When you don’t feel like praying.

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How are your personal, daily, invigorating quiet times going?  Are you a spiritual rock star who prays without ceasing, who rises before the sun every morning to pray and meditate, who memorizes large passages of Scripture and takes notice of the Holy Spirit in every situation?  If so, I want to be more like you and you can stop reading.

The rest of us, however, seem to go through seasons of feast and seasons of famine.  Times when we are excited and eager to read the Bible and pray and talk to everyone we meet about Jesus and times when we get caught up in going to school, buying houses, raising kids, and the day-to-day.

I am a FTM (First Time Mom, for those who do not frequent the motherhood websites).  My precious baby girl just turned six months old and I have a confession to make:  she has rocked my schedule and routine.  Before she came along I was a machine.  I love change and adventure but wherever I find myself I dream big and develop daily habits.  I need routines to be successful so my morning coffee, quiet time and exercise get drafted into my day whether I am living in the middle of the tropical rain forest or working a 9-5 in Denver.

However I was not prepared for this life-change they call motherhood.  My pregnancy was a difficult one that left me on bed rest, sick and delivering a month early.  You can read more about that here.  And after a week in the NICU when we brought home our five pound baby who needed to eat every two hours to thrive, I had no dream or plan of a schedule.  I existed in a fog, trying to keep both of us alive.  I have a confession:  I did not want to read the Bible.

I know, you are shocked.  How can a person call herself a Christian and say that she does not want to read the Bible or have a quiet time?  I’ll tell you how:  I had grown so accustomed to my hour-long routine of study, prayer and sermon listening which was concluded in another hour of blog writing that I thought anything less was not worthy of my effort.  Quite honestly it sounded exhausting.  A well meaning friend asked me how I was adjusting Spiritually after a month or so and I confessed to her that I had been neglecting my routine.  She spoke some beautifully comforting words to me:  give yourself some grace.

You see, I am an academic at heart.  I love to study.  And as such I have always struggled with prayer.  I trust the sovereign plan of God and prayer often feels like lip service because He already knows every hair on my head and every intention of my heart.  But the moment I found out I was sick and that my baby was in danger, my prayer life radically changed.  I prayed.  And I cried.  And I prayed.  And I cried some more.  Then we watched our little baby in the NICU and we prayed some more.  We prayed.  My husband and I have tried (and failed) for two years to develop a prayer routine in our marriage, but the minute she was born we locked into a beautiful habit of regular prayer together.

Our Spirituality and our relationship with God must grow and develop.  It is not static, and God is not interested in providing us salvation from Hell apart from a relationship with Him whereby He changes and refines us.

I was growing in my prayer life.  And I knew that I wanted to develop good habits and set a good example for my daughter.  Have you heard that routines are good for babies too?  So what did we do?  For the next few months, my daily quiet times were made up of reading Bible story picture books with my daughter who seemed to enjoy looking at the colors and pictures.  But God was faithful and spoke just as dynamically to me through “Noah and the Big Boat” as the study on Hebrews I did last year.

We need to be coming to and relying on God for our joy, for our strength, and for our comfort.  We need to be confessing our sins to Him and rejoicing in His forgiveness.  We need to be changing.

“I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I wait for Your words.”

– Ps 119.147

We will only find true peace and ability to persevere if we remain in and abide in Christ:

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”

– John 15.4

But remember to consider your circumstances and seasons.  There will be times when you have an abundance of energy and time to spend hours in deep study.  There will also be times when you have to wake up every two hours to feed an infant and cannot think beyond putting on a house coat.  God is gracious and wants to meet with us and encourage us in all of those circumstances.  He might even get as bored with our normal routines as we do!  He will sustain us differently in these different seasons and in the ways we approach Him.

So instead of beating yourself up for missing a quiet time or intensive study one day, let’s consider today.  Let’s forget what is behind and press on to what is ahead (Phil 3.13)!  Let’s see where God is at work around us and meet Him there.  Let’s allow Him to develop our Spirituality by adjusting to our circumstances and let’s give ourselves grace for those occasions when we are not Spiritual rock stars.  We are all still a work in progress, and it is God Himself who is at work within us:

“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

– Phil 2.13

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When You Get Laid Off

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I was recently laid off.  For the past four years I have worked for a non-profit that relied on the generosity of a major donor for our office and warehouse, and the donor could no longer afford to give the space so we had to close down.  This coincided either perfectly or terribly with my first pregnancy – such that our closing day was just days before my due date.  So now I find myself in a brand new life circumstance:  unemployed and a first time mom.  This is extremely unnerving for me.  I have always been a motivated go-getter with a relatively clear “career path” of missions and vision for my life.  But it is exceptionally difficult to job hunt when you are very pregnant and will be in immediate need of maternity leave upon starting a new job, so my maternity leave is unpaid and for the indefinite future.

Did you know that God has a plan, even in seasons of unemployment?  Three fighter verses are good to keep close during such a time:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

– Rom 8.28

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

– 1 Peter 1.6-9

“For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear,
Nor has the eye seen a God besides You,
Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.”

– Is 64.4

We will be tempted to sin during seasons of unemployment in a variety of ways – namely to the unbelief of impatience and doubt, mingled with envy and bitterness.  These sins are sneaky and can be subtle at times, not showing themselves as gross sins which our friends and accountability partners will quickly notice and point out, but growing slowly in our hearts.  We must be aware of them and count them as dangerous sins which will threaten our joy and peace with God:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

– Gal 5.19-21

“But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”

– Col 3.8

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

– Rev 21.8

God has promised to meet all of our needs.  These needs are the ones He has defined that will sharpen our faith, cause us to rely and depend on Him, bringing Himself the most glory and honor through our refinement (Phil 4.19, Rom 8.28, 1 Peter 1.6-9).  He loves us as His children and He will give us every good and perfect gift (James 1.17).  He will meet our needs as the good Father (Luke 7.11).  He will bless and work for those who wait on Him (Is 64.4).  To not believe these promises is to not know God, and to be headed for an eternity separated from Him in Hell (Rev 21.8).

Therefore, we must be patient and wait on the Lord.  Those who wait on the Lord will gain new strength (Is 40.31).  They will not be put to shame (Is 49.23).  And the very quietness and trust will give us strength (Is 30.15).  We must neither give up nor act out ahead of God’s timing.  We must consult God for every decision and wait on His timing and direction.  We must embrace the circumstances in which He has us and we must move at the pace in which He directs us.  We will thus learn the lessons He is aiming to teach us and will receive the blessings He is aiming to give us.

That may mean He is teaching us to surrender our self-sufficiency and rely on Him.  That may mean He is teaching us to embrace a new role in our lives [like motherhood].  That may mean He is teaching us faith and submission [by depending on a husband to provide while we care for a child].  That may mean He is teaching us to die to our pride by working a job that might not align with our career goals but will provide for our families.  That may mean He is teaching us patience, perseverance and selflessness which are not optional Christian characteristics!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

As we cultivate faith – or as God cultivates faith in us – we will exemplify these attributes.  We will have peace, patience and faithfulness while we wait on God.  We will work and be responsible to care for our families and we will look to Him for direction for our next steps.  We will live well, and we will ultimately be able to die well.  We will know God’s faithfulness.

“Infinite wisdom has arranged the whole with infinite love; and infinite power enables me—to rest upon that love. I am in a dear Father’s hands—all is secure. When I look to Him, I see nothing but faithfulness—and immutability—and truth; and I have the sweetest peace—I cannot have more peace.”

– Charles Simeon

Motherhood is not the highest calling.

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Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.  Flowers are being ordered, gifts are being bought, and tomorrow mothers across the nation will be pampered and treated to breakfast, lunch or some other special treat in their honor.  This tradition is a wonderful opportunity to say thank you and love on one of the greatest gifts God has given to us.  Throughout the generations and cultural dynamics of the day, however, it has been wrongly and detrimentally taught and believed within the church that motherhood is the highest calling for women.

I personally am a woman who has been involved in a denomination which historically has downplayed the role of women in the church and often (hopefully unintentionally) leads women to believe that it is their greatest calling to be a wife and a mother.  In seminary I took a class on Biblical manhood and womanhood, and the professor actually led the class (of almost all men) to question whether or not girls should play sports.  We, as a denomination, have several thousand fully funded missionaries on the mission field.  Women outnumber men at a rate of 2:1 on the field, but if a married couple is sent out the husband is deemed a missionary and the wife is federally unemployed and called a “missionary’s wife”.  We have tragically missed the boat.

On the most basic of levels, to define Biblical womanhood as being a wife and a mother, we cause great turmoil and doubt for those women who long so deeply do to married and/or to have children but are currently single or barren.  The church is full of women who desire to be married but there are very few godly men to love, pursue and marry them.  One glance around pretty much any sanctuary on a Sunday morning reveals the stark fact that many more women go to church and are serious about their faith than men.  There are also countless couples who long to be parents but are unable to reproduce, and do not have the finances or calling to adopt.  There are also those who simply do not have the desire to be parents.

And you know what?  That is OK!

Why?  Because God never said that every woman has to be a wife and mother.  God never said that every man has to be a husband and father.  What does God want most from us?  To know, love and abide in Him.  Why did Jesus come to the Earth?

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

– John 10.10

God is fundamentally concerned with our salvation and our relationship with Him.  The whole of Scripture writes redemption’s story from creation to the New Earth, and focuses on Jesus as the central and pivotal point.  He came to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19.10).  Every person – male and female – must be born a second time, born Spiritually, in order to inherit the Kingdom of God (John 3).  Then, once we are born Spiritually the Holy Spirit begins the work of Sanctification in our lives.  In Christ, there is no distinction by race or gender:

“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”

– Gal 3.27-29

Thus, as transformed people who are now Spiritually alive, God desires to see in us the fruit of the Spirit and maturity.  These things, too, are for everyone and not gender specific:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.19-23

In regards to our salvation and our walk with God, Scripture continually and regularly addresses our heart and our attitudes.  God desires that we know Him, that we abide in His Word, that we draw our strength from the Holy Spirit and obey.  We kill sin, we die to our flesh and we live to glorify Him by making disciples of all nations.  That is the big picture.

So what about our gender roles?

It is clearly seen in nature that men are different than women.  Our bodies look different, we have different abilities and our differences compliment one another.  In order to reproduce, you must physiologically have a man and a woman.  A woman will carry and produce food for the baby, a man will not.  Scripture also teaches us how husbands and wives should interact with one another:  both putting the other before himself/herself.  This is a general teaching, for all of our relationships as well as specific instruction for married people:

Everyone should put all people before himself:

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

– Phil 2.3-4

Spouses should put their spouses before themselves:

“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.  But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”

– Eph 5.22-27

Wives are commanded here to respect their husbands.  Husbands are commanded here to love their wives.  It has been tested and proven that women desire love and men desire respect – and both interpret their marriages as most healthy and balanced when women receive love and men receive respect.  Men, however, are hardwired to give respect since that is what they want, and women are hardwired to give love since that is what they want.  Paul recognizes this fact and therefore commands us to put each other first by loving and serving our spouses in the way that they will feel most loved.

And while we are clearly instructed how to best love one another, Paul profoundly states that it is better for people to not get married.  We will be more focused on God and His kingdom and purposes if we do not get married and tie ourselves down:

“Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.  But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.  But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

– 1 Cor 7.7-9

“But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.  This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”

– 1 Cor 7.32-35

If the Bible teaches us that it is better to remain single than to get married, then marriage and motherhood is not only not the highest calling for women – it is a distraction that will tie us down for a season and make us less effective in the work of disciple-making.

Lastly, should we choose to ignore all of the social and Biblical realities already explained, the simple fact is that of a woman’s life, she will only have small children for a very small portion.  Even if we consider a woman an “active mother” with children in the house until they are 18, the average woman has 2.5 children, usually 2-4 years apart.  This means the average woman would be considered an active mother for 22 years.  If the average life span is 78.7 years, those years of child rearing make up for only 28% of a woman’s life.  Yes, she might help with grandchildren or other children in the church, but why would we confine a woman’s highest calling to something she will only do for a fraction of her life?  This is simply nonsensical, compounding the unbiblical factor.

So ladies.  What does this mean for us?  It means that God wants our hearts first and foremost.  Before we give them to our husbands, before we wrap them up in children, He wants our whole hearts.  He wants us to trust Him with our futures and our circumstances.  He wants us to submit our relationships and children to Him – because they are His and not ours!  Are you married?  Great!  Love and serve God first, your husband second.  Are you a mother?  Then you have been given a wonderful blessing and treasure from the Lord (Ps 127.3).  Your spouse and your children, however, are not your highest calling and if you expend all of your energy on them and find your value and worth in them, you will be left disappointed, hurt and empty – without vision or passion when they move out and move on.

Are you single?  Great!  God has clearly stated in Scripture that you are in the most opportune situation to serve Him – not being distracted by a relationship and trying to please your husband or care for children.  Does God want you to be married?  That is His sovereign plan for your life, and each situation is unique.  We cannot say Biblically yes or no.  However, you are not less of a woman or missing out on God’s plan for your life if you do not yet have a husband or children.  So take it to God and ask Him what He has for you.  It may be marriage, it may be singleness.

Do you want to be married but you are not?  Do you want to have children but are unable?  Take those passions and longings to God.  Many women throughout Scripture and throughout history have had those exact feelings.  God wants us to bring our hearts to Him.  He also wants us to be satisfied and content in Him.  Marriage and children are only a blessing when they are a gift from God.  If we are expecting them to fulfill us, we will be constantly yearning for more and unsatisfied because God alone can satisfy.  You are not missing the calling on your life.  God has a perfect plan, and He will work all things together for your greatest, Spiritual good and maturity as well as His glory.