Answering the Call to Prayer

“That has to be the dumbest commercial.” My daughter was emphatic in her disgust.

“Which one this time?” was my response.

She went on to describe a fast food restaurant’s advertisement where people are engaged in some activity: a baseball game, a wedding, and a meeting at work. Then a gong sounds (the company’s identifying mark) and one of the characters immediately leaves what they were doing to find the nearest gong-sounding restaurant. The closing scene is that person chowing down on one their meals.

It does seem a bit contrived. But then I was reading in Robert Benson’s book, “Living Prayer.” In it he describes how the monks at the monastery drop what they’re doing when they hear the bell ring for prayer. The question he raises is, “When the bell rings, will you answer the bell?”

Monks ceasing their activity to go to prayer seems much more logical and natural than a person pulling into a fast food restaurant when the gong sounds. But what about you and me? What calls us to pray? If the Spirit were to move or nudge us to pray would we drop whatever we were doing?

I was reading a blog where someone was describing a trip to Egypt. While there, this writer was struck by how often people would pray, how many times a day there was a audible call to prayer, and many people responded. They wondered, as a result, what that would look like in America?

The apostle Paul left instructions that the fledgling church in Thessoalonica was to “pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).” There are at least thirty-five other similar instructions in the Bible (according to my Google SEO). But how can that be a realistic expectation?

One way to attack the seemingly insurmountable instruction to always be at prayer would be to take a few meaningful steps in that direction. We could set a timer on our watch or phone to go off three times a day: start with morning, noon, and night. When those become a habit or second nature, we could begin to increase the number of times to four, then five, and stretch ourselves to six. Imagine praying as we awake, again at mid morning, then as we eat lunch, on then to middle afternoon, dinner, and when we go to bed. We might even be able to find a time to pause and prayer in the hours between dinner and bed—depending on whether you’re a night owl. This is not the kind of thing to attempt all at once, but slowly over time as we sense the Spirit wooing us.

I can almost sense resistance as this is being read. “We don’t have time for this.” “What would we find to pray about?” I find these things to be typical of busy people, but it really is a good question.

Book titles quite often catch my eye and last longer in my mind than the material between the cover. Bill Hybels wrote a book that falls into that category for me: “Too Busy Not to Pray.” Instead of looking for reasons to not pray, let’s just start doing it.

And the what is just as “easy” to address. Whatever you find. Scan the news on your phone and pick three things. Open a hymnal and pray the verses. Carry the prayer list from your church’s bulletin with you. Pray through your friends alphabetically: Monday for everyone who’s name begins with A, and on and on. Do a search on your favorite search engine for ways to pray. You’ll find lots of suggestions.

Now, with timers set, hearts committed, ears open, and armed with ideas for how to use the time, let me ask Benson’s question again: When the bell rings will you answer it?

I’m going to be giving it my best effort. Will you?

How Will You Enter the Door?

Day 3. 5 at St. Davids Christian Writers Conference

I was walking to breakfast this morning, and I began to notice I was walking differently. I felt alive. The air was invigorating. I felt an unusual spring in my step. I must have grown at least an inch taller. And then I heard my mother’s voice, “Stand up straight. Put your shoulders back. Walk with confidence.” The memory made me chuckle.

Why was it always so important to walk confidently, to walk like I was getting ready to enter into an important meeting?

As I reached for the door to enter into our gathering spaces, with this memory and question fresh in my mind, a new awareness came to mind: Mom was encouraging me to always be ready. I couldn’t know who I would meet. I wouldn’t know what important contact would be waiting ahead. The what or who didn’t matter as much as the how.

Our keynote speaker, Eva Marie Everson, drew her morning message from Exodus 3 and 4, The Calling of Moses. There were so many good points, but the one that struck me was the reference to Moses’ response to God in 3:4, “Here I am.”

Moses wasn’t giving a childlike response to a school teacher’s role call. Moses’ answer was clearly, “I’m ready.”

As much as my mother would deny her admonition was God’s message for me, I heard it that way this morning. God used that memory, that feeling as I walked to breakfast to remind me how each time I enter a door I need to be ready. This reminds me of the wise counsel of an elder pastor speaking to a group of us newbies, once upon a time, how we should always have a sermon, a prayer, and a song ready each time we enter a church.

At the very first writers’ conference I attended one of the people I heard speak was Torry Martin. Torry is an actor, writer, comedian, and very wise speaker. He introduced me to the phrase, “divine appointments and holy introductions.”

What would happen if we would walk through every door, enter every interaction with an “I’m ready God for whatever divine appointment or holy introduction you bring my way” attitude? Imagine for a moment that God has people who need your readiness, your message, your encouragement waiting for you to arrive. Truth is: they are there, and they need what you bring.

Home Part 3…Unpacking

Confession: I hate unpacking. I’m not a fan of moving either.

Growing up, one of my mother’s favorite Momisms was: a place for everything and everything in it’s place. Trouble for me was I had too many things and never enough places.

Not much has changed.

But I don’t just haul boxes from state to state, town to town, and house to house. There’s this emotional baggage I cart from place to place. And those boxes can be big, and extremely heavy. I’ve been carrying some of those boxes since childhood. And my kind husband has been kind and mostly quiet about the weight and the amount.

I’ve come to understand some of this baggage in new ways over the past two years, and more recently, thanks to Noom.

One of the things in my life that has been skewed and generally out of control has been my response to food and my propensity for overeating and eating unhealthily. It’s not that I haven’t known better (and taught others to do better), but I have lacked both the understanding of why and the willpower to stay committed to eating for health. The lessons provided with my Noom program fee, helped me to see what distortions and unhealthy rules I had adopted and lived by.

And while this isn’t a post about eating rules that sabotage health, the very thought that I continue to live by rules (aka unhealthy baggage) leaves me discouraged and waffling in my hope for things to get better. Unless I decide unpack the boxes, and get rid of the stuff, the thinking, the believing, holding me back from healing and happiness.

But what does it take to unpack the boxes I carried for a lifetime?

Grace. And by this I mean absence of judging and shaming. I’m referring to a gentleness that understands how beliefs are formed, and how they often necessary for survival.

Courage. I don’t see courage as the absence of fear, but as the commitment to move ahead in spite of it. The realization that the goal is important, but so is the process of achieving it.

Support. We were created for relationship. Not a one of us needs to go this alone. I love the biblical image of how during the battle the Israelites were winning when Moses lifted up the staff. When his strength wavered, his friends and family came alongside him and held up his arms. We need to find those who will offer strength and support when feel weak and vulnerable. And we need to find those we can lend support to.

Hope. We have to have that spark that encourages us to keep trying. We have to believe things can be better. One of my favorite movie lines comes from the movie “As Good As It Gets.” The main character wants to see his therapist, but without an appointment. When the therapist holds the line, the character walks out into the waiting room and looks at the other patients and asks, “What if this is as good as it gets?”

Because of the devastation of COVID-19 pandemic, many people are asking when things will get back to normal? When will things get easy and familiar again? When will things stop being so difficult? Why do things have to be so difficult?

Just as there is little sense in carrying around belief baggage that no longer serves, there is very little logic in trying to back in time. Life and time are always moving forward. We can choose to not go along with that, to carry unnecessary baggage with us…but why?

And therein lies my hope. Life is ever moving forward. I was made for life. I was made to move forward. That my friends is what is normal. Not reaching back. Not trying to fix today with outdated strategies from yesterday.

Here’s a terrific piece of good news! The roadmap I choose to follow, the Bible, teaches that God is making things new…every day. And for each day there is a promise: because of God’s great faithfulness, each new day is met with new mercies (Lamentations 3:23-24, author’s paraphrase).

So while I hate unpacking, I’m ready for a lighter load. And looking forward to what tomorrow will bring.

In Rembrance…In Unity

Today is Worldwide Communion Sunday. I love this Sunday. I loved it when I was a pastor. I observed it in all the denominations I worked with. The thought and feeling of partaking of the Lord’s Supper along with believers all over the world moves me, encourages me, humbles me. Today was no exception.

Today I worshipped outdoors with a group of people I have only met with twice before. The weather was perfect. The message clear and inspiring. Two of the pastor’s points stuck out to me.

First, he described a study that was done in which people were asked what their favorite phrase in the English language were. The number one response was, “I love you.” Understandable. Don’t we all love to hear that? Also high on the list, and pertinent to the message, “Dinner’s ready!”

Time to eat. Come and get it. Come and dine. Come to the table. Do you remember how you were called to dinner as a child? I don’t have particularly fond memories of dinnertime as a child–but oh how precious those shared meals became when shared them with friends in college, and later with community in the church.

The pastor’s text was Jesus invitation to the crowd as recorded in John 6. Everybody was invited. Everyone was included. Y’all come.

Who doesn’t want to hear that? We may need a bigger table.

The second thing that hooked my heart was the concept of remembrance. Living with Mom I’m daily dealing with issues of memory: odd rememberances, distorted memories, lost memories. Hers and mine!

As I sat in the gathering on Sunday morning, one question percolated to the top: What do you want me to remember today God? It seemed like a simple question, but it brought on a whole slew of recollections. They came in waves: communion services from across the years; faces of clergy mentors and friends; different places; and different times.

Sitting alone, in a gathering where I knew no one, I drew comfort in the sense not only of God being present, but with me–speaking my name. Just as the bubbling memories spoke to the how there had been people all along in this journey of faith, the Spirit gave clear assurance that even now when I felt so incredibly alone…I was not, and would never be.

Remembering this, hearing this, feeling this prods me to wonder if you, dear reader might be feeling alone. Jesus calls you to the table. There is clearly not just space, but a space for you. As you take your seat, please remember the times and places where God has brought you into the company of others as a means of assuring you of your place in the family, and God’s great grace and provision for us all.

yes magazine.org

Y’all, come.

Purpose

(I wrote this during Lent in 2009. Even more true today)

For a while I thought I was depressed.  Life changed drastically for me when I lost my job.  In part, I think the trauma was due to the to the fact that I found my identity in what I did.  The challenges of the work gave me purpose.  I felt vital and alive.  Losing my job meant I lost my sense of purpose.

I used to teach groups of people how to write their mission statements.  We didn’t start with that.  We would back up and talk about finding their passion in life and for life.  When it came to putting that passion into a working purpose or mission statement, I would teach to the difference between a goal (short term) and a mission statement (life- long driving force).  A mission or purpose statement is something you can see devoting your whole life to.  It is true now and will be true in twenty, thirty, even fifty years.

Reflecting on this, I wasn’t really depressed.  I was just adrift and going nowhere because I had taken my eyes off the map.  I thought that without the job I wouldn’t be able to follow my purpose and mission.  I forgot that the job wasn’t the only vehicle to get me where I needed to be.  I forgot that the whether I’m teaching or cleaning toilets, it is the purpose or mission God has for my life that matters and he will provide me with the opportunities I need.  I forgot that it is God who gifts me and directs me to use those gifts.  

I was reading about John the Baptist in Mark’s gospel.  I don’t think there are many who would sign up for John’s job—especially if they knew how it was going to end for him.  Yet, even in the briefest of ministries, John paved the way by preparing the people for the emergence of Jesus’ life-changing ministry.

It reminds me of relief pitchers in baseball.  They will never pitch a whole game.  That’s not their job.  It’s not why they were hired.  Some of those guys will only throw a few pitches and the next thing we see is the coach headed to the mound.  Those couple of precisely placed pitches are what the reliever gets paid the big bucks for.  It’s their purpose.  

Now, dust off your imagination and try to picture this: your favorite baseball team has made the playoffs!  They did this not just on their bats, but because of their pitching.  But now that they’ve made it to the biggest games, the team’s relievers and closers have decided they want more playing time and have threatened to not play at all if they don’t get the opportunity to pitch a whole game.  How crazy is that?  How dare they hold the game hostage for their whims?

The apostle Paul, in his discussion of gifts, makes this statement: But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it (1 Corinthians 12:18, NLT).  Right there with the assurance that we all have a part, we’re told that we are placed right where He wants us. 

That’s why we really need to bloom right where we’re planted!

Prayerfully ponder: How’s the soil where you are? Are you focused on how you want to use your perceived talents? Are you more concerned with what you want than what God needs from you? Are you discouraged because you feel like you’re riding the pine and you can’t understand why God is wasting your abilities? Are you aware of what God’s doing around you so that when the time is right (God’s specialty) you’ll be ready to pitch your inning?

Unlikeliest Hero

It is a rare thing that the moment I start to write, my eyes fill with tears and the truth of what I’m thinking overwhelms my heart and mind.

But it just happened.

This morning during breakfast, Mom made some comment about heroes. I can’t even recall what it was because it immediately sent me into my head where I began formulated this post. I was so into it, I excused myself from the table and hurried to jot down some notes I could come back to after I was done cleaning up from breakfast.

Heroes. We all want them…need them. And if we would get honest, want to be one.

This past year while we’ve done battle with a raging pandemic, we’ve lauded the efforts of first responders, medical professionals, and those researching for a vaccine. Politically, we’ve sought for a restoration to civility and accountability. Emotionally we’ve longed for answers, peace, and a return to normal or comfort or familiar.

Many years ago, my husband and I watched a television program called the Equalizer. Then there were two movies with the same premise starring Denzel Washington. Now Queen Latifa has reprised the role and hooked me once again.

I stopped typing and called my husband (keeping in mind the 3 hour time difference). I told him what I was doing and then asked him why the original show hooked him? What was it that appealed. He put words to what my heart was feeling: it was like a modern Robin Hood of sorts. Robert and Robyn McCall as the equalizers brought/brings help for the oppressed; help for those who can’t help themselves.

Thinking about his statement sent me down another path—a spiritual one. Imagine that.

This past Sunday was Palm Sunday. I made a reference to the Christmas song, “How Many Kings.” As we move through Holy Week toward the resurrection, a phrase from that song keeps going through my mind. Referring to the baby Jesus, the words describe him as the “unlikeliest hero” for he was wrapped in his mother’s shawl.

This week, Jesus is wrongfully accused, murdered, and laid to rest in a borrowed tomb. Talk about an unlikely hero.

Our heroes don’t die. Or do they?

Shouldn’t our heroes be the ones who give up their lives. Jesus tried to explain this to the disciples: There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13, NLT).

Paul described this to the Philippians this way: You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8, NLT).

Jesus gave up the fullness of his super powers and maybe that’s what made him an unlikely hero. But the way lived, died, and rose again demonstrated God’s power to the max! Those powers may be overlooked by the world that is mesmerized by flash and boom. But Jesus, like the Equalizer, was and is more concerned about helping those who can’t help themselves…about bringing relief to the oppressed .

That’s the kind of hero I want to be. The kind of hero this needs more of. We may seem to be unlikely heroes…but we can change the world by following Jesus’ example, by having his mind.

He gave his all…all for me…all for you…just like the song says.

Monday Morning Magic

My alarm went of at 5:15AM. I leapt up, made my bed, grabbed a shower, dressed in the clothes I set out the night before, and raced out the door. Between getting dressed and dashing out the door I did pause to make sure that Mom’s meds and breakfast were set out exactly the way she likes them.

Once out the door I headed for the the place I love to be on Monday mornings: The Animal League of Green Valley. Choosing to volunteer on Monday mornings is the best thing I ever done. My week starts out with lots of wags and puppy kisses. I walk whoever I can, and love every moment whether I’m being pulled along or stopping to smell every leaf. Then when every dog is walked by all the volunteers, we hang out for socialization and some training.

There are times when I ache for my dogs back in Ohio. I would rescue in a heartbeat, but Mom can’t handle the stress or the dander. I’d volunteer every day, but Mom can barely handle me being gone for one day. So I suck the life out of my time away and give thanks for this respite that feeds my soul.

As I was reflecting back on my morning doggy therapy session, I had a pang of sadness. For a brief moment I was reminded of the Syrophoenician woman who had a conversation with Jesus. It went like this:

Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the region of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her with even a word. And His disciples came up and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us!” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” Yet He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord; but please help, for even the dogs feed on the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed at once (Mark 15:21-28, NLT).

I love this story. She wasn’t asking for the world. She was, in her own mind, willing to settle for “crumbs that fell from the table.” The scraps. The castoffs. Jesus commended her for her persistence and her faith. The Apostle Paul said it this way: little is much when God is in it.

So while others are dreading Mondays, I’m ready for the “crumbs.” They more than satisfy.

Wednesday’s Word—A Day Late…Again

All right. I did it again. I feel a little like the Reese’s Cup guy: Sorry…not sorry.

There was no way I was going to get the weekly word posted yesterday. I thought maybe. I thought several times: I need to get to it. But I was glued to my TV all day. I needed to be.

I needed the return to decorum. I needed to feel the healing that comes from change. I needed ritual. I needed the ceremony. I needed to feel connected to something bigger than me…and something positive.

I went to bed thankful. And I woke up literally formulating this post. My first thoughts at 4:12AM were this post.

My prayer is that you can see and feel hopeful.

One of the highlights of the day was the reading by the Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman. Her words bring me to tears…in the best kind of way.

Hope will make us brave enough to be it.

Wednesday’s Word: Miracles

Today’s word comes to you courtesy of my dear friend, Mary Hofacker.

When I think of miracles, I am reminded of a song Nelson and I heard at a Steve and Annie Chapman concert way back in the 1980’s. Living far from family with two toddlers and very little income, we felt desperate and prayed for God to miraculously reveal his power and grace. The song was a constant ear worm: things are looking right for a miracle.

When I went to WordSwag to create the pic for today’s post, I used a font I rarely use, but it fit perfectly. Miracles quite often come in very plain and obvious ways: a miracle healing, the perfect job, etc. But sometimes the miracle we need comes disguised as something else and we appreciate the gift or improvement to life, but we don’t see God’s intervention coming in a way we couldn’t have imagined or even begun to ask for. We missed the backstory completely, claimed the gift, and moved on.

I think that’s why I appreciate Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (see Eph. 3:20): Now to the One who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above and beyond anything and everything we could ever ask or even imagine…

And that God knows me best and loves me most. You, too.

Things are looking right for a miracle.

Stepping Back on Goals

My mind is churning on creating goals. I’m feeling good about it and then I read this in my morning devotions: “Have you ever “gone out” in this way? If so, there is no logical answer possible when anyone asks you what you are doing. One of the most difficult questions to answer in Christian work is, “ What do you expect to do?” You don’t know what you are going to do. The only thing you know is that God knows what He is doing. Continually examine your attitude toward God to see if you are willing to “go out” in every area of your life, trusting God entirely. It is this attitude that keeps you in constant wonder, because you don’t know what God is going to do next (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, Special Updated Edition, edited by James Riemann).”

So I sat there on the floor of my bedroom wondering. Maybe I struggle with setting goals because I’m a very strong P on MBTI. (If you don’t know MBTI, that means I “fly by the seat of my pants.” This also describes my writing preference: I’m a ‘panster’ not a ‘plotter.’)

What if I’m not wired to map, plod, plan, or calendarize everything? Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know how to do those things. I can keep a calendar, sort of. I can function on a schedule—I have to work harder at it, but I can do it. I don’t like it. I feel confined, and like I’m not at my best. I resist and procrastinate until I have no option but to capitulate…so I do.

Serendipitous, free-floating, unscheduled, unplanned, unfettered. The very words make my heart happy.

I can teach others the steps to creating goals, and writing vision/mission statements. I can help them peal back the layers and really get to the heart and meat of their goals—who and how they want to be and function. But I suck at it for myself.

For example. Yesterday I mentioned in my worksheet the goal of riding my bike 50 miles a week. It’s a totally SMART goal. If goals were attractive to me at all. The problem for me is that as soon as I quantify and feel I have to measure up, bike riding loses all it’s joy for me. It’s a job. It’s something I have to check off my list and resent it. (Okay. Right now there are tears in my eyes as I think about this—I must be getting close to my truth).

That takes me back to the OC quote and something I talked about in my message last week. One thing. In the Bible there are 5 places where we’re told that God seeks one thing from us:

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple (Psalm27:4).

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me (Mark 10:21).”

“…but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her (Luke 10:42).”

He replied, “whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see (John 9:25)!”

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).

Matthews George in an internet article (Five One Things in the Bible, mathewsgeorge.medium.com, April 4, 2017) shows how these 5 verses help us know God: Psalm 27:4 helps us know God through a heart of prayer; Mark’s verse helps us know God through a heart of surrender; Luke’s helps us know God through a heart of service; John’s helps us to know God through a heart of witness; and Paul’s directing us to a hear of ambition.

What if (I’m doing a lot of that right now…) my goal is to focus on having a heart for God and to do that I’m to incorporate prayer, surrender, service, witness, and ambition. And to do this intrinsically—to come from within instinctively and naturally. Instead of having x amount of goals ranging over an array of time, to live daily. Live with eyes wide open for how and what God wants to teach me, or use me. Then at the end of the reflect, thank, and rest.

Okay, I’ve meandered and pondered enough on this for now. More to come.

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