Tag Archives: Prayer

God’s Will for Your Life. Really.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

I have noticed that throughout life’s journey there distinct stages in which followers of Jesus spend a lot of time preoccupied with the question of “What is God’s will for me?” For those who are not so spiritually inclined to consider God in the equation, there are still natural periods of life’s journey when we ask, “Where am I going?”

The first major phase of questioning comes around the time of high school when decisions about college or military service or entering the work force are staring down at you. This can be a nerve wracking time. So many options leading down different paths. Which one is correct? Does God or fate have a role to play? What if I choose wrong?

Another round hits post college or military service when careers and/or family generally merges with life’s natural path. Wendy and I have walked along side our daughters in recent years as they’ve navigated those decisions. “Where am I going?” “Where should I live?” “Do I take the job I’m not sure I want or hold out for the one that I do?”

As a child, I observed that my grandparents and parents generations often settled onto a path for 35-45 years until retirement, when the next round of “What do we do now?” began. Increasingly, I observe that mid-life career changes, a rapidly changing economy, and a mobile society have thrust some of us into ceaseless questioning. It can create all sorts of anxiety, fear, and doubt.

On occasion our daughters and others have asked me my thoughts on these big decisions about life’s direction. I don’t profess to be a Sage, but there are a few things I’ve come to understand. The bad news is that I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t tell you with certainty God’s will for the choice of your life’s direction, college, spouse, or vocation. The good news is that I can speak with certainty about God’s will for you.

I think we do ourselves a disservice looking for some singular, well defined path that God has ordained for us. While that may be the experience for some, I’ve definitely found that it’s the exception and not the rule. Jesus definitely foreknew that certain things would happen, like Peter denying Him three times, or Judas’ betrayal. Jesus even gave Peter a shadowy prophetic word about how his life journey would end. But Jesus fell far short of providing his closest followers a detailed road map for their lives after His ascension. Life is a faith journey, not a Google Maps prescribed expedition.

What is God’s will for us, however, is well defined. It’s simply and directly provided in today’s chapter.

Rejoice always. Good times are for thanksgiving. Stretches of monotony are for developing patience and persistence. Bad times are all about growing perseverance and character. Rejoicing in each moment, no matter where we find ourselves on God’s road, is God’s will for us.

Pray continually. This life journey is about process. It’s not just about our destination, but about the development of ourselves and our relationship with God. God doesn’t abandon us to figure it out for ourselves, but is with us each step of the way. If we continue to ask, seek, knock, and conversationally process with God, I believe we progress much faster. That’s why it’s God’s will that we dialogue with Him.

Give thanks in all circumstances. It’s easy to fall into the cycle of self-centered pessimism. I do it all the time. Willfully choosing to think about each and every person and thing for which we can be thankful gives us much needed perspective throughout each stretch of life’s journey. I have one acquaintance who, every night before she retires, tweets what she is thankful for. I appreciate her example, and it reminds me that God wants me to do the same.

What is God’s will for your life? If you’re asking me what college you should go to, what career to choose, or whether you should get married then I’m sorry I can’t do any more than help you weigh your options and apply what wisdom is available in making your choices. I can tell you however, without question, God’s will for your life:

  • Rejoice always.
  • Pray continually.
  • Give thanks in all circumstances.

Perhaps if we focus on these three every day, the answer to all the other questions we have about God’s will for us on this life journey will organically take care of themselves.

 

Character and Life Contributions

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.
1 Peter 3:8 (NIV)

The other day I was going through some old photographs and came upon my class photo from first grade. There was Mrs. Avery in her cat-eye glasses and all of us lined up on the risers in the gymnasium of Woodlawn Elementary school. I tried to remember the names of all my classmates. Believe it or not I can still recall all but two or three.

Just a week or so ago I shared with a group of friends my gratitude for Mrs. Avery. Back in those days our kindergarten classes were half-days and I absolutely hated my kindergarten experience. More than once my mother had to drag me kicking and screaming to school. So it was that I was nervous about attending first grade and having to spend all day at the dreaded school. Then I met Mrs. Avery.

For whatever reason I still remember the first moment walking into that classroom and meeting Mrs. Avery. I was immediately at peace. She was kind and gentle. There was a spirit about her than put me at ease. I spent that year developing an enjoyment of learning.

It was much later in life that I went to Mrs. Avery’s home to thank her for the subtle but significant impact she had on my life. She was still just as kind and gentle and loving. She told me that day, looking over that same class photograph, how she used to pray for each of us students every day.

I happen to be at a place in life at which I can look back and contemplate many, many relationships I’ve had along my journey. My mind is contrasting my experience with Mrs. Avery with that of the acquaintance I mentioned in yesterday’s post. It brings to mind the characteristics of individuals who made a positive contribution to my life journey contrasted with the characteristics of individuals I would just as soon forget.

In this morning’s chapter, Peter behavioral instructions for life and relationships. Here are some of the characteristics he commands followers of Jesus:

Purity
Reverence
Gentle and quiet spirit
Considerate
Respectful
Like-minded
Sympathetic
Loving
Compassionate
Humble
Repaying evil with blessing
Reverent
Gentleness

Not a bad list. Come to think of it, these words describe Mrs. Avery pretty well. They also describe a host of other family, friends, associates, and individuals who’ve made positive contributions in my life. Then I think about those individuals in my life who’ve characterized the antonyms of these words. Rather than making a contribution of Life, it seems to me they’ve had the opposite effect: drain, deplete, tempt, and trouble.

This morning I’m once again taking stock of my own heart, life, words, and actions. I’d like to think that the character qualities Peter commands are how others would describe me. I hope to make Life contributions to others. Basically, I’d like to take a little bit of Mrs. Avery’s contribution to my life and pay it forward. Today, even.

 

“I’ve Got This”

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
Matthew 6:30-34 (MSG)

This past week was our first trip down to the lake this year. I have said before that our family’s place on the lake always has been what many call a thin place. It’s a place where things of the Spirit are perceived with greater clarity.

So it was that I began to realize during our time at the lake just how anxious I have become about certain things in life. A bout of insomnia and some time of reflection unearthed a host of things I have been increasingly worried about. I’ve been harboring anxiety; My mind dwelling on things I ultimately can’t control. Being at heart a pessimist, my natural personality tends to take these little anxieties, hide them in the dark corners of my mind, and quietly grow them like bacteria.

On our drive home, I brought these things out into the open in conversation with Wendy. Along life’s journey I’ve discovered that fears and anxieties tend to lose their power when brought out and exposed to the light of conversation. It was helpful to talk it out, and to have Wendy challenge each anxiety with her lock-tight logic.

Yesterday after our local gathering of Jesus followers, I had a few friends praying over me. After a while in fairly routine prayer mode one of my friends, who is a prophet, said out of the blue, “You’re carrying too much. Stop worrying about…”  they then proceeded to name, specifically, the things I’ve been anxious about. There was more that was said, but suffice it to say that I got the message.

This morning I’m reminded that we as humans sometimes need repeated reminders. In today’s chapter Jesus continues His classic “Sermon on the Mount.” One of the simplest reasons I continue to daily journey through God’s Message is that often I’m given exactly the spiritual reminder I need. So it is today. It’s like Jesus personally following up on Wendy’s reasoned logic and the words spoken through my friend yesterday.

“Tom, when has worrying done anything for you? Chill out. Keep going. Stay focused on me. I’ll take care of you.

“I’ve got this.”

Popcorn Prayers

Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.
Nehemiah 2:4 (NRSV)

When you have intimate, long-term relationships with others you find that communication takes a myriad of forms. Wendy and I are together almost all of the time. We live together, work from home together, serve in the community together, and spend most of our free time together. We have layers of communication:

  • Conversations about culture and world events over breakfast and  the news.
  • Brief exchanges from the top of the 2nd floor landing to the bottom of the stairs on the main floor.
  • Text message exchanges.
  • Non-verbal body language cues.
  • Short notes left on stickies on the counter.
  • Emotional rants of aggravation.
  • Nuts and bolts planning and scheduling over calendars.
  • Cell phone conversations when one of us are running errands.
  • Long, intense personal conversations over drinks or a meal.
  • Pillow-talk as we retire for the night.

I have found that my conversations with God have similar diversity of communication. From long, structured, formal give and take to brief exchanges and casual conversations of spirit. There are blurted exclamations of anger, frustration, gratitude, or need. I quiet my heart and open the ears of my spirit to hear what God might have to say during my coffee with God each the morning. I sometimes pour out my heart to God in long, hand written letters. If prayer is simply communication with God, then each one of these mediums is a different, yet legitimate form of prayer used as needed based on the time and circumstance.

In today’s chapter we learn that Nehemiah served the Babylonian king, Artaxerxes, in his court. His heart heavy with the news of the destruction of his hometown Jerusalem’s destroyed walls, Nehemiah cannot help be send non-verbal cues regarding his mood. The king notices and asks him why he looks so depressed.

We cannot fathom today the pressure placed on servants in ancient royal courts like that of Artaxerxes. Kings and Queens held ultimate power and routinely took the mantel of diety upon themselves. Servants in a royal court were expected to always be in a good mood, always serve with joy, and to treat the royals as if they were gods who lived in a higher dimension of being than everyone else. Any slight, mistake, errant word or look could result in an immediate death penalty.

When King Artaxerxes notices the cloud of depression on Nehemiah’s face, his immediate reaction is fear. Nehemiah doesn’t know whether to answer truthfully, beg forgiveness, say “it’s nothing,” or make up some plausible story. One wrong word or move, a simple raising of the King’s ire, and Nehemiah’s a dead man. Nehemiah chooses to tell the truth about his depression over Jerusalem’s walls. Then, Artaxerxes raises the stakes even higher by asking, “What do you request?”

Nehemiah is now in an even more treacherous fix. Ask too much and the king could take it as arrogant insubordination. Blow off the request and it could be perceived as false humility and refusing to answer a direct question. But Nehemiah needs to answer the king and he needs to answer it quickly. What does Nehemiah do?

He throws up a prayer.

Nehemiah had no time for religious ritual. He couldn’t stop the moment to languish in conversation about this situation with God. He could ask the King to spare him a moment while he got on his knees and recited a psalm. Nehemiah threw up what I like to call a “popcorn prayer.”

Like a kernel of popcorn jumping up quickly in the heat to explode into bloom, popcorn prayers pop out of my spirit in a moment and last little more than a breath. Popcorn prayers often get uttered in heated situations. They acknowledge in an instant that God is always present, always listening, always open to listen in all of the diverse ways two beings in an intimate relationship communicate.

There are times for long conversation, and there are times for popcorn prayers. Both forms are legitimate methods of communicating with God. God answered Nehemiah’s popcorn prayer, and the desires of Nehemiah’s heart were about to miraculously be answered via a blurted prayer from Nehemiah’s spirit.

Today, as I quietly listen to what God might be saying to me through the chapter, I hear this: “Keep popping.”

Be Strong and Courageous

“I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)

Wendy and I drove home from the lake yesterday. It was Sunday morning and we obviously were not going to make it to worship, so we pulled up the audio of last week’s message from our local group of Jesus’ followers. Tim Heerma did a great job with the message and, at one point, he spoke about fears and how they keep us from doing what we’re supposed to be doing. “If you are focused on your fears,” he said (I’m paraphrasing) “you will bury your talent.” Wendy and I both gave an impromptu, “Wow” at that moment. Tim’s point landed with impact on us.

After listening to the entire message, Wendy and I spent a good bit of time talking. Out of our conversation came the recognition that fear and anxiety are two of evil’s most commonly used (and effective) weapons against any who would endeavor to do what God has purposed. Jesus repeatedly said to his followers “do not be afraid.”

Our discussion then meandered down a conversational path in which Wendy shared some of her current anxieties. “I keep asking God for some assurance,” she said regarding one of the things we’ve felt God purpose for us, “but it’s not coming.” The result, I observed, were questions, doubts, fears, and anxiety about long-term consequences.

We then spent some time having a conversation with God and reminiscing all of the amazing ways we’ve been led right to where we find ourselves on life’s road. We looked back and recounted some of the unbelievable experiences of God’s prompting, guidance and provision that dot the path behind us. We recommitted ourselves to trusting God for whatever was necessary to play out the roles and purposes to which we’ve been called.

Ironically, we begin this morning at the start of the story of Joshua. Joshua and the people of Israel find themselves standing at a crossroads before the River Jordan. God is calling them to cross the river and take possession of the land. Like a coach in the locker room before the big game, God gives the newly appointed leader, Joshua, a much-needed pep-talk. What Joshua has been purposed to do is a huge task that will require generous doses of active faith. The enemy’s defensive strategy comes from a well-worn and effective playbook: fear and anxiety.

Four times God says to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous.” Strength will be required to overcome the onslaught of fear which will be unleashed against him. Courage will be necessary to relinquish the doubts and anxieties that will most assuredly flank the fear.

This morning, I am thinking about Wendy and me standing at our own version of the Jordan River and the purposes to which we, like Joshua, are called. I am recalling all of the fears and anxieties we discussed yesterday. As I read God’s pep-talk to Joshua, I am hearing God whisper: “This is for you, too. It is as much for you as it was for Josh. Be strong and courageous.”

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The Divine Good Luck Charm

Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because the Levite has become my priest.”
Judges 17:13 (NRSV)

Wendy and I are fans of the Minnesota Vikings. I even know the Vikings fight song and will sing it for you upon request. Granted, we have not had much to cheer about for many years. As we wind down the 2015 season, there is at least the prospect of our Vikes going to the playoffs and an outside chance they could win their division. I’m hopeful, but not holding my breath.

A life-long fan of the Vikings, I can remember being a kid and having so much life energy invested in that game on Sunday. A win could send me to the mountain top and a loss could ruin my life for days. Growing up in the 1970’s when the Vikings were a perennial favorite to go to the Super Bowl, there were more mountain tops than ruins – with the exception of the Super Bowl itself. 0-4. Woof.

Back in those blissful, ignorant days of childhood my perception of God was that of a divine good luck charm. Do the right thing and rub God the right way and the Vikings might win on Sunday. If they lost, well then I must have done something to deserve my tragic circumstances. My focus wasn’t on what God wanted of me, but rather what I could coerce out of God.

Looking back, it’s really quite silly. The story of Micah in today’s chapter, however, reminds me that my childhood perceptions of God are actually quite common. It seems to me that Micah was not looking for a relationship with his Creator, but rather a good luck charm that would assure his prosperity.

My spiritual journey has taught me that God is beyond what I can possibly fathom. God knows that our temporal fortunes in this life are of no eternal value compared to the true genuineness of our faith. Reducing God to some kind of divine talisman is demeaning and disrespectful, and I get the sense that this is why God gets so ticked off with idolatry. The narrow road winds to deeper, more meaningful places than wins and losses. It takes us through more painful tragedies and more life-giving victories.

We love our Vikings, and we will be cheering them on in the coming weeks. Who know? Maybe they’ll surprise us [Still not holding my breath]. Even if they lose, we’ll (once again) chalk it up as a spiritual lesson in faith and perseverance.

Skol!

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A Cynic’s Confession

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV)

When you live in Iowa, you get a larger dose of American presidential politics than most. Iowa is the first state in the parties selection process for presidential nominees. Therefore, Iowans tend to have a more generous dose of candidates, surveys, and political ads before everyone else. I kind of like it, in the general sense. About 95 percent of the time the major media outlets ignore us here in flyover country. If there’s not a tragedy, natural disaster, or the need for a heart warming Americana story, then they prefer to keep their cameras and microphones grounded on the coast. It’s nice to have the opportunity for our thoughts and opinions to matter for a few months.

At the same time, I will admit that the whole presidential circus gets a bit silly at times. I was once avidly involved in the political process, but confess that I have become jaded and cynical the further I’ve progressed in life’s journey. I vote regularly and do my civic duty, but I am increasingly appalled at how elected leaders look out for themselves and leverage our collective future to solidify their personal standing in the present. I’m talking both sides of the aisle here.

As I read Paul’s admonishment to pray for “all those in authority” this morning, I was struck by just how cynical I’ve become. It’s almost to the point of being a fatalist. If I’m truly honest, I have to admit that I find myself thinking, “What will be will be and my prayers, petitions, and intercessions won’t make a bit of a difference.”

Then, I think of Paul and Timothy out there under Roman occupation  and sandwiched between persecution from both Jewish authorities and Roman authorities. Theirs was not a representative republic. They didn’t have a vote. The media of the day was not surveying everyone in Ephesus to find out what they thought, and Caesar was not pandering to the backwater Hellenists. Their political impotence was far greater than mine, and still Paul urged vigilant prayers for all in authority.

Today, I’m a bit humbled to admit how hard my heart has become towards those in governmental authority. I am revising my prayer list. If you’ll excuse me, I have a few petitions to bring before the highest authority of all.