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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Small Prayers Matter, Too

I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel like the only prayers I'm "supposed" to pray are the big ones- prayers for God to change the world, reach the lost, transform a city- epic, earth-shifting kinds of prayers. On some level, I have always felt a little uneasy praying for normal, every day things. Praying for my daily bread, my drive to work, or an upcoming meeting can sometimes feel selfish and small. And yet I can't escape from the truth that God has invited us to pray about all things, thank Him for all things, and trust Him in all things.

So last week, my wife and I were having a time of prayer together before bed. Our hearts have been heavy lately for our oldest daughter Alyssa. She is smart, creative, driven and funny. But these same positive qualities can also mean she is bossy, rude, and defiant. When we see the darker side starting to outweigh the God-giftings she's been given, we start to worry. And we tend to pray more.

As we were praying for Alyssa, one of our requests was along the lines of "selfish and small" in my mind. Alyssa had a sock hop coming up at school and we had no poodle skirt. How do you send a 7-year old to a sock hop without a poodle skirt? And where exactly do you find a poodle skirt? Target doesn't carry them, I can tell you that much. Anyway, this was on my heart, and so I prayed, "God, would you somehow give Alyssa a poodle skirt to show her how much you love her?" I think I prayed it this way because awhile back I had asked Alyssa if she was interested in being baptized. Her response was, "No, because I still do too many bad things." I could hear in her voice that she was worried about how God felt about her. So, this prayer seemed appropriate.

The next day, about 3:00 PM (t-minus 3 hours until the sock hop started), my office phone rings. I usually don't pick up, but I was the only one in the building at the time, so I answered. On the other end, a gal from our church says, "I made Alyssa a poodle skirt for tonight. When can you pick it up?" And at that moment, for the first and likely only time in my life, I cried over a poodle skirt. I was overwhelmed by a sense of the Father's love for my child; my wonderful, obnoxious, learning, growing, faith-filled child. When I went home and presented her with the skirt, I could hardly get through the words as emotion grabbed my throat, "Alyssa, God loves you so much He gave you a poodle skirt!"

On your journey, may you know with absolute certainty that your small prayers matter, too, because you matter. God loves you more than you can comprehend and He loves to hear you ask for gifts from His hand.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!
(I John 3:1)

Peace-
Nick

PS- The sock hop was fantastic. I think we all danced for joy!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why Lent?

Last year, our church decided to observe a season of Lent for the first time. Everyone got into it so much that we decided to have a second go around this year.

The idea of Lent can be confusing, especially for those of us that may have come from either non-traditional or non-religious backgrounds. The idea of intentionally going without something that we enjoy really runs counter to the way the rest of our life works. I talked to one gal, though, who actually told me she couldn't wait for Lent to start. Her comment was, "It's so different from everything else I do. Everywhere else I am looking to add things and maximize my life. Lent is a way that I let go and simplify in order to find more of Christ."

Her statement rings with truth. We live in a day and age where we are encouraged, if not instructed, to get as much as we can that will add joy, comfort, ease, or satisfaction to our day to day experience. In a world of iPads and Apps, Tablets and tweets, we are programmed to ask "Can I?" and rarely do we ever pause to say, "Should I?" And so when we intentionally choose to deny ourselves something, it feels...well, for lack of a better word...weird. We are so hooked into the world around us that disconnecting can actually be described as painful. (My sister-in-law posted about this experience recently. I think you'd enjoy her post: http://www.elliestumbo.blogspot.com/2012/02/i-sold-my-life-to-social-mediaand-i.html)

Ironically, instead of asking "Why Lent?", we should be asking, "Why everything else?" Why isn't every day, every week, spent in a deep focus on the life, suffering, resurrection and glorification of Christ? Why do I need a special season to concentrate on this? Shouldn't this be a powerful suggestion to my soul that I have allowed too much "stuff" to creep in and sponge up my energy, my time and my attention? Why am I so geared to gaining for self that the practice of denying for Him seems foreign?

So we have chosen to observe Lent, not because stuff is bad, but because Jesus is so good. And unless we walk daily in an awareness of His goodness and in constant communion with His love, we miss out on all the goodness He wants to pour out on us.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God's right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all His glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

May Christ be at home in your life as you journey on-

Nick

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Teach Us to Pray

Do find yourself afraid to pray out loud? I have often noted at small gatherings that most people feel uncomfortable praying out loud. Perhaps we lack the confidence or we fear that others will find our prayers "unspiritual" or just too plain.

I find it helpful to know that even the disciples of Jesus wrestled with exactly how to pray. They came to Jesus one afternoon and said, "Rabbi, teach us to pray!" Jesus responded with the most well-known prayer of all time. Well, at least it is now. When Jesus spoke it, though, he was praying from the heart. The "Lord's Prayer" is still uttered on a weekly basis in places as diverse as monumental cathedrals to sweaty, high school locker rooms before the big game.

But did you know that for thousands of years, when people asked "How should we pray?", they were directed towards a single book? The book was a collection of prayers, poems and songs that revealed how prayer could come from any emotion, any part of life, and any person. We call this book Psalms.

I am reflecting today on Psalm 38. In this prayer, the author David is having a rough day. We don't know why exactly. Many of his other writings start with headings that cue us in to the situation he was facing. This one in particular simply states, "A psalm of David, asking God to remember him." In other words, David was having one of those rough days where it felt like God had forgotten about him. Ever have one of those? Me too.

Here's what I really love about this prayer: it's so intense! David reacts to this sense of God's-far-offness with a candor and emotion that are rare today. He declares:

I am bent over and racked with pain- all day long I walk around filled with grief.
My heart beats wildly, my strength fails, and I am going blind.
I am on the verge of collapse, facing constant pain.

And what did he most long for and desire?
For I am waiting for you, O Lord. You must answer for me, O Lord my God.

David takes the distance he feels between himself and God very, very seriously. He recognizes that without God's presence and nearness, he is lost and without hope. The cornerstone of David's life was walking closely with God.

I find myself wondering today if I ever approach God like this. When God seems far off, how do I respond? Usually with a short prayer, and then a lot of self-effort. I don't feel right, so I pour my energy into exercising, eating better, relaxing with family or friends, and finding other things to fill up the space. But David's prayer reminds me today that wholeness apart from the nearness of God is impossible. I want to carry David's attitude of prayer into my searching for more of God. I don't want to have this meager attempt to cry out to God; where, if He doesn't answer or respond in the way I would like, I move on. David had the ability to remain. To wait. To focus. Because He believed that unless God responded, all else was in vain.

Could I pray like that? Could you pray like that?

Lord, increase our faith!

May you wait on Him as you journey on. Peace-
Nick