea: I’ve printed out our traditional readings and made simple little booklets for my dearest friends as early Christmas gifts. (Adding the appropriate colored candle or making an advent wreath is also a nice touch.)
Traditionally there are 4 weeks and 5 candles: purple for weeks 1, 2, and 4; pink for week 3; and white for Christmas morning.
Why is the candle for the third week pink? Purple is a royal color, representing holiness and reverence, and is a traditional color for fasting. It reminds of the time of waiting, praying, longing, and seeking the coming of Christ the Messiah and King. But, week three is the week of JOY, a time to set fasting for celebrating! The color rose is a reminder to rejoice at the good news of Christ’s advent!
(My parents made their advent wreath with candle holders in wreath itself. For our first Christmas, I just chose to use a pre-made wreath that I thought looked “majestic” and placed a silver plate under it to set glass candle holders that I found at the dollar store.)
Some things are so constant (and not in the beautiful “north star”, Shakepearian “ever fixed mark” sort of way; I’m talking about the dreary, on-and-on-and-on, “give-me-a-break-already” way).
Cooking, cleaning, dealing with annoying people… Do ya’ ever get tired of doing the right thing?
Maybe it’s something as simple as laundry ever needing to be done…
or something as tedious as listening to a youngest child laboriously sound out the same reader that you have endured with every other sibling…
Maybe it’s frustrating, like consistently doling out a punishment for the same child for the same willful disobedience for the 70X6th time this week…
or it’s beyond disappointing as you attempt to give grace and pray for reconciliation in a long strained relationship, yet somehow the ugly-side of you and them keeps making an appearance…
(and you’re wondering if Jesus meant a literal or figurative “70X7” for forgiveness)
Maybe it’s listening to that long-winded, negative stranger/friend who you know is lonely/depressed/anxious and needs a compassionate ear or shoulder to cry on…
or that well meaning child with the extreme sensitivity to right and wrong that is compelled to seek righteous justice and wrath, and it sounds an awful lot like legalistic-tattling…
Maybe it’s the daily discipline of prayer when the answers seem slow (or non-existent)…
or the routine of exercise and healthy living when you don’t see the pounds dropping…
I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
What is the “good thing” you’re doing that you are tempted to let slide for a while or drop all together?
What person are you loving that you have pondered neglecting or saying “I’m done with you. I’ve gone this far with you, and I have no more to give!”?
STOP – Don’t just keep reading. Answer the question.
Do you need to write it down? Seriously, stop reading, get up, get a pen or Sharpie, and finish this sentence, writing your one word or phrase on a rock or stick or pretty sheet of paper or a post-it or something:
So, to get back to where I started, “Do you ever get tired of doing the right thing?”
Obviously, the answer is “yes”! And the LORD knew we would or He wouldn’t have given us these verses. They’re short enough to memorize yet simple and true enough to be relevant every day of our lives.
Now, if you’ll indulge me. (Please do!) I have two songs for you. Maybe they’ll sound a little juvenile to you, especially if you don’t have a two year old, but if I were with you, I’d sing the chorus of both for you right now. So, click on the links below and hug that ornery kid, fix that favorite meal for that ungrateful husband, call that mother-in-law, wrap that gift, wash that dish, make that bed…
(Some things are easier than others aren’t they!?! But, you “CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens” you. And we “have EVERYTHING we need for life and godliness” and there are “works prepared in advanced for us to do” and He who has called you will give you strength and grace to equal the task. So, DON’T GIVE UP!)
As Winston Churchill so eloquently echoed, “Never, never, never quit!”
May your choices tell the LORD, and the whole world, that you love Him.
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116
Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove: O no; it is an ever-fixed mark, That looks on tempests, and is never shaken; It is the star to every wandering bark, Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle’s compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
“Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!” 2 Thes. 3:16
Are you looking for a little motivation to stay active this winter?
Even if you’re not a Disney fan, I hope reading how I came up with my plan will inspire you to make a creative plan of your own.
Let’s make exercise part of our routine in a fun and extra-ordinary way; so we will look forward to gettin’ up and gettin’ movin’ every morning!
I have a neighbor/friend that is almost a decade and a half younger than me that is training for a marathon. A few weeks ago she popped in for a chat, all excited about going through her 60 day “Insanity” workout again. All her energy and motivational words about healthy eating and active living inspired me.
I told her I’d find a more “doable” fitness routine (for a “near middle-aged woman”) and join her. Shortly after starting we realized we were about to enter into the yummiest season of Halloween candy, Thanksgiving feasts, and Christmas pies and treats! With a verbal commitment to moderation and healthy choices (and WE WILL NOT BE LIARS!!!!), we decided we would persevere and hold each other accountable.
So far, so good. I’ve chosen to keep my fridge and cabinets stocked with a steady rotation of my healthy favorites. My meals/snacks are intentional treats of Greek yogurt, granola, raspberries, hummus, celery, bell peppers, jalapeños, avocados, black beans, limes, pepper-jack cheese, clementines, baby spinach, gala apples, almond butter, lima beans, brussel sprouts, broccoli, bananas, and an occasional mango … I’m in heaven!
Now I’m on week three of a twelve week DVD workout schedule, and I can’t believe how great I feel! (more energetic, stronger, more flexible, motivated, excited!) I think the difference is the variety which balances cardio with strength and flexibility circuits.
And, I’ve already faced my fear/pride of running (and having to walk most of the up hill) with someone who can run circles around me. Once a week, I’m hitting the black top and dirt roads with my young “Insanity”/Marthon-training neighbor. Yay, me!!!!
But, one question has kept coming to mind:
WHY am I doing this?
What is my motivation?
“to be healthy”, “challenging myself to stay active”, and “to feel good” are such vague goals…
even to “honor the LORD with my temple” and “rededicate my body to Him” are excellent reasons but still abstract and difficult to measure…
My neighbor has her marathon as the prize to keep pushing herself toward.
What will be my attainable-yet-challenging goal?
Here’s my train of thought:
I batted around the idea of running a few more 5Ks throughout the next year, maybe a 10K, but how will that motivate me in the dead of winter? I even considered setting the goal of a half-marathon, until I drove 13.1 miles. That is REALLY far. — In light of that, the idea of running 26.2 miles is absolutely out of the question! It holds NO appeal to me. But with my trip to Disney earlier this year still fresh in my mind, the idea of the Disney Marathon, running through all the Disney parks, sounds so fun.
Florida is flat. (I live in a land of mountains and every road home is uphill.)
The parks are filled with wonderful, happy distractions: music, characters, familiar rides and buildings, landscaping, and decorations.
I love Disney World.
Then, after looking at the Marathon routes on a map, it dawned on me; they run the majority of the Disney race on the miles and miles of roadway between the parks. (Having ridden the bus from the Magic Kingdom to Animal Kingdom’s Kidani Villas, I know that is further than I ever want to think about running or walking.)
The half-marathon, though still farther than I am genuinely interested in running, at least sounds possible but only runs to and through the Magic Kingdom and Epcot (no beautiful paths through Animal Kingdom or the familiar streets of Hollywood Studios). But, could I really justify the cost of entry fees, flights, hotels, meals, etc. when there are several half-marathons within an hour drive from my house?
Here’s my brainstorming conclusion:
Right now, I am motivated by the thought of running through Disney parks; so… Saturday I ran through Typhoon Lagoon (24 minutes, 36 seconds) and today I ran through the Magic Kingdom (34 minutes, 32 seconds). How?
I run on my treadmill and watch one of the numerous walk-through tours posted on Youtube. Oh, how the quarter miles light-up and fly by for me!
(If you google-video: “Magic Kingdom (or other park) walk through”, you’ll find a wide variety of tours that take from 20 minutes to an hour; some at the park opening, mid-day, or late at night; during the summer as well as when decorated for Halloween or Christmas; and even tours during special events like the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot.)
So, here’s my plan, to run these paths and see how many miles I can log, and maybe by the end of winter, try to run/walk all 4 parks in one day. I plan to keep mixing it up: running a late-night walk-through if I run in the evening, maybe running a “half-mouse-a-thon (just through the Magic Kingdom and Epcot) on a Saturday, maybe run through Blizzard Beach water park on a snowy afternoon, etc…
Besides the fact that I love Disney World. I have the added motivation that I’m heading back down to Florida mid-winter with my kids to meet up with my parents and one of my sisters; so though some many might find this boring, I am genuinely excited to run or walk everyday.
At the end of this winter, I would be quite pleased if I ran a 10K, 6.2 miles on my final “Mouse-a-thon”, but if I reach that goal, maybe I’ll push right on toward 13.1 (a half marathon). Then, if I get close, maybe I’ll even take on one of those nearby races in the Spring or Fall. (If I aim higher, I tend to go farther!) I’ll never know how far I can go until I try.
What about YOU?
What is your motivation?
Abstract or measureable, what is your “WHY“, your reason that keeps you pressing on and pushes you forward to do and best the best that you can do and be?
WHY are YOU doing what you’re doing?
And if you’re not doing anything, why not? Consider those who are handicapped yet pushing their wheelchair to compete in the Paralympics or those who are more out of shape than you that are slowly persevering to knock off their extra pounds, or folks with health issues that require them to have a restricted diet, or maybe consider those who are older than you who would love to have a younger body so that their physical activity had more options. If they are finding creative ways to stay active and motivated, what can you do to optimistically face your challenges?
If you live in the country, you have wide open roads and quiet wooded trails. If you live in the city you have sidewalks and paved paths, not to mention gyms and clubs to work out in. So, what’s your excuse?
What will be your attainable-yet-challenging goal?
What are you interested in? How could you creatively incorporate something you enjoy into your goal? What are you afraid of, and where is your pride getting in the way of taking on a new challenge? How can you overcome your obstacles in a unique way?
You only have one body. You only have one life here on this planet. Your body and your health affects your mood and your emotions, your perspective, your memory, and all these things either aid or hinder your spiritual life.
Indoor weather, winter and snow, can be an excuse to try something new! Let the holiday feasting and a new year approaching be a motivation to end this year well.
(As I write this there are 50 days until Dec 31st. Make up your own 50 Day Challenge. Set a goal and go for it! Start today!!!!)
“…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” – 1 Timothy 4:7-8