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

Keeping It Sharp

use it

We all know the colloquialism (and profound truth), “If you don’t use it you will lose it”.  It is true about knowledge, about languages, about a skill, and even about passions.  When I was in the eighth grade, my English class was required to memorize Robert Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled”.  It was intended to inspire us to think outside of the box and do something unique with our lives as we started into High School and making major life decisions.  I have always had a knack for rote memorization and could put things to memory quickly, but I had a tendency of learning for the test and not retaining much of the material because of that so-called ability.  So in the eighth grade I memorized and quickly thereafter forgot “The Road Less Traveled”.  A few years later in High School, my English teacher again required the memorization of this poem.  I vividly remember being impressed by some people who could still quote the prose from memory, and then some of us had to begin anew.  But after the second memorization and the shocking reality of my poor study habits – and consequential adjustments, I set it to memory fully.  Now, fifteen years later, I can still quote “The Road Less Traveled”.

Our Spiritual walk, disciplines, and maturity are developed and maintained in a variety of ways, and sometimes we do ourselves a disservice by claiming the trendy mantra, “It is a relationship not a religion”.  Now, let me be perfectly clear, I believe with all of my heart that God created us in His image to know, love and worship Him, and we have the beautiful relationship of child and bride to Him.  When we are saved we abide in Him:  meaning we remain in Him.  We talk to Him.  We have a relationship with Him.  But God is also our Lord and our King.  He has authority over us, He will judge us at eternity’s gate, and He desires and deserves to be worshipped.  He does not worship us.

So what do I mean that we do ourselves a disservice?  By making our religion so informal to the point that we call it merely a relationship, we open ourselves up to the potential of forgetting and losing those things that we once knew and cherished.  If we do not use it, we will lose it.

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By keeping it according to Your word.
With all my heart I have sought You;
Do not let me wander from Your commandments.
Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You.
Blessed are You, O LORD;
Teach me Your statutes.
With my lips I have told of
All the ordinances of Your mouth.
I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,
As much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Your precepts
And regard Your ways.
I shall delight in Your statutes;
I shall not forget Your word.

– Ps 119.9-16

The book of Psalms is a collection of songs that are wrought with emotion.  David had a relationship with the Lord.  But he also understood God’s position and desired to discipline his life to know God and to honor him.  Yes, he failed – terribly at times – but songs such as Ps 119 teach us wonderful habits to emulate in our relationship with God, in our discipline of mind, and in our worship of Him.  David says that he had sought God with all of his heart.  All of his affections and desires were focused on God, and the result was a desire to keep God’s commandments.  When you turn your affections towards God, does that make you want to obey?  It should!  For by obeying Him you please Him and the relationship is enhanced – because our role is as child, subject, servant, and worshiper.

He continues to say that he had hidden God’s word in his heart in order that he might not sin.  God is so glorious and beautiful to him that David memorized God’s instructions and commands.  He meditated on the law because he loved God so much that he did not want to break even one commandment (even though we all know he did).  But then he asks God to teach him His statutes, to keep him from sinning, and he will tell everyone.  He will take delight and pleasure in God’s statutes and commandments and he will not forget the word.

So what does this all mean?  How does this apply to me?  God has created us for relationship.  He loves us and desires for us to draw near to Him with confidence and openness.  He also created us to serve and worship Him as God and king.  He wants us to know Him.  And He gave us an entire book so that we could know Him.  So we must take that book and learn it.  Love it.  Meditate on it and commit it to memory.  And then sing it back to God.  Praise His attributes, commandments and desires back to Him.  Make much of what He has to say about Himself and us and our relationship in that book.  This is how we know God, this is how we build relationship with Him.  And if you do not remain in it, you will forget it it.  If you only memorize it for academia’s sake, you will forget it – or be able to recite it from memory but without passion.

Hide it in your heart, and refresh it by praising it back to God.   The more you refresh it by praising Him, meditating on Him, making much of Him, the more deeply it will be established in your heart.

You cannot introduce people to Jesus if you do not know Him yourself.

introduction

Jesus gave Christians very clear marching orders:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matt 28.18-20

We can test our general obedience by asking ourselves if we are making disciples or not.  But We can only introduce people to Jesus if we know Him ourselves.  We can only teach people to know, love and obey Him as much as we know, love and obey Him.

Now, to be sure, there are times when God uses people who do not know Him to preach the Gospel.

“Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.  What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice…”

– Phil 1.15-18

Paul was aware that there are people who preach the Gospel for the wrong motives, out of selfishness, envy and strife.  These people likely do not know Jesus.  But Paul does not care about their motives but rejoices simply that the Gospel is being proclaimed.  But these people cannot make disciples.  Preaching the Gospel leads to making converts, not making disciples.

To make a disciple is to teach one to observe all that Jesus has commanded us.  But we will only be able to teach that which we have developed as discipline for ourselves.  How do you have a daily quiet time?  How do you fight sin?  How do you encourage the body?  How do you share the Gospel?  How do you pray?  How do you love on God?

You will only be able to obey God by teaching others to do these things to the extent that you do them yourself.

So how are you doing today?

Spiritual ADD

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Have you been diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)?  Has someone you know been diagnosed?  We live in a society where we are constantly entertained, stimulated and wowed.  We are constantly looking for the next big thing:  the newest technology, new graphics on a TV or movie, the newest and greatest i-phone.  It started when we were little, and we are doing it to our children at an alarming rate:  constant stimulation.  The baby is crying, so we will try everything we can to get him to stop crying.  Food, bouncing, silly faces, music, which progresses into television, more toys, ipads, playing with mommy’s phone.  Being bored seems to be our greatest fear, and in striving to provide for our children what we never had, we develop expectations within them that the world will amuse and entertain us constantly.

I am convinced that this hard wiring in our psyches is transferred into our Spiritual hearts and expectations as well.  It is many people’s greatest concern that eternity in the New Earth will be boring.  I mean, are we really going to sit around and just sing to God all day every day?

Let us consider two things.  Firstly, we all realize that constant stimulation is a bad thing.  It leads to problems like ADD where we medicate ourselves in order to calm down and focus on the task at hand.  We have to rest.  God created us as creatures that need to sleep one third of our lives.  One third!  We are so finite that we have to go into a state of unconsciousness for eight out of twenty-four hours every. single. day.  Sure, many of us do not get the recommended eight, some of us get nine or ten.  But on average, in order to maintain a healthy and functioning body, we must let it rest.

We also know that if we cannot focus and complete a task, we cannot earn an income and survive.  Yes, there are a few people who make their living in the entertainment industry, those random video game testers who play for hours a day, but even in those seemingly free roles, there is focus and intentionality.  Video game testers have to play video games for hours upon hours.  They are not free to go wherever the wind blows them.  Actors and actresses have to learn scripts and work hard on the set.  Comedians have to create their jokes and rehearse.  No one, aside from the rare trust fund baby, has the freedom to float through life.  And it is through accomplishment that one grows, feels a sense of purpose and makes life worthwhile.

Why, then, would we expect Spiritual maturity and success to be attained flippantly?  To just peruse a scripture here and there, listen to a spiritual song on my way to work, pray when I find myself in a jam, and go to church on Sunday – if I feel like it.  We learn, we force ourselves to focus and concentrate on work, on chores, on life’s necessities and yet we neglect our Spirituality and just play at it, until we are stimulated.  Spiritual growth and life takes dedication and work!

Now, the other side of the coin is the fact that Jesus created everything that is.  Everything.  In a moment He spoke the entire galaxy into existence.  In one day he created every living animal that roams the Earth.  He dreamed up the oceans, the mountains, the skies, the deserts, and every nook and cranny therein.  He created billions of individual people, thousands of languages, and established the scientific laws which allowed for the development of every form of technology.  His imagination is infinitely bigger than anything we could ever dream up.

Jesus made this profound statement to His followers:

“I came that [you] may have life, and have it abundantly.”

– John 10.10

Jesus came to give us life to the fullest.  And the fullest life, forever.  Eternally.  There is no end to it.  What, exactly, is the fullest life?  It is the most satisfied.  We only catch a glimpse of it here on Earth as we continue to battle our flesh, press on to maturity and seek after God.  Yes, we are fully satisfied, but abundant, eternal life will blow our minds.  And it will blow our minds because we will be in the presence of Almighty God.  He, Himself, is infinite and it will take eternity to get to know him.

So let’s learn to discipline ourselves now, to dedicate time to God in reading and memorizing the Scriptures, in prayer, in pouring our out hearts to Him and in spending intentional time with Him, getting to know Him.  Let’s also learn to enjoy Him in our day-to-day, and experience the satisfaction and pleasures that He offers through peace, comfort, understanding, and also the awe and wonder in enjoying His creation.  But let’s also understand that God created adventure, diversity, the universe, skiing, rock climbing, and let’s look forward to the infinite reality that is eternity with Him, in which we will never be bored, but we will always be amazed at Him, His depths, and His creation!

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.  Amen.

– Eph 3.20-21