Cement frog spitting water at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

God does great things for grateful people

How often do we ask God for thing? If you’re like me, it’s all the time. I usually try to keep an open line of communication with Him all day long, kind of like He’s a friend walking right beside me who I can tell anything. And while I know what the format for prayer is, sometimes I just like to talk to Him.

But what I can’t seem to get used to is how to react when He answers my prayers. Have you ever been there? You ask God for something, and He responds almost immediately? It’s at those times that I really don’t know what to do or how to respond.

Cement frog spitting water at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Cement frog spitting water at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are Luke 17:11-19.

As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. As he entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.

One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

I try not to get my hopes up when I ask God for big things. I believe that He will answer and give me what I’m asking for in His time and in His way, but I usually expect that time to be later and that way to look completely different than what I expect. But every now and then He gives me exactly what I ask for exactly when I ask for it.

It’s then that I need to remember to thank Him. That’s the response I need to have. And I just want to take a moment to do that this morning.

I’ve been praying that the workshop I was attending would be successful and it was, on many many levels. Those of you who know me very well know I struggle with self-confidence, especially when it comes to my writing. But God went out of his way at this workshop to show me over and over and over again that I’m exactly where He wants me and that the things I’ve written are truly things that can be used for Him. I talked to people I didn’t know. I put myself out there for everyone to see, and I wasn’t afraid. And I learned a lot and gained more confidence than I expected. That’s exactly what I was praying for, and that’s exactly what I got.

And I want to thank God for answering that prayer. He didn’t have to, but I’m so glad He did.

What prayer has God answered in your life recently? I’m sure He’s answered something, whether you realize it or not. Don’t be like the nine healed men who went away healed and forgot to acknowledge Who had healed them. Be like the one who came back. Thank God for what He’s done.

God likes to do great things for grateful people.

Pretty peach-colored flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Praying for flash drives and Benadryl cream

What can we pray about? It’s a legitimate question. Do you ever wonder if the requests you bring to God are too paltry for his attention? Do you ever not ask Him for something because you’re afraid He’ll think you’re being silly?

Pretty peach-colored flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Pretty peach-colored flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Ephesians 6:18.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m at a writing workshop at Glen Eyrie in Colorado Springs right now. So far, it’s been tremendously encouraging, and I’ve learned a lot about some writing process issues that I’ve always wanted to ask established writers about. My parents came with me, and they’re getting to chill on the grounds and around the area while I’m in the workshop.

I love traveling, especially road trips, but the downside to travel is luggage. I hate having to lug a bunch of junk around with me, so I have learned to pack light (and to live with wrinkled clothes because I refuse to iron anything). I live my life by landmarks, even when it comes to hotel rooms, so when I walk into a room and deposit my stuff, I expect it to stay there. I get into a routine throughout a day and try to leave things exactly where I expect them to be. Now that place may not make logical sense to anyone else but me, but if I can find it again, that’s what matters, right?

Well, this morning we had a bit of a panic attack because I couldn’t find two items that I really needed–some Benadryl cream for a mysterious bite/rash that has appeared on my lower back (and is driving me nutty) and my flash drive.

Last night, I ended up searching all over the bathroom area for my pills and found them in my mom’s bags. She likes to straighten things up, and she thought my things were hers because they look exactly alike. So I asked her if she’d moved my Benadryl cream. She didn’t remember doing that, so we started looking. And that’s when I realized I couldn’t find my flash drive either.

Maybe this is silly, but my flash drive is the one thing I own that I have to have. Everything else could be blown away, but my flash drive has the last 20 years of my creative life on it. I back it up regularly, but remember I’ve been at a creative retreat for the last few days and I’ve filled it full of new material I didn’t have before. Losing it would be a terrible blow.

The Benadryl cream was an issue of comfort. The flash drive was an issue of sanity.

We looked high and low. We turned the room upside down. I looked everywhere it should have been and everywhere it shouldn’t have been, and I couldn’t find it anywhere.

That’s when mom announced that she was praying that we’d find it. And I felt like a moron. Why hadn’t I thought to pray about finding it? Refer to previous blog posts. I scramble around like a madwoman trying to do everything myself first before I ask God to help.

And here’s the really big irony. The keynote session on Sunday night AND on Monday morning had been about whether or not God is enough for you if you lose everything you thought you were supposed to be about.

Yeah. Ouch.

So I sat down on the bed and told God that if He wanted me to find it, that would be great. But if He didn’t, I would still be great because He was great. And lo and behold! I glanced in my back pack (I had already looked there) and it was in a pocket.

Talk about a relief.

And then we prayed that we’d find the Benadryl cream too because my back was itching so bad I could hardly think straight. I hesitated at first because after God had already answered the BIG prayer about the flash drive, was it really okay to ask about the itch cream? That seemed kind of silly in comparison. But I remembered this verse. We’re supposed to pray about everything. Every occasion. All types of requests.

So I prayed.

And Mom found it in her cup with her toothbrush.

Go figure.

But the whole crazy scenario this morning just served to remind me that God honestly does care about what we care about. Whether it’s something big like a flash drive that stores 20 years of creativity or a tube of Benadryl cream that only halfway relieves itching, if it matters to me, it matters to Him.

But I thought it was funny I had to be willing to give it up before He’d give it back to me.

Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Still, small voice

In a conversation, what’s more important than talking? That’s what a conversation is, right? Talking to each other. Wrong. A conversation includes talking, yes, but you can’t have a real conversation if both people aren’t listening. If one of them isn’t listening, then you just have one person talking to themselves and inviting someone else to experience it.

Prayer is the same way, because prayer is a conversation with God. And we know that God listens to us when we speak, but it should work both ways. Are we listening when He speaks?

Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are 1 Kings 19:11-13.

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

I am actually composing this devotional in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, one of my favorite places in the world. I don’t believe in magic, but if there were such a thing, the Glen would be full of it. Something about this place—when you walk on the grounds it makes you want to be quiet. It makes you want to remember how to be still and listen. It makes you want to slow down because if you rush by you might miss something miraculous.

In fact, I was just sitting on this bench, and I heard a strange buzzing sound. Too soft to be a motor, too low to be a bug. I didn’t know what it was until I saw one of the dew covered leaves flatten out with the weight of a hummingbird. Yeah, it’s not often you can sit working on a laptop and watch hummingbirds sipping dew off rose petals.

It’s so easy to be busy. It’s so easy to be loud. It’s so easy to run around frantically and get so focused on everything that’s happening today or tomorrow or what happened yesterday and how it will effect today and tomorrow. But if we’re so busy running around, how do we expect to hear what God wants to tell us? If we’re too busy to read scripture, how can we expect Him to communicate with us? I mean, yes, God finds ways to communicate with us, but His primary means of speaking is through the Bible.

Everyone needs to quiet down, otherwise we’re just talking and expecting God to talk to us without us having to listen to what He’s saying. Maybe His answer isn’t what you want, but you can’t say He hasn’t answered.

God can answer in wind and fire. He can answer in earthquakes and thunderstorms. He absolutely can. He’s God. He can do what He wants. But that’s not how He works. That’s not how He communicates. Even with Elijah, He didn’t speak in some awe-inspiring judgment-day type of experience. He spoke in a still, small voice.

That still, small voice is still small today. And if we’re running too fast, we’re going to miss it. If we’re talking too loud, we’ll talk over Him.

I know it’s hard to slow down. I know it’s hard to be still. Trust me, I understand how difficult it is to prioritize. But what matters?

Be quiet. Be still. Listen. He’s speaking. He speaks every moment of every day. Sometimes through Scripture. Sometimes through nature. Sometimes through the Spirit. Sometimes through other believers. But He never stops speaking.

Are you being still enough to hear?

Field of little bright flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

How do you pray and believe?

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that you would get everything you prayed for? Or would that be nice? Maybe that wouldn’t be good at all. How many of us have prayed for something and didn’t get it and a few years later understood why?

I’ve been there. I’ve gotten myself into a situation where I needed help and I prayed that God would deliver me, and for all intents and purposes it didn’t feel like He had. It didn’t feel like He did anything, like He didn’t even show up. I’ve also been in situations where I asked God for something, and He didn’t give it to me. And at the time, I was heart-broken. I was angry. I was disappointed. Maybe even a bit disillusioned. And in the emotion of the moment, I never wanted to ask Him for anything else again.

Field of little bright flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Field of little bright flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are Mark 11:22-24.

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.

I can totally understand people getting upset with this set of verses. I’ve been upset with it because it’s obviously not true, right? I have asked for things and believed whole-heartedly that I would get them, and then I never did. So how can Jesus get off saying something like this?

Honestly, I’m not sure any follower of Christ truly comprehends what prayer actually is or how powerful it actually is. I don’t think any of us can really appreciate what God does through prayer.  Maybe I’m generalizing. Maybe I should make it more personal. I don’t think I understand prayer.

I understand asking for things. I understand worshipping. I understand the ins and outs, the bits and pieces, the big picture of prayer. But how on earth can you ask God for something, truly and fully believing that you’ll get it, when you know deep down inside that you might not? That’s a paradox I don’t know if I can wrap my head around. How can you believe something but not believe it?

I don’t have all this figured out. I hope people know that. And I never write anything on this blog that I’m not struggling with personally. In fact, the posts that seem to be the most popular are the ones where I pretty much gut myself and lay everything out for the World Wide Web to see. And this topic is no exception.

I’ve asked for things, and I’ve believed that they’re going to happen. And they don’t. So I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And still nothing. Maybe it’s on me. Maybe that means I’m not doing something right. Maybe that means I need to get up and do something else. But where is that line where you need to stop waiting and start doing?

I don’t know the answer to this one. I just know Jesus. I know who He is, and (being quite frank) that’s enough for me. And in the grand scheme of things, I’ve had more prayers answered than not. And if you think about it, I bet you have too, especially counting the prayers you didn’t know to pray. All I know for sure is that God is good, truly honestly really good. And that He never gives up on us and never abandons us; He never makes mistakes and He always keeps His promises. And if Jesus says He’ll answer any prayer, I believe Him.

Maybe that’s blind faith. I don’t think so because I know who Jesus is, so trusting Him isn’t that difficult. But what about things I’ve asked for that are outstanding? How can I believe that they’ll really happen when I don’t know?

This is what I’ve discovered. Praying specifically is always best. It helps us get our minds and perspectives straight. It’s not that God requires specificity, but it’s better for us. But what do you believe when you ask God for something? Do ask Him for that specific thing and then expect that He will deliver? Honestly, if that’s the way you do it, I think that goes back to the whole genie in the lamp concept, and that’s not who God is. Are we really so presumptuous to believe that we know what to ask for?

Yes, be specific. But believe that God is going to do what He wants before He does what you want. Why? Because He knows better. Yes, ask Him. Yes, make your requests. He wants to hear from you. He wants to talk to you. But we put so many restrictions on God in our prayers. We put Him in a box all the time. We ask for things that are so small, so selfish, so minor, and He wants to do things that are so much bigger than we can imagine through us. So make your little request, but don’t be surprised if God answers in a way you don’t expect. That’s who He is. He works so much higher than we do. He sees so much more than we do. And He has plans for us that exceed our wildest dreams.

It’s not that He’s not answering our prayers. He is. He’s just not doing it the way we want. And in the grand scheme of life and living, which would you prefer? Do you want God to answer your little prayers for your little life so you can go on living in a way that never makes a difference? Or would you rather enjoy the ride? Would you rather leave it up to Him? It’s a scarier option, to be sure, but I’d rather let Him drive.

How do you pray and believe? Make your requests, and believe that God is God and that He’ll do all He’s promised. But know it won’t look like what you think, and it’s far far better that way.

Yellow rose at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Don’t be afraid to pray out loud

Prayers don’t have to be complicated. I’m not sure where the concept of ritualistic prayers came from, but they’re not necessary if you want to talk to God. You don’t have to speak a different language to talk to Him. You don’t have to wax long and eloquent with phrases that sound impressive. If you’re going to pray, just talk to Him.

Yellow rose at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Yellow rose at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are 1 Kings 18:36-37.

At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”

These two verses come from a larger passage in the Old Testament, one of my favorite stories in the Bible. The prophent Elijah is one of my favorite characters of all time. He has such bold colors in his personality, and he reacts to things in ways that have an impact on people. Elijah’s story is full of crazy emotions and wild roller coaster rides and excitement and humor. If there were ever a Type A personality in Scripture, it was Elijah.

1 Kings 18 chronicles a contest that was held on Mt. Caramel. You see, at this time in Israel’s history, the people had turned away from God. Oh, they still believed in God and they still did all the things that God-followers were supposed to do, but they were also following a false god named Baal. It’s a long story, but the queen of Israel at the time was a Baal-worshipper and brought that type of worship into Israel. And the people followed.

What happens in 1 Kings 18 is a contest between Baal and God. Elijah challenges Baal and his prophets to bring fire to a sacrifice. All of Israel turns out for the contest, and that’s where Elijah utters his iconic words from verse 21: Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent.

Without going into too much detail, the contest lasted a long time because the prophets of Baal couldn’t get their god to answer them. And at some point during the morning, Elijah even began to taunt them. If you have a chance to read 1 Kings 18, you should. Elijah says some pretty funny things.

But then, when it’s his turn to get up and pray, he goes overboard. He douses his sacrifice in water. And then, he prays the prayer above, simple, short, to the point.

“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”

There’s not much to that prayer, but God answered it. Oh boy, did He answer it. He sent fire down from heaven, fire that consumed the whole altar, not just the sacrifice but the wood and the stones and the water and the dirt. And Israel remembered who He was and turned against Baal’s prophets.

We make such a big deal out of prayer. Yes, prayer is a big deal, but we don’t need to flail around and make a big show when we’re talking to God. He doesn’t need that. He doesn’t need fancy words or impressive vocabulary. Now, if you pray that way normally–if that’s the way you talk–that’s one thing. But if you’re putting on a show when you’re talking to God, it’s not for Him.

Somehow the Christian culture has embraced this idea of big, showy prayers, and as a result, people don’t want to pray. I know so many believers who are hesitant to pray out loud because they’re not good at it. I used to be one of them.

Not good at praying out loud? I wasn’t aware there were standards. I didn’t know it was a competition.

I used to be terrified to pray out loud because I was afraid I would say the wrong thing. I didn’t want to pray out loud because I was sure I would make a fool of myself. But I got involved in this ministry at church that requires a lot of praying (a lot of praying), and I had to start praying out loud in front of people by default. Everyone did. The first time I prayed out loud in front of people during this ministry I was scared to death, and then I remembered that I’m not praying so that people will think I’m a great Christian. I was praying because I needed God’s help–we all did–and we just needed to ask Him for it. No rituals. No flailing. No secret handshake. Just talking.

I’m not scared to pray out lout now. I got a lot of practice during that ministry, but I also realized that prayer isn’t about me. And it’s not about the people around me either. Prayer is talking to God. Maybe the false god Baal required a lot of strange things from his prophets if they wanted to talk to Him, but the real God isn’t like that. God just wants to hear from us. So we don’t need to hide behind a guise of intellectualism or heady vocabulary. He wants to know our hearts.

Don’t be afraid to pray out loud. And it’s actually better if you keep it simple. Look what Elijah’s prayer accomplished. What matters is the heart of it. And if someone has a problem with how you pray–if someone is judging the worth of your prayer based on how many syllables you use when you’re talking to God–you don’t need to worry about their opinion anyway. Because obviously they have other issues.