Wednesday

Why Praying on the Run Isn't Enough

I was driving down the interstate early one morning on the way to to take my daughters to swim team practice. The sun had just risen, and the roads weren’t crowded yet. My girls sat beside me, not fully awake. We made this commute daily, and we had no reason to believe today’s trip would be anything but routine. 

Until I noticed something wrong with the truck in front of me. 

Its bed was filled with 5-gallon paint cans and tarps. A single ladder leaned against the hood of the cab. What caught my eye wasn’t the truck’s dirty exterior or the billowing blue tarps, it was the ladder. As the truck accelerated, it began to move. 

Like a slow motion movie scene, I saw it rise from where it leaned against the cab, stand perpendicular to the truck bed, and then began to fall toward the back of the truck. The ladder hit the tailgate with a clatter and bounced out onto the interstate in front of me. I watched the action unfold, but I didn’t react until the ladder landed with a crash in my lane. 

“Father, help us!” I cried, swerving blindly into the right lane and hoping no car was beside me. Mercifully, the lane was clear. “Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord. Thank you,” I breathed as I drove on, hands shaking and heart pounding. The danger was past, and God had answered my prayer. 

Arrow prayers—they’re impromptu, unscripted, and spontaneous expressions of need to our ever-present Father. Nehemiah prayed a prayer like this as he prepared to make a request of King Artaxerxes in Nehemiah 2. 

I’ve prayed many arrow prayers over the course of my lifetime—on the road, at work, even in the grocery store. Arrow prayers are a legitimate and appropriate way to “pray without ceasing.” 

But arrow prayers shouldn’t be our only prayers. Jesus instructed his disciples to pray this way: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Mt. 6:6). 

“Go into your room , close the door. . .” 

Jesus knew arrow prayers aren’t enough. That we need deliberate, regular, focused times of prayer. That we need a place removed from the distractions that clamor for our attention. That to pray well, we must step aside from the everyday hustle and bustle of life and sit alone at his feet. 

Susanna Wesley was the mother of Charles and John, the great revivalist preachers, and 17 other children. I suspect she didn’t dare sequester herself from her children in another room. Instead, she made a “prayer closet” by throwing her apron over her head while she sat in her rocking chair. The children knew when mama’s apron was over her head, they’d better not disturb her, because mama was praying. 

I met Lupita on a mission trip to Mexico. Lupita lives with her daughter and five grandchildren in a two-room house made of cinder block and tar paper. When we visited her home, she led us out back to show us her prayer closet. It was a tiny room made of mismatched boards and a curtain for the door. Her grandchildren’s Sunday school papers decorated the walls. “This is where I get away from the children, and I pray,” she said. 

Susanna and Lupita are wise women. They understood the value of prayer and made it a priority in their lives. We should be, too. Theologian Oswald Chambers, in his devotional book My Utmost for His Highest, affirms, “We must have a selected place for prayer.” 

Having a designated place to pray helps us consistently and intentionally meet with God. Your “prayer closet” doesn’t have to be a room with a door, although doors help minimize distractions. It can be as simple as a favorite chair in a quiet corner of the living room early in the morning, a corner of the sofa with your favorite prayer resources nearby, or a lawn chair in the shade of an oak tree. If you consistently go to this place for the purpose of praying, your body, mind, and spirit will equate that spot with prayer, and you’ll find it much easier to concentrate. 

When every room of our home was filled with children, I entered my prayer closet early every morning by turning on the light, propping myself up in bed, and reaching for my three prayer weapons: my Bible, my journal, and a copy of whatever devotional I happened to be reading. It wasn’t fancy, but it helped me honor my commitment to spend time every day with God. 

What about you? Are you struggling to have a consistent prayer time? Are the only prayers you pray arrow prayers—haphazard and inconsistent? I encourage you today to find a spot for your prayer closet. Then set aside a time every day in which to meet with the Lord. You’ll be amazed to find that God will meet you there. 



In the words of Oswald Chambers, “Prayer doesn’t fit us for the greater works, prayer is the greater work.” 











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Monday

See-through Shower Curtains

“She needs a transparent shower curtain,” my husband said.
 
“I agree.”

We were visiting friends out of state. The temperature hovered around 90, and the upstairs guest rooms were too hot to sleep in comfortably. “If you don’t mind sleeping in the basement,” our hostess said, “it’s nice and cool down there. The pullout couch is comfortable, and there’s a bathroom with a shower.”

We slept well on her comfy pullout couch. It was the shower we had trouble with.


Added on after the house was built, the shower was tucked into an alcove in the bathroom. When I stepped in and pulled the opaque shower curtain closed behind me, very little light shone through. And while my shower routine is pretty predictable, it would have been easier to see what was dirty if I’d had more light.

My spiritual life is a lot like my physical life in this way. If I look at myself through the lens of this world, which is dim and cloudy, I look pretty good. If I compare myself with the light of God’s Word, however, I realize there is much about my character that still needs improvement.

The Psalmist acknowledged, “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, who can know it?”

Sometimes, without the light of God’s counsel, I deceive myself. I think I’m thoughtful and unselfish, until my husband points out how I’ve been neglecting him. I think I’m patient and kind, until I stand in a long line at the grocery store and mutter with the other disgruntled customers. I think I’m a servant, until someone leaves a mess behind and I grumble as I clean it up.

My pastor says regular examination and confession, both general (“I am a sinner,”) and specific (I have sinned by _______,”) is necessary to guard our hearts against sin, and it is true.

“If we confess our sins, he (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” promises 1 John 1:9.

Instead of being discouraged, however, I should be encouraged by the lifelong process of sanctification—of becoming more like Christ, because God partners with me in the process.


 


Theologian E.M. Bounds writes: “God will not meet you where you pretend to be.”


If I examine my life through the lens of God’s Word and obey what he tells me to do, God conforms me to his likeness.

But he seldom elbows into my life; I have to invite him. If I hide in the shadows of my own self-assessment and self-righteousness, God will not meet me there. If I pull the curtain wide and allow the light of his Word to show me what’s dirty, I’ve made the first step toward him and the person he wants me to be. My friend’s shower curtain wasn’t transparent, but we certainly should be.

“Confession allows God room to work,” my pastor says.

Is there something you need to confess and surrender to God today? Will you join me in submitting it to God and watching him work? 


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Sunday

Bellybutton Stealers and Faith

In Japan, children are encouraged to cover their belly buttons when they hear thunder. 

“If you don’t,” their parents warn, “Raijin, (the god of thunder) will steal them.” I’m not sure how the custom of Raijin the Belly Button Stealer began. One blogger observed that temperatures usually drop after a thunderstorm, and the “cover your belly button” custom may have been an effort to encourage children to cover up to avoid getting chilled.  

Whatever their purpose, customs shape our behavior and give us a default setting for how to respond in certain situations.

Daniel had a custom that almost cost him his life. It also saved it.

Darius the Mede had taken over the Babylonian kingdom and appointed 120 satraps (governors) to rule. Daniel, a Jewish exile, was one of them. At least 80 years old by this time, Daniel had served several kings and distinguished himself by his wisdom, work ethic, and personal integrity.

His evil and jealous colleagues plotted a way to oust Daniel from his position of influence, but found no basis for a complaint—Daniel was squeaky clean. He was a righteous man who loved God. He prayed three times a day facing Jerusalem.

His custom of praying became the basis for the satraps to depose Daniel and exalt themselves. They conned egotistic King Darius into signing a decree requiring everyone to bow down only to him for 30 days. Once Darius signed the edict, they laid in wait to catch Daniel violating the law. 

Daniel had a choice to make--stand for what is right or compromise.

As my Sunday school teacher said, “The law was only in effect for 30 days; I might have been tempted to just lay low, pray silently and privately, and reappear after the edict was over.”

Not Daniel.

Now when Daniel knew that the edict was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days. (Dan. 6:10)

We know the rest of the story. King Darius punished Daniel by throwing him into a den of hungry lions. He emerged with nary a nibble on his kneeling knees. 

How did Daniel have the courage not to compromise, take a stand for God, and be willing to pay the ultimate price for his faith? The clue is in the final phrase of verse ten: “he knelt down on his knees . . . as was his custom since the early days.” Instead of covering his belly button against the god of thunder, Daniel bowed before the God who holds the power of life, death, and thunder in his hands.


Early in his lifetime he established the custom (or perhaps a better word is habit) of prayer The strength, wisdom, and courage he gained during his regular conversations with God carried him through. 

He developed the discipline of prayer long before pagans devastated his homeland and carried him off to Babylon. He prayed regularly long before he rebuked Nebuchadnezzar for his pride. He consistently bowed before the Lord of the universe long before King Belshazzar summoned him to read the writing on the wall during his drunken feast. And he prayed three times a day long before he encountered the ultimate test of his faith in the lion’s den.

When times of trial and testing came, Daniel’s faith stood firm. Not only did he survive his plunge into the pit, his example caused King Darius to declare of God,

He is the living God, and steadfast forever; his kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall endure to the end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. (Dan. 6:26-27)

When you encounter the next big trial, will you have the custom of daily prayer already built into your life so you can make it through? 

Don’t wait until the challenges come to seek God. Begin to grow your spiritual muscles now by spending time every day in God’s Word and prayer. If you do, you’ll have the strength to weather the challenge and the privilege of sharing your faith along the way. 

Tweetables:
Customs shape our behavior and give us a default setting for how to respond in certain situations. (Click to Tweet)

Don't wait until the challenges come to seek God. Begin developing your spiritual muscles now. (Click to Tweet)

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Thursday

Are You Believing the Lie?

The book of Job is seldom one I choose to read. 

Frankly, it distresses me to think about the horror and hard ship this good man endured. Logic and a sense of justice tell me evil men should suffer and good men should enjoy a long life filled with happiness, health, and prosperity. Such thinking, I discovered this morning in my quest to read through the Bible in a year, is not only wrong, but satanic. 

 Yup, satanic. 

“Have you considered my servant Job?” God asked Satan as Satan presented himself before him, “he’s blameless and upright, honors God, and runs from evil.” (my paraphrase)

 “Well of course he serves you,” Satan responded, “you bless everything he touches. You’ve put a hedge around his family, blessed the work of his hands, and made him rich. Why shouldn’t he serve you?” 

This is what Satan said, and we say it, too, only in reverse. We ask an equally satanic question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” as if, by virtue of their goodness, good people deserve a pain-free life. 

And the reverse – if sorrow, tragedy, sickness, and loss enter their lives, it must be because they’ve sinned. 

Enter Job—a righteous man who suffered horribly and whose story debunks all our false assumptions. 

Job’s life demonstrates that good men suffer. That while hardship can be the result of sin or the natural consequences of poor choices, not all trials are punishment for sin. His life shows that God allows our faith to be tested and gives us the opportunity to glorify him in the midst of our suffering.

Job’s story proves that we may never know, this side of heaven, why trials enter our lives. We can know, however, that no difficulty is wasted if we submit our will to God and trust him to work in and through it. Job’s life shows us that we live in a sin-sick, dying world, and we suffer when others’ sin drag their poisonous tentacles across our lives. 

Job’s faith is a beacon of light to a dark and hopeless world. His steadfast love and commitment to God flies in the face of Satan’s whispers. When the blessings are stripped away and all Job has left is his relationship with God, he finds that it is enough.




“For I know my Redeemer lives,” he shouts triumphantly, or perhaps he whimpers, “and he shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that 

 in my flesh I shall see God.” 

Paul knew what Job knew, that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17) 

And he embraced Job’s wisdom and declared, 

“. . . we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (v 18). 

 And he gained comfort and hope. 

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). 

Is Satan accusing you today? Is he causing you to doubt God’s love and care for you? Is he whispering Job’s wife’s words, “Curse God and die?” 


I challenge you, on the basis of God’s character and the love he demonstrated on the cross, trust God. 

Stand firm. 

Don’t let Satan have the victory. 

Stand with Job, and Paul, and the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds you, and run the race all the way to the finish line. 

Never give up. Never give up. NEVER GIVE UP! 

There’s glory that awaits you. 




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Sunday

When we fear for our children

“You don’t have to be scared of school,” I overheard a young mother in cowboy boots telling her little boy as they left the store. Her toned arms, one embellished with a dainty tattoo, were wrapped around an assortment of brand new khaki pants and blue polos. School uniforms, I guessed. 

“Mrs. Johnson is your teacher, and she is a very good woman,” she said, her voice rising for emphasis. Gazing down into his wide blue eyes, she concluded, “She’s protective, and she’s smart.” 

He fiddled with the toy in his hands. She chewed her lip. I wondered who she hoped the speech would convince—the little boy about to enter kindergarten, or her, about to send her baby off to school for the first time. 

“I never used to be afraid,” another young mother confided to me as her baby played quietly at her feet, “but now I worry about everything.” 

Sickness. Accidents. Choking. Drowning. SIDS. The list of potential threats is endless, and our ability to protect our children is limited. Our love for them is fierce, and the lengths we go to protect them are long. Yet we recognize our frailties, and fear hovers at the edges of our days and chases the sleep from our nights. 

Well-meaning friends challenge us to “Trust God,” but how? Others tell us to pray, but we wonder if it does any good. 

I’ve parented for a quarter of a century and by no means do I have it figured out, but I speak as one who knows and understands. My besetting sin is worry—I’ll battle it all my life, I suspect, like Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Perhaps it came as a free gift with the Welcome Home Baby packet filled with samples of shampoo and wipes. Or maybe it has dwelt in my heart all along and only climbed into the front seat as my husband and I brought our first child home from the hospital. 

I speak to you young mothers, and older ones, too, not as a theologian, but as a Christian mama walking the path with you. 

Here are two ways to fight worry: 

1. Get to know God. 

The more you know God, the more you will trust him. The more you trust him, the less fearful you will become. 

“But bad things happen to people who know and love God,” you may say, and you are correct. Bad things do happen to people who know and love God. Bad things also happen to people who don’t know and love God. 

Knowing God isn’t a magic charm to protect us and our children from harm, but when we know God, we have someone to run to. He gives us truth to help make sense of this world, weapons to combat the forces of evil, and wisdom to make wise choices. Best of all, he gives us a rock on which to stand when the entire world seems to be sinking sand. 

2. Learn to pray. 

Prayer doesn’t keep all harm from our lives, but it allows us to partner with God to affect the world around us. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective,” James 5:16 tells us. Jesus instructed his followers, “When you pray . . . ,” and the Holy Spirit through Paul challenged believers to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17). Through prayer we battle the spiritual forces of wickedness, the evil intents of mankind, and the foolishness of others. 

Stormie Omartian, in The Power of a Praying Woman Bible, says this: “The battle for our lives, and the lives and souls of our children, our husbands, our friends, our families, our neighbors, and our nation is waged on our knees. When we don't pray, it's like sitting on the sidelines watching those we love and care about scrambling through a war zone, getting shot at from every angle. When we do pray, however, we're in the battle alongside them, approaching God's power on their behalf. If we also declare the Word of God in our prayers, then we wield a powerful weapon against which no enemy can prevail.” 

 By getting to know God, we understand his heart. When we understand his heart, we have faith to pray. And when we pray, we are able to say, “Here are my requests, God. I trust you to do what’s best.” 

Fear is destructive—it steals the joy from our present and from our future. Prayer is constructive—it brings peace to our present and to our future. 

And so, young mothers and old ones, too, how do we keep from being afraid? We get to know God, and we learn to pray. It takes a moment to say, and a lifetime to learn. I hope you’ll join me on the journey. 

How do you combat fear? What are your favorite Scripture passages or promises to claim during fearful times? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and share your thoughts. 

“Do not be anxious about anything,” Paul encouraged the Philippian believers, “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:6-7)

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