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Entries in Prayer (25)

Tuesday
Jul022019

Only One Thing Matters

Grace Fox, a career missionary, knows much about the pressures of ministry, but she has learned to focus on God's purposes for each day. In this Spiritual Life UPGRADE, she encourages us to have a biblical perspective on how we invest our time for greater intimacy with the Lord.

"So many voices and genuine needs clamor for our attention," Grace says. "So much noise fills our physical and mental space. Our busy lives pull us a gazillion different directions but in truth, only one thing really matters."

Grace echoes a truth I (Dawn) struggled with for years. So much to do, so little time. And it didn't help that I was determined to do it all—many times without checking in with the Lord.

Grace continues . . . 

I’m a recovering A-type personality who totally “gets” Martha (Luke 10:38-42).

She thrives on purposeful work especially when it involves those she loves. The day Jesus and His disciples visit, she invests her total self in serving them.

Martha slaves in the kitchen while her sister Mary lounges in the living room. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him teach and hanging on every word.

This scenario reveals two sisters and two demonstrations of love for Jesus.

He acknowledges both, but commends only one: “There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it—and I won’t take it away from her” (Luke 10:42).

What’s the all-important “one thing” to which Jesus refers? Time spent in His presence listening to His voice.

I’ve been involved in career ministry for more than 25 years, and I’m still trying to master the one thing. My human bent wants to focus more on the OTHER thing—service.

In the process, I treat Jesus like a second-class citizen:

“Sorry! I’ll meet with You tomorrow, okay? Right now I need to work on my book about intimacy with You. You know all about deadlines, right?”

I suspect I’m not alone in my struggle to keep first things first.

In his book Secrets of the Vine, Bruce Wilkinson admits that, as a spiritual leader, he’d “become an expert at serving God, but somehow remained a novice at being His friend.”

The process happened slowly, unnoticed, as Wilkinson gained more competence in doing ministry.

  • Activity done for Jesus eventually replaced time spent with Jesus.
  • Listening to the voices of those pressuring him to do and be more replaced listening to the voice of the Shepherd.

Wilkinson lost his joy and his passion for Christ.

Change came when the truth dawned on him: “God didn’t want me to do more for Him. He wanted me to be more with Him.”

Spending time building relationship with Jesus—that’s the one thing that truly matters.

The depth of our intimacy with Him determines everything about us, including how we spend time and money, how we treat others, how we respond to disappointment and suffering, and whether or not our lives bear fruit.

So, in the midst of crazy busy lives, how do we give the “one thing” the priority it deserves?

Here are three practical suggestions:

1. Rise Early.

As a mom with three young kids, I realized that enjoying regular quiet time with Jesus meant rising early. Waiting until later guaranteed other tasks would take precedence. So, I asked God to wake me when He wanted to meet with me.

Without using an alarm clock, I woke bright-eyed at 5 o’clock the next morning and every morning afterwards.

A quiet house void of distractions provided the ideal environment to focus on the Word. I anticipated sweet fellowship, and God never let me down.

Perhaps you already have a well-established routine in the Word. If not, ask God to show you when He wants to meet. He’ll answer your prayer, I promise.

2. Pray Continually.

Invite Jesus into every part of your day, beginning the moment you wake—“Good morning, Lord. What wonderful things do You have planned for us today?”

Share joys and disappointments with Him, but invite Him into the mundane too.

I cleaned other people’s houses for several years. Someone asked me, “How can you tolerate doing brain-dead work?”

The question shocked me: I’d never considered my work in such terms. I prayed for my family as I scrubbed, and mundane became an act of worship.

3. Seek Silence.

The busyness and noise clamoring for our attention distract us from intimacy with Christ. Solitude and silence promote it because they free us to focus and listen.

Turn off the phone and ignore your computer for a few minutes each week (each day, if you have that luxury).

Sit in silence before the Lord with no agenda except to hear His voice.

Ask Him to speak to you and expect Him to answer. Journal what He says.

Only one thing really matters. Nothing feeds our soul like intimacy with Jesus.

What’s one action you can take to deepen your friendship with Him beginning today?

Grace Fox is a career missionary, international speaker, and author of nine books. She’s on the writing team for First 5, a daily Bible study app produced by Proverbs 31 Ministries. For more information about Grace, visit her website and blog.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Marr Creative at Lightstock.

 

Tuesday
Apr232019

Hope When It Hurts

I've read a lot of articles about hope lately, and many of them were "fluff," but Shonda Savage Whitworth's article is deep truth, because it comes from a deep rooting in the Word of God. In this Biblical Thinking UPGRADE, she encourages us to seek true hope when we hurt.

"My dreams for my family’s future shattered when my oldest son was sentenced to prison," Shonda says.

"His conviction demolished the good mother image I erected in my mind. With this image decimated, my emotions spiraled into a dark abyss."

I (Dawn) know several families with incarcerated children, and they all deal with tough issues, some struggling everyday with hope.

Shonda continues . . .

After my son began his life in state prison, my life of being held captive by guilt, shame, and condemnation started. Despair enveloped me like a heavy fog keeping the light from shining in my life.

We read in Proverbs:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12, NLT).

The anguish gave way to hopelessness, and I was diagnosed “situational adjustment disorder,” which is a classification of anxiety and depression.

My personal life stalled while the world around me moved forward.

While the life I had and the future I expected dissipated, I knew I could not remain stuck in the sorrow. My family needed me to be present in their lives.

This realization allowed a ray of sunshine to peek through the fog of despair and I encouraged myself in the Lord, just as David did when he was greatly distressed. 

Here are three ways I found hope when it hurt.

1. Praising God

In my pain, I played worship music and sang along to praise the Lord. Many times, the words to the worship songs triggered tears, so I just cried out, “No matter what, You are God.”

Dr. John G. Mitchell wrote, “To give thanks when you don’t feel like it is not hypocrisy; it’s obedience.”

Hebrews 13:15 tells us, Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (NKJV).

There are times when giving thanks out of obedience is a sacrifice, but the reward is worth it.

Through worship, my focus turned to the Lord and off of my circumstances. As a result, new hope poured into my spirit.

2. Meditating on the Word

A colleague told me, “Shonda, be sure you put your hope in God because man will fail you.” In hindsight, I realized that I put my hope in the attorney and the justice system instead of God.

To pull myself out of the darkness, I read the Bible daily and Scriptures about hope popped up. As I meditated on the word, I learned hope in God is our expectation in what He can do, not what I can do or what any other person does.

Then I came across Zechariah 9:12:

“Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you” (NIV).

At that moment,

I chose to be a prisoner of hope instead of a prisoner of despair.

As a prisoner of hope, I released my expectations of man and the system and placed my confidence in the Lord.

3. Praying

Before the tragic events unfolded that led to my son’s imprisonment, my prayer was “Lord, I ask You to hedge him in so he cannot follow his own path” (based on Hosea 2:6).

I believed my prodigal son would find his way home. Instead, he went to prison.

During the months leading up to the trial, I prayed for my son’s freedom. After his conviction, my hope dissolved and my desire to pray evaporated.

As I meditated on Scriptures, Jesus taught the disciples to pray, “Your will be done” (Matthew 6:10) And Jesus prayed, “nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

My prayers were the opposite, so I began to pray like Jesus taught and modeled. As a result, my perspective changed.

I now see how prison saved my son’s life—both in the eternal and in the natural.

In my hurt, I found hope as I offered up the sacrifice of praise, meditated on the Word of God daily, and prayed God’s will.

Through these daily disciplines,

  • the fog of despair lifted,
  • my good mother image has been replaced with knowing who I am in Christ,
  • and my life is moving forward filled with joy and peace as I know God, my source of hope.

If you’ve lost hope due to hurtful circumstances in your life, my prayer for you is from Romans 15:13:

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (NLT).

Are you struggling with hope today? Which of these three ways to find hope when you hurt is missing or lacking in your life? How can you change that today?

Shonda Savage Whitworth is the founder and president of Fortress of Hope Ministries, Inc., giving hope to those with incarcerated family members. She is a speaker and author who connects with her audiences through her transparent testimony of personal tribulations and triumphs in Christ. Her book, Appeal to the Courts of Heaven: Prayers for Prisoners and Prison Families, is scheduled to release in the fall of 2019. You can read more about Shonda’s unexpected prison family journey on her blog

Graphic adapted, courtesy ofLechenie Narkomanii at Pixabay.

Monday
Feb042019

Elevate at Eleven-ish

There's one thing about finding out you have a disease. You tend to turn your thoughts inward.

Self-care is good and proper, but self-focus can hinder what God wants to do in and through you in your new adventure with God.

When I woke up at 3:00 am this morning, I couldn't go back to sleep. Lying in bed I remembered many thoughts I'd had since New Year's Day, 2019. I had so many goals for this year.

Then wham!

A diagnosis sent my thoughts reeling and my heart to God's throne of grace.

To be honest, the next weeks were all about me, me, me. How was I feeling? What was I thinking? Why was I weeping? Where would this journey take me?

But early this morning, God gave me a new perspective.

God was making me more sensitive spiritually, and I needed to do something with that sensitivity.

In recent days, I've become more aware of Facebook friends and church family who are hurting and struggling. Knowing my own upheaval, I wondered if they are facing the same temptations I am. The temptation to question God. The temptation to fear. The temptation to believe the enemy's lies.

A friend battling breast cancer. Another nauseated with an incurable disease. A woman struggling to care for her mother even as she battles her own physical weakness. A new Facebook friend who has touched my heart with her response to her own physical struggles—a true "heart sister" trusting God for each new day.

The Bible tells us to pray for one another (James 5:16), bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2) and encourage one another, building them up (1 Thessalonians 5:11). I'm good at finding practical ways to help or encourage. But when it comes to prayer . . .

I don't know about you, but—and I hate to admit this—I often promise to pray for people, saying I'll do it "whenever I think of you."

But then I don't.

Like you, I mean well. But I get distracted and busy. Or caught up in my own struggles. Then later I'm totally bummed because I forgot to pray.

Like me, do you need a "trigger" to remember to PRAY MORE for those who hurt?

I don't want Satan to rob me of the blessing of praying for those who struggle or are in pain. And I don't want to forget the power of prayer.

What came to me at 3:00 in the morning—which usually isn't a good time to start on anything new, but it worked for me—was a plan to not only remember to pray for those in need, but also to remember the God who answers prayer.

An intentional time. A focused time. A sacred time.

Now a person can choose ANY time; but what came to my mind was, "Elevate at Eleven." (I considered that time simply because "elevate" and "eleven" both start the same way.) Every day, clocks hit 11:00 twice—am and pm.

But then I thought, what if I didn't notice if it's 11:00 am or 11:00 pm? I didn't want to set an alarm, but I'm so often busy or distracted. I need a wider window of opportunity.

How about "Elevate at Eleven-ish"?

(Are you laughing at me or with me?)

I'd have two whole hours each day to remember. Surely, sometime from 11:00 to 11:59—twice a day—I'd remember to turn to the Lord for these precious people in my life.

I want to do two things in these special prayer times:

1. Elevate the Lord.

One definition of "elevate" is to raise or lift up something or someone to a higher position.

I know I can't make the Lord any more than He is. He is all in all, above all, infinitely more than I can imagine. We cannot contain Him (1 Kings 8:26-27; Psalm 139:7), because He is everywhere and fills everything; in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28a). We cannot add anything to the great "I AM."

But I can elevate God in my mind and heart. I can lift him up in praise and upgrade my worship (Psalm 103:1-4; Isaiah 25:1; Psalm 63:3-4, 7-8; Ephesians 3:20-21; Revelation 4:11). I can focus on one quality or characteristic of the Lord and praise Him for who He is and how He is working.

To elevate the Lord is also to remember He is sovereign—He is in control (1 Chronicles 29:11-12; Job 42:2; Psalm 103:19; 115:3; Jeremiah 32:17; 1 Timothy 6:15). Nothing in our lives takes Him by surprise or causes Him frustration.

To elevate Him is also to seek His purposes in our circumstances. We want to learn from our suffering and praise Him for how He will change us through our trials.

2. Elevate Others in Prayer

Another definition of "elevate" is to bear aloft—to bouy up or boost. Our hurting friends and family are no doubt praying for their own concerns, but we can boost their prayers heavenward with prayers of our own.

We elevate others when we lift them up before the Lord, taking their pain and suffering before Him and praying specific requests for them (Ephesians 6:18b; James 5:16b; Philippians 4:6-7; Hebrews 4:16; 1 John 5:14).

The One who knows the power of intercession—Jesus, who prays for us—can transform our prayers for others into great blessing.

We can pray people will sense God's presence. We can pray for His power and provision in their lives—whether in healing or in helping them endure. We can pray for their peace.

In order to best lift people up, we need to stay abreast of their concerns. We need to check in with them from time to time, because their prayer needs may change.

What does "Elevate at Eleven-ish" look like for me?

  • I now have "11" on Post-it Notes around my house ... triggers to get me started on my new prayer habit.
  • Some people may want to set an alarm for 11:00 on their clock or iWatch; or if they're at a desk a lot, they might try this Online Alarm Clock. (Personally, I don't like the intrusiveness of an alarm. There are already too many "jarring" things going off in my life—bells and whistles! But it could be one way to start a new prayer habit.)
  • I have a separate prayer list with all those I'm praying for during these specific and sacred times. But over time, I won't need the physical list. Their needs will be written in my heart.
    • NOTE:  These times of "elevation" do not replace my regular prayer time, but they enhance and upgrade it.
  • I'm asking the Lord to make me more aware of 11:00-ish times to intercede ... to stop me in the midst of my busyness, if only for a few minutes, to remember and pray. (But remember, you can choose to pray for strugglers any time.)

The whole point is, we must become more intentional about doing something we say we want to do.

Perhaps you will join me to Elevate at Eleven-ish (or any special time you choose).

If you do, please add me to your prayer list. I surely need your prayers as I enter this time of uncertainty. Yes, I want to be healed. But one thing I know for sure—one thing you can pray for that will always be God's will—I want to know the Lord more and make Him known.

Who are the people the Lord brought to your mind as you read this? Stop right now and pray for them.

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator the blog, Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts  and a writer at Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

 

 

Tuesday
Jan082019

Burning Bush?

Rhonda Rhea’s life seems to be one fiasco after another. But they are faith-building fiascos, so that’s pretty cool, actually. In this UPLIFT story to make you "laugh in" the New Year, Rhonda tells us a personal experience that certainly made me smile … and learn.

“You’re going to think I’m making this up,” Rhonda says, “but it really did happen.”

Now if that isn’t a set-up for a story, I (Dawn) would be so surprised. And given the title of this post, I figure it has something to do with God getting our attention.

Rhonda continues . . .

It was a lovely holiday party. My friend Lynn had decorated her home from top to bottom, right down to the pretty candles in the dining table advent centerpiece one of her kids made.

We left our finger foods and desserts on the table while 30 or so of us gathered in the next room to pray.

While we were praying, I noticed one of Lynn’s children came and got her. I could hear her in the dining room whispering an inordinate number of “oh no’s,” so I went to see if I could help. 

I found Lynn smacking at the centerpiece that had combusted into a little campfire in the middle of the table. I snatched up the nearest towel and started batting at it with her, but I think we were literally fanning the flames. 

Then I did what seemed most logical at the time.

I hollered.

In less than two seconds the room was filled with smoke and screaming women. 

That’s when the smoke alarm went off and Lynn’s husband came bounding down from upstairs. Our hero.

He grabbed the four corners of the tablecloth and picked up flames, food and all and took off running for the front door. 

Lynn and I put out the leftover flames on her table. Her husband made it to the door and hurled the blazing bundle outside with everything he had.

Wouldn’t you know it? It landed right on top of one of their shrubs.

It was winter so, while I call it a shrub, it could probably more accurately be described as “kindling.” It shot up in a bigger inferno than ever.

I wondered if the whole house might be taken down by one contrary centerpiece.

That’s when one of the ladies scooted out the door carrying our huge bowl of punch and flung it on the shrub. No kidding, she extinguished the burning bush with fruit juice, sherbet and a lovely ice ring.

You’re going to think I made that up just so I would have a good “punch” line, but again, it’s the honest truth.

We all stood there blinking in silence for a second, looking at the charred bush with all our smoking hors d’oeuvres lying around it. There were scattered dessert carcasses everywhere. Gruesome.

I announced, “Dinner is served.” 

Who doesn’t love dinner en flambé?

In the Bible’s original burning bush story, God used the bush en flambé to get Moses’ attention. Evidently a tap on the shoulder wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.

We’re told in Exodus 3:2 how God “appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.”

It got his attention, alright. 

Thankfully, we can talk to God with or without flaming vegetation.

In fact, I hope I never make him work that hard to get my attention.

When the Lord spoke to Moses through the bush, Moses answered in verse four, “Here I am.” He wants our prayerful attention just that way.

It’s a good thing to keep a burning passion to pray and a ready heart to respond.

A very good thing.

Incidentally, if you ever encounter any kind of home brush fire, Lynn mentioned that being well-insured is another good thing.

What has the Lord used recently to get your attention? How did you respond?

Rhonda Rhea is the author of 12 books, including the nonfiction titles, Espresso Your Faith, Join the Insanity and a new project co-authored with Beth Duewel, Fix-Her-Upper. Rhonda’s new inspirational Christian fiction, Turtles in the Road, is co-authored with her daughter, Kaley Rhea, and is a hilariously fun romantic comedy. Rhonda is a humor columnist for HomeLife magazine, Leading Hearts magazine, The Pathway, MTL and more. She is a TV personality for The Christian Television Network’s KNLJ in mid-Missouri and speaks at conferences and events coast to coast. Rhonda lives in the St. Louis area with her pastor-hubs, Richie Rhea. They have five grown children and two grandbabies. Visit her blog.

Graphic Adapted, courtesy of Jeff Jacobs at Pixabay.

Thursday
Jul122018

The Pulse of Prayer in Grief

Sally Ferguson writes with clarity and sensitivity, and this post is no exception. In this Grief UPGRADE, she shares how prayer is the lifeline for believers who grapple with the devastation of grief.

"I curled up next to my 95 year old grandmother, as we contemplated how our lives had turned upside down," Sally says. "Her only child, my mom, had died suddenly of heart failure."

I (Dawn) think every loved one's passing bring's grief, but the sudden loss is especially hard. I remember my prayers when my daddy passed unexpectedly into eternity. I felt like I mumbled prayers only the Spirit of God could understand; I was in so much pain. Sally understands this and has a good word of encouragement for us here.

Sally continues . . .

Facing the loss of his business partner and wife of 54 years, my dad entered no-man’s land of mental collapse.

I felt like I had not only lost one parent, but two.

The ensuing months of doctor visits with Dad, hospital stays and tests brought a diagnosis of dementia and Alzheimer’s. His ability to function was enhanced by a multitude of drugs, and his subsequent move into my home was brightened by the presence of my toddling granddaughter.

In the worst of times, I saw my grandmother and my father rely on the Lord. That night cradled next to my Gra’ma, I glimpsed a window into heaven when I heard the most intimate prayer of a child relying on her heavenly Father for her needs.

In days when Dad was not able to express much else, he could respond with prayer that made more sense than a lot of the words I’ve uttered.

What is it about a lifestyle of prayer that ingrains a habit so deeply in the heart and enables one to call out to God, even in the midst of the unthinkable?

On my friend’s deathbed, her practice of prayer was still a priority. But it was for others, not herself.

At 54, her body was ravaged by cancer, but her mind still held on to the promises of God found in Christ. As different ones visited in her hospital room, Jodie bowed her head and lifted an earnest request for each one gathered around her bed.

Her pleas for their protection and guidance were fueled by the urgency of her own mortality.

I met with my 91-year-old writer friend, Bea, the second week in December. By the third day of January, she was gone.

Bea and I had prayed over many manuscripts and life needs, and each time she prayed, I knew she was talking to a Friend.

Memories are sacred treasures we hold in our hearts.

I walked through the deaths of four prayer warriors in a little over four years.

Mom, Gra’ma, Jodie and Bea left an indescribable void.

I am still observing my dad’s reverent conversations with the Lord and the miracle of his mental health being restored.

Is God still there? Does God still care? Absolutely!

As a young adult, I heard my pastor say, based on Matthew 6:8, “He knows and He cares.” I have continued to see that truth play out in my life as the Lord has walked me through suffering.

Living in the shadow of death, it helped to know God worked in the lives of others who were familiar with pain, and He would be there for me, too.

The trauma of grief is one each one of us faces in life, yet the pulse of prayer runs through our veins with hope in the Resurrection of Christ.

From foxhole to hospice care, we all return to prayer in our greatest need.

Our Creator installed that default mode, so we would know how to call out to Him.

Indeed, Ecclesiastes 3:11 says He has placed eternity in our hearts. The link of prayer may be more noticeable in crisis, but it is available every day of our lives.

When we pray, hard times cannot crush us, because we know Who to lean on.

I have not yet reached the other side of my crisis, as we continue to grapple with my dad’s health. But I am stronger for the journey.

Faith in God was modeled for me and proved true as He held on to me through the devastation of loss. On the days when grief covered me with a blanket of despair, my heart still knew to call out to God, my Safe Tower.

Suffering also earns you the right to be heard.

People listen, because there is respect for one who suffers.

Grief hurts. But compassion for others rises out of vulnerability.

What would I want others to learn from my journey with grief?

  • Life is precious.
  • We have a legacy to leave to those who come behind us, and the mantle of responsibility for that heritage has been passed on to us.
  • When loss is devastating, my heart’s desire is to let others know God is always there and He always cares.

We find Him in the pulse of prayer.

How have you modeled prayer for your family?

Sally Ferguson loves organizing retreats and seeing relationships blossom in time away from the daily routine. Her coloring book, What Will I Be When I Grow Up? (Warner Press) and ebook, How to Plan a Women’s Retreat are both available on Amazon.  Stop in for a chat at www.sallyferguson.net